Tuesday, May 31, 2011

DC Comics Goes Completely Nuts

So, here we are, minding our own business, getting ready for the Green Lantern and Captain America movies next month -- and then, all of a sudden, DC Comics decides to go completely, off the reservation crazy. Sigh.

I guess we might as well dig in and try to make sense of this.

For those of you who haven't heard the news, here's the deal: this August, DC is rebooting their entire universe. Yep. New versions of all their characters, apparently with new costumes and in some cases new origins and powers as well.

And that's not all: to kick this off, they aren't going to half-ass it like they did after Crisis on Infinite Earths; no, this time around their entire line will relaunch, with every single title starting over at #1. That includes, you know, Batman, Superman, Detective Comics and Action Comics -- those last two, in case you were wondering, having maintained their current numbering system since they debuted in 1937 and 1938 respectively.

But those are just the details, because hidden beyond the character reboots and the renumbering firestorm sure to follow (which I may or may not start momentarily) is an announcement probably even more important to the comic book industry: DC is also going to begin offering all of these titles digitally, online, on the same day they go on sale at comic shops. In other words, goodbye, comic shops, hello iPad, because the future of comics is apparently here right now.

Whew. That's a lot. But wait, there's a little more: the details of the reboot, which involves Jim Lee redesigning all the characters (even though, as his atrociously fug Wonder Woman outfit proves, his designs mostly suck); a new Justice League title by the team of Geoff Johns and Jim lee, which will form the center of this new DCU; and a new lineup that will include 52 different titles. A number, of course, that has special significance in the DCU since there are 52 alternate universes -- a "coincidence" that has more than one fan or blogger already speculating that this entire new line is actually going to be just DC's version of the Ultimate universe.

So first, my knee jerk reaction: I don't care about rebooting the characters at all, in part because I don't follow current DC continuity anyway. And to be frank, it's so confusing at this point anyway -- just in the last few years we've had Infinite Crisis reshaping reality in undefined and random ways and the multi-verse returning with 52 alternate worlds, not to mention the confusing mish-mash that was Final Crisis -- that maybe a reboot is the only way to clean it up.

However, it will come as no surprise to anyone that I am opposed on all levels to renumbering Action Comics and Detective Comics, not to mention Superman and Batman. In the case of Action and Detective, I just feel that those numbers represent something important -- not comic book continuity, but continuity with our own past and the industry's history. Action and Detective and their numbering means something to comic book readers; they mean something to me; and it's unfortunate they it don't apparently mean much to Dan Didio.

Not that I expect any numbering change on those titles to be permanent in any sense of the word. I have no doubt that, by the time we get to what should be Action #1000, they will revert the numbering as yet another blatant, cheap sales ploy. But really, are they so desperate for a few extra bucks that they can't figure out a way to just keep the stupid numbering out of respect for all the creators and fans that have gone before them? What kind of legacy is that, exactly? "Dan DiDio, the guy who ran DC so far into the ground that they had to renumber Detective Comics after 74 years." Congrats on that.

I also think it's unlikely that this is an Ultimate universe situation, though the reverse may be true. In other words, 52 titles is just too big for this to anything but the main universe; heck, they're only putting out like 30 right now. But they might find a way to continue certain creator driven series like Grant Morrison's Batman titles by keeping them on as some sort of alternate world, multiverse storyline for old timey fans.

Finally, of course, the big news really is the distribution system. Comic shop owners are already pitching a fit about the fact that DC will be selling the titles digitally on the same day they come out in hard copy, as it deincentivizes people from going to the comic shop. of course, I don't think this will have a big impact at first and perhaps, as DC is hoping, it will even drive new audiences to try the comics since they will be able to just download them on their iPad or whatever instead of trying to track them down in some grubby basement comic shop filled with weirdos like you and me. I certainly hope so. Eventually, of course, I think this will have a major impact on the direct sales market, but let's face it -- it was inevitable, and by taking the lead, DC has probably done a smart thing by stealing the march on Marvel.

One thing is sure, though: after today, changes are coming, not just to the DCu but to comic books as we know them. Whether the changes are good or bad is something we'll all have to wait to find out.


The publication of the final "original numbering" issues of Action and Detective mark the end of DC as far as I'm concerned. One can argue semantics all they like, but Action #1 and Detective #1 are like saying AfterMASH to the original MASH. DC can actually disappear now as far as I'm concerned. And as far as digital comics go, my only interest is a curiosity regarding whether it's possible to slab a flash drive. It's going to make comics worthless from a collector's perspective.

Sadly I think the days of being able to 'collect' comics, in the sense of building anything monetarily worthwhile as a continuous title following, have long passed us all. From a storyline or continuity perspective this is certainly true. Repeated reboots, title renumbering, story retcons at-will, almost any random issue of a given title will make as much (or as little) sense taken by itself as it would if you tried reading the whole "story arc" (whatever passes for that anymore).