[WARNING: This article contains spoilers for DC Universe: Rebirth #1, the DCEU, and The CW's DC shows]
DC Comics has been reborn. Under the supervision of Geoff Johns, DC’s newest Rebirth relaunch has been (so far) met with great applause. Now all eyes are on Johns and the future of the DCEU. While Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice both have ardent supporters, their reception can’t be categorized as anything but polarizing. Tired of all the fighting, many fans are looking to Johns to “fix” the DCEU.
That task may sound like an impressive burden, but Johns has an extensive history with DC properties, and has been responsible for some of the biggest character revivals and crossover events in modern comics. Spearheading DC’s Rebirth event, Johns is leading a return to "hope, optimism, and legacy" for DC Comics.
He hasn’t said much about his new position at the co-head of DC Films yet, but his opinions on how these characters should be handled in the comics, and the decisions he’s made with Rebirth say a lot about what we can expect him to do with future big screen installments from DC.
So, what does DC’s rebirth tell us about Geoff John’s plan for the DCEU?
15 Hope, Optimism, and Legacy
Much has been said about the tone of the DCEU so far. Some people love the darker take, while others want DCs big screen endeavors to be imbued with more joy.
First of all, Zack Snyder and others have already specified multiple times that other DC Films moving forward, including Justice League, are going to be lighter fare, mostly due to the inclusion of characters like Flash.
Second, while Geoff Johns hasn't spoken out about any intentions for the DCEU, he has made multiple statements about his view on what DC Comics as a whole should represent, saying he wants Rebirth to return "hope, optimism, and legacy" to DC Comics, so don't be shocked if he'd like to see similar things in the DCEU.
14 It’s Not All Sunshine and Roses
That's not to say everything in the comics and movies will be bright and sunny. In an interview with THR, Johns said:
“It doesn't mean that every character is going to be optimistic or have the same attitude because that'd be boring. But it does mean that there'll be a pervasive attitude in DC of belief — not only belief in yourself, but in what you're doing — and celebration, a tone of celebration. It doesn't mean there aren't going to be threats, or that we're going backwards or being regressive, but it does mean that the pervasive attitude in the DNA of DC is optimism. Which I firmly believe.”
Much has also been made of the inclusion of Watchmen into DC’s post Rebirth continuity. Watchmen is largely considered the origin of the trend towards darker content in the past few decades of comics, so some have suggested that Rebirth is essentially throwing Watchmen - a representative of dark comics - under the bus as a condemnation of “grimdark” stories in an effort to bring back optimism, but that's clearly not the case.
Rebirth isn't successful because it rejects or destroys what Watchmen did, but because it embraces it, and positions itself as a counterpoint, showing the brighter side of what heroes can be. Both tones still have an important place in this universe, and they depend on each other for contrast.
13 What Characters Matter?
One of the goals of Rebirth, is to improve synergy between the DC Comics universe and all the other mediums in which these characters appear. This can be seen in the Rebirth lineup, with comics such as Supergirl, which is seeing some changes to bring it more in-line with the world realized on the Supergirl TV show (now on the CW) or by the focus on the Suicide Squad (with a new lineup to match the incoming film), and especially Harley Quinn.
DC co-publisher and legendary artist, Jim Lee, said that Rebirth’s congruence with DC properties in other mediums is intended to increase the brand’s reach to people that might not currently read comics, but do appreciate the characters:
“We do realize we have the opportunity to really reach larger groups of potential readers and a lot of the casual fans who are watching the TV shows and movies. “But at the same time we want the creative teams to chart the destinies of these characters … and to tell the stories that future adaptations will be based on.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to get adaptations of Rebirth comic arcs on the big or small screen right away, but it does put an emphasis on what characters DC wants to prioritize, and might use in one of its live-action properties. Some of these cases are obvious. The DCEU Justice League characters, for example, all have a focus in the Rebirth lineup, as do the characters from the CW shows.
There are some interesting divergences, though, such as Black Canary. She was recently killed off on the CWs Arrow, but is receiving a prominent place alongside the Emerald Archer in the new Green Arrow: Rebirth series. She also has a large role in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth, and low and behold, recent rumors suggest she could have a place on the big screen in Justice League - and there’s even rumors of a Birds of Prey movie in the works.
