DC Comics

Posted: June 3, 2011 in Braak, comic books
Tags: , , , , ,

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.

  1. braak says:

    GNU is a recursive acronym, too.

    But DC calling themselves “DC comics” makes a certain amount of sense, because there are a lot of other things that are just called “DC,” and besides, I don’t think that detectives are really their thing anymore.

    Like how Kentucky Fried Chicken started calling itself “KFC” to remind you that you could get things there that weren’t chicken, or fried, or…Kentucky(?).

  2. Carl says:

    Ah, I see; so a little less ambitious an undertaking than I’d imagined based on what I’d read. A simultaneous contemporary narrative restart of all the characters in a universe seemed like a daunting task. You’re absolutely right that having to hop into a story hundreds of issues deep is, for the uninitiated, a disincentive to investigate the form. Mer read a novelized version of ‘The Death and Life of Superman’ a few years back and really wanted to keep reading on about Superman (and all the various stand-ins that apparently showed up in his absence) but she didn’t have a clue how to make that happen. Somewhere in the 900 issues of the comic, that narrative thread existed, but tracking them down and procuring them just didn’t seem realistic to us noobs. So, with the Reboot, the narratives don’t begin anew? The writers and illustrators for each comic and the deep, midplot narratives they are currently involved in don’t necessarily change?

    (Also, only tangentially related, but bugging the crap out of me recently: though not an acronym, there’s something stupidly redundant about the fact that our professional baseball team here in town is called the Philadelphia Phillies. Nobody else in pro sports has a franchise so unapologetically uninspired: no “Houston Houstonians”, no “Boston Bosties”, no “Pittsburg Pits” etc.)

  3. braak says:

    The general consensus is that it’s going to be a narrative restart for most of the titles, but not a continuity restart — so, whatever stuff had happened is still “there”, lurking around in the background, but whatever’s going on in the comic is going to reset.

    Not unlike the way that JLU handled DC continuity; all that crazy shit about Booster Gold and time travel and the Manhunters and the Sinestro Corps was, technically, still there, but when they started telling stories, they basically just started over and assumed that you didn’t know or care about any of it.

  4. Jeff Holland says:

    Haaaa, didn’t see you had this here.

    OK, well, my take – with more pictures and some gentle mocking of Jim Lee – if you click the link at the top of the page.

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