Saturday, June 18, 2011

DC Relaunch

DC has announced that following the end of their Flashpoint event, the entire DCU will be getting a jumpstart with every current title being cancelled and 52 new titles getting launched.

These new titles will bring many changes to the DCU and the characters readers have been following for years. While we won't know the extent of these changes until those books actually hit the racks in September, there have been some things revealed and there is plenty of speculation to go around to fill in the cracks of what we don't know.

The first thing in the new DCU we know is that Superman is the first superhero to appear. There is no Justice Society at this juncture, and in fact it appears the Justice League will be the first super team as well. There has been a lot of speculation that this new DCU will result in the dissolution of the marriage of Clark Kent and Lois Lane (sound familiar?). Those who know me know that I was very much disgusted when Marvel pulled this same act with Peter Parker and Mary Jane, so much so that I dropped every Marvel title I was reading and to this day still have not re-started my collection of Marvel titles (the boycott remains in full effect). Were I a big fan of Superman and his mythos, I would be just as disgusted with the dissolution of Clark and Lois' marriage (if that is indeed what is going to happen). However, I've never really been all that enamored of the character, so while I certainly feel for those fans who are going to be upset at this (potential) turn of events, it doesn't have a significant effect on me.

I'm not really sure what DC gains by ridding themselves of the marriage (if that is the plan). Unlike Spider-Man (where Marvel wanted the character to be a swinging bachelor with all the problems inherent with the bad Parker luck that always dogs him), Superman isn't a character who benefits all that much from having a single lifestyle. With his super speed, he wouldn't encounter as many missed connections as a character like Spider-Man does when trying to be someplace for a date. In fact, it is Clark's relationship with Lois that gives him a reason for trying to live a more regular life in what little spare time he has. Without that anchor, there really isn't much reason for the character to try and ground himself into that sort of normal reality. The only real benefit I could see to having a single Superman is that it would give DC the opportunity to potentially pair him up with a character like Wonder Woman or perhaps some other female superhero (a new incarnation of Power Girl?). And as for Lois, might we see her becoming more friendly with a certain Bruce Wayne?

There are some definite benefits to the new DCU however. It doesn't appear as though Dinah Lance and Oliver Queen are married. And perhaps they are not any sort of couple at all. That would be a significant improvement in my book. Deathstroke is getting his own book. We haven't seen the likes of that since the early nineties. Hawk and Dove are back in their own title (that is both good and bad --- I'll elaborate more on that in a later post). Captain Atom is getting a new series as well.

Is DC's plan to relaunch their DCU line a good idea? Reimagining some of the characters could certainly provide them a boost in readership. However, I think their plan to launch 52 brand new series in the same month is misguided. They are going to be cannibalizing their own sales because comic retailers are not going to be able to order all of these first issues in the sort of quantities they otherwise would if there were only a few new titles hitting each month. It is going to be a guessing game for retailers to figure out which titles are going to have the most appeal. DC will likely be forced to overprint and overship titles in order to make sure they can meet the 'unmeasurable' demand. But they are going to be playing the same guessing game. They don't want to print too many copies and then get stuck holding a lot of comics there is no demand for. But they also don't want to under-estimate demand by too much and miss the opportunity to get the titles into the hands of interested comic readers that same week those titles hit the stands. This plan really isn't going to serve anyone well (retailers, comic readers, and DC itself) because DC will end up selling fewer copies than they would with a more conservative release plan. And it will likely doom several titles to failure before they've even had the opportunity to really get out of the gate. In my opinion, DC would have been better served launching 52 new titles over the course of three (or even four) months. This would allow retailers to take a strong position on titles and allow comic readers the chance to sample more books (you can't expect most readers to afford 52 new titles from one publisher in a single month --- 52 x $2.99 = $155.48, and actually a couple of the books are going to be $3.99 so the cost will be a little closer to $160). Keeping these factors in mind, I think it likely that less than 40 of the initial 52 titles will still be around three years from now (I'm guessing the number will be closer to 36).

What I hope does not happen is another "Death of Superman" scenario where comic shops speculate too much on some of these titles (such as the big guns: Action Comics, Superman, Detective Comics, and Batman) and end up over-extending themselves. I mean, how often do you get a chance to have an Action Comics no. 1? It is going to be very tempting to some shops to try and cash in on the opportunity (and consequently, force them to order fewer numbers of a lot of the other new titles which may very well effectively kill any chance those books have to find an audience).

I recall the comic shop I frequented at the time of the Death of Superman issue went very heavy on that issue. Too heavy in fact. It wasn't too many weeks after that I went into the shop and there were no new comics on the shelves. The same was true the next week and the week after that. And then not long after the store closed. The owner had bought far too many copies of that issue and got stuck holding a lot of them. He didn't have the cash flow available to continue buying new comics when he wasn't able to unload all of those extra issues. That was a frustrating time for me as a reader because the shop wasn't honest with their customers and kept telling us that new books would be in the next week. And that went on for about three weeks before it finally became obvious there were not going to be any more books. Fortunately there were several other comic shops in the city so I was able to track down most of the issues I had missed. It was a major hassle though and in the end I also had to choose another comic store that was a good distance from where I lived to be my regular shop.

We'll just have to wait and see how this all works out. Hopefully DC will succeed in reinvigorating their line and won't alienate too many of their current readers with some of the changes they are making. This relaunch also has the opportunity to bring in a lot of new readers (as DC is also releasing digital editions of these titles the same day as the print edition). DC is supposed to be backing this relaunch with a lot of advertising to help generate more interest outside of the regular core readership. All in all, this is a big gamble by DC and may very well end up being a significant gamble for many retailers. I guess we won't really know the results until early next year. We should have sales estimates for the first couple of months of the relaunch by the end of the year, but that won't include the digital numbers so it may be difficult to determine just how successful this move is by DC (though we should get a pretty good idea of how it is going over for the retailers).

No comments: