By Molly Jane Kremer and Jarrod Jones. It’s almost impossible to believe now, but it was only four and a half years ago that DC Comics’ New 52 hit the reset button on the very reality of its superhero universe, debuting to astronomical sales figures to boot. But as with any banner comic release (good or bad) there exists the law of diminishing returns. Before you knew it, The New 52 as a brand was gone.
The audience it initially hooked was admittedly massive (squarely aimed at the white male 18-24 demographic to the exclusion of most others), but after years of purported editorial mismanagement and mostly mediocre output, those numbers dwindled and ebbed despite numerous publicity-stunt-type efforts to lure back a lagging audience. Those stunts—most recently with Convergence and #DCYou—left countless retailers with stacks of series tie-ins to fill their fifty-cent bins, and a learned wariness of any new initiative from DC.
And yet, here we are. Again. Despite whatever you’ve seen projected onto that strange blue curtain, DC Comics’ Rebirth has the trappings of any high-profile reboot. DC’s cleaning house. It’s resetting its entire line (minus two) back to #1, and it’s making a pretty big damn deal out of it. So now that we have a better understanding of how the DC Universe will unfold (at least until the June solicits hit), it’s time to assess what we know and reconcile it with how we feel.
Drawing the Line at 2.99. Again. First and foremost, one of the biggest positives of Rebirth is DC Comics’ decision to slap a committed price tag of $2.99 on every single one of its titles. No matter if the book is called Justice League or Justice Gorillas, all books will have the same accessible price. (Don’t freak out; there’s no such thing as Justice Gorillas… at least, not yet.) That price will run across DC’s entire line — all 32 ongoings, and all 23 Rebirth one-shots.
JJ: Having a universal $2.99 price tag on all your books isn’t a good way to increase readership — it’s a great one. For starters, it makes a stack of your books instantly cheaper than a stack from your competition, and that’s never a bad thing. That’s the qualifying bottom line for certain readers — can they afford your book? “Hmm,” the hypothetically frugal reader would murmur. “Arachno-chump is $3.99, but Society Ducks is a buck cheaper, and it has that running guy I like from TV. Y’know, The Fast?” Cheaper books may not be the safest business, but it’s certainly the most competitive, and it’s a hell of a lot more reader-friendly.
MJ: That’s all well and good, Jarrod, especially for the first month or two of these releases. A lower price tag will be a great enticement to pick up the new books. But come September, once all the titles have (presumably) debuted, fans are going to quickly notice that seventeen of those series—more than half—will be shipping twice monthly. So while it will be nice to only pay $2.99 for every issue again, it’s not going to be as nice to actually pay double that per month to keep up on one comic book featuring your favorite character(s).
Hang tight: ‘ACTION’ & ‘DETECTIVE’ are reaching for #1000. Remember back in the day when Adventures of Superman — once titled Superman, prior to Crisis On Infinite Earths — had its numbering moved to reside under the Superman banner? It was a bit disorienting, right? Well, it’s happening again. It’s been a time-honored tradition at DC to play around with the number counter when the opportunity suits them, and now that Action Comics and Detective Comics are reverting back to their original numbering (starting with the chronologically-correct #957 and #934, respectively), the prospect of hitting #1000 is closer than ever. According to DC CCO Geoff Johns, DC co-publisher Dan DiDio is “psyched” that #1000 is now on the horizon, which means that, yes, he’s likely to be hanging around for the duration. (Action will hit #1000 on its bi-weekly schedule — provided it sticks to it — sometime around 2018.)
JJ: Look. I’m a purist. I am most certainly one of those deranged “longbox” collectors who simply has to have every single issue featuring Superman there ever was (and I’m about a quarter of the way through that endeavor, give or take a thousand issues or two). The fact that I can now lump in the New 52-era Action Comics with my Post-Crisis collection on the thundering road towards #1000 means oodles to me as a collector, but as a reader? That’s some cheap shit. Resetting Action to #1 was supposed to mean something to the New 52 (I seem to recall Johns saying something about its significance back in the day, just like he’s doing now), but now that we know it’s an aborted failure, resetting the numbering shows me that DC is working overtime to kick dirt over the initiative’s corpse in the vain hope that we’ll all carry on as though nothing ever happened. Feh.
