DC Relaunch: Three Arguments For and Against

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I mentioned before that I've been struggling in writing about the DC Comics relaunch, at least in part because we don't know all that much. The fate of numerous characters still remain unspoken, not to mention exactly what shape this new DC Universe will take and what its heroes relationship will be to its public, and I'm keenly aware of that lack of information as I write.

I've also struggled because, if my perception of what DC Comics is trying to accomplish with their reboot is accurate, I've come around in large part to favoring the relaunch. This, as numerous commentators and bloggers whom I respect are still struggling with the relaunch, and while I also appreciate and share some of their concerns.

To that end, the following list of three "issues" regarding the DC relaunch, with "for" and "against" arguments following, reflect my own indecision about DC's endeavor -- how I think it can benefit DC overall, but how I think it could be perceived as slighting loyal fans in the process. My hope is that you'll share your own thoughts on the relaunch below, positive and negative, not in the least to help me clarify my own take on the matter.

ISSUE: Flash Wally West has been written out or somehow removed from the post-Flashpoint DC Universe.

FOR: As the new DC Entertainment positions itself as not just a serial storyteller, but an incubator for viable multimedia properties, their characters must become streamlined and more readily understandable. A telling of Wally West's origin must necessarily include the death of his uncle, former Flash Barry Allen, and this story within a story is too complicated to translate to other medias. Barry Allen, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Green Arrow Oliver Queen, and others are the definitive versions of the characters and the ones DC should spotlight going forward.

AGAINST: Wally West has been the Flash for over the past twenty years, and remains vastly more popular than Barry Allen. DC had no problem translating Wally to other media in the Justice League cartoon, so the same ought be true for a Flash movie or other endeavors. Comic books are not just the breeding ground for movies and TV, and the characters' histories ought not be dumbed down just for those purposes.

ISSUE: DC is giving the Justice Society concept a "rest," so says Dan DiDio's Facebook page, returning Superman to his status as the DC Universe's first superhero.

FOR: Most of the wider audience that DC Comics wants to reach correctly understand that Superman was one of the first comic book superheroes. They also associate him with DC Comics's most enduring team, the Justice League, and likely believe those heroes were the first of their ilk, too. When DC combined their Golden and Silver Age continuities after Crisis on Infinite Earths, they gave up Superman's "first" status, letting the Justice Society heroes predate him, in favor of Superman's Justice League membership. This creates an ongoing disconnect between what we understand as comic book fans and what the larger world knows to be true -- and both groups are a little bit right. This is a sticky continuity issue created over years of reboots, and simplifying it restores some of Superman's grandeur and removes an inevitable confusion for new readers -- where confusion, as with derivative origins, threatens to scare away new readership.

AGAINST: The Justice Society was DC Comics's first and one of their most enduring superhero teams. The team and its characters, including Green Lantern Alan Scott and Flash Jay Garrick, remain popular still today, letting alone that the Justice Society lead to such successful modern franchises as James Robinson's Starman. One of the cornerstones of the DC Universe is its legacy heroes, and to believe the concept is too complicated for new readers is not to give those readers enough credit.

ISSUE: DC will return Barbara Gordon to the guise of Batgirl with the September relaunch.

FOR: As with Superman, public perception is that Barbara Gordon is Batgirl, and the time it takes to disabuse a new reader of that notion risks losing the new reader entirely. Further, the origin of the now third Batgirl Stephanie Brown rests on understanding the origin of the second Batgirl Cassandra Cain and then also the original Batgirl Barbara Gordon. Barbara as Batgirl remains the simplest and most translatable origin for the Batgirl concept, with the greatest ties to the Batman mythos as a whole.

AGAINST: As Oracle, Barbara Gordon remains one of DC's most popular characters, aside from and including her enduring role as a symbol of strength and diversity (written about eloquently in Jill Pantozzi's Newsarama column). We've already seen that the Oracle character can translate to other media without problem, as in the short-lived Bird of Prey TV series. Again, old and new readers are more than capable of understanding the concept of legacy heroes; in Batgirl's case, the latest collection of the third Batgirl's adventures made the New York Times Bestsellers list. What readers lose in Barbara Gordon's return to Batgirl is far outweighed by anything they might gain.

