Robot 6

Chain Reactions | DC’s reboot, relaunch and new digital strategy

DC Comics

This week DC Comics made headlines and turned heads with its announcement that it would reboot and relaunch the majority of its titles this September. Titles will end, others will begin, DC’s current status quo will be rewritten and undone in a way we probably haven’t seen since Crisis on Infinite Earths or maybe Zero Hour or what have you. They’ve announced the fall will bring:

  • 52 new first issues, starting the last week in August with the launch of Justice League by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee
  • New creative teams, like Grant Morrison writing Superman Fabian Nicieza writing Teen Titans and James Robinson Tony Daniel on Hawkman. Gail Simone and Marc Guggenheim, meanwhile, won’t be writing Birds of Prey or Justice Society of America, respectively.
  • Day-and-date digital release of all the titles.
  • Pants for the women!

Such news brings reactions, of course, and here are just a few pull quotes from around the web … be sure to click through to read them in their entirety:

Tom Foss, Fortress of Soliloquy: “On one hand, I’m impressed that DC would do something this ballsy; gaining new readers means shaking things up and possibly stepping on some of the long-term fans’ toes, and this genre is in desperate need of new readers. On the other hand, this isn’t going to last. Marvel’s learned that the flipside to a new #1 is that you jettison the history and gravitas of a large number (and conversely, that large numbers–even without reason–have some kind of appeal), and Detective Comics is rapidly approaching that #900 milestone that Action Comics just hit, meaning there will be, at most, 19 months of this “renumbering” nonsense (Detective #881 ships in August) before we see some high numbers again.”

Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter: “Overall, this sounds to me like that time when the older, dependable brother in a respected family gets sick of always being the source of stability and flips the fuck out and does something slightly nuts, with the knowledge that ultimately the family money takes care of him even if his crappy decisions goof up a few sets of lives tied into his own. I’ve thought in recent years that publishing entities companies like Marvel and DC should be concentrating on core readerships rather than mass ones, that growing their existing audience by 200 percent was a lot more reasonable a goal than somehow matching the heat and flash and cultural buzz that comes with something like that last Batman movie.”

Peter David, Writer of Stuff: “How do you order DC titles for September? Fifty two #1 issues as the entire line reboots. Do you order it with inflated numbers as a #1 suggests? Do you just order off your previous numbers? Except how do you factor in the possible impact of the simultaneous release of electronic editions? How much business is that going to siphon off? Decades ago, DC came up with the hardcover/softcover near-simultaneous release of some of their most popular titles and it was a spectacular failure. But at least the retailers themselves weren’t threatened.

“Or perhaps we’re just being paranoid. I mean, bookstores as a whole are doing extremely well and aren’t closing right and left, so it’s not as if comic book stores need to worry about their bottom line, right? Right?”

Tim Hodler, The Comics Journal: “I don’t make any claims for myself as an industry analyst, but to my thinking, the “historic renumbering” of DC’s superhero titles (which seems to have garnered the lion’s share of commentary) isn’t nearly as big a deal in the long run as the announcement that DC will be selling all of the titles digitally on the same date as their print publication. It is hard to believe that this isn’t going to be a huge blow to the direct market’s sales. On the other hand, this development has seemed more or less inevitable for a few years now, and while people may not have expected the switch to day-and-date digital to happen this summer, everyone knew it was coming eventually. I guess I’d say to you that if you really like your local comic store, now is the time to frequent it — before it goes the way of your favorite local record shop. But I’d like to be wrong.”

David Uzumeri, ComicsAlliance: “Unfortunately, while DC is unquestionably making a bold risk, it could blow up in their face just as easily as it could drag comics publishing kicking, screaming and tantruming into the twenty-first century. DC isn’t launching a manageable line of high-class titles that they can slowly expand; they are flooding the market with fifty-two new series. Fifty-two. I’m not sure there are fifty-two exemplary creative teams in all of comics. Inevitably, a large number of these books are going to be a complete bust, and the new casual digital fan they’re courting with this initiative won’t have any idea which those will be.”