MJ: It’s strange and kind of funny when some of the superhero books with the highest issue numbering in the comics industry come from Image: Spawn is up to #260, Savage Dragon at #211. Even Invincible is sitting at #126. Not all comics fans appreciate the consistency of those high numbers, but DC is trying to make an appeal to those who do (and to the retailers who supply them) by bringing back the original numberings of Detective and Action (the latter of which was the first superhero comic ever, full stop). And I have to admit, the nerd in me does rather delight at the idea of Action reaching issue #1,000. (Though, would they keep the comma…?) It feels like (or maybe DC wants to make it feel like) an affirmation of and dedication to these characters’ long histories. That feels real nice after the abrupt truncation of seventy-ish years’ worth of continuity back in 2011. (*gasp* Maybe they’ll even do the same for Wonder Woman with a Sensation Comics title? Yeah, no, I’m not holding my breath for that one either.)
The (Surviving) 32. All we know is that there are 32 ongoing books being published between May 25 (when the 80-page DC Universe: Rebirth #1 hits) and the end of “Fall” — whenever that’s supposed to be. (I guess they mean “November”? But with comic books, what are calendars anyway?) That means a whole bunch of books are getting the axe — most of which we listed here — leaving room for Batman, Superman, and Justice League-related books to center themselves within DC’s apparent tunnel vision. Behold:
June — Rebirth Specials: AQUAMAN REBIRTH #1, BATMAN REBIRTH #1, THE FLASH REBIRTH #1. GREEN ARROW REBIRTH #1, GREEN LANTERNS REBIRTH #1, SUPERMAN REBIRTH #1. TITANS REBIRTH #1, WONDER WOMAN REBIRTH #1 New #1 Issues (Shipping bi-weekly): AQUAMAN #1, BATMAN #1, THE FLASH #1, GREEN ARROW #1, GREEN LANTERNS #1, SUPERMAN #1, WONDER WOMAN #1 New Issues (Shipping bi-weekly): ACTION COMICS #957, DETECTIVE COMICS #934
July — Rebirth Specials: BATGIRL & THE BIRDS OF PREY REBIRTH #1, HAL JORDAN & THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS REBIRTH #1, THE HELLBLAZER REBIRTH #1, JUSTICE LEAGUE REBIRTH #1, NIGHTWING REBIRTH #1, RED HOOD & THE OUTLAWS REBIRTH #1 New #1 Issues (Shipping bi-weekly): HAL JORDAN & THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS #1, JUSTICE LEAGUE #1, NIGHTWING #1 New #1 Issues (Shipping monthly): BATGIRL #1, BATGIRL & THE BIRDS OF PREY #1, THE HELLBLAZER #1, RED HOOD & THE OUTLAWS #1, THE SUPER-MAN #1, TITANS #1
Fall — Rebirth Specials: BATMAN BEYOND REBIRTH #1, BLUE BEETLE REBIRTH #1, CYBORG REBIRTH #1, DEATHSTROKE REBIRTH #1, EARTH 2 REBIRTH #1, SUICIDE SQUAD REBIRTH #1, SUPERGIRL REBIRTH #1, TEEN TITANS REBIRTH #1, TRINITY REBIRTH #1, New #1 Issues (Shipping bi-weekly): CYBORG #1, DEATHSTROKE #1, HARLEY QUINN #1, JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA #1, SUICIDE SQUAD #1 New #1 Issues (Shipping monthly): BATMAN BEYOND #1, BLUE BEETLE #1, EARTH-2 #1, GOTHAM ACADEMY: NEXT SEMESTER #1, SUPERGIRL #1, SUPERWOMAN #1, SUPER SONS #1, TEEN TITANS #1, TRINITY #1
JJ: I don’t even know what — huh? The hell’s “The Super-Man”? Am I being trolled right now? Where’s Midnighter? Where’s Black Canary? Where are all the people of color, and where are all the queer people? DC’s new lineup makes about as much sense as me hitting my head against my desk: sure, it feels great, but it does nothing for me aesthetically. (What? What do you do for fun?) While I applaud the return of Nightwing (provided it’s still Dick Grayson underneath that domino mask) and what I can only presume is the Justice Society in Earth-2 (as opposed to the perfectly fine — and incredibly diverse — Society in Earth-2: Society), this is starting to look like the worst fears we had for the New 52 given form. (It’s only Batman and Justice League books! Everybody ruuuun!)
