You may have heard by now (and if you’re Carl, heard and complained by now) that DC comics is doing something daring. Starting in September, they’re going to restart all of their titles at #1. This is generally referred to as the DC reboot, but I’m not sure if that’s a completely accurate descriptor.
Of course, if anyone had the room to be daring, it was DC. I know they’ve been suffering from flagging print sales, but they also own the IP rights to Superman and Batman, who are right up there with Mickey Mouse, Ultraman, and Hello Kitty as the most valuable intellectual properties on the planet. If Time-Warner had to, it could shave off all of its business EXCEPT for Batman comics, movies, merchandise, TV shows, and limited-edition Batman tattoo designs, and still stay in business for another half a century.
But the reboot seems like it’s primarily psychological. A lot of the DC titles are doing pretty well right now, so they’ll probably stay intact. It’s more likely that it’s just the numbering that’s starting over, with the pretty good reason that DC is also switching to day-and-date digital delivery and if you want to get new customers, trying to encourage them to pick up a title at #916 is going to be a challenge.
A lot of the stories are starting over (or starting up, maybe), so it’s going to look more like: “Okay! Everything that happened is just background. We may get to it, we may not. But if you want to start reading Hawkman, here’s where you jump on; we’ll explain everything you really need as we go.”
Comics, like the theater, has often struggled between trying to balance its “core audience” with its need to build new audiences, and I think this leads to a kind of spurious idea of what a “core audience” is, or even of the value of a “core audience.” There are cats out there who will buy every Superman comic that’s in continuity even if they hate it, because they are Superman fans. Reading Superman is their thing, you know?
But the things that those guys prize — Superman’s essential Superman-ness — are the things they expect to see in every comic, and that conservatism hinders effective storytelling. Frankly, I’m on the side of most people who don’t read Superman – I am never going to pick up a comic where I can’t easily find issue 1. I want a story, not a status-quo based serialized adventure. I don’t even want to read a comic series that I started at #1 if the issues themselves are interchangeable; why should I give a crap about reading Superman if it doesn’t matter whether I started reading at #26 or #355? What OTHER kind of medium is there where you can just start wherever and it doesn’t matter?
Theaters, incidentally, have a similar problem, in that they try to cater to a core audience that is dwindling (because when you focus, you are by definition excluding), creating a vicious cycle of incomprehensibility and impenetrability. No one goes to see the theater because everyone believes that the theater isn’t FOR them, it’s for some other, weird dudes that really like it. And the theaters need money, so they figure they should focus on their weird dudes, which just makes the whole thing a self-fulfilling prophecy.
(Incidentally, this problem is actually illusory; the real problem with theater is that it’s just not economically viable. That is a problem I have SOLVED, by the way, in case anyone is sitting on some capital that they want to invest.)
In other news, apparently Valiant Comics is coming back. You guys remember Valiant? I think XO Manowar was on every cover of Previews in the 90s. ANYWAY, they’re also going to do a lot of digital delivery, and I think it’s pretty smart to let Time-Warner-We’ll-Always-Have-Batman-DC Comics to take the plunge first, and get everyone used to the idea.