Mike Sterling, Progressive Ruin: “While I’m curious as a fan about what DC is doing, as a retailer I’m a little worried. Not just about the jumping-off point thing I noted already, but also about how I’m going to explain this to the customers who are going to be caught completely by surprise by DC’s plans. I know it sounds strange, since all of you reading this are plugged into the Web Matrix-style via interface ports at the bases of your skulls, but I have regular customers for whom their exposure to comics news comes from walking into the store and looking at the rack to see what’s new. I can hear them already: “Hey, why is Superman at issue #1 again? And Batman? …And, hey, Legion of Super-Heroes? Again? What’s going on?” Which is fine…that’s part of my job, to explain what new dumb thing a comic publisher has done to confuse and frighten its readership this week.”

Retailer Brian Hibbs, Savage Critics:” …full line-wide day and day is potentially huge because of the ripple impact it might have. It will take very very very few current customers moving channels to have a catastrophic cascade impact along and down the chain. Maybe as little as 3-5%? If we’re not netting more NEW readers (and I DO NOT MEAN “Marvel readers switching loyalty”) (And see above) we’re really running the risk of the entire comics market collapsing in fairly fast order — and I’m including things that aren’t superheroes.”

Matt Maxwell, Highway 62: “And most importantly, what on earth will DC actually do to get people reading comics? You can put out press releases in USA TODAY until you’re as blue in the face as Superman’s now-trunkless swimming suit area, but unless you motivate people to read the comics, that’s just hot air. Are the single chapters going to be created so captivatingly that people will have no choice to read, or will they just be taking up space until the collection? Will the single issues just be random storylines that are driven by reader loyalty to a character until the inevitable crossover when something Might Actually Happen? Because that’s been DC as usual, by and large (sure, there’s exceptions where things are actually happening, but that’s exceptions and not the rule.)

“Will these comics actually appeal to the new audience that they’re hoping for? ‘Cause you can’t just hope for an audience and have it happen. Believe me. Instead of aging the books for an aging audience, will this new incarnation actually appeal to readers who’ve never picked up one of these books before? Because that’s the real challenge. If it’s the same old material (no matter how professionally executed) then nothing will change. It’ll be putting a new costume on an old character. And that always works, right?”

J. Caleb Mozzocco, Everyv Day Is Like Wednesday: “I hope this doesn’t get too bogged down in continuity, and is neither a hard reboot a la Crisis On Infinite Earths or any sort of soft reboot—the DC Universe has been in a more or less constant state of soft reboot since a few years before Infinite Crisis, with various mistakes being sold as the in-story result of Superboy-Prime punching the walls of continuity. The effect has been that DC has kept the drawbacks of tight continuity, while losing its benefits. Rather than wiping the slate clean here, I hope the focus is on making stories accessible, and writing around continuity conundrums where they arise (Which means knowing the comics that came before. Which is pretty damn easy if you have an Internet connection). (From DC’s perspective, a hard reboot bringing about a clean slate can seem appealing, as it’s an easy way to get the Batman franchise back to “normal” after Morrison’s Batman Inc. plan to sweep way things like JMS’s runs on Superman and Wonder Woman, that stupid David Finch Batman book that never shifts, everything they did to Green Arrow and Roy Harper, etc., but it also disincentives readers to read anything published before September 2011, and DC has a gigantic backlog of great comics).”

Don MacPherson, Eye on Comics: “The more puzzling reactions I’ve read online were those from readers. Many have complained that since DC continuity is getting some sort of a reboot (or at least a partial reboot) in the fall, all of the stories unfolding in DC titles now, in recent weeks, and in the months and years that have passed “don’t matter.” Somehow, a retooling of the DC line, its characters and continuity means those stories didn’t happen, that having read them and invested in the adventures of DC’s heroes and villains was time and money wasted.

“Here’s the problem with that argument: those stories never mattered in the first place. They never happened at all. And many people would argue that money spent on those comics was wasted, that there were more important, more valuable and better things for us to have invested in or purchased.”

