DC thoughts

I almost titled this something silly like “DC Thawtz,” because it turns out I don’t have many that aren’t obvious to everyone, most likely.

So to restate the news, DC is relaunching its entire superhero line with 52 brand new #1 issues in September. From those issues forward, its comics will be released digitally the same day they hit shops. DC’s superhero continuity will be rebooted, with some characters receiving minor tweaks, some getting major overhauls, and some getting erased entirely.

Cons: This risks alienating DC’s existing fanbase, arguably the most continuity-devoted in all of comics; it risks alienating DC’s retail partners, who I believe have historically viewed DC as the friendlier of the Big Two and who now have to simultaneously weather 52 unknown quantities coming at them at once and the advent of line-wide day-and-date digital all within the same month, all from the publisher they used to count on as being solidly in their corner; it will likely tax DC’s creative talent, who apart from Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison have a mixed record at best when it comes to translating their ideas into sales; it risks violating the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” maxim on DC’s sales successes like Green Lantern and Batman Incorporated, which not coincidentally are written by Johns and Morrison respectively; some of the move’s proclaimed creative tentpoles, such as tying the stories more tightly to real-world concerns and the debut of new costumes designed by Jim Lee, an artist famous for many things none of which are costume design, are less than promising.

Pros: On the other hand, it could mean an infusion of new blood and new approaches, if the DC’s talent recruiters are up to the task and if the publisher takes advantage of the vast number of series it will be publishing to experiment a bit; it marks a bold break from Direct Market retailers, the eggshells on which publishers have historically walked when exploring digital publishing avenues regardless of those avenues’ merits; it undoubtedly will give DC brass a short-term “We’re Number One!” boost of the sort their higher-ups will be happy to see; if any of it sticks at all, it could give DC the trendsetter mojo so necessary to maintain fannish attention in an era where all stories must be seen to “matter.”

Personally I think the day-and-date element is undervalued, not in terms of it being a bigger deal than the overall relaunch effort, but simply in terms of what it might mean for sales and revenue. The off-the-record anecdotes I’ve heard from the Big Two suggest that making comics available in this way is like backing up the money truck to the lobby doors and dumping away, with minimal expenditure on the publishers’ end. Moreover, if the lack of coverage of vast swathes of America with no conveniently located comics shop is a problem you think is important, well, problem solved.

The most important question to me is “Will this yield more good comics?”, and on that and many other issues, you pretty much have to reserve judgment until the 52 creative teams (!) are revealed. In 2010, DC’s top 26 bestselling books were all written by either Johns or Morrison, and despite (say) critical plaudits for Paul Cornell on Action Comics or Scott Snyder’s steady sales increases on Detective Comics or David Finch’s huge-selling but seemingly abortive writer-artist run on Batman: The Dark Knight, none of their creators have made significant inroads toward reaching that level. We’ll see who DC brings aboard, who they reshuffle, and how many of the marquee titles have Grant and Geoff behind them. Only then will we get a sense of how successful this bold move will be.

9 Responses to DC thoughts

  1. MAD says:

    Well, at least we’re getting a new Supeman title by Grant Morrison. So, even if it all implodes in a horrendous fashion, we’ll have that.

    I personally can’t see this as anything other than a stunt that can only yield (very) short-term profits. None of this has anything to do with improving the quality of the books, which is something doesn’t need reboots or renumberings to occur. I think I hurt my eyes from all the rolling they did as I read the press release and subsequent details.

    As for the digital thing, I still believe the future of that is inextricably linked to adequate pricing. I know it is for me.

  2. Pat says:

    That letter to retailers they released should have just said “Nice knowing you!”.

    If the DM’s days weren’t numbered already, this oughta do it.

