Thursday, August 25, 2011

On DC's Relaunch

A number of people have asked me recently what I think of DC Comics' plan to relaunch their entire line of comics with fifty-two new #1 issues beginning next week. My response has been the same each time; it is not the print version of these comics that is the key element here. It is the digital edition, which will be released "day and date" with the ink-on-paper editions.

It is no secret that comic books have lost a substantial portion of their readership over the past decade-plus. The print runs for many books being published these days are less than 10,000 copies -- numbers that would have had past generations of publishers cancelling the titles faster than a speeding bullet. (Books that were cancelled for "low sales" just a couple of decades ago -- my own 'Mazing Man included -- would be considered top-sellers in today's market.)

The potential new readers have grown used to getting all their entertainment online -- games, TV, movies. They are not likely to walk into a comic book shop and start buying up lots of $2.99 and $3.99 "pamphlets." Nor are they likely to become hooked on anything DC or Marvel is currently publishing by buying a single issue because there are virtually no self-contained stories any more. Company-wide "events" that are spread over seventy-five different issues? At $3 of $4 a pop? It's no wonder even the current fans have been dropping out.

Starting over with all #1s that are also revamps of the existing characters makes sense if you are looking to hook a brand-new audience. And while DC is already crowing about having orders of more than 200,000 print copies of JLA #1 and 100,000 of six other titles, that is probably lots more speculators than new readers.  It is the digital sales that will be the telling factor here... and those won't be known until the issues are released.

Should the digital versions of the books build up an audience -- at the expense of the printed versions, of course -- the next logical step would have a substantial number of the titles going "digital-only," with only the most mainstream characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.) still appearing in print. That is the game-plan I would be pushing if I were still there.

But then, what do I know? After all, I'm the guy who, back in the mid-80s, said that comic book coloring, color separations, lettering, and even the art could and would eventually be done on a computer screen, only to be pooh-poohed by the powers-that-were.


  1. There has already been at least one title that went digital only, if I recall correctly. I think Marvel began publishing an Amazing Spider-Girl series solely as a digital comic. The book had a cult following, so it seems to have been a way to save money on printing but still provide the comic to fans who wanted to read it.

  2. great stuff, 'mazing man. thank you

  3. I don't think rebooting the DCU is, in itself, a bad idea. I just don't think the company has the editorial, management, and creative talent to make it work. But I would love to be proven wrong.

  4. I think it's a dreadful balancing act that DC is gambling on here... and the stakes are very, very high.

    I think the timing is awkward; this reboot is follow up Flashpoint and I'm not sure that the two were initially to be related. But issuing a spate of special books over a three month span, followed up by a reboot and a "If you want to follow DC, you HAVE to buy these 52 books!" point of view is certain to dissuade current readers.

    Current readers are the body of customers today; is it safe to dump a significant part of that group to try to get a new boost in sales? Especially as some of those books were making money, and a few of them really could have been shoved to Earth-2. (For example, Batman Beyond was selling pretty well from what I saw; why the hell cancel that? It's not even PART of the DCU! The Legion books are in the future, and it has been shown that they do not NEED to cross over or mention the DCU of 1000 years past, and I think Paul Levitz could have kept things going just fine! And up until very recently, JSA was strong enough to keep 2½ titles going - I think it contributed to Power Girl - but now, POOF - no more JSA? They never even EXISTED???)

    Restarting Detective and Action strikes me as a really bad idea... is the tradition less important than getting two new number 1s on the book shelves? (And IMO, there must be a level of Heck for ANYONE who cancels Adventure Comics!!!)

    Mr. Isabella is, I think, very accurate in his analysis; DC doesn't have the brainpower or manpower to do a reboot as far as comics are concerned. But one has to wish them the best, or we may be seeing the end of comic books altogether.