Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I am still totally obsessing over the DCU reboot thing

Quite literally yesterday, whilst brushing my teeth, I was doing some mental math in my head and thinking about how long DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson has been at DC, and that, in that time, she really hadn't done a whole lot to change things.  Silly me.   Of course, the news came down today that DC was going to be making the most significant changes I can think of in its 75 year publishing history.  

Diane Nelson is not a comics fan.  She is, however, the head of DC Comics and is the person responsible for taking the work of JK Rowling and turning it into a franchise that's given the Harry Potter author an income somewhat close to that of a small nation.

Your new Justice League lacks a Martian and John Stewart, but is basically okay

To Nelson, DC Entertainment is a series of numbers associated with intellectual property, property owned by Warner Bros., but who has at least three characters who have become so iconic in the psyche of the average person that many, many people I speak with are a bit confused when I explain that Superman is not just floating out there in the ether like King Arthur or Robin Hood to be picked up and interepreted, recycled and reused.  That you can, indeed, get sued for using the Superman logo without permission.

But, Nelson is not a comics reader even if she loves the basics of the properties she's been handed to manage and curate and from which Warner Bros. expects to make a profit.  This is not wrong.  If a business is not growing every quarter, its failing.  For so many years I really can't keep track, the little arrow blipping across the X-Y axis for all comics sales has been slumping downward as it heads to the right side of the page.   I have found this trend deeply worrying for at least five years, but nobody seemed overly willing to actually do anything about this problem.

Nelson does not strike me as someone who is going to go down without a fight, and so I am not surprised that she gave it some time so she could observe and see if the ship couldn't simply right itself, but, eventually, ordered her soldiers to either do something drastic to turn the ship around, or they could start looking for new gigs.

Unlike when she took on Harry Potter, everyone already knows Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.  They may know Aquaman, Green Lantern, The Flash and others.  But here's what may be the problem for DC Comics as a business:  In 2011, there are no casual readers of DC Comics.

There are those of us who kick a good amount of their income at DC Comics, and there are people who don't know that they still print new comics or will simply not go to a store just for comics to buy a comic book.  Its difficult to say how many readers there are as a title like Green Lantern may considered to be an excellent seller at 75,000 copies and #3 on the hit chart, while the San Diego Comic-Con sells out each year with 130,000 tickets sold in 2010 (and hosts only a fraction of the actual readers out there). 

Part of me has to wonder - how many meetings did Nelson go to where she tried to ask straightforward questions and was met with nerd-tastic blathering, explaining that we CAN'T use Green Lantern this way because in the seminal 1980's series, Mosaic, it was clearly stated that.... blah blah blah...  and at some point, wouldn't you just want to say "hey, fellows, this is exactly the problem, so here's what's going to happen...  Jeanette Kahn and Paul Levitz upturned the apple cart with Crisis on Infinite Earths.  We know why that didn't wind up working, so no half-measures.  We do this over.  All of it."

One has to also guess that the Earth One experiment might have been somewhat appealing, but the pacing for the creation of OGN releases was never going to match the quarterly needs of DC Comics within WB's larger infrastructure.  In fact, Nelson may have looked at Earth One and said "seriously?  Just start it over and we've got a best seller on our hands?  Yokay!"

A few things:

A)  It has been confirmed that all new DC releases, come September, will see digital day-and-date release.  That sounds like its probably good news.  Just this weekend I was looking at Comixology and thinking "well, this doesn't make any sense.  Why is this here and that isn't?  Why is Action Comics behind by 20 issues?"  etc...  I don't know how digital comics are effecting sales, but...  I guess we'll see.

B)  I heard a rumor that DC would also be releasing their new #1's in regular old stores, expanding back out from the Direct Market.  For years I've believed the Direct Market will be strongest when other markets are out there to create interest in comics to begin with.  Asking people to not just find the Direct Market but understand Previews, in-store subscriptions, etc...  is absolutely an awful business model (which is why I am glad my local comic shop doesn't rely just on Previews and is a great "just drop in" kind of store).

C)  While I am sure DC is hoping that all new #1's will mean that I will pony up for 52 new titles to check them out...  I don't think so.  And I strongly suspect that many will have the same reaction I had to One More Day in the Spider-Man titles (ie: will quit reading them).  I HAVE to believe that DC knows they're going to lose so, so many longtime buyers even as they take the risk and will likely see a boost line-wide as the curious check in to see what's the story these days with Firestorm, etc...

