Back in my hometown of Eureka, we have a video rental store. It is called Spotlight Video. For you non-Humboldt natives, it is pretty much a Hollywood Video. Except one thing is definitely different. Now, obviously, with the quick rise of streaming video and RedBox, video rental chains have been hurting. I know the pain personally as I worked at the Rohnert Park Bradley Video when it shut down. But Spotlight Video, like so many other businesses right now, is prepared to do anything to keep customers. And they did. I am fairly certain that Spotlight Video is the only video rental chain where you get a free tan when you open an account. Thats right. Spotlight Video doubles as a tanning salon.
Last week, DC Comics announced a total reboot of their line of comics. This September, DC will release 52 #1 issues that will start the DC universe over again. Now, the details of storylines is hazy at this time. Comic-Con will be the home of all sorts of surprises for the folks who love anything about Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. And to save time, here is the official announcement from the DC blog, The Source. Now, it should be pointed out that this is obviously to further establish the importance of DC’s embrace of digital download. For the past few years, digital download has been a point of interest within the comic book community. Think of it as a accelerated, but smaller version of the music industry over the past 15 years. Illegal distribution of content leading to declining sales, which brings about the legitimacy of digital availability of the product. Comics have only had Napster and now, DC hopes to become iTunes (ironic because I can remember the jokes made at Jim Lee’s expense during a few panels at last year’s Comic-Con when he was marveling over the iPad).
But the point of this post is not about digital distribution. To be completely honest, I don’t really have an informed opinion of digital comics. My knee jerk reaction is to be hesitant because A.) It means there is nothing that I want to do with my life that won’t involve me spending hours in front of a computer and B.) I don’t know what it will do to the comic book shops. After working at a shop that was closed and pledging my loyalty to another, I am concerned for the wellbeing of comic shops, but also for the wellbeing of the industry as a whole. The only thing I am wondering is which platform of digital distribution will comics follow. They seem to be buddy-buddy with the way iTunes/Apple does it, but the Kindle/Amazon seems to be quite the boon for print. But time will tell what this means and I don’t really care to predict just now.
No. The point of this post is the other half of the announcement. The total rebooting of the DC Universe. 52 new/relaunched #1 issues, which includes Wonder Woman (which just went through a fan-driven campaign to have the book restored to its original numbering), Justice League (which is more or less the most-relaunched book in comics history), and Detective Comics (which is the second-longest running comic book of all time). No word on if the 901 issues of Action Comics will be reneged with a relaunch. As you can see, #1 issues are a bit of a hot topic in comic books. #1s always draw the crowds and the attention. Sales boost for extended periods of time, but comics are about the long haul. It doesn’t matter how many #1s a character has, it will never be as impressive as a #900 because any character can launch a book, but not that many can sustain a book. To put it into perspective, current DC poster boy Green Lantern aka Hal Jordan will have had more relaunched books in 52 years then Batman has had Robins in 72 years. And, as was pointed out to me on CBR, the numbers for Batman #608 (part one of the acclaimed Jeph Loeb & Jim Lee story “Hush”) were the strongest they had been in years and that was 607 issues since the illustrious #1.
It should be pointed out that Jim Lee will be mentioned several times in this post. If ever there was a face of the Comic #1, it would be Jim Lee. Not only is he one of the co-publishers at DC Comics, and thus, one of the people in charge of this decision, he was also the artist to X-Men #1, the biggest selling comic book of all time with 8.1 million copies sold. He was also part of the Image Exodus, which launched several #1s that changed the industry. And he was a part of Heroes Reborn, the one and only time that Marvel Comics attempt at rebooting its entire line of books with new histories and #1s. It lasted a year.
Speaking of that, it should be noted that this will be the fourth (possibly fifth) time that DC has rebooted its characters, which happened most recently with 2005′s Infinite Crisis, with the first time occurring in 1986 with Crisis on Infinite Earths, 47 after the launch of DC’s first book, Action Comics in 1939. So less time has past since the first retcon and the fourth/fifth retcon then between the start of the DC universe and the first retcon. Also, feel free to throw in the universe-altering retcons that have appeared in individual books as well.