Knowing that, there’s a couple of outliers in the Rebirth lineup. Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing, and Red Hood are all very prominently featured members of the Bat Family, who currently have absolutely no presence in the DCEU (aside from the Robin suit on display, but more on that later). Rebirth also emphasizes a few other characters with rumored DCEU connections, namely Deathstroke, and Justice League Dark.
Not that every character in Rebirth will get pulled onto the big screen. Sure, New Super-Man and the new character “Gotham,” probably won’t appear on the big screen any time soon, and Amy Adams’s Lois Lane isn’t about to become Superwoman, but the intersections between the DCEU and Rebirth make that pretty clear.
12 Getting Characters Right
Geoff Johns made it clear early on that Rebirth is in no way a reboot, instead comparing it to what Lucasfilm did with Star Wars: The Force Awakens: using it as a platform to continue the same continuity, but return to the “spirit” of the franchise. His chief goal is to get the characters right.
In his THR interview, Johns detailed how he worked with all the Rebirth writers by starting with a whiteboard, deconstructing what makes each character great:
“And that's all we did, all of us in front of the whiteboard, talking about why we loved Nightwing. Who is Nightwing and what is Nightwing about? What is the compass of his stories? What's his attitude? What stories can only be told with him? We did this character by character by character, and just had a lot of great conversations. Everything got centered.”
Many people have complained about the versions of Batman and Superman we’ve gotten so far, but Ben Affleck’s performance has also received praise as the best on-screen Batman yet.
There’s always fan division when it comes to live-action interpretations of comic-book characters, but with Geoff Johns confirmed to be working with Ben Affleck on a solo Batman movie, and the majority of DC’s characters still awaiting their big screen debut, there is definitely cause to be confident that he will encourage the same reverence with each DCEU interpretation.
11 The Trinity is Still the Core
Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have long been the spine of DC Comics. While there are definitely more characters to the Justice League, these 3 have shared the majority of the spotlight. Each member of the trinity will be getting their respective Rebirth book and main book, in addition to a Trinity: Rebirth one-shot, and the obvious spotlight in Justice League: Rebirth.
DC also recognizes the importance of the big 3 in the very design of the new company logo. Artist Jim Lee has specified that elements of each character can be found in the new logo: “the nooks and angles are meant to evoke the Superman 'S', the Wonder Woman 'WW' emblem and the Bat logo."
It doesn’t take much to see that the Trinity is also a focus of the DCEU. They are the first 3 characters to get introduced in this universe, are all founding members of the Justice League, and much of the universe will revolve around them. Superman’s sacrifice at the end of Batman V Superman even serves as the inspiration Bruce Wayne needs to track down other members of the League.
10 The Speed Force is Important
Obviously the Trinity aren’t the only characters of importance in the Justice League. The Flash is also a founding member in the comics, and Flash (and members of the Flash Family) continue to find themselves at the center of major DC events, with Rebirth continuing this trend.
At the core of Flash lore - and consequentially, DC lore - is the Speed Force. The Speed Force has been used to a universe altering effect on multiple occasions, and we even find many of the panels in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 covered in yellow lightening, showing that the significance of the Speed Force is still very much at play. The synopsis for the very first post-Rebirth Flash arc emphasizes this by bringing in a Speed Force storm, gifting multiple new characters with superspeed.
The DCEU took very little time to show that Johns and company have some crazy plans for the Speed Force on the big screen. In Batman V Superman, Bruce’s ‘Knightmare’ sequence isn’t actually a dream sequence, but a vision created when Barry Allen uses the Speed Force to rip through time and deliver a message to Bruce Wayne.
The extent to which the DCEU timeline is molded - or transformed - by the Speed Force remains to be seen, but the Flash jumping through a hole in the fabric of time to urge Bruce to “find us!” definitely signals that nothing is out of the question when it comes to the big screen realization of the power of the Speed Force.
9 Superman is Getting Replaced With a More Traditional Version
Like the Superman from Man of Steel and BvS, the version of Superman portrayed in DC’s New 52 continuity didn’t go over very well with fans for many of the same reasons that Henry Cavill’s incarnation has also been derided.
