It's been a few days since the big DC Comics announcement that they would be rebooting their line in September. Giving it time to digest and get the full scope of their initial plans for the reboot, I want to finally throw my two cents in about this whole thing.
To those who don't know, here's a bit of background about me (and I've gone over some of this before here and here). I feel it's important to start there since, as the title says, this isn't about me. I'm 34 years old. I am a LONG time fan of DC Comics characters. My first exposure to them that I can remember was the 1978 Superman movie and the Superfriends cartoons. I began regularly collecting comic books when I was about 8 years old. That was in 1984. I started with Justice League of America. Then came Crisis on Infinite Earths and I jumped on board the Superman reboot by John Byrne. The mid to late 80s were a time of major change in the DC universe. Sidekicks grew up to become heroes of their own. Other sidekicks were killed. Characters were rebooted. Status quos were changed. The comics got a bit darker. And I loved it all for the most part.
My collecting snowballed from just getting Superman titles to getting Batman, Flash, Justice League, and eventually several other spin-offs and titles. This was MY DC. When Tim Drake came along, he was MY Robin. The rebooted Superman was MY Superman. Wally West taking up the mantle of the Flash was MY Flash. And even in the mid-90s, these changes would continue and I would be very accepting of things like Kyle Rayner taking over the Green Lantern title. All the while, I would hear complaints from older fans about how things weren't right and they wish it would go back to the way it was. The changes that Crisis began left a DC Universe that older fans felt a bit shunned from.
I say all that to make the point that it's happening again. And it has to.
Setting aside the reboot for a moment, the biggest part of this whole thing is the digital comics aspect. I don't think print will ever completely go away, but it has greatly diminished over the past several years (which has negatively affected me and people I know personally) and will continue to. I speak as someone who worked in the print industry for several years, if you publish a magazine or other periodical and are not looking to switch to a method of distribution that is primarily digital, you are acting foolish.
Several, several years ago, the comics industry did one of the stupidest things they could possibly do and that was begin catering to the direct market exclusively. I don't know whose genius idea it was to limit where consumers could buy their product. Or who thought that comic shops were the place to do it. I don't mean this as a slight to every comic shop, but in general, comic shops are not attractive places to go. They don't make a lot of money so they tend to be run down. They aren't usually in high profile areas. And let's face it, their clientele is comic book fans which, unjustly, have typically been shunned by society for years.
The comic book industry continues to cater to the direct market and has been sort of forced to since there has been limited mainstream distribution since the early 90s. Their biggest push since 2002 has been the annual "Free Comic Book Day" in which all the major companies offer some sort of cheap comic that stores can purchase and then give away for free to their patrons. This has grown over the years, but I don't see any tangible results from it. The other thing that comic companies do is make drastic changes to the characters and then try to get news coverage out of it. I've commented on my thoughts about this before, too. Do "commoners" return to comic shops every week once they've "discovered" all that is offered at a comic book store? I imagine not. It's pretty niche. And even music stores, which isn't as niche, have declined and disappeared over the past few years. Unless you are REALLY into that market, you're not going to go out of your way to revisit those stores.
With the advent of mobile apps, in particular the one from Comixology, the comics industry is no longer at the mercy of comic book stores. And this is such a good thing.* And with this most recent announcement from DC, they're taking a major step to prove that.
To me, DC's announcement was less about the reboot and more about them saying that they are going to be a Digital Comics company. My guess is that in five years, DC and Marvel will not be publishing the 22-page comics. They may possibly go to some sort of print-on-demand service and still will continue to publish collections, but the product that they will offer will be digital comics that you can download on mobile devices and tablets.
They HAVE to do this in order to survive. If they don't make this jump, the comic industry will dry up and there will be nothing offered at all except indies and underground comics. The properties would still survive. Warner would still own Superman and Batman and Disney would still own Spider-Man and Iron Man. We'd still see cartoons and movies. But comics as we know them are inevitably going to disappear. In order to go on in some way, the transition to digital must happen. They have to reach a new audience. They have to find new readers who are younger than 35. They have to make them easily accessible and build no barriers to them in any way.
That's what the reboot is about (reminiscent of the Star Trek reboot). It's about saying to anyone who isn't reading comics that now is the time to jump on and find YOUR Superman, Flash or Robin. Take or leave the 70 years of history. Start downloading now and be on the ground floor of something exciting that you can call your own. At least for the next 20-30 years until they decide to reboot again.
And I can critique the way they're doing the reboot, why I don't like it,** how I hate the costumes, and the ways I'd do it different. But again...this isn't about me.
* And I know people probably don't want to hear this. People love their comic book shops. I get that to some degree. I used to work at one and have had my favorite spots over the years. Comic book stores are sort of a "nerd's bar." It's the place you can go, hang out, talk about the latest crazy storylines, and everybody knows your name. It's a place where you can get away from the non-nerds and find others to talk to about your interests. However, this environment is not needed as much anymore. I fill that same need by hanging out on this blog, Twitter, and Facebook. And look, I'm a strong proponent of being able to communicate face-to-face. I'd love to be able to hang out with Jeeg and PLee for extended periods of time catching up on nerd talk. But since I'm not able to do that in person, I can will my nerdy social needs by getting on the internet.
** Even though I realize this isn't about me, that doesn't mean that there won't eventually be some commentary on this blog about the execution of the reboot. PLee and I have had several off-the-blog conversations about this and I hope that he posts his thoughts about it either in the comments or as a whole separate blog entry.