With the all mainstream hype surrounding the DC Extended Universe as well as the premiere of the one of the most iconic, yet controversial animated adaptations yet, it was quite easy to neglect a lot of the comic book panels that went on at San Diego Comic-Con this year. There were a lot of big names from DC in attendance, but fans were far more excited to see the Justice League on stage. That’s not an insult or a hit of any sort, as I was among the fans screaming when our live-action JL took the stage.
Amidst all of that unbridled enthusiasm, I attended a small, quiet panel entitled “DC: Secrets of Rebirth,” in which co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee as well as the Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns (who was there for a limited time and had to leave halfway through the panel) were in attendance. As the name suggests, the panel delved into the recently launched Rebirth in DC Comics.
Dan DiDio was the emcee of this panel, taking the stage and admitting that throughout the weekend, there had already been several panels on Rebirth already, but what differentiated this panel from the rest was the presence of Geoff Johns. Johns then took the stage.
Johns began by thanking the fans for taking to Rebirth and supporting DC Comics. The origins of which, he explained, came from DiDio walking into his office at 8AM and saying, “I want to end everything at #52.” Johns was, of course, shocked. DiDio then launched into what Johns calls his “crazy ideas.” They began brainstorming until Johns declared that they should “relaunch everything and call it Rebirth.” Invoking his previous titles, Green Lantern: Rebirth and Flash: Rebirth, he explains how important the title of Rebirth meant to him. It was about “bringing everything that was great from the past, everything great from the present, and create new things leading to the future.” After discussing it even further, Johns made the decision that it was necessary to begin Rebirth with a one-shot that would set the tone for the new universe.
Finding himself in the writer’s room next to his office, Johns and DiDio listed things they felt were absent from the current DC universe. He pinpointed the “sense of history” as well as the “emotional relationships between the characters” eventually coming to the conclusion that Wally West was missing, feeling that he was the “personification of everything we felt the DC universe was missing.”
The CCO began to talk about the one-shot he wrote with multiple artists, titled DC Universe: Rebirth. He expressed the importance the script had for him, mentioning that it was the longest script he’d written to date and it was the only comic that he had written that made him nervous about the reception. He confesses that he had poured a lot of himself into the script, making for a highly emotional piece that made him tear up. Being that it was going to be the last comic he’d write for a while given his involvement in both the TV shows as well as the DCEU, he expressed much gratitude over the positive reception. Calling it his “love letter to DC,” he wanted to fans to pick up how much he loved those characters. The audience began to applaud the sentiment. DiDio joined him, explaining that he felt it was the most personal story that Johns had written and marveling at the fan reaction to the book.
Following that anecdote, DiDio begins introducing the rest of the panel, starting with Jim Lee, followed by many members of the DC Rebirth creative team: artists Ivan Reis and Joe Prado (DC Universe: Rebirth), Liam Sharp (artist on Wonder Woman), Rafael Albuquerque (artist on Batgirl), Christopher Priest (writer of Deathstroke), and lastly, the writing team of Shawna and Julie Benson (Batgirl and the Birds of Prey).
Kicking the panel proper, now that the stage was full of talent, DiDio referenced the name of the panel, asking Johns about the secrets or the behind-the-scenes process behind Rebirth. Though it was a small gesture and relatively simple process, Johns calls it the “coolest thing in the world,” they sat in the writer’s room and discussed their love and passion for the characters and the stories. He accredits the success of Rebirth to everyone’s love for the characters, how they wanted to bring the best they could to the characters that admired so deeply. Discussing why readers love the characters, they set to work “showcasing the emotional core of those characters.” He mentions that “heart, humor, and heroes” are the core elements of the books, which also extend to the TV shows and movies.
Branching off from that last comment, DiDio asks if there is a difference working on TV and movies. Johns admits that it’s kind of similar, mentioning the filming of Wonder Woman and how some of it was sitting down with director Patty Jenkins and discussing what they loved about the character and how to showcase their emotional bonds. He eventually was able to conclude that it’s “a different process, but the compass is pointed in the same direction.”
DiDio would then look back to the Rebirth special, inquiring about all the threads left behind to be expanded upon later during Rebirth. Summing up, it seems that Johns was aware of the current storylines in several books and sought to rectify a few key elements that were important to fans, such as “Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance knowing each other,” which would elicit cheers and applause. These elements are, of course, meant to be further explored in their respective titles, with Johns eventually ending with, “the seeds have been planted.”
With that being said, DiDio asks Johns for any teasers that may excite fans. Stammering through what he felt like he could reveal, Johns simply said to follow a few titles, including Superman, Detective Comics, Green Arrow, and how Mr. Oz should provide some clues. A fan shouts Justice Society, to which Johns immediately jumps onto, announcing that he has plans for Justice Society, mentioning that Season 2 of Legends of Tomorrow will be about Justice Society. Fan response was very positive.