And what is being done is a valid concern. #1s are for new people and the industry is in need of new people. It is as true today as it was 25 years ago when C.o.I.E. was first published. New readers are intimidated by the large numbers, or so the argument goes. As impressive as Action Comics #900 is, it is equally as detrimental to the industry because, to someone who doesn’t know about some of the finer points of comics (the rotating writers and artists or the changes that have occurred or about that other buzz phrase “jumping on point”), Action Comics looks like a 900 part story that they can’t afford to catch up with or lose interest all together.
These aren’t television shows. Hell, its so easy to catch up with a TV series. If Im sick and have Netflix account, I could catch up on Parks & Recreation in a weekend. And shows only last an average of like six or seven seasons. At most, that is 154 hours. About a week of time. Even with something like The Simpsons, it only takes a cursory knowledge of the family itself to enjoy most of the episodes after 22 seasons because of the consistency of the characters after all that time. But, with 70+ years behind them, it takes a little bit more than “Bruce Wayne is rich and his parents were murdered by a criminal and that made him become Batman.” Most people aren’t even aware that Dick Grayson is Batman presently. With the immense popularity of comic book movies, the books should be selling like gangbusters. But there is a huge wall of continuity in your average person’s way. That is why a #1 should happen, but then, the publishers are faced with their backbone, the die hards. The people who have gone to the shop every Wednesday. The people who buy the Event book AND the tie-in stories. The people who know that the Superman who debuted in Action Comics #1 is not the same Superman being published today. #1s cause tension and make the continuing reader believe that they aren’t being rewarded for their continued support of the industry. What of all the recent progress made following Blackest Night/Brightest Day? Where might JT Krul’s Teen Titan or Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey have gone had the books not been redesigned and reassigned for the relaunch? Speaking of BoP, what about the fans who have stuck by Barbara Gordon since she became paralyzed? Or the people who have been inspired by her? Are they feeling left out by the news that Barbara Gordon is becoming Batgirl again? Or what of the fact that most of the new readers that DC wants to get (the young, teens and 20 somethings) have only known a paralyzed Barbara Gordon or Wally West as The Flash or that Hal Jordan was insane and not under the influence of Parallax or a single, non-Multiverse DCU?
DC has always seemed, out of the two publishers, to be the one who is more willing to upset the status quo. They have successfully replaced a great deal of heroes over the past three decades. Wally West, Tim Drake, John Stewart, Courtney Whitmore, Jack Knight, to name a few. The problem is that they reach a point where shaking the status quo is replacing the originals. Once again, for comparison sakes, Marvel just killed off Captain America’s replacement (in time for the movie) and, in the 90s, they more or less replaced Spider-Man with himself. It comes back to that bit about Bruce Wayne and cursory knowledge. What a shock it is to find that Batman has been Dick Grayson. Wasn’t he Robin? Green Lantern is some cartoonist who looks like he’s from a boy , that can’t be true. Green Lantern is Hal Jordan. That’s who Ryan Reynolds is going to be.
As Alan Moore says in his introduction to The Dark Knight Returns, superheroes are America’s mythology. They are the simple stories that we pass down, like the Greek stories of the champions and the gods. We know that Heracles/Hercules is the half-mortal son of Zeus/Jupiter, just like we know that Clark Kent was born on Krypton and sent here as a baby when the planet exploded. Those are the templates and they should always be true. But just like in comics, with the little details for those who fully explore the books and keep picking them up, the Greeks had those little details. What about the ten labors of Hercules or that he killed his children? Or even that the common spelling of his name is the Roman version, but his father’s is the Greek version? At what point should the line be drawn? What must always be true and what can be given a modern face lift?
There is a saying in comics that never seems to ring true. On every event, every BIG story, the book promises:
NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN
This September, DC gets to see if they can deliver.
All images are by Jim Lee and copyright of DC Comics.