  3. Sean Belcher says:

    I’ve been reading some very cynical takes on this, and I can understand that cynicism, but this does really signify a pretty clear break from how Marvel – this *feels* like a deliberate attempt to bring more attention to the characters, and by characters I mean the intellectual properties. I mean, nobody really gives a shit who the Flash is under the mask unless you’re a nerd – it’s a logo and a powerset. It’s pretty obvious this is no longer about getting folks into their local comics shop – it’s about exposing new customers to these properties and finding a new audience for Superman, the brand. Similarly, it really does seem to me that they’re telling retailers and their core, nostalgia- and continuity-driven comics fan that no matter how supportive or vocal they may be, they aren’t capable of expanding those brands (Superman, Flash, Green Lantern, etc) and bringing in greater profit; they’re a closed and shrinking resource of income for DC/Warners.
    I’m not saying this represents a big ‘fuck you’ to the comics market, the equivalent of taking their ball and going home–they are still clinging to the monthly comics magazine, which indicates there is at least some interest on their part in keeping their foot in the water. I just have to wonder myself where this audience for a newer, fresher DCU is going to come from? How many teenagers will really follow the monthly adventures of Deadman and Aquaman, even if they are priced at 1.50 or less for a DL? What’s DC’s marketing plan to introduce the idea of following a comic monthly to this new digital consumer under the age of 40? Was the DCU game’s initial subscription rate a big indicator that there’s a vast, untapped market for these characters among the “hipper” target audience? And how confident are we that the same teams that were bringing us the lackluster adventures of these characters in March are capable of making bold new comics that feel innovative and brash in September? That’s not a knock on Cornell or Snyder, but on the approach to comics that seems to be firmly part of DC’s firmware. Lots of questions and until this shakes out, there’s no real answers…
    I am curious – you’ve heard from those in the know that digital is being considered a profitable enough market that this makes sense, and I doubt DC would be doing it if they didn’t have the research to indicate it might be, but all I’ve been hearing from creators is that digital sales “aren’t there yet,” and Bendis even said they only pull in what you’d get from a healthy comic shop any given month. Do you think this stands a chance of exploding DC’s revenue to a significant degree?

  4. Sean Belcher says:

    Ugh. First sentence should read “…clear break from Marvel’s approach” – I haven’t had my coffee yet.

  5. MAD says:

    Then again, this could all just be their coy-and-hyped way of promoting what is essentially an “Age of Apocalypse”-type thing for all of the DC Universe (in which case the renumbering makes sense). Which means none of this is permanent, period.

  6. Sean Belcher says:

    @MAD
    Isn’t that what Flashpoint is, essentially?

  7. MAD says:

    @Sean: I think so, yeah. That’s just from the few details I’ve heard here and there as I haven’t read it (nor do I plan to…ever). But if Flashpoint is “DC’s AoA,” then the “re-launching” sort of makes sense, it’s temoporary, and we’re all making a huge deal out of nothing. Remember that Bob Harras (one of the architects of AoA) is also behind this. However, the way they are marketing it leaves open the possibility that this is more than that.

    Regardless, I still think the way it’s being done is symptomatic of the poor way DC has handled its editorial duties for years. There’s a big difference between “rebooting” a group of books (i.e. the X-books) to serve a larger story and “rebooting” a company’s entire line of books to serve a smaller story. Personally, the only DC books I read regularly are Xombi and Detective (and Superboy, though I’m getting bired with it), due to the creators, and was planning on getting Batwoman. I don’t care for Geoff Johns, Flashpoint, or any other DC “event” nonsense. In fact, I actively shun that stuff as I find it to be among the worst problems of periodical superhero dreck. But if this thing is what I think it is (a Flashpoint-led, AoA-like, alternate-universe temporary “reboot”), then I’m going to have to stop reading those books, at least until the come back.

    This is not to say that they should cater exclusively to what I want to read. Hell, they can do whatever they want. What’s ridiculous is that this is EXACTLY what they are promising they are moving away from. I liked reading those books because they are accessible and (mostly) free from the general idiocy that permeates DC’s “shared universe” that caters only to aging fanboys. By making this “reboot” a part of some “EVENT” story (albeit temporarily) that I had no interest in and was actively avoiding, they alienate readers like me and further entrench themselves in the toxic editorial policies that prevent them from reaching a larger readership.
    …which was apparently the opposite of their goal with this stunt.
    …yeah, this makes my head hurt.

    But then again, I could be completely wrong.

  8. Jon Hastings says:

    I don’t know… Thinking about this makes me very aware of how shallow DC’s creative bench really is. I mean, I can imagine the guys at Marvel (barely) pulling something like this off, but DC seems to have only about 10 guys who are consistently worth looking at (and of those guys, some seem to be reallllly slow – Frank Quitely, JH Williams…). I like this point that Brian Hibbs made: if DC started with 12 books instead of 52, this might have a chance. But it seems like they aren’t interested in doing the hard work of growing an audience…

  9. Bruce Baugh says:

    I guess my major concern is that I don’t see the slightest reason to believe this will stick any more than anything else they’ve done in the last decade or two. Come two-three years from now, tops, and it’ll be on to the next thing. I’d like to see some of my old fave characters, and new ones I’m open to discovering, get runs that can last more than that.