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Comments

17 Comments

Nicieza says he’s not writing Teen Titans. Did that info come from a source at DC?

Another big problem with the direct market and comics is that it depends on pure discretionary spending. Money you can blow on $3 comics that take ten minutes to read and never get seen again. Most people are still hurting economically, from gas prices and stock market declines and what have you, so they are not going to patronize that local comic shop. They *might* spend ten or twenty bucks online more easily as an impulse purchase, but deliberately driving to the LCS and dropping forty bucks?

Simon DelMonte

June 2, 2011 at 6:51 am

The quote from MacPherson is only part of his very intelligent, well reasoned, and above all calm reaction. Read it and see.

The monthly format has, unfortunately, become cost prohibitive to most readers, young or old. Long gone are the days where you could walk out of a comic book store with a stack of 10 or more issues. Even at $2.99, most of these comics can be read in 5-10 minutes and that’s it.

When it comes to reading, the younger readers I know (my kids, their friends, kids of my friends, etc.) gravitate to not only digital but also to more substantial formats. Something like the Archie digests or smaller Marvel Adventures collections available at bookstores. These have a lot of material and even at $6-$12.00 a piece, they feel like they’re getting something substantial, and not just something they can be done with in one sitting.

Plus these would be easier to distribute to retailers where younger readers are more likely to be — sorry comic stores — but places like a supermarket or Target… or even a Disney Store.

They may be cost prohibitive, but the OGN idea seems like a solid one, as does an emphasis on collected editions — again, not just $20 trade paperbacks, but smaller, more affordable digests or collections of 3-6 “issues.” Plus, so many of these characters that just can’t support a monthly comic (Doom Patrol, Blue Beetle, Atom, etc. etc.) could work very nice in an anthology format.

Yeah, chaps, Fabian is not writing Teen Titans. Brett Booth is drawing it though.

Andrew Collins

June 2, 2011 at 7:42 am

As I picked up my comics yesterday at my comic shop, I talked with the owner and employees some about the ‘reboot’ announcement and the actual content of the comics to them was secondary to the news about the digital day-and-date releases. That has them very worried and more than a little upset at DC…

Good stuff all around. Very exciting to me, as a non-DC reader.

It’s been updated.

I agree with Hodler: The REAl issue here is the conversion to same-day-digital-release. Isn’t that like selling the DVD of a movie on the SAME day it premieres? But I guess DC has decided that paper comics ARE doomed, maybe not yet but soon, and they should just start converting to digital-only already, and this is just a way to get the audience used to the fact.

Mozzococo also has an excellent point: the DC people just don’t seem to know how to get their continuity to work. They talk a lot about big plans but then let the writers run unchecked. My guess is that they’ll use this event only to erase their recent mistakes (Countdown, the Wonder Woman reboot, hopefully Cry For Justice too) and add a few new-looking details eg. costumes but otherwise it will be the same continuity from 2004 (when Didio took over) onwards.

Excuse, Mr, David? You had a point to make? It kind of got lost in all the sarcasm. Better luck next time.

And McPherson: God, not the stupid “technically comics don’t matter to begin with” reaction again, I couldn’t even finish reading his quote. He should remember HIS opinion doesn’t technically matter anymore than anyone else’s, either.

Nah, Peter David makes some good points, although I agree that we could all do without Don MacPherson’s sanctimonious sermonizing. Why can’t Randy Lander still be as prolific a writer/commenter as that guy?

Fabian Nicieza on Teen Titans was pretty much the one bit of interesting news reported here on CBR about the upcoming reboot so far (Morrison on Wonder Woman seems like a waste of a great writer on a structurally-flawed character), so that not being the case sucks.

And the first ten books revealed over at the Source are all extremely underwhelming, both in their choice of characters and creative teams. I mean, another Captain Atom book, really? Mister Terrific? From the company sitting on such crack concepts as Captain Marvel, the Doom Patrol, Shade, the Challengers of the Unknown and Mister Miracle? Dan Jurgens on JLI instead of Judd Winick, Tony Daniels on Hawkman instead of James Robinson, JT Krul actually still getting assignments…it all just boggles the mind.