MJ: Though some of these new books could be promising (lacking in diversity though they may be), all of this is for naught without some new blood in DC’s creative stable. When Geoff Johns and Scott Snyder are your only writers that can guarantee a sales bump (though puttin’ a ring on Tom King was a great move), and aside from a notably good (but small) few, most of your artists draw house-style nonsense, you can’t expect readers (or retailers) to have any interest in the same small bunch of dudes reshuffled to a new book. New writers—but new artists especially!—need to be tempted over from Marvel, or talented up-and-comers need to be promoted into DC’s main ranks, because more of the same 90’s-comics bullshit just won’t work anymore. Fresh blood is absolutely necessary to recapture many jaded DC fans who don’t want more of the same.
Re-earning the trust of retailers. DC dropped these bombshell revelations at the ComicsPRO Annual Meeting (an organization of comic book retailers) on Thursday, and much of the publisher’s language has been worded specifically to appeal to comic book shops who have just as much reason as their customers, if not more, to be wary of new initiatives from ol’ DC. Though initially the New 52 meant gangbuster sales for the direct market, the company’s various events and stunts (alongside the public loss of creator after creator due to editorial disagreement) quickly lost their luster for readers, and gradually became more and more of a guaranteed loss for retailers. (But at least those fifty-cent bins got filled…) Nothing like building a bubble before working overtime to make sure it bursts.
JJ: The stories I hear, lemme tell you. The abusive relationship between DC Comics and your friendly neighborhood retailer is far more damaging than your smiling pal behind the cool counter is willing to let on. And yet, with each successive event — be it Forever Evil, The Darkseid War, or even (Kirby help us) Convergence — your local comic shop hunkers down, takes a shot of bourbon, and places an order with Diamond in the hopes that DC’s latest gamble will make you happy enough to pick up a few of its (generally god-awful) tie-ins. While readers flush with cash won’t balk at picking up at least six of the ninety (?) variants for the eight-issue DKIII, more frugal readers are forced to watch the lines in their retailer’s face deepen as DC keeps dumping lenticular covers, incentive variants, and Doomed at their doorstep with absolutely fuck-all to show for it.
I’ve seen people in the comics Twitter say bewildering things like “fuck the direct market”, but these people, these shops, they are the backbone of this industry. It must be nice for these folks to have Amazon aim their Futures End-laden drones at their front door, but for most readers I speak with (and I speak with quite a few, both locally and online), purchasing one or two issues every couple weeks is considered an extravagance, say nothing of swiping through pages via comiXology on an expensive tablet. That DC is working their asses off to make things right with retailers shows me that someone in their Burbank beach gulag is paying attention to the gripes from those who bring their product to the public. It shows that even though the night is darkest before… you know what? I’m not quoting The Dark Knight at you. If you’re fearful for the future, just know — change is coming.
MJ: I work at a comic shop, and I’ve worked at various book and comic shops for over fifteen years. Comic shops have to order and purchase their comics ahead of time and then hope it’s gonna sell. When a company like DC repeatedly pushes bad product at you—continually eating away at your bottom line while simultaneously jading customers out of reading your main product—optimism for their output (or even for new ideas) slows to a trickle, if it comes at all. So the great efforts DC (Geoff Johns in particular) are putting into this launch are palpable. Johns’ language in both DC’s announcement video (and his interview with CBR) was worded to appeal to retailers who been hurting because of the post-Convergence nosedive DC sales have taken. (Choosing to focus on refreshing old continuity for so-called core comics fans sounds admittedly backwards-thinking to newer, more diverse readers who are rightfully mourning the lack of Black Canary and Midnighter on the new roster.)
Inspiring though Johns’ words are (I can’t help but feel a tinge of hope—so sue me), retailers can’t not be thinking about the DC portion of their Diamond bill doubling once the bimonthly titles hit full tilt and fill half the publishing schedule. They’re also definitely thinking, if they again succumb to DC’s siren song, whether they’ll be stuck with stacks upon stacks of unsold comics and abandoned pull lists. Because major precedents have been set here, and unless drastic changes are made, DC could be doomed to repeat them.
How do YOU feel about Rebirth? Do you think these changes are what the publisher needs? Do YOU have any better ideas? Sound off in the comments section below.