In 2011, DC changed its comics line forever in a linewide reboot of all of its major superhero comics under the banner of 'The New 52'. As someone who was covering it at the time, it was a heady time - and everyone had an strong opinion on it - good or bad. But everyone had opinions about it, which helped make it one of DC's largest succcess stories in modern times.
But every mountain must have its peak, and after that - it's downhill from there. On roughly the 10-year anniversary of when the bloom came off the rose of 'The New 52', we are talking with the DC's then-chief creative officer and defacto lead writer Geoff Johns about what happened, and what feelings were like behind the scenes when 'The New 52' lost that 'new car smell'.
"There were a lot of wonderful things about 'The New 52, like Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, which was amazing," Johns tells Popverse's Sam Stone. " You had the work on Animal Man and a lot of other characters, but there was also some that was missing from the prior version of the DC Universe."
Johns, who was hired as DC's Chief Creative Officer (the company's first) just a year prior, said that within a few years "sales had gotten soft" and one of DC's publishers, Dan DiDio, approached Johns as DC CCO about leading a refresh. Johns, who not only was an executive at the time but writer of several 'New 52' titles including Justice League and Aquaman and co-owned a comic store in Los Angeles, said the core issue was mixed signals DC was givening fans, and even their creators.
"...I think on some level, the creatives were confused of what counted and what didn’t, which always happens with these half reboots," says Johns.
According to Johns, early conversations about what to do with 'New 52' kept touching on the word 'rebirth' - specially Rebirth, as in referring to Johns line of successful relaunches of Green Lantern in 2004 and The Flash in 2009 whose initial storylines were titled 'Rebirth'
"We talked about it and Dan had used the word 'Rebirth' and I said, 'Dan, if Rebirth is going to be a theme, I want to go back to the original goals of Green Lantern: Rebirth were,'" says Johns. "It’s not just about going back-to-basics, it’s about going back-to-basics and finding that emotional center of the character and then expressing that in a big, bombastic way externally, the best way comic books can."
Johns said during the latter part of 'The New 52', the DC titles weren't focusing much on "what the character is all about, what the character represents, what the character explores, the thematics, the metaphors, the storytelling, the reason the character resonates for decades and decades in some cases."
Chief among the things missing with the "half reboot" that Johns called 'The New 52' was the character legacies.
"The heart of the DCU that was missing at the time was legacy because the legacies had been erased, the JSA didn’t exist, there were a lot of relationships that no longer existed," Johns tells Popverse. "It was an emotional void that I think a lot of people felt and, in some cases, readers had their proverbial umbilical cord cut with 'The New 52' and they felt it still and felt it even more."
For Johns, the absence of Wally West from 'The New 52' was what he missed most - and what he ended up making "the starting gun for the return of the DC continuity" with DC Universe: Rebirth #1. He describes Wally West as "the heartbeat of the missing emotional relationships that had been erased in a lot of cases, and remind us how important those are and how important he is."
"DC continuity, to me, is not just about the events, stories, costume changes, and all those things. That’s all fine, but those things come and go," says Johns. "It’s really about the emotional relationships and stories that affect the characters emotionally, that’s what’s important."
Another thing 'lost' with 'The New 52' that Johns lingers on is the erasure of Green Arrow and Black Canary's relationships.
"That was what I was missing more than specific events necessarily that had been gone because, a lot of times, an event happens and then you move on, it’s not as at the forefront of the title," says the former DC executive. "But the emotionality and heartbeat, for me, was missing and it was all about relationships, people, families, and friends that cared about each other."
Look for Popverse's full interview with Geoff Johns later this month.