Wednesday, June 1, 2011

DC's line-wide reboot: Some questions and first impressions

I'm sure I don't need to tell anyone who reads this blog the big news. The comics internet exploded this afternoon when Bleeding Cool leaked the story that DC was relaunching their entire line in September, including a new Justice League written by Geoff Johns with art by Jim Lee.

Shortly after, DC confirmed it on their blog and through a couple of USA Today stories (here and here). Additional details included the number of new books (52) and the fact that all of them (!!!) would be simultaneously available digitally.

Then everyone lost their shit! 

Overwhelmingly, the first reactions I encountered on Twitter and in comments in response to blog posts were cynical and/or alarmist. As comic book fans tend to do, they assumed the worst. DC was going to fuck this up. Our favourite books or characters would be ruined. New books would suck and lack originality. All this despite the fact that aside from the Justice League title, not a single detail has been announced or confirmed by DC yet.

There are plenty of rumours and opinions based on nothing going around the internet right now. I'm not going to help spread them here. CBR has a pretty good post about it. Bleeding Cool continues to post leaks and unconfirmed scoops.

What follows are a few first impressions and questions that I have about the reboot.

Number ones across the line

For the most part, I couldn't really care less about the number that appears on the cover of the comics I read. All I ever care about is getting a good story from a strong creative team. Beyond that, it's all marketing and packaging.

I understand that in order to convince people that they're serious about how Flashpoint completely and permanently alters the DC Universe, they can't be half-assed about the reboots. It wouldn't make any sense for them to relaunch most of their books but make a few exceptions here and there. That would defeat the purpose of this stunt. The reason this is working and gets people talking is that it's such a bold move. There have been rumours about a line-wide renumbering for weeks, but most of us (myself included) didn't really believe that they would go that far.

So it makes sense that they approached it as an all-or-nothing type of thing.

Still, I can't help but think that there are individual cases where going back to #1 sounds like a very bad idea. And first on that list, of course, are Action Comics and Detective Comics, DC's two longest-running titles with a 75-year publishing history. It seems crazy - I want to say blasphemous! - to publish a comic book called Action Comics #1 in 2011. There should only be one Action Comics #1. That's why copies of it are worth a million dollars!

But if we don't get a new #1 for those two, what's the alternative? We know they're not going to keep the original numbering, so that only leaves one option: end them. That also brings a tear to my eye, but honestly I would prefer to see them end than to see them relaunched with a new #1. There aren't a lot of publications I think deserve that kind of respect, but these two titles do. Relaunch Batman and Superman, I don't care, but not Action and 'Tec. Please.

The renumbering will also have an unfortunate side effect on very recent new series, the best example of which is Xombi. We're only three issues into it and so far it has been absolutely fantastic. I know that sales haven't been that high, but word-of-mouth was spreading and I was hoping it would survive at least a year before getting the axe. In September, it will either be relaunched with a new #1 after only 6 issues, which seems pretty ridiculous, especially considering how disconnected it is from everything else that's going on in the DCU, or it'll be quietly cancelled, which is terrible given how much potential it had (quality-wise, if not sales-wise). But I guess from a marketing point of view, Xombi is little more than collateral damage when weighted against the expected overall sales boost.

Same-day digital release across the line

I don't want to speculate too much about how this is going to affect the market, because I don't pretend to be an "industry analyst," but it seems pretty obvious that this is a big deal. In a way, it's surprising that it took this long for it to happen. And yet, it still feels like a jolt. There can be little doubt that Marvel will soon follow suit, and eventually most of the smaller publishers as well. In other words, shit just got real for digital comics distribution.

Does it signal the beginning of the end of paper comics? Probably not. It's hard to say what kind of impact it will have on the direct market, but it will certainly have one. I'll let others speculate.

The big question on everybody's mind right now is how much are those digital issues going to cost. I'm afraid that DC is going to choose to sell them for the same price as their paper comics, which seems like it would be a big mistake. I can't imagine why anybody would pay for a digital file when they can get an actual physical book for the same price. Not to mention that most regular readers get discounts at their stores, so they would in effect be paying more for the digital versions.

On the other hand, my impression is that these digital comics are largely aimed at people outside of the direct market. I mean, that's the whole point, isn't it? To tap into the fast-growing market of all those people who bought iPads and are looking for fun ways to use them. People who have never even set foot in a comic book store. I have no idea whether $2.99 for a digital version of a 20-page comic book sounds like a good deal to those people. It's very hard for me to put myself into their shoes, because (a) if they own an iPad, they obviously have more disposable income than I do, and (b) I'm biased because I already spend $30 a week on comics. Presumably DC has a team of professionals who are paid to figure these things out.

From my perspective, digital comics remain an interesting option for stuff that I'm kind of curious about but don't really care enough to invest in and collect. But that might change with time, depending on how the market evolves. In any case, this remains the most "significant" part of today's announcement, I think, in a big picture kind of way.

Mixed messages: focus on diversity vs. (mostly) white and male Justice League

DC's announcement on their blog doesn't mention diversity, but the first article at USA Today suggested the change would reflect "a more modern and diverse 21st century." Fans who give a shit about diversity were quick to point out the new Justice League seemed to feature a bunch of white dudes and a white woman, so where was the diversity?

Then as more details became available, it was revealed that Cyborg (a black man) would also be part of the League, in addition to the characters first announced (Batman, Superman, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern/Hal Jordan and Wonder Woman).

There's also this quote from the second USA Today piece:

The recent emphasis on diverse characters such as lesbian superheroine Batwoman, Hispanic hero Blue Beetle and African-American adventurer Cyborg (who will be a core member of Johns and Lee's new Justice League) also will continue.
To be perfectly honest, that's a big crock of shit. I'm glad that DC is even talking about diversity, a topic that they tend to avoid or dismiss whenever it's brought up by the fans online or at conventions. So if they're making efforts, great. I sincerely applaud them for that.

But don't pretend that there's been a "recent emphasis on diverse characters." You can't pick three characters who happen not to be straight white males and call that "emphasis." These characters are the exceptions, not the rule.

It's easy for them to say there's been a focus on this issue recently, but all evidence points to the contrary.  Where is the Batwoman book that was supposed to launch months ago? It's been pushed back numerous times already. (Presumably it will be one of the 52 new titles in September. I'll believe it when I see it.) It's worth pointing out that none of these characters mentioned in the examples have their own book.

So if DC merely intends to "continue" this "emphasis" on diversity, I guess we shouldn't hold our breath. We'll have a better idea once the other books are confirmed, but if the Justice League is any indication, it doesn't look very promising. Sure, Cyborg's on the team. But he wasn't even in the cropped picture that ran with the original announcement, and in the second article we're told that although there will be 14 members of the League, the focus will be on the six (white) characters mentioned above.

Well, at least they're not trying to pass Martian Manhunter as an example of diversity.

And what about Grant Morrison's Batman?

The last thing I want to comment on is something that we have absolutely no confirmed information on for now: How the hell does this fit in with Grant Morrison's plans for Batman? Will they wrap up before September? Are they going to continue in the post-Flashpoint universe? Or has he just given up on those?

After Bruce Wayne came back, a new status quo was established with Batman Incorporated. We were told this was all going to lead to something big. Now it seems doubtful that much of this status quo will remain in place in September. So either Grant Morrison's story is abandoned (which basically amounts to a big FUCK YOU to everyone who's stuck through all the ups and downs of his very inconsistent Batman work the past several years) or it will continue in this changed universe, though I have a very hard time understanding how that could possibly work. So at worst, the story will never conclude. At best, it's been hijacked. It seems like a lose-lose situation.

I really have a hard time believing that DC would have so little regard for their customers that they would just drop it. After all, the goal of this big stunt is presumably to attract new readers, not piss off the few that you have left. I'm sure this will be addressed in the coming days or weeks.


I'm keeping an open mind. I find all the pessimism from the fans kind of disheartening. Sometimes I wonder why some of the more cynical ones even bother reading comics anymore if they hate the industry so passionately.

DC still has a ton of really talented people writing and drawing for them. For me, that's going to be the most important determining factor when I decide which books to put on my pull list for September. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be reading whatever Scott Snyder is writing. And I'm hoping that some of the books I currently like will survive relatively unchanged (Bryan Q. Miller's Batgirl, for example). And who knows, maybe I'll even start reading Superman and Wonder Woman. It's hard to imagine that whatever they have in store for these two characters could be any worse than what they've put them through for the past year.

So in spite of some reservations and a lot of questions, I have to admit that I'm pretty excited to find out what's going to happen in September. It's almost inevitable that there are going to be some major disappointments. But with any luck, the good might outweigh the bad. Maybe?


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