Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Big DC Comics Reboot

I feel I'm turning the nerd-o-tron up to eleven by doing a comic post right after a Star Trek post, but I figured this news was big enough that I should at least acknowledge it. In a move that's already ignited a Firestorm (pun!) of controversy across the Interwebs, DC Comics announced plans earlier this week to go all Batman Begins on their entire superhero universe, using the now-unfolding Flashpoint storyline, set in a time-tripping alternate universe, as a means to reboot their superhero line's history and relaunch every title (including, potentially, warhorses Detective Comics and Action Comics -- the former of which gave the company its initials, the latter of which recently surpassed #900) with a fresh new #1 issue.

By my read, the motivation here is really two-fold. First, by releasing their titles digitally the same day as print editions (as they plan to do), DC hope to cash in on the renewed life that iPad subscriptions can potentially offer (and beat chief competitor Marvel to the punch on the day-and-date digital front). The other concern at play here is no doubt to lay to rest the perception that DC -- home of stalwarts like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and Wonder Woman -- is quaint and stodgy (as compared to their perpetually-hipper crosstown competitors). That perception seemingly applies even on the movie side of things, where DC has been rolling snake eyes with any property other than Batman -- remember Jonah Hex? We'll have to see if things change in two weeks with Green Lantern's big screen debut).

The decision to cut the continuity cord clean and start fresh (assuming that is how things shake out) is as audacious as it is dangerous for the company. While a high-profile stunt like this could pay dividends by renewing awareness of the line (seriously, how many people even knew actual honest-to-gosh comics were still being published?) it could also blow up pretty spectacularly in their faces, leaving things even worse off a year or two years from now. What DC is essentially doing with this move is telling the longtime readers who've stuck with them through the flush times of the early '90s and the hard times ever since that while they're welcome to stick around, they're not the real constituency the company is after. The gamble is that they get enough new ones to justify losing the old. Like I said: risky.

Now, I mentioned earlier this year how my monthly diet of comic books has slowed to less than a trickle, so this news doesn't particularly bother me. While I remain a dyed-in-the-wood fan of the medium, a few years ago I began transferring my mountainous collection of back issues into custom hardcover volumes (which you can check out here), and I've been very happy to focus my hobby exclusively in that area, with favorite characters or stories from over the years always just a bookshelf away. It's not hard to imagine though that plenty of folks might be a bit non-plussed at a development that, of necessity, promises to undo huge swaths of the fictional universe DC has built up for decades now, and into which they've invested huge chunks of their lives, egos, and mindspace into following.

At the end of the day, this was probably the only calculus DC and/or Warners could make -- either right now or sometime down the road. Comics as periodicals are dying, and it's not a shared universe, elaborate continuity, or individual stories that give these characters value (to their owners, if not necessarily the readers), but their worth as properties -- products. The very fact that DC is resorting to something this drastic, so rife with potential for failure, emphasizes yet again what sad, dire straits the once-proud industry is in. For decades, DC had been content to remain nestled inside Warner Bros.' corporate womb, chugging along by catering to an ever-dwindling, ever-aging fanbase. That things have reached this point tells you how well that's worked out.

If anything, this just proves out the old adage that everything that's happened before will eventually happen again. For me, it was their universe-wide reset in the aftermath of the mid-'80s' Crisis on Infinite Earths mega-event that rebooted Superman, Wonder Woman, and others that brought me into the DC fold to begin with, leading to nearly a quarter-century of uninterrupted collecting that I only recently brought to a close (a growing family and shrinking budget tends to do that). I probably won't be there for this relaunch, but then I don't really need to. I have the memories from twenty-five years worth of stories that fired my imagination, made me love reading, and in turn made me love writing. If the post-Flashpoint DC Universe can do for someone else what the post-Crisis DC Universe did for me, then hey, that can't be a bad thing, right?

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