Rebirth is rectifying this by replacing the (now dead) New 52 Superman with the fan favored post-crisis Superman, because multiverse. This older version of Superman is the classic embodiment of that “hope, optimism, and legacy” Geoff Johns is going for.
While the DCEU isn’t about to bring back an older cinematic Man of Steel to replace Cavill, Justice League and DC Universe: Rebirth #1 find themselves in a similar boat when it comes to Superman: he’s dead. After his sacrifice in BvS caps off a full Superman character arc, there’s no better way to “fix” the character in fans’ eyes than to resurrect him with a little more hope, optimism, and maybe a smile or two.
8 Geoff Johns Really Likes the Green Lanterns
With Geoff Johns at the head, it should be no surprised that Rebirth has a large lantern population. Earth has 2 new Green Lanterns, while Hal Jordan and other member of the Green Lantern Corps are out having more cosmic adventures.
DC’s Green Lantern enthusiasm might not be as strong on the big screen due to the poor response to 2011’s Green Lantern, but if the prominence of green power rings in Rebirth tell us anything, it’s that DC is prioritizing the Green Lantern Corps.
There is a Green Lantern Corps movie slated for 2020, but a Green Lantern can still appear in a Justice League movie or other DC installment before then.
7 Former Sidekicks are Major Players
One of the biggest payoffs of DC Universe: Rebirth #1 was the long awaited return of Flash sidekick, Wally West. Wally isn’t the only sidekick to get the spotlight in Rebirth, though. Nightwing, Arsenal, Red Robin, Batgirl, and others will all see prominence in the post-Rebirth continuity.
The idea of sidekicks seems pretty out of place in DCs big screen slate, with Alfred serving as the only real assistant on screen, but the infamous ruined Robin suit that makes an appearance in BvS cracks that door, leaving open the possibility for more down the road. It’s possible that door was about to be blown wide open, with Jena Malone heavily rumored to portray Barbara Gordon, AKA Batgirl, AKA Oracle in BvS, but all her scenes were cut. There’s no knowing until the Ultimate Cut arrives in July.
6 Batgirl and the Birds of Prey
Speaking of Batgirl, she has a big presence in Rebirth, getting both a solo title, and headlining Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth. This doubling down by DC shows just how much popularity Batgirl has gained in recent years, fueling hopes that Jena Malone really is an incarnation of Barbara Gordon.
Whispers of a Birds of Prey TV show have been in the air since the cancellation of the first Birds of Prey show on The WB (now CW) back in 2003, and it even looked like Arrow might introduce or spin-off BOP for a short time, but nothing materialized.
Now with the previously mentioned rumors of a Birds of Prey movie on the big screen, it looks like the female team might finally get some wings.
5 Red Hood and the Outlaws
Red Hood and the Outlaws are getting a bit of a shakeup. Traditionally comprised of former Robin, Jason Todd, AKA Red Hood; former Green Arrow sidekick, Arsenal, AKA Roy Harper; and the alien Starfire, Rebirth is re-teaming Red Hood with failed Superman Clone, Bizarro, and fallen Amazonian, Artemis. Red Hood and the Outlaws is poised to be a dark counterpoint to DC’s Trinity.
WB has long held that Jason Todd is a priority, and his presence on the comic book side proves that’s the case. With recent confirmation that the Robin suit seen in BvS is in fact the former suit of Jason Todd, the DCEU has already sown the seeds for a Red Hood appearance down the road.
The Outlaws also serve as another enticing opportunity for DC Films, especially with the new roster. If the anti-hero antics of Suicide Squad are successful, the table could be set for a team like the Outlaws to get their own movie eventually as well.
4 A Focus on Villains
While much of the focus of Rebirth is centered on DC’s greatest heroes, villains are important as well, as is highlighted by several villain centric books. Harley Quinn has her own book, as does Slade Wilson’s Deathstroke, and of course, there’s Suicide Squad.
While a few villain centric books isn’t exactly an example of DC forging any new territory, the fact that the lineup is consistent with characters that are all either confirmed or heavily rumored for the DCEU definitely adds some heft to those rumors.
Early reactions to the Suicide Squad movie have already spurred rumors of numerous villain focused spin-offs as already mentioned, and the presence of a Deathstroke solo title in the Rebirth lineup also highlights another rumor from a few months ago about Deathstoke’s appearance in the DCEU.