Your thoughts?
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  1. Continuity is always changing, its the nature of the beast. But in the last couple of weeks many readers reacted as if continuity was changed for the very first time!

    As a comics reader I enjoy history and continuity but I also understand the need for a shake up every once in a while.

    These concepts and ideas remained popular for over seventy years because they changed and evolved. These characters (as fiction in general) must evolve and reflect the changes in the real world. These characters are a metaphor of our reality.

    The concieved loss of a certian character by some fans is not entirley justified in my opinion. These characters are ideas and ideas do not die. They will still be around and probably used again some time in the future. Its the nature of comics.

    Besides isn't it exciting to read about new characters? or experience new takes on existing ones? Arent you curious to know what martian manhunter is doing come september or why Bruce is workin with damian? How is Parquette drawing swamp thing and what will Lemire be doing with animal man? What on earth is Morrison going to do with Superman?

    I havent been this excited in a long time and I am looking forward to experiencing the new DCU. Lets just enjoy this opportunity and give the people that are working on these books a chance. I know I will.

  2. I know 1 thing for sure. I'll cancell DC Universe: Legacy hardcover right now.

    I had it on pre-order, but now it won't matter. I know eventually things will go back to normal (JSA will come back, Superman will come back to tights, etc) but checking your pros and cons I've decided that the book above is irrelevant.

  3. I think you've hit the nail on the head in that there's for and against arguments, and each book (or at least section, The Edge, The Dark etc) will have to be looked at on it's own merits.

    I loved the 5 years post-Infinite Crisis when the entire real-life history of the DCU had all happened, but Grant Morrison was the only one to make the most of this. I love seeing old, often doofy characters/ideas, despite being too young to remember them. But I'm biased twofold here, I love figuring out continuity and if, like me, you mostly only follow Batman it's just about possible to keep the major developments in mind.

    On the other hand universe-wide it's more a headache and I like the streamlining idea, now.

    With comics hard to get hold of in the UK I'm going to try a lot more #1 on DC direct online.

    On your points specifically:
    Much as I love them JSA are due being put to rest. 'That'll do pig, that'll do.'
    Wally I'm greatly saddened by, but I understand Barry is the archetype.
    Barbara losing her wheelchair is highly insentive, DC should have thought this through more, but perhaps they have a similar character coming out? I wish she could be split into both her identities and both be published.

  4. I think that all of the FOR arguments are based on the premise that there exists a vast number of customers that would be buying DC comics except for some perceived confusion over legacy heroes and preconceived notions of history/continuity. And I believe that premise to be patently false.

    The success of movie endeavors rests with the movie producers, not with the floppies currently on the rack.

    The digital presentation may have some potential, but the price point is prohibitive unless DC offers a base rate subscription for ALL of its monthly titles.

  5. I'm not big on relaunches and such, and if it a realuch/reboot or DC stopping all publications due to poor sales I'll support the former.

    I love reading -- comics especially. They're a lot of fun and I love figuring out the many coninuity glitches (though it can be frustaing and annoying at times). I've enjoyed the DCU since Infinite Crisis (I started in '07 with Identity Crisis) and I'm going to miss the post-IC stories on whichever characters they decide to completely revamp.

  6. @Robert Young, good points. That premise may be false, but it does seem DC believe it. It's movie-goers who can become new readers that I think are the biggest attractions, presumably DC have studied their own sales figures immediately after film releases for spikes in sales and whether the spike continues long term or drops off. They will have also have studied Marvel's sales in the same way.

    Of course it could be quality of stories or just 'mainstream' preference for certain characters/types of books that keeps readers.

  7. 1) Wally West - I'm a huge fan of Wally; he was the Flash when I started reading as a kid. I've read old back-issues of Barry Allen, but not his new series (yet), so I really don't care about that character (potentially "yet"). That being said, I totally understand the need for Barry to be Flash in order to expand the franchise outside of comics. Wally was in the JL cartoon, true, but that type of show didn't require that origins be explained, which is not the case of a "major motion picture." Also, I'm pretty sure it was a season or two into the JL series before they even said officially "on camera" that it was Wally.

