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.