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January 24, 2016

Rumor Of Potential DC Comics Linewide Relaunch Brings With It Nervous Laughter, Sighing And Frowns

The comics industry is a small series of overlapping communities that because of its longtime tendency to lean on its most devoted consumers gives special credence and preference to news within industry bounds. This includes rumors if they're about something that might have an impact on sales and storylines. So when late last week DC Comics tri-honchos Dan DiDio and Jim Lee tweeted an image of a curtain with the marketing term "rebirth," folks noticed. That this was immediately followed/directly preceded (I don't have the timing down) by Bleeding Cool -- a site that basically has an office at DC despite a hostile relationship with the publisher -- saying this meant a June revamp of the publishing line to reflect movie/TV efforts related to those characters, opinions were made known.

That the news wasn't greeted with the usual excitement afforded these things says a lot about the state of superhero comics publishing. DC's 2011 Hail Mary against then-crumbling sales, "The New 52" -- as close to a total relaunch as we've seen since Marvel '61 -- seems to have had one expected effect: ruining revamps and relaunches of lesser commitment for years moving forward. DC was right in that their '11 line-wide reboot would bring in new and lapsed readers and that their comics shop partners could sell into that interest. It didn't stick, largely I think because of a lack of talent across the line entire for what you'd need to pull off that many titles of interest over the long haul, combined with an editorial policy that kind of half-assed it in a way that kept re-telling certain stories from becoming a core strength of the company. I read a lot of the New 52 books. Few of them stick in my memory. One recurring image is of stories told against blank backgrounds featuring emotional stakes that wanted to pull on 75 years of character history that because of the relaunch were barely .75 of a year old. Never have mainstream comics been that much about tell, not show. Also, not a lot of the re-conceptualizations worked for fans in a broader sense save for Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's's sturdy wrestling stable captain Batman, and a kind of smart, teen-show Batgirl reworking that sent the character to Gotham City's version of Brooklyn. Even then, some in the company might dispute the latter.

After a brief flutter of a re-do not even a year ago where new paradigms in terms of diversity of character and creative team were being trumpeted, DC You, there aren't a lot of directions left for DC. Adherence to the TV shows might be one direction; some retro move might be another. It's just a tough place to be in -- they're smarter than I am about publishing, for sure, and it can't be easy to steward these characters when the numbers are so brutally small title to title. I'm not sure any line's re-launch gets to the actual issue that the audience is smaller now and spread out differently. The growth we've seen the last ten years has come in on the lower end of the charts and has skipped altogether devotion to line. You can tell the audience to go from this title to that title, because that lovely core audience wants to buy the comics that matter most, but they can't be counted upon to support all boats, at least not all boats with one publisher's logo on them. There's a lot conventional wisdom that the ultimate beneficiary of the 2011 revamp was a creator-driven and thus, in a way, much more dependable Image.

If DC is going to plunge ahead with something like this, a lot of jobs and gigs will be at stake, so there is a human cost here. It's difficult for me to think of the substance of such a maneuver that would be interesting, unless they were to throw market share to the wind and do a really small line. I guess we'll see. It could be barely anything at all: we're that primed for the destruction of universes now. Speaking of which, we're actually in the midst of one of these post-New 52 sort-of relaunches with Marvel, a schmear of creative cream cheese over a long row of adjective-bearing bagels stretching out for half a year whose all-new and all-different initiative feels pretty much like "everything's the same as you left them except for a couple of character bank accounts and Handsome Von Doom." Universes reborn is just part of the background noise now, less of an inducement and more of a hassle.
posted 10:55 pm PST | Permalink

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