Last spring, DC Comics started over again. Under the Rebirth banner, the company relaunched its main books and reinvented its famous characters. This kind of event has become rather common among the two main superhero comics publishers in recent years: Marvel shook up its storied continuity with the Secret Wars event in 2015, and DC itself just did a huge relaunch in 2011 called the New 52. But where the New 52 had experimented with radical new directions for its characters (Superman dating Wonder Woman! No sidekicks for The Flash!) and got mixed results, Rebirth aimed to bring its characters back to their core elements while simultaneously looking to the future. It’s been a huge success so far, both commercially and critically.
Now that the first collections of the Rebirth line are rolling out, casual fans have a chance to see what all the fuss is about. To figure out how Rebirth came to be such a success, EW spoke to the creative teams behind five of DC’s biggest books (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, and The Flash) about how they freshened up their famous characters while still paying homage to past classics.
Writer Tom King and artist David Finch faced an immediate challenge by taking on DC Rebirth’s new Batman series: They were following up one of the most successful runs in the character’s entire history. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s five-year run on Batman was one of the few big successes of the New 52. They reinvigorated classic Batman villains like the Joker and the Riddler, added fascinating new ones like the Court of Owls, and sent the whole concept in new directions (at one point, Commissioner Gordon was piloting a giant Batman mech suit).
“Our job was not to fix the character, but to keep running with what they passed us,” King tells EW. “When you have a long run like Snyder and Capullo did, one way to create tension is to push Batman away from the center of where he had been. So we were bringing him back to a new center and starting over, trying to be as good as they were.”
To be sure, King and Finch’s run has featured some awesome streamlined versions of classic Batman characters like Catwoman and Bane. But right away, it introduced a never-before-seen element to Gotham City: super-powered heroes in the form of high-flying sibling duo Gotham and Gotham Girl.
Their arrival immediately shook up the status quo. Although Batman is on good terms with Superman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of DC’s many superheroes, the Justice League is typically forbidden from interfering in Gotham. That’s Batman’s territory, to be protected by him and the crew of former sidekicks, knockoffs, and reformed adversaries he’s assembled over the years. The introduction of Gotham and Gotham Girl was something Batman hasn’t really dealt with before.
“I was like, everyone’s always introducing something evil to Gotham. I’ll hit him with something good and see how that changes him or morphs him,” King says. “I wanted to bring Batman a challenge that he couldn’t defeat the way he normally defeats challenges. He sees that these characters might be better than him, in a good way. He sees a chance for them to succeed in ways he could never succeed.”
Before taking over Batman, King made his name with smart, complex, original comics like The Vision and The Sheriff of Babylon (both of which made it onto EW’s year-end roundup of 2016 comics). By contrast, he deliberately aimed to make his Batman more pure fun — and Finch was happy to help.
“I wanted Batman to not be like those comics, but like the kind of thing someone can read at the end of the day and go ‘Batman hell yeah,’” King says. “I was one of those kids who was kind of an outsider. I was bullied, dealt with all that crap. For those kinds of kids, reading Batman is the answer to a question you don’t even know. Seeing a guy with the desire and heart of a nerd, but with the power of the bully, is something else. It gives you hope.”
Both King and Finch are lifelong Batman fans, and the dark claustrophobia of Batman’s home in Gotham City is a perfect match for Finch’s art style.
“I don’t think there’s any comic that has the same potential for drama and visceral mood than Batman does. That’s what I love,” Finch says. “There are artists who love light, airy things and that’s never been me. I like dark, gritty real world kinds of things, and just aggression. I was bullied as a kid too, so I’ve got my own issues and I can get them out on the page.”
Batman Vol. 1: I Am Gotham is on sale now.