DC’s “New 52” comic line, which launched several years ago, did not connect well with readers. Similarly, the latest DC films (Man of Steel and Batman v Superman) underperformed at the box office and disappointed many fans. What should DC comics do about this problem? Geoff Johns—DC’s Head of Creative and the man running the new WB DC film Division—has a solution: Go retro! Johns says that starting with their new “Rebirth” series, DC’s new direction is “toward the sunrise”. Surprisingly, the series that jump-started the trend towards cynicism and gloom is going to be the trigger to bring hope and optimism back to comics. This new “sunrise” era will also include the cinematic DCEU.
DC has been treading in the dark and cynical territory since 1986, when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s much-praised mini-series Watchmen debuted. The series was a massive critical hit, as well as a sales goldmine for DC. It is the most award-winning story ever, and got DC more mainstream attention from the media than it had gotten in years. Often called the greatest comic book ever, Watchmen deconstructed the heroic ideal of the Golden and Silver Age of comics and introduced the concepts that super heroes can be terribly flawed or even genuinely bad people. His series presented a world where the presence of Superheroes does more harm than good. Ever since then, the cynicism and dark tone of Watchmen has been the default style for DC comics.
This goes for DC films as well. Director Zack Snyder, who helmed the film adaptation of Watchmen, utilized this method of superhero deconstruction when making Man of Steel and Batman v Superman an approach that divided fans and critics. Just as Dr. Manhattan became a liability to the world in Watchmen, Snyder made Superman into a character that disrupted the whole world in Batman v Superman.
Geoff Johns says, “I do think what happened afterwards is that a lot of people tried to emulate the tone on every character.” Many writers, including Garth Ennis (Preacher, Hitman) have said that Watchman has been DC’s security blanket for far too long. Even Alan Moore himself, the writer of Watchmen, has lamented the effect his influential book has had on the industry long-term.
However, things are about to change! Johns says, “I think Watchmen is a great book, but I don’t think a cynical take on superheroes is the truthful one. Everyone says that’s the realistic look. I reject that because I think people at their base core are good.”
So how does Watchmen fit into all this? Well for the first time since it was released, the Watchman Universe (which has remained isolated from the rest of Dc until now) is being incorporated into the main DC Comics continuity. And Dr. Manhattan is going to be the key to the whole “reset” of the failed New 52 experiment.
In the DC Comics series “Rebirth”, it’s going to be revealed that the all-powerful Dr. Manhattan decided to play God several years ago and has been messing with the DC comics universe ever since. Johns describes Manhattans actions as: “He stole love from us.” (A reference to how the New 52 did away with all the famous DC romances of the past like Lois and Clark or Green Arrow and Black Canary). Fans of the original Watchmen will recall that Dr. Manhattan left Earth at the end of that series to “create” his own world.
The realization of this manipulation (brought to the attention of the DC characters by Wally “Kid Flash” West) is the catalyst for the story and is going to lead to the retro reset of DC Comics, correcting the mistakes and unpopular decisions made during the New 52 run. Therefore, the comic that began the age of angst is also going to be the one to end it. So basically, Johns is telling Watchman—‘You guys made this mess, so you clean it up!
As head of the new DC film Division, Johns has announced that he will bring “hope and optimism” to the DCEU as well. (So no more “Snyderverse” gloominess!) What do you guys think of Rebirth and the whole DC turn toward “sunrise” and optimism.