    2) JSA - I'm pretty sure DC also ditched the JSA after the original Crisis; I knew very little about them until they brought them back in that (1991?) Armageddon Inferno mini-series. So I'm not surprised that they ditched them again, and are currently avoiding an older Green Lantern and Flash running around. But I'm sure they'll be back at some point.

    3) Batgirl - If DC can bring back Barry Allen as Flash, then why not Barbara Gordon as Batgirl? It goes along with their strategy of returning to the most "iconic" versions of their characters, to make it easier to push out from comics. That being said, I think the "Joker crippled her but she's still fighting crime" angle was great and easily translates outside of comics. But it also kind of means that any other Batgirl (on TV or whatever) would need Babs around as a supporting character to explain why Barbara herself is no longer Batgirl.

    Finally, I thought this blogger made a great point (scroll down to their "Fifth thought") about why DC would try this huge move in an attempt to bring in new comics readers (not just a greater share of a shrinking market): http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2011/06/03/friday-from-the-cheap-seats/

  8. And yet Marvel's movies and the current Batman's are held in high regard, but the sales of related comics are still shrinking. There's the market data right there. Somebody's got to say it, the medium's dying a slow death. DC's relaunch will not save it, and probably won't hasten it either, but I'll be substantially reducing my DC purchases as a result.

  9. So is it official that Wally will be gone after the reboot? This is the first I've heard of it and it's really disappointing news. I can understand why DC would make that decision based on the arguments presented here but it's still pretty surprising. I'd guess that Wally is more popular with fans than Barry, regardless of how much cleaner the continuity might be if they made the switch.

    And if they decided that Wally would no longer make sense as Flash in the new continuity then why not just make him Kid Flash again. It might seem like a step back but wouldn't most fans rather keep him than Bart?

  10. People made a huge hue and cry when Barbara was crippled. Now they make one when Barbara is coming back. The only thing I had against Barbara was that it was very soon after the Crisis that she was crippled, hardly a few stories. So I think I can safely say, if all the writers prove, this is the version they can work well with, it's going to be a success.

  11. Of all the points listed above, the only one I still can't decide how I feel about it is the Barbara Gordon one. If the idea (at least in part) is to help "diversify" the DCU, then removing one of the most prominent disabled comic book characters seems to work against that idea. You'd think that would be something you would champion as part of a diverse DCU. But of course, that's just it: we don't know for sure (yet) that Babs has actually been cured or her disability retconned out of existence.

    I understand the need to streamline and simplify things where possible, though. Outside of Green Lantern, having multiple Flashes, Batmen, etc. just seems unnecessarily complicated. So I get why there's a Supergirl book but no Power Girl book; why there's a Wonder Woman but no Donna Troy; why, depsite the "franchising" of the Bat symbol, there's now only one true Batman.

    It's also strange how many people seem to scoff at the idea of DC trying to reach new readers. Whether there's a vast quantity of new readers out there or not, isn't it DC's job as a publisher to at least *try* to find some? I certainly don't think the right approach is to say, "Oh well, we've hit the peak of our readership so let's just tailor everything towards them."

    The relaunch may take some stories out of continuity, but it's not as if DC is sending ninjas to everyone's houses to steal old books from their collections. All those stories, in continuity or not, still exist. You can still read them. If they ever mattered to you, they *still* matter.

    I think the relaunch is exciting. I have some concerns, as I'm sure every DC reader does, but overall I'm cautiously optimistic.

  12. There are a few thinks I'm still disappointed about though:

    Why no James Robinson? He had finally hit his stride on Justice League. I'm optimistic about JLA & other titles by Johns, but in my (personal) opinion Johns hit his peak on GREEN LANTERN: SINESTRO CORPS WAR long ago, after that, even through BLACKEST NIGHT has been struggling through mediocrity, though the character pieces were simply impeccable, the overall plot lines were not.

  13. Good point well made Robert Young, I don't know anything about the sales figures myself, so thanks for the info. It'll be interesting to see if digital helps in the long run, it's got to improve past the sales spike the reboot stunt recreates.

    ComicsAlliance make a very good case as to how DC and Marvel could put the internet to better use

  14. Fascinating points. The Comics Should be Good column (which has been knocking it out of the park lately) suggests DC Entertainment has no choice but to look to expand their line readership, as their margins sink and other aspects of the sci-fi/fantasy genre experience a resurgence. In contrast, Robert above isn't convinced that untapped market really exists, or at least that the impediment to reaching that market is solved through the mass relaunching of DC's titles.