With Johns needing to leave very soon, DiDio opened the floor to a question directly to him. An attendee cut straight to the chase and asked about Kyle Rayner. Johns mentions the spread at the end of DC Universe Rebirth that featured several heroes, of which Kyle was intentionally omitted. Johns explains his omission is due to having a pivotal role in Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, pertaining to his “next evolution.” Apparently, Kyle is “vital to the DC Universe.”
Johns’ last question from fans was about his daily writing routine at the moment. Due to the launch of the DCEU, Johns admits that he spends most of his time writing for film these days, before adding that he still takes a good amount of time communicating with DiDio about the comics. Before heading off to his flight to London, he tells everyone to watch the recently released Justice League and Wonder Woman movie trailers.
DiDio moves the discussion to his co-publisher, Jim Lee, who announces that he has not had a bathroom break between panels and warns everybody that he will, at one point, briefly leave the stage. DiDio asked Lee about the difference between his approach to the design of New 52 vs Rebirth. Lee explains that New 52 was meant to have a fresh start and therefore create something new, whereas Rebirth focused bringing more of the classic elements of the costumes.
Moving over the sister team of Shawna and Julie Benson, DiDio inquired about how they came from TV, which they mention that they had written episodes for the CW series, The 100. With that, DiDio asked about how much of the Birds of Prey were they familiar with. Julie is self-admitted comic book nerd, having a respectable collection, and being very invested in the characters, mentioning how excited she was signing on to the project. By contrast, Shawna had seen the Birds of Prey TV series. The pair expressed initial trepidation, but were excited about starting the series with the original three: Batgirl, Black Canary, and Huntress.
Rafael Albuquerque (whose main claim to fame is the horror series, American Vampire) was then spotlighted, who expressed that he took on the title because it was an artistic challenge to him, mentioning that the style had more colors, more vibrant, with a lot of pop elements. He also talked about how the storytelling was also very different from what he’s used to, describing it as more “iconic.” All of it seemed very interesting to him as an artist. The artist also expressed reverence for the character, briefly describing the current arc of her traveling to Asia to “become a better hero.”
DiDio then welcomed back Liam Sharp to comics after a lengthy hiatus, which illicited applause. Over the last few years, Sharp had turned away from illustrating comics in favor of co-founding the Madefire app, which was a new app used to read digital comics. After six years of running the app, he “realized [he] couldn’t go another year without getting back into comics again.” He and Lee began to regale the crowd with an anecdote about how Sharp had got in contact with Lee and began text messaging him beautiful spreads. Crucial to this story was a Red Sonja piece that Sharp had done and was particularly proud of. On Thanksgiving Day, Sharp recalls hearing a rumor about Wonder Woman becoming available and at the time, Sharp had the Red Sonja piece on his screen and thought that WW would be great in this style, which really excited him. The next day, Sharp sent the photo over to Lee with a caption that read, “You can do Wonder Woman like this,” to which Lee replied, “Hell yeah, you could!” Sharp further explains how the process continued from there, briefly mentioning working with Greg Rucka.
Praising the beautiful complex spreads of both Joe Prado and Ivan Reis, to which Reis quips that, “for the writer, it was 15 minutes to write” and for him, it could take a week. DiDio quickly adds, “Super fun!” Prado mentions building upon the foundation of the likes of George Perez. The artists shared various anecdotes from working several spreads throughout their respective careers.
DiDio moves over to writer Christopher Priest, who ends up being the biggest jokester of the bunch. Reis, Albuquerque, and Sharp before him all speak with distinctively charming accents from their various origins, therefore when DiDio asked what Priest knew about Deathstroke beforehand, Priest quickly quipped, “I’d like a foreign accent too.” When contacted about Deathstroke, apparently, the first question Priest asked was if the character was black and upon learning that the character wasn’t, he asked the contact to “keep talking.” Finally taking the question seriously, he explained his exposure to Deathstroke was via the works of Marv Wolfman and George Perez and how he’d like to take those core elements and bring it forward to the present. Priest would continue on what themes he’d like to explore in the Deathstroke. Believing that the book has always glorified violence, he wanted explore how that violence affects his lifestyle and his family.
Considering the fact that the Benson sisters are writing for a team, DiDio asked them about the core of the characters and the team dynamic. Shawna mentions how the characters are very distinctive personalities and are very much their own people, all having their own successful titles, but that they will focus on what makes them similar and how they will learn and grow from that.
Lee is back in the spotlight, when DiDio said he nearly forgot that Lee was working on Suicide Squad. He asks his co-publisher and artist about how he’s privy to the film adaptation of Suicide Squad and how that could influence his run on it. Lee explains that he’s been trying to avoid the movie as best he can, because he didn’t want the movie to influence the storytelling that he wanted to utilize as he believes that the comic book stories work best independently of every other medium. Lee provides some anecdotal evidence about being given the opportunity to see footage from the movie 3 times, before finally giving in on the third attempt. The iconic artist goes on to explain that he has sat down with writer Rob Williams and Geoff Johns to come up with enough story for 10-15 issues, and goes on to praise Johns’ approach to the material, the primary focus is on how the characters are and building a story that expands upon that.