3 Relationships Matter
One quick perusal of the covers for all the new Rebirth books, and something becomes clear very quickly: few of these heroes work alone. Rebirth is full of team up books: the Bat Family, Flash Family, Superman Family, Birds of Prey, Titans, Outlaws, Green Lantern Corps, Suicide Squad, Justice League Dark, etc. DC is emphasizing the relationships between its characters as one of the core pillars of its universe, and that’s seen by the large team, often dubbed “family,” surrounding each character.
We can already see a similar trend on the film side. Some fans criticized WB for moving too quickly, rushing to team up films instead of focusing on solo outings first, but if these characters are successfully defined by their relationships to each other first and foremost, instead of who they are in a standalone story, DC could have something really different on its hands.
This also provides DC with the opportunity to create a universe full of team-up movies. The second DCEU movie features the Trinity, the third movie is Suicide Squad, and the 4th will be Justice League. Green Lantern Corps and a rumor that Cyborg will co-star in the Flash movie just add more evidence to the pattern: DC likes relationships and teams.
Does this mean that we’ll get to see something along the lines of a Ben Affleck Batman movie with the full Bat Family? We’ll have to wait to find out, but Rebirth makes it clear how Geoff Johns feels about relationships in the DC Universe.
2 Improving Diversity
Diversity has been something that needed work in mainstream comic books (and now comic book movies) for years. Not just in the characters and the subject matter, but also in the creative teams. We’ve all seen the jokes about “Diversity in Comics” panels at Comic-Con where the panel is entirely populated with white men, but that was sadly an accurate depiction for a long time.
While Rebirth doesn’t necessarily achieve perfect equity, it is still taking some big steps forward on all fronts when it comes to diversity. Rebirth introduces a Chinese Super-Man (who’s expected to end up helming a Chinese Justice League), a female Green Lantern, and makes Lois Lane Superwoman, while giving a bigger spotlight to Supergirl, Harley Quinn, Batgirl, and the Birds of Prey (especially Black Canary).
Rebirth also strives for more diversity with creators. There’s still lots of men writing female characters, but decisions such as bringing in Chinese-American Gene Luen Yang on New Super-Man and Julie and Shawna Benson on Birds of Prey show a commitment to improving the diversity in the creative teams.
A similar trend can already be seen from the DCEU. Wonder Woman, for example, will make Patty Jenkins the first woman to direct a film with a budget of over $100 million. Rumors of a Birds of Prey script from a female screenwriter also suggest DC Films could could repeat that decision, becoming be the first and second step down the path to equality on that front.
1 Creator Driven Content
Demographics aside, most recent talk about DC’s creative team has surrounded Geoff Johns and the direction he’s going to be taking the respective franchises. While Johns is heavily involved, he’s not the sole decision maker - and he’s not trying to be. When it comes to Rebirth, he’s aiming for a high level of creator freedom with all the authors working toward a common goal. At another point in his interview with THR, he explained:
“One of the problems I had as a writer in the New 52 is that we're dropped into an open field — here's your character, we're going to relaunch it — and then you look around and think, well, which direction am I supposed to go in? With this, we had the conversation ahead of time: look over there, towards the horizon: that's the direction. And the path isn't narrow; it's not all the characters have to have a cape or whatever. Rebirth is the compass, here's where we're going.”
Geoff is serving as that compass, but he’s letting all the writers set their own navigation.
This is very similar to the strategy that has long been trumpeted on the film side. Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice were both Zack Snyder productions, so they both bear his visual stamp, but it’s been long held that the DCEU will be creator driven, and each filmmaker would be permitted to apply their own style to each property.
Comic book movies are rarely inspired directly by recent comics, instead picking and choosing the best elements from the vast history for each character in order to distill the best movie possible. As such, it’s highly unlikely that any DC movie will directly adapt anything, or even be too similar, to what’s happening in its respective comic right now. However, Geoff John’s priorities for the DC Brand are pretty evident in Rebirth. Those priorities are bound to bleed into the film universe, hopefully to the same success.
Suicide Squad will hit theaters on August 5, 2016, followed by Wonder Woman on June 2, 2017; Justice League Part One on November 17, 2017; The Flash on March 16, 2018; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League Part Two on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020.
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