    I lean a little more toward the "for the relaunch" side these days, and I think CBSG's Greg Hatcher is right that DC ought try to chase the "Harry Potter" market like a dozen other companies are. Though, I have bristled lately at the way creators act as if DC's really-not-all-that-complicated continuity is the specific culprit of their decline; like Robert I think this is false (and I'm with Glint and abu george that figuring out continuity is part of the *fun*, not a drawback).

    But as Glint says, even if we don't think continuity is the issue, DC does, and they're the ones who have to stay afloat. I can't believe comics are all that profitable on Warner Brother's assets sheet, but it's Geoff Johns's Green Lantern comics, for instance, that served to inspire the Green Lantern movie, and ditto aspects of the Batman movies. Comics are the minor leagues, if you will, for media properties to graduate to the more profitable major leagues, and DC's relaunch is essentially an attempt to shore up their team before the next round of major league scouts come to visit. I see how that this action by DC can be interpreted as a slight against long-time fans, but if the choice is that comics change or die, I have to go with change. I don't know that a big relaunch was necessary as opposed to just starting new storylines with key creative teams, but if this is what DC needs to feel fresh and stay fresh, so be it.

    Relaunch or no, the solution is better storytelling, better advertising, and better accessibility (not the same thing as streamlining continuity). I'll be curious to see what media initiatives DC actually employs for the relaunch besides the blitz to newspapers; I read that DC is sending a lot of promotional materials to specialty shops, which is specifically the wrong place to find *new* eyeballs. There's also an ad for Green Lantern comics at the end of the Green Lantern movie -- but from what I've seen it doesn't tell the reader where to start other than Secret Origin!

    I'm a trade-waiter, so of course what I think DC needs to do is publish collected volumes of well-written series with consistent trade dress and clear numerical marking for reading order. Collect twelve modern Green Lantern comics in a big hardcover and call it volume 1, then collect the next twelve in another hardcover and call it volume 2. Price them no more than $25. When someone walks into a bookstore and says "I want to read Green Lantern, where do I start?" a bookseller can show them the first, second, third, fourth and fifth Green Lantern volumes, and they're complete and substantial clear enough that the reader has a good experience and can easily come back to find more titles on their own. It has worked, I think, for the Vertigo titles, and I think DC should adopt something of the same.

    I've heard more and more people talk about trying out DC's digital releases with the relaunch. Show of hands, how many people intending to go at least partially digital on a regular basis?

  15. CE, thanks for a well put summary of our comments (even if my mention makes me biased :P).

    I'm going digital all the way, reading on my laptop isn't ideal, but I'd rather the ease of access and reduction to the environment. As mainly a trade reader, it's good for sampling writers and titles without spending as much on a book I don't enjoy.

    Your show of hands suggestion makes me wonder if DC did any market research as to increased readership with digital/reboot.

    I think you're right that DC would be better to concentrate more on simplifying trade publications as a 'gateway' to monthlies, (Perhaps ironically for this blog.) than using movies, or use them as an intermediate between the two.
    Of course producing more than four movies from the mainstream DC universe in the past ten years would help. (5 if you count Jonah Hex, which I don't. Catwoman had nothing to do with DC.) And half of those are down to the work ethic of Chris Nolan.

  16. I've already gone digital with Mark Waid's Irredeemable and Incorruptible series over at Boom!, and Red5's Atomic Robo series-of-mini-series (these being the only non-DC series that I read). I was buying the trades of those, but then those $0.99 digital sales pulled me in, and now I'll be paying $1.99 each (although I'll still buy and read it as I did the TPB's, 4-5 issues at a time). Also I believe they are cover priced at $3.99 each, so $1.99 for digital is okay with me.

    My plan with DC going forward is to buy some of the new #1's in print (including that Justice League "digital combo pack"), and some in digital (after 30 days to get the $1.99 price). After that, it'll likely all be digital for the "new" DC Universe. I'll continue to buy the TPB's of the "old" DCU, at least until I get caught up to Flashpoint, which will probably be 2 years from now by the time that softcover comes out.