The floor is opened for questions from fans. Mentioning the multiverse, the first fan is a young boy, and he asked about whether or not the other universes will be explored. DiDio jokingly handed the question over to Priest who said, “Look, kid. I’m older than you. I’m blacker than you. Absolutely, we’re going to take that question right to Geoff Johns.” At the moment, the focus is on the main universe, but that they’ve planted the seeds to explore others in time.
Being that it’s the 75th anniversary of Wonder Woman, a fan came to the microphone and express her excitement over the many good things happening with the character and proceeded to ask Sharp about how it feels to work with the character now. Among many humble comments, he mentioned that “when you get to work with an icon, everything changes.” Priest comments about it’s “crazy” to “see her this relevant again.” Sharp adds that “you can look out to everybody here and they can be a Wonder Woman fan, because it’s a book for guys, it’s a book for girls, and it’s a book for everybody in between.”
Thanking the creative team for “bringing back that moral compass,” the next attendee talks about how he hadn’t read a comic book in some time, but Rebirth allowed him to return. He then directed his scorn to the movies, believing that the moral compass is not “reflected in the films.” He doesn’t agree with a “Batman who kills and an Aquaman called Drago.” Priest quickly tagged up with a “Look, kid!” Lee answers in place of Johns, disagreeing with the fan, feeling that the movies do in fact reflect what they’ve been pushing, mentioning the Justice League trailer. The fan interrupts to gripe about Aquaman’s dark hair and hoping that that was not implemented in the comic book. The artist quickly retorts with, “Well, dark hair really has no reflection on his sense of morality.” The crowd quickly cheers for Lee, but Lee continues over the crowd, explaining that the filmmakers require creative freedom to build their own characters. Lastly, he ends with, “Also, we don’t know what the color of his hair will turn out to be, I will just say that.”
Attending a WonderCon panel, an attendee talked about being severely moved by seeing the gender-equal split in the Batman creative team, mentioning it was something she had never seen before. The fan then asked about how the diversity affected the stories, if it made them more interesting. The crowd applauded the sentiment, while Lee quickly replied in the affirmative and that it has been a point of focus in the industry. He expressed the fact that they are listening and notices when fans are pleased with their choice. He mentions a directive headed by Bobby Chase [Editor and writer, who is now currently working as Vice President of DC Talent Development] aimed at recruiting and developing talent with “unique voices.” Of the program, he talks about how the recruits are given courses with very prominent creators such as Scott Snyder. As her conclusion, the fan sincerely thanks the panel.
Following up that emotional moment, a young fan gets up to the microphone and recalls the 3 Jokers reveal involving Batman and Hal Jordan, mentioning the Comedian’s infamous happy face pin. DiDio jokingly shushes him for spoilers. The fan inquires if the there will be a Hal Jordan/Batman team up involving the Jokers and the Comedian. DiDio reveals that the Flash and Batman will be teaming up to investigate the bloodstain on the Comedian’s happy face pin. The fan, however, was not quite pleased and challenged DiDio with, “But wouldn’t Hal Jordan also have to help because he and Batman are so far the only ones who know about the Jokers?” Stumped, DiDio simply said that he’d “let the writers know.”
The next young fan asks about the change in the DC universe and how the titles are not exploring it. DiDio advises the young man to read Teen Titans, as they were “directly affected by the return of Wally,” explaining that that will be the objective of the first story arc, as they attempt to determine what happened.
A fan talks about coming back to Rebirth after a hiatus. Referencing the multiverse, the fan inquires about the Milestone characters and if they will be making a return, receiving vehement support from the crowd. Lee reiterates an announcement made before and affirms that yes, the characters will be returning. Comic book writer, movie director, and one of the essential people working to bring back Milestone, Reggie Hudlin has been working with DC. According to Lee, Hudlin had been away working on a movie, but returned at the beginning of July and they have been in contact since. As well as Milestone, they will be incorporating other classic and new concepts in what is being called Earth M.
Closing out the fan questions, the next fan references an embassy in Atlantis and inquires about Atlantean relations with the surface world. DiDio talks about a story that will focus on making Atlantis a “worldpower,” promising Aquaman fans a “good year.”
DiDio closes out the panel recalling a moment in October, at New York Comic-Con. He remembers hosting a panel and finding that after they had finished talking, nobody had any questions. It was at that moment that they “realized that something was lost. That connection was lost with our fans.” It was at that moment, they felt something was needed to re-establish that connection and “fix it,” which started them on Rebirth. DiDio thanks the fans for their attendance and “for caring.”