Reboots and Recollections – JP Looks At DC’s September Line-Wide Comic Book Re-launch: Part 1

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or only visit this site for all things music, film, television and video games), you already know about DC Comics’ company-wide re-launch of all their characters beginning this September. That’s right. All.

Make no mistake. It’s huge news in the comic book industry.

Last month, resident Biff Bam Pop!writer, J.W. Ward, wrote a fine column on his, somewhat sour, take (which you can read here) on the shocking revelation. I can’t say I entirely blame his disposition.

Readers of comics – as well as industry professionals – seem polarized over the coming changes. Many fans feel that this line-wide re-launch is simply a stunt to garner higher sales, an endeavour that will only yield a short-term outcome. From a business perspective, many industry insiders feel that it’s too much in too short a time frame as there will be 52 new titles released over a four week span, all with a number “1” on the cover.

Under the changes, two of the longest running series in comicdom, Detective Comics (starring Batman) and Action Comics (starring Superman) will be ending. These two titles can trace their publication histories back to 1937 and 1938 respectively. That covers a lot of human history: the fall of the communist Soviet Union, the space race, World War II and the great depression. There are not many pop-culture references that have lasted that long in an ongoing format, constantly evolving within the times in which they existed.

Comic books are, truly, an extraordinary art form.

I suppose that DC Comics, the long-time number two comic book publisher behind frontrunner Marvel, felt that this coming re-launch was a necessary move. The company has been steadily losing ground in terms of sales and, in a bid to change those fortunes, made the ultimate decision: that redesigning their characters and re-launching various series starting with new number “1” issues will spur people on to pick up and read their comics like they once did decades ago.

Me? I’m not so sure it’s going to work like that.

The first comic book I ever bought was DC’s Star Trek issue 5, back in the summer of 1984. I didn’t buy it at a comic book store like I do my comics these days. That particular issue was picked up off of a magazine rack at my local Towers. For those that don’t remember, Towers was like the poor-man’s front-runner for Zellers or a latter day, stripped-down,Wal-Mart. I bought the comic for $0.95 (Canadian) because I was a fan of the television series and because the cover was pretty kick ass: Kirk and company slipping through the fingers of a giant god-like deity! Who could resist?

I bought more, too, over the following weeks. ROM was quickly added to my burgeoning collection, as was Daredevil and, my new favourite, Batman. I didn’t buy the comics because of issue number. The numbers “5” or “47” or “360” meant nothing to me. All that mattered, at first, was the cover. Batman fighting a living skeleton? Weird. I’m there! Captain America crossing over into the Daredevil series? Awesome. A comic book titled after my favourite computer game console? I’m taking that one home! (A giant “No-Prize” for anyone that can name that series!) Some of the comics were sold polybagged in 2-for-1 specials: Superman mixed with The Fury of Firestorm, The New Teen Titans paired with Blue Devil, always a big seller coupled with an up-and-comer. Soon, I started following the writers and artists from one series to the next, names like: Mike W. Barr, Marv Wolfman, Jim Aparo, Gene Colon and George Perez.

It was from there, from that magical moment, that I initially put it into my mind to hunt down the first ever comic book shop that I would call “my own”.The Comic Den was a rumour, passed on to me from a friend of a friend at recess one fall morning. I found the store on my bike one Saturday afternoon, a near two-hour commute to the other side of the suburbs. It was at The Comic Den that my taste in comics matured as I grew older, where comics became more and more adult-oriented and less and less “kiddy”.

The rest of my collection, as they say, is history. My history.

I saw the “reboot” of DC Comics following the series Crisis on Infinite Earths back in 1986. And then there was the “re-launch” after Legends in 1987 and the “restart” after Millennium and the “reformat” and the “rebrand” and so on and so on and so on.

That’s the thing about comic books. With the longevity that the medium has enjoyed, it’s also true that all the fights between heroes and villains, all the births, deaths and rebirths of characters, all the gimmicks the publishing companies have employed, have all been done before. Still, there are always changes, variations, deviations in the art form that remind us of the age in which we live.

These days, a top selling comic sells upwards of 80,000-90,000 copies a month. I recall a story I once heard at a comic book convention seminar that mentioned that Superboy, published by DC Comics in the 1950 thru the 1970’s – and never one of the company’s preeminent titles – sold in the hundred of thousands of copies each month. By today’s comparisons, that’s an astounding number!

So, are comic books a dying medium? Maybe. And maybe what DC is doing this September is truly a gimmick. Personally, I think it will reinvigorate sales for the company, but I also think those inflated sales will be fleeting and numbers will be normalized (a word of doom and gloom, unfortunately) over the coming months. That’s not a tough statement to prognosticate. It’s not excitable ten year-olds buying comic books these days. It’s people like me, with mortgages and credit cards and cars and children. And that’s too bad. Maybe if a certain cover would pop out off of the stands at a local Towers…

That said, as an art form, it’s comic book writers and illustrators that make or break a series. It’s always been that way and it always will be. It’s not the number of an issue or the change in a character’s costume that signify success. Those are just fleeting moments of attention. But with so many new titles coming out so soon from DC, which ones might be worth our time and money?

Over the next few weeks, before crazy September hits, I’ll be pointing out some of the new 52 titles that DC will be publishing, including what I think will be the winners, the losers and the dark horse long shots. If you’re wondering what’s coming out or you’re confused over the big re-launch and wondering what to read and where to spend your hard-earned money, I’ll help navigate the choppy comic book waters that will surely see September of 2011 be bigger than any other month in comic book publishing history.

Who knows, maybe you’ll discover new books that you’ll enjoy reading and possibly even sharing, perhaps with a younger, excitable child who sees a cover and needs to know how Batman defeats a living skeleton.

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