    I just can't see myself waiting until the softcover TPB's of the new DCU get released to see what the "new" DCU is like. That's assuming they keep their current hardcover/softcover schedule; if I was able to get a softcover TPB within 6 months of the end of a story arc, then I would consider staying with it.

  17. Budgetary issues mean I will still be a TPB reader for the foreseeable future, so I too am hoping (as I've said way too many times before) that DC revise their HC/TP publishing to a more Marvel-esque gap of 4-6 months.

    Speaking of Marvel brings me to something I forgot to say in my comment above; something which I believe goes to the heart of why this relaunch is happening. Simply put: DC have been playing second fiddle to Marvel for far too long. I don't think there's been as big of a gap in the *quality* of work being done by Marvel & DC as the sales figures might suggest. So if it looks like DC are desperate, well... they are.

    Even if there isn't an army of non-comics readers waiting to be converted, at the very least DC might tempt back some lapsed readers who either switched to Marvel or some other company, or stopped reading entirely.

  18. As much as I am in favour of the reboot, the complex nature of the post flashpoint universe bothers me. Batman will have been the longest acting Superhero but as an urban legend until Superman appears? Why? Especially as 100% Batman continuity shall remain intact. Including all the Robins & Batgirls. But why kick out 2 former Batgirls, both loved characters the newest a new York times best seller?

    Green Lantern continuity remains intact but Martian Manhunter loses his status as a JLA member?

    Why is Jamie Reyes still Blue Beetle? I like the kid but screwing fans iced on Batgirl but failing to give back Ted Kord seems like double standards.

    Lastly Wally West & JSA! Both are known, Alan Scott, Jay Garrick as classics but what of Power Girl who had a good series of her own? Why is Stargirl who grew into a senior JSA member, even more so then Power Girl just written out of existence? How does Mr Terrific alone deserve to survive this continuity shake up but Dr Midnite does not? Wally West is by far the most recognisable Flash with a far superior Rogues Gallery, Zoom is a much better villain then Professor Zoom ever was, yet he is gone?

    I dislike the favouritism of Dan Didio & Geoff Johns projects that they have crafted, while exceptional books by others get the shaft & writers known for not meeting deadline all the time get fired. Books cancelled if sales aren't in the 40,000 mark seems odd too as they'll never grown an audience in such a short period of time.

  19. It will certainly be interesting to see how DC handles keeping existing continuity for some characters but rebooting it for others; are their previous interactions in-continuity or not? I'm not sure how this was handled in the initial post-Crisis days, but continuity wasn't as "tight" or important then.

    As for firing late creators (did they actually "fire" anyone?), I do think it's important for these guys to turn in their work in a timely manner (and that includes Geoff Johns - Flash Rebirth and Legion of 3 Worlds are two mini-series that I recall finishing up long after they were scheduled to). But that doesn't mean you can't use these people; fill-in issues, or mini-series, or a series of short "volumes" (ala how Atomic Robo is published) would allow these creators to continue to work and provide quality content, while more reliable creators can be used for the monthlies. Heck, why not have some bi-monthly series? I can remember a few of those back in the 80's. Make it 1.5x the size of a regular monthly and put it out there for $3.99 instead of $2.99. That should give these guys time to get it done on schedule.

  20. Anon, it's true every character is someone's favorite; I favor Jaime over Ted, for instance, at least in a solo series, but you may have a different experience with different titles than I do.

    I think (and this changes by the minute) you'll find that the "Batman as the longest acting superhero" concern doesn't come to pass. Something I read, maybe Bleeding Cool on a DC retailer meeting, said that the first arcs of Justice League and Action Comics respectively will be set in the past, and then everything jumps to the present.

    So, I don't think Batman's been around to do Batman Inc. and etc. and Superman's only just arriving; I think we'll have another "ten year gap" like between Man of Steel and Superman post-Crisis on Infinite Earths that encompasses a number of established events (leading me to wonder whether the Death of Superman, like Killing Joke and Blackest Night, will still be in continuity).

    Then again, I could be wrong.

    Mark -- What if they actually schedule fill-in issues, like profile pieces related to the book's storyline? Then they'd *know* when a break was coming for catch-up.