If you are comic book fan and haven’t been somewhere outside of the solar system in the past couple of weeks, then you will have heard that DC Comics is relaunching their entire mainstream line of comics come September. It’s basically what Marvel did with their Ultimate Universe line back in 2000, but DC is doing it to their main series. They are also updating the costumes for their heroes, and basically taking a huge gamble by launching 52 #1 issues that month.
Look, I’ve been a comic book fan for a long time, with stints here and there of being away from the four-colored wonders. I’ve gone back and forth on series between the big two (New X-Men, JLA) over the past 14 years. I’ve dug some of their big cross events (Final Crisis) and been not so impressed with others (Secret Invasion). At the end of the day, this is just DC making a cash grab, trying to revitalize their business and bring in new readers (and welcome back disenchanted ones). I certainly can’t fault them for that. The problem is, I don’t see this working long-term. Even Marvel’s Ultimate line, while being hugely successful in its first several years, ground down to a halt over the course of the decade, and is now a shell of its former self. The difference? Marvel didn’t bet the farm on the Ultimate line; it was maintained as a separate entity from their “main” range of books. That was a smart marketing move, as it essentially allowed them to have their cake and eat it too. DC seems desperate enough (I refuse to say “bold enough”; we’ll let history dictate if that were the case, if it is a success) to go all in with the relaunch.
Considering the cyclic nature of the industry, and from what I’ve read so far about the reboot, here is some commentary / concerns:
- DC is really doing it half-way. This one isn’t entirely surprising but it’s what I’m predicting will be eventually looked as the first crack in the relaunch’s foundation. Here, DC is a victim of what success it has had. Over the past couple of years, DC has had fairly successful events such as Blackest Night and Brightest Day, the latter of which was supposed to have repercussions in the DC universe. The initial thought with the relaunch was that these stories would be wiped away by the reset in continuity. Not so. Editors at DC have confirmed that various portions of the current DC history will be intact under the relaunched continuity. O rly? The two aforementioned events, as well as ones including the 20+ year old Batman story Death in the Family, will be maintained as part of the relaunch backstory. Yet, when the new series begin in September, the DC universe will be about 5 years into the age of heroes. So, basically, Batman will have been around for only five or so years and already lost Robin? Green Lantern will only have been around for 5 or so years and yet gone through Blackest Night, the various Corps, and the events of Brightest Day? How does this compressed timeline even make sense? DC is already bringing baggage with it into a supposed opportunity to wipe the slate clean. DC is scared to upset the fans they already have and aren’t being bold enough. It could wind up biting them as other authors decide they want to bring in other pieces of old continuity. Editorial control to reign this in will be inconsistent, because let’s be frank, that’s just how things are. After all, chaos reigns.
- 52 new series will be too much. The market won’t support 52 new ongoing series, and some of DC’s choices are fairly shoddy. Mr. Terrific? The Savage Hawkman? Static Shock? The awfully titled Justice League Dark? I, Vampire? I see a few these series not making it past issue 6 and a good chunk not past issue 12. Many will be successful, at least for a little while, but there’s enough fluff here that it will be like the start of a new television season; you know a bunch of shows will die quickly.
- Jim Lee won’t deliver. Jim Lee is a fantastic artist. I love his work. And he has been named the artist for the flagship relaunch series, Justice League (with writer Geoff Johns). This is a high-profile series, and while I plan on purchasing it, I don’t for one second believe Lee will last beyond four or so issues. I point to the publication (not artistic) mess that was All Star Batman and Robin, on which Lee also served as artist, as part of a dream team with Frank Miller (who handled writing chores). Continuous delays doomed that book (and tarnished the All Star line, which had great promise thanks to Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly’s All Star Superman). And this is the man who is supposed to help bring one of the most anticipated titles this year to fruition? I’m betting that he’ll hang on for the first story arc and then bow out due to his responsibilities as co-Publisher at DC.
- In 24 to 36 months, we’ll be back to the old status quo. Call me jaded, but we’ve seen character deaths and other big changes get rolled back too many times in the comic book world. This relaunch will be no different. A couple of years down the road, when DC sees that sales have returned to normal after the inevitable spike (or worse, dipped below current levels), the company will pull an about face and use some crossover event (Eternal Crisis?) to return us to the status quo. There will be some sort of timey-wimey integration of all continuity and and one of our heroes will wind up discovering the original 1930’s Superman in the shower, realizing it was all just a dream.