Geoff Johns On DC's Rebirth And Why We Love Comics

by Charlotte Ahlin

Any comic book fan will tell you that nothing in comics stays dead for long. Superheroes are like cockroaches. You may think that they're gone, dead, done for, completely out of your life—but when you least expect it, they come roaring back from the grave to fight for justice and crawl out of the drain when you're trying to shower.

The newest special from DC is no ordinary resurrection, though. This isn't just the death of Superman all over again, or another several dozen actors being cast as Spider-Man. DC Universe: Rebirth is about reinvention, sure. But it's also about restoring legacy, hope, love, fun, and all the other things that made us fall in love with comic books in the first place (you can pretend you're all about the dark and gritty Batman story arcs, but we all know you're just in it for Black Canary making out with Green Arrow).

In 2011, DC Comics rebooted their universe with the New 52. Every series started over from issue one. It was very nearly a clean slate—years of character backstory, development, and will-they-won't-they relationships went out the window. But Rebirth brings back some of that fan-favorite history, along with diverse new characters and one truly mind-bending crossover. Seriously. Comic book fans, don't read this book while holding anything breakable.

The incomparable Geoff Johns, DC's Chief Creative Officer, talked to Bustle about the process of writing DC's Rebirth (and why we all love comic books so damn much). Beware of spoilers ahead.

To begin with, Johns made it clear that Rebirth is for all readers: “It's for everyone, the heroes are for everyone... I tried to make it as new reader friendly as possible and also, at the same time, for someone who’s read comics for twenty years. They can read it too. That was my goal with the book, but there is a reason that there’s so much history there, because I did want to lay it out, hopefully, in an emotional way.”

There is indeed a lot of history: Rebirth pings back and forth across the DC Universe, breezing by old heroes and introducing us to new ones. We see Batman brooding. We watch the two Blue Beetles bicker. We learn that Aqualad has a boyfriend now. But the story still manages to stay grounded in Wally West, former Kid Flash, as he struggles to re-enter the timeline. Johns wanted to give the story an emotional through-line, and Wally has always been one of his favorite characters.

“I love that Wally West was a sad lonely kid, and he found inspiration," says Johns. "That’s what it’s about. It’s not about, like ‘this issue happened, and then Crisis happened’—that stuff doesn’t matter. It’s the emotional journey of Wally, so I tried to tell it through his point of view, emotionally.”

Rebirth isn't just about retconning a whole bunch of missing backstory back into the DC Universe. When Johns set out to write the special, he says he started by writing a few words on a white board: "Legacy, hope, optimism, heart, relationships... I’ve got to craft a story that addresses these things."

After all, we don't just love superheroes for their punching ability or their skin-tight outfits. We love the men and women behind the muscles, and that's what matters most to Johns as well. With this story, he hopes to "let the emotional stuff breathe…. let the story just be character."

There are certainly some emotional moments. If you're a Flash fan who hasn't picked up Rebirth yet, I'd definitely recommend some tissues for your read. But there's also a lot of wonderfully fun moments. Fans of Ryan Choi as the Atom, or Aquaman and Mera, or Constantine and Swamp Thing won't go home empty handed.

"Hopefully the take away from the DC Universe is that people will feel something," says Johns. "They’ll feel hope and optimism and love and care and heart and humor. There’s some fun stuff in there with Blue Beetle and Atom…. It’s the tone, which is so hard to nail with this stuff, that I think is really important to take away. This is the tone of the DC Universe."

And then, of course, there's the Big Spoiler. Here's where you should shut off your computer and run out to buy a copy of Rebirth before I ruin it for you. I'll wait.

Now that you've read Rebirth for yourself, we can talk about the elephant in the room: Batman finds the Comedian's button. Yeah. From Watchmen. And then we zoom out to Mars, to see just a hint of what could only be Dr. Manhattan messing around with gears. And every comic book fan's head explodes.

Johns admitted that those last few panels will probably spark debate between fans, saying, "I think the last reveal is going to momentarily overpower some of it."

He didn't tip his hand too much on the coming story arc between the DC heroes and the Watchmen, but he did say this: "It’ll be a story that would not involve double page spreads of superheroes smashing their fists into Dr. Manhattan. You’ve got to treat that very, very carefully. And I think it’s an intellectual and emotional story. It’s definitely not a ten-part crossover. That story’s a special, special story to tell."

He also had a few things to say about the (SPOILER ALERT) demise of Pandora at the hands of Dr. Manhattan: "My commentary on the character, is that obviously she came out of the New 52… but she dies saying, ‘I’m Pandora, I put all those horrible things out there. But hope is there too. You’re wrong, it exists. They’re going to prove you wrong.’ That’s the whole premise of the entire book."

Hope runs through every panel of Rebirth. The Watchmen reveal will send a few heads spinning, to be sure, but the real heart of the book is pure heroic optimism. Our favorite heroes are rising up against the forces of apathy. "Hopefully people will be surprised by it," says Johns. "I want people to be happy, I want people to be excited about the characters. When I was reading comics in high school, I met my best friend because he was reading a comic book. I had just moved from Detroit to this kind of lame suburb and I was sitting there, bummed, when I saw a kid reading a comic book. And it wasn’t one I bought. But I walked over like, ‘Oh, you read comics?’ And boop, he became my best friend. We traded comic books, we read comic books...

There’s a lot of thematics in here, but one is connection. And a guy struggling to connect to his loved ones again. I think all of us strive, as people, to connect to people. And comics, to me, are this universal connection. And I’m hoping that people connect to the characters, because that’s—that’s why I write, like, Aquaman and Mera. Because I love those characters, and I want other people to love those characters."

It's a comic book about Wally West struggling to reunite with his loved ones, and about hope versus pessimism, and about merpeople in love. But it's also about comic books at large, because the characters are why we read comics. "This is my favorite medium, comics," Johns says, "Look how much you can do on these pages. And there’s no budget!"

Johns wants fans to walk away thinking about the characters just as much as that mysterious smiley face button. "My hope is that there’s characters in here that people fall in love with. Like, wow I love the Atom now. Or, I love the Blue Beetles, I want to follow the Blue Beetles. Or, who’s this new Green Lantern?"

I'm sure some fans will want to scream and blog about the introduction of Watchmen to the main DC Universe, and they're welcome to. But this comic is a lot more than one incredibly cool crossover. It's about heart and hope and character. It's about the classic heroes we already know, and the new heroes we'll want to get to know. It's about making the DC Universe a brighter place to be. And it'll remind you why you love comic books in the first place.

Images: DC Entertainment