It was the announcement that launched a thousand blog posts, podcasts, forum threads, Facebook musings, tweets, drive-by Google plus-ings and comic shop conversations. DC comics were going to renumber their mainstream comic lines starting everything back at issue #1. A re-boot, re-launch, comics event, call it what you will, but at the end of the day DC would have a “New 52″ comic line-up.
A simple renumbering of existing books is not the only change in the works. Many of the affected characters will receive costume changes, although these appear to be mostly minor, based on images released thus far. Storylines will also be tweaked and re-set, and this is where fans sat up and began to howl.
What’s All The Noise About?
Comic book companies have a habit of re-writing their canon whenever it suits them. Like the old Soviet practice of “disappearing” someone by cutting them out of photographs, comic companies will on occasion reboot their storylines at the expense of prior history. Some characters get killed off, others get brought back from the dead. Sometimes fans like this, sometimes not. For DC comics the opportunity to enrage and engage fans is fast approaching as the August 31st launch date for the “epic” renumbering of their comic book line gets closer.
Why do comic companies risk such wrath from their base of longtime fans? What could possibly motivate a publisher to tinker with beloved characters by making such wholesale changes? DC Comics co-publisher Dan DiDio explained it this way to US Today:
This was a chance to start, not at the beginning, but at a point where our characters are younger and the stories are being told for today’s audience.
“Today’s audience”? I don’t know who Dan DiDio thinks his comics have been aimed at these past few years, but if you pick up a comic you’ll see they’re not the “biff”, “bam”, “pow” Lichtenstein-style, ben-day dot-covered joyful free-for-all from a bygone age. By “today’s audience” I guess we’re to understand they mean a younger demographic. There was a time when comics were thought of as a medium aimed for kids, but this hasn’t been the case in the last twenty or so years even though the myth of that perception persists. Today’s audience is largely male, and skews to an older demographic of guys in their 20′s, and even 30′s and 40′s. That’s right, guys like me. (No surprise that I’m writing a blog) Kids? Not so much.
If the intention was to go after kids and get them hooked into reading comics at a younger age, then you would think the solution would be to create more comics aimed at their reading level with content that is a little lighter in tone and subject matter. But as Phil Hampton discusses in his recent blog post “How Marvel, DC and You Can Save the Comic Industry” this isn’t the case. None of the New 52 books by DC are going to be all-ages books. In fact, DC are only publishing 6 comic books which will be all-ages (these are non-New 52 titles). So, while perhaps the reboot will attract the interest of non-comic book fans, there’s little to indicate that they will be from among the under 12 set.
But who can blame DC for trying? They have do something and so far, there’s a lot competing for the attention of “today’s audience”: video games in the form of Xbox, Playstation and Wii, online games, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. There are too many things to distract kids from the simple pleasures of reading a comic. With that in mind, DC’s reboot announcement also detailed plans to offer same-day digital versions of the comics.
Jump On, Jump Off?
DC are selling the entire package as a jumping-on point for new fans to follow the DC line of Super-Heroes. Cynics are seeing it as a desperate attempt to prop up the number two publisher in a struggling industry.
Struggling? Yes. Despite the massive success in recent years of comic-based movie adaptations, the glory days in which comic books could sell in the millions on a monthly basis are long over. Not since the forties, in fact. Will these new moves benefit DC and comics in general? Maybe.
I’ll admit to being skeptical when I first heard DC’s announcement, and I even wondered if their jumping-on point might not also be a good jumping-off point. I’ve felt burned too often by “event” comics such as Bloodlines, Zero Hour, Batman RIP, the list goes on and on and on, but that’s all for another post. I wondered, like many, if the New 52 with all of its precious #1 issues wasn’t simply another way of reaching into my wallet.
Okay, So Here’s My Wallet
Last week I finally started looking at DC’s New 52 and began making some choices through All New Comics, my online comic ordering service. The creative teams on some of the books have piqued my interest and despite my skepticism I’ll give a few a try.
I’ll keep up my Batman and Detective comics even though I’ll miss the current storyline which has Dick Grayson in the role of Batman mentoring Bruce Wayne’s bastard love-child Damian as Robin. I’ll continue on with Batgirl, although I was enjoying Stephanie Brown in that role and will find it odd to see Barbara Gordon freed from the wheelchair she has been confined to since being shot by the Joker in 1988′s Killing Joke. And I’ve been waiting ever so patiently for Batwoman because the first mini-series by J.H. Williams was beyond awesome and I want to see more.
I’m looking forward to the DCU Presents‘ anthology series which will start out with the recently revived Deadman. And despite the fact that I’m not a big fan of Moritat’s art from his run on The Spirit, I’ll give him a chance on All Star Western (another anthology series) because I like what Gray and Palmiotti have done so far with Jonah Hex over 50 or so issues and I see that Jordi Bernet will return as artist in the second issue.
I’ll keep up with The Flash, Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps and Legion of Super-Heroes. And I’ll check out Justice League, Justice League Dark, Swamp Thing and Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E (because, as bizarre as the title sounds, Jeff Lemire is writing it).
I’m sure there are other titles that I might give a try for an issue or two. All of the books are on probation as far I’m concerned. In the end, I guess that’s all that DC wants, is to get the chance at more of my dollars. For all the insane chatter their reboot has generated, there’s got to be some potential upside for them. The question is, will they continue to earn fans’ dollars after the #1′s? And more importantly, will the consequences from these changes remain in place, or will DC begin switching things back if the tinkering proves to be an unpopular failure?
It remains to be seen. All the New 52 books roll out starting on August 31 and for the next five Wednesdays.