The Prowler, Morrison isn’t on Wonder Woman. Azzarello is writing that, with Cliff Chiang on art. It’s in the very same article you discuss about the first 10 books. Also on CBR’s front page.

You’re absolutely right, Rich, but I was referring to the earliest wave of rumors and speculation, the one that also included Nicieza doing Teen Titans, and clarifying why I thought that sounded sweetest of all, since usually news of Morrison doing X would logically trump that (because hey, Morrison). Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang on Wonder Woman is certainly an unexpected and brave choice (and one that I’ll definitely give a try), but unfortunately the same criticism applies: Wonder Woman, IMO, will always be structurally flawed, and besides, Azzarello’s forte isn’t really superheroes. I’d much rather see him on one of Marvel’s street-level heroes than one of DC’s shiny icons.

DC could have come up with an alternative to a big reboot. They didn’t. They could’ve done these ideas of mine, and correct me if I’m wrong if these would or wouldn’t work:
1. Put recap pages in their books. Makes it a little easier for newer readers to see “the story so far.” Marvel does that all the time!
2. Just before the opening and after ending of one of their movies, they could put up a little disclaimer that says something like “To learn more about the characters depicted in this film, visit your local book retailer or comic book retailer, or go online at www.(insert DC or Marvel website).com.” It would actually ENCOURAGE people to find out more about the characters they may or may not necessarily love.
3. Put out more of those “Saga” or “Reading Chronology”-type books so they get the ideas of what the characters have been through. From there, they can decide where to jump into the stories.
4. At a movie screening, do a promotional thing where you get a free “origin” or “Handbook”-style comic with your ticket purchase. They have a starting point because of that.

Those methods would have been WAY better that a company-wide reboot; they could make some money off of that, and get newer and younger readers at the same time. Putting them in more general retail outlets would also help, as pointed out earlier. I was in a Barnes and Noble the other day, and lo and behold, they just put in two racks dedicated to comic books in their magazine section for all to see!!! And there’s more titles on those two combined aimed at a variety of ages and demographics.

What I’m really concerned about is this Wonder Woman costume. While I am not opposed to the long pants and I do think this new Jim Lee version swapping out the gold for silver and ditching the bracelet/glove combo for a more traditional guantlet; also I don’t mind the arm band too much, but the chocker has GOT to GO!! Ditch the chocker, are you listening Jim?! It’s just too much. Also it would be nice if DC would alos introduce a gay hero to match the lesbian Batwoman. Then I’d subscribe to the digital books.

The only way im getting any of these is when the online retailer i buy books from gives big discounts on them(bigger than the reg store i go to for some stuff) this is going to flop and badly. In mu opinion DC needs to fire didio and lee period. They need management that can push good stories, and an editor the can balance the writers individual freedom with the conciseness needed for a company wide canon for lack of a better word. This crew are not it. Im not gettting them as they will be erased in the next reboot a yr to 18 months away.. detective comics 900 anyone.

concerned citizen

June 4, 2011 at 8:26 am

so ….. so much for drawing the line at 2.99… now we get drink coasters with our books like Blurays give us as well. awesome. i am so thrilled. cant you tell.

Gerald Costlow

June 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm

First, Don Macpherson can’t be that stupid. If a story and character are written correctly, people become emotionally invested in them as readers. It’s why they pay hard earned money for the books! We care about their struggles and failures and triumphs, even while knowing they are just fictional characters. If he cares so little about the readers, why in the world is he treated like some sort of expert?

Second, this really is all about Big Money dictating the comics must dance to the tune of the blockbuster movies. So the old trick of throwing a “First Issue” at the buyer for force sales is once again pulled out, and at the same time the costumes and characters and origins are brought more in line with what works on the big screen. We knew it was coming. The only blessing is that maybe we can bury that God Awful Blackest Night storyline forever.

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