D)  I have also heard a rumor that these #1's will be priced very low, so its possible to actually afford a metric ton of the #1's and check them out.  Again, we'll see if that rumor holds up.  But the interesting bit here is that if the price is super low and they are in stores like, say, Wal-Mart, then just the impulse buys alone could more than make up for the thousands of lost readers.  Maybe.  That's if these two rumors are true.

E)  Another possibility:  DC's multiverse is made up of 52 worlds.  This is more or less cannon.  All of the following are technically possible, but I have no reason to believe this is what will happen:
   1)  If this goes poorly, DC can back-pedal right out of this thing and declare this whole thing just took place on Earth 52 (a la the failed Heroes Reborn! initiative from Marvel)
   2)  DC may decide the Direct Market can still be served and run current or different versions of continuity and brand as such. I'd totally read a Silver-Age style Superman book, one from current or Bronze Age continuity and whatever they're going to do now.  DC did this all the time in the 1970's.
   3)  There is a grant Morrison series called "Multiverse" or something along those lines still in the hopper.  We can wait to see what happens there.

F)  Its hard not to guess that Superman's identity will be a secret once again in the DCU, and that he will be back to screwing with Lois whenever she tries to prove Clark Kent is really Superman.

This entire initiative definitely has a feeling of throwing out the baby with the bathwater and taking a minor gamble (I still think Batman fans will read Batman, no matter what.  And Superman fans will read Superman).  Its all just a but shocking, and before I say any more, I think its best to just let it sort itself out.

I just...  well, I guess I'm a little weirded out that Jim Lee is redesigning the suits because I am not sure that's his strong suit, and I don't know if I'll ever really embrace a change to Superman's classic look.

DC has some very popular titles right now with Green Lantern, Batman Inc., etc.... and I am still having a hard time guessing how they'll sort all of this out, vis-a-vis hard resetting continuity.  We're going to have to wait and see.

But I also have been around the block so many times with my current DC continuity... I think I'm not exactly super excited, but I am cautiously curious, and I respect Nelson for wanting to shake things up and see if she can't help fix the comics market.

But if anyone reboots Uncle Scrooge, it will be pistols at dawn.


RHPT said...

"Quite literally yesterday, whilst brushing my teeth, I was doing some mental math in my head and thinking about how long DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson has been at"

This is what you think about when you brush your teeth?

The League said...

...when you put it that way you make it sound weird.

The League said...

And I think about work while I shower. Everybody at every job I've ever had gets creeped out eventually by how many times I start a thought with "so I was thinking about work this morning in the shower..."

Simon MacDonald said...

Yeah, I'm not super struck with JIm Lee's tweaks on a bunch of these classic looks. The V necks seem kinda silly and Cyborg looks really blocky almost 90'ish.

Anonymous said...

I remember quite enjoying Crisis on Infinite Earths when I was kid and I think the story still holds up as an epic yarn today.

I don't mind reboots. In fact, most of the time I like 'em if 1) There is a good reason to reboot, and 2) The publisher demonstrates that they are committed to it by hiring topnotch creators and artists to handle the job and not cancelling the whole thing one year later.

My thoughts are the industry needed to change fast. Going day and date digital is the right way to go. Comics are way too expensive right now and it's very hard for parents to support young readers when a 20 page comic is more than the price of a loaf of bread or pound of flour, especially in this economy. Heck, right now, I can go out and buy great videogame on my PC for 4.99 to 2.99 that would last me some 40hours of entertainment at least.

Some quick musings on this DC paradigm shift:

1. 52 new #1s??? That is alot of titles. Where are they going to get the great talent to sell all those? How are you going to convince the Direct Market to buy all those? There's probably only 20 writers well known enough to help launch a title. Some of them work for the competition. Geoff Johns, although prodigious, can't write everything. Although he seems to be in the Bendis mode of recreating the DC Universe in his vision.

2. Are they going to keep some of the monumental historical moments in DC history? The death of Robin, Oracle's crippling, The Legion and Superboy?

Some of the most rich character moments and storylines built out of those parts.

3. Geoff Johns has a firm grasp of the Silver Age and modern DC. His stories are in the classical vein of solid character arcs and adventure. He doesn't quite do well with the weird stuff that Alan Moore and Grant Morrison can eat up and spew out that makes up as much a part of the DC Universe. Can he accomodate for the part of DC?

Can't wait to find out. On my slate no less.


J.S. said...

Promotion stunt.
What does "reboot" even mean? What happened to the old notion of just sort of ignoring history when it's inconvenient. Prior to the reboot did everyone think Batman was an aging senior citizen?
Selectively forgetting history is part and parcel of the tradition of comic books. Reboots are for the anal retentive.

