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.
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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.