DC Reboot: It's Not About Me

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.


Jack said...

Good Left Coast afternoon, my friend. As you may have noticed from my lack of posts when this subject comes up, I'm not a comic book guy; I have nothing to offer, so I stay out of the conversation. However, this post is about more than just comic books, so I will comment on a couple of points.

First, comic shops. I will soon be posting a piece on Jack's Hideout about my thirty years as a wargamer. Without going into a lot of detail, the hobby consisted of fighting battles on a tabletop, and there were hundreds of titles, which were "kits" that gave you a map of a (usually historical) battlefield, and pieces representing the forces that fought the battle. Oh, and rules, lots and lots of rules. There were stores (2 here in San Diego) whose entire business consisted of selling these games and accessories to us who played them. You couldn't go in there without finding a few players you knew by nickname and reputation, and you would wind up spending hours talking about the latest design innovation, arguing the intent of obscure rules, or whatever. They provided tables where you could set up games to play, consuming more hours... My poor wife hated these places. Point is, it's hard for me to imagine being immersed in a hobby, and not being attracted to the interactions when you find yourself in a room full of fellow afficianados. Maybe there's more to the aversion you hint at than just the location.

Reboots: I talked about that when you covered the Star Trek reboot. I told you how Shatner and Nimoy embody MY Star Trek, and I'm not going to start over with those hip-hoppin' imposters. True to my word, I haven't, and by holding this position, I've cut myself off from the future of the franchise. Is it a good choice? I don't know yet, but how are you possibly not going to be cut off from DC, when they tell you in a few months that YOUR Superman, YOUR Batman, all your childhood friends, are no longer valid? Wargames had reboots. GETTYSBURG, as one example, went through a half-dozen encarnations about five years apart. Each time it was re-released, the graphics were cleaner, the rules were more complete, the flow had a greater sense of realism, presumably all things you can say about the Star Trek reboot, and the comics, but those of us who had played the older versions looked forward to each update, and embraced them with great enjoyment. What's different about films and comics? Something, that's for sure, and it isn't just personalities. Lee and Meade, the leaders at Gettysburg, had altered or enhanced capabilities in each update, and we didn't mind a bit. Maybe a topic for discussion.

Okay, I've stolen enough space from you. I'll just throw it out there and see what happens.

PS for Jeeg: Get ready for another mud-wrestling match; I'll be watching GRIMM closely. The trailers look promising.

Christian said...

Excellent article. I think your personal comic history really fleshes out your opinion well. I'm excited about this reboot. I hope it works. I really think the comic book tree needs a really good shake and this combination of events is sorely needed. I admire DC for doing it and hope it sticks. I hope a whole bunch of former readers and a crapload of new readers jump on board. I wish I had the available funds to buy all 52 #1's because I would. Good work CT.

Eric T said...

CT I couldn't have said it better myself.

Jeeg said...

As I've mentioned a few times before, comics aren't my thing. I come at this as an outsider, but I completely agree with CT’s thesis. The changes that DC has announced really are necessary attempts to grow the customer base beyond the last generation hardcore fans that are now approaching middle age. The only problem is I don’t think it’s going to work.

The publishing industry, including comic books, has been getting steamrolled by a media transformation of a scale which only happens every two or three generations. And whatever the outcome, I don’t think the future will look like the previous status quo just with digital publications. The best analogy I can come up with is the transition between radio and television. Many experts predicted television would kill off radio altogether during the late 1940s and 1950s. Radio obviously survived, but it’s no longer the place to go for sitcoms or dramas. Radio moved into various niches and DC or Marvel likewise needs to find the comic book equivalent of talk radio or Top 40. I think they eventually will, but the DC Relaunch isn’t the transformation needed to get there.

Robert said...

Not really a comics guy but the reboot phenomenon is something that we all need to address, especially cinema nerds. I was particularly upset and puzzled by the Spiderman films reboot, but on the other hand, I think the Star Trek reboot was great (especially since they, for the most part, really respected the original).

They're rebooting The Thing, Fright Night and Conan The Barbarian later this year(to name a few), so I guess it's get used to it, or don't go to the movies anymore.

Paxton said...

Well said, CT. I mostly agree. I, however, do like the costume redesigns. I'm not sure why, but I think they look more modern. Especially Flash.