The League said...

Of course its a promotion stunt. "Reboot" should mean that DC is hitting the reset button and we're getting WW, Superman and Batman all arriving in the DCU within a year of each other, but that doesn't seem to be the case the more I read. So... I have no idea yet.

It IS intended to refresh the series so they're new-reader friendly. Its safe to say that the reason I rarely try to put DC books in the hands of friends is because there is absolutely no good entry point. I would love to say "if you want to check out Superman, start here", but the only place to do that has been "Man of Steel" way, way back in 1986.

Forgetting history only works if your readers haven't been reading the comics for 2 or 3 decades, and right now, many titles have exactly that kind of readership. I can't pick up a Batman comic without everything I've known about Batman for 25 years coming along for a ride.

Anyway, we'll see what happens. I really don't think this will work quite the way they're advertising.

The League said...

@NTT -

I heard somewhere that the new #1s will be priced at $1.50 so you can consider buying as many as you like. I don't think that price is the ongoing price, however.

As per the sheer number of titles, DC has to be putting out around 50 mainstream superhero titles per month. Its why I quit reading as much DC as I did. I was going broke and unable to afford things outside the DCU.

It also sounds like DC is limiting its superhero offerings to some extent and bringing back genre titles. I'm hoping for an ongoing book like Star Spangled War Stories and a western.

2. I have to assume that we're going all the way back to a Batman with Dick Grayson as his sidekick. But we'll have to see.

As much as I like Damian Wayne, it all started feeling a bit... Earth-2-ish. I can see some of DC's thinking.

3. I don't know that you'll feel Johns' fingers all over every title and I don't know what the reboots will feel like. Moore and Co. were working so long ago, its time for DC to find the next Moore or Morrison to keep the energy going and define the new universe.

J.S. said...

I still don't get the whole reboot thing. We all jumped into the comic world midstream (at least on most titles), more or less, and for some of us, we live with the knowledge that it kept roaring along long after we quit reading. I think that's okay. I'm happy to define my experience as being one that I shared with the characters during the time period when I was reading their titles. I think people used to be more okay with that. I think the obsessiveness about being familiar with all aspects of a character's life from inception up to the present is more of a recent fanboy phenomenon. It might be more of an issue because nowadays more people are continuing to read comic books into their adult years. Used to be, I think, that these characters were more akin to friends that you hung out with, but only for a certain time period in your life. Something in me balks at the idea that these sorts of serialized characters are meant to be understood in an inclusive, comprehensive way. When you look at ongoing, long running, serialized characters that way, I just don't think they're ever going to make a tremendous amount of sense.

Simon MacDonald said...

Isn't this just part of the natural cycle of comics anyway. I mean Golden Age Superman is not Silver Age Superman is not Post Crisis Superman. They all share a number of similarities but they really aren't the same character. In fact these different Superman are known to meet each other on a fairly regular basis.

The League said...

Frankly, I don't think the people online who are calling the move "desperate" are totally wrong. DC's sales are abysmally low, as are comics sales across the board.

I think if you detach from the actual content and look at the business side (which is why I focused so much on Diane Nelson walking in blindly to DC), you're going to want to expand your channels of distribution in order to increase sales. However, in moving out of the Direct Market shops, you're facing a whole new audience.

I agree with the "I wandered in as a kid and dealt with it, they can too". But I wonder if that doesn't work better for kids than older readers. EVERYTHING for kids was already going when they show up, so why not comics?

But I wonder if the thinking isn't: we are entering markets we abandoned 15-20 years ago, and we are entering new markets. We need to adjust to meet the audience, not expect them to meet us.

As per the multiple versions - exactly. Somehow my brain is processing it exactly this way, even if I'm a bit down about changes to the costume.

Jake Shore said...

As someone who has a pretty layman's view of the DCU, I think it's a smart move. DC's continuity is such a tangled mess, it seems to me starting with a clean slate makes sense for attracting a broader audience and new, younger readers.

I just hope they put their best writers in charge of this (See the initial Marvel Ulimates line) and not a bunch of popular artists (Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld) who stunk up Marvel with the "Heroes Reborn."

Having said all that, reboots and revisions are becoming far too common; perhaps even a crutch, and a substitute for real creativity

The League said...

I'm neck deep in DCU, and I think its a good move. I don't like everything they're doing, but its not like I read all of DC's output before. We'll see what happens, but no matter what, at least I can say September will be exciting.