The State of the new DCU

   First a disclaimer: I've always been more a marvel reader, than DC.  I wouldn't say I'm a marvel "fanboy" because plenty of what they have done over the years bugs me so don't lump me into the category of 'instantly loves all marvel and hates DC'.  I've actually tried to get into DC several times over the years.  I love their core characters and have several failed runs of Batman and Superman; I have a ton of trades and graphic novels for them and I also followed quite a bit of John's runs on JSA and a couple other titles.  One thing DC did hook me on though was vertigo and wildstorm.  I've been a fan of Authority,  Planetary and Wildcats even though those books were not always consistent and I can't say enough about how much quality product Vertigo has put out over the years.

  What I want to look at is, outside of a little discussion about the idea of the reboot itself, what has DC done right with their relaunch and where have they dropped the ball.  I'll also post my pull list from week one and how it's dropped through week three.  Please share your own thoughts in the comments below.   

  Here we have a new core DC universe and with it they have essentially shut down Wildstorm and Vertigo as separate worlds and rolled them into the core universe.  Out of everything DC is doing with the relaunch this concerned me most of all, but we'll get to that shortly.  They launched 52 new #1's a couple months ago and took the comic industry by storm, outselling marvel for the first month in forever and doing it with fewer books in total.  Now we have all seen the comments about this being a temporary boost and I don't think anyone, including DC doesn't already realize this.  The goal here though was to get those books seen by some new eyeballs, whether they are new to comics or just new to DC and hopefully win over some fans by the time the "checking out" period was over.   When DC's bump falls a bit, if it doesn't return to original numbers and they are able to hang neck and neck with marvel I think we'll see the competition benefit the industry.   That's the news DC is waiting for a couple months down the line, nobody is ready to hang their hat on the first couple of months performance - It is only a successful first step for their relaunch.

What did DC get right with their relaunch?

They created enough buzz and hype to get their books into new hands.  
   Sure the launch of 52 different titles with #1 on them is going to create a bit of speculator buying, especially with the additional mainstream media attention they got, but it's also going to cause some readers to try something they might not normally pick up.  And the sales didn't just apply to the speculation of getting a hold of a valuable number one, more than half the line went to second printings that sold well too.  Even the second month in they took 51% of overall book sales in the industry (beating Marvel's 30% sales).  Again, expect this number to level out, but if at the end of the day they stay neck and neck with marvel, something they never really manage to do, then we can consider this a success.

Freshened up stale characters.
  DC has used this opportunity to reboot a few of their core characters.  Batman is one of the few characters to continue on a fairly similar path to what he already was on.  Superman and Wonder Woman both got shaken up a bit.  Brian Azzarello is taking Wonder Woman more down the path of Gods and monsters than super villains, which puts an interesting twist on a character often lost in the shuffle of other justice leaguers.   Superman is getting a little more attitude and a little less boy scout, he comes off more youthful and unlike all of the other titles, Grant Morrison's Action Comics (as well the first arc of Justice League) are the only books set five years in the past to give readers a bit of an origin story due to how drastically different some of the changes are.  They are even putting their all into making Aquaman a relevant character with Johns nearly slapping readers in the face to make light of the jokes about his character while giving him some better moments and stories.

Top Talent on the top books.
   Grant Morrison on Action Comics, Brian Azzarello on Wonder Woman, Scott Snyder on Batman (and Swamp Thing), and to a lesser degree Geoff Johns on Justice League, Aquaman, Flash and Green Lantern.  The only bad thing here is the list isn't longer.  But if getting readers to pick up the first issue was step one for DC, putting writers and artists on a book to keep them coming back is step two.  And most fans and reviews have some of these books among the best of DC's new line.  Not all talent has to come along with mega-star names though.  Books like Animal Man and I, Vampire have been huge hits with the fans and along with Snyder's Swamp Thing showing that Vertigo set in the DCU may not be as bad as some fear.

Giving readers variety
   With these new 52 titles and having all the Batman's, Superman's, Lanterns, Leagues and more hitting shelves DC managed to get out something a little different for fans that don't want to be stuck with the core books.  A small push of Wildstorm titles now set in the DCU trying to push their way into the category to have books like Stormwatch stand side by side with the Justice League.  Westerns, war stories, fantasy and horror books rounded out their line-up to pick up any readers after non-superhero books.

What did DC get wrong with their relaunch?

Not enough quality throughout the line.
   There are only so many Grant Morrisons or Scott Snyders out there and only so many books those guys can write.  Geoff Johns is doing the best he can writing juggling several books as the Bendis of DC.  But as some of the other titles doing well have shown, you don't need big names to have a good book.  Especially in a business where editorial is tied so closely with the stories.  This relaunch is really a one-shot deal, you can't try it again in a couple years if you didn't like the way it turned out.   Making the most of this once-in-a-corporate-lifetime opportunity is very important.  For all the books I'll be sticking with there are several I dropped after issue one, several more after issue two and again more after issue three and more that were not even worth picking up after leafing through them: Firestorm, Red Hood, Catwoman, Hawk & Dove, Deathstroke, Hawkman, Static Shock and more.

Not being clear on exactly what has happened to continuity.
   So everything that DC readers know from the past still happened, but didn't happen the way they remember it?  DC seemed to want the best of both world of having a continuity free reboot and getting to shed the baggage that comes along with it, without actually upsetting fans of continuity - which are usually the people that have been paying for the product for years.  For fans that know nothing about DC this may not matter at all and for fans that know everything they may either see through the marketing of the idea or have fun in piecing together the new history.  For fans like me, casual readers that know bits of DC history here and there and are familiar with some of the other DC worlds it has really done little but add to the confusion.  Superman gets a totally fresh reboot where they are changing the origin of his character quite a bit, but Batman is still pretty much the same with his son Robin and the other Robin (now Red Robin) and the other-other Robin (Nightwing) still running around as well as the same old Batwoman that fans were fond of.  Batgirl is now walking again however.  And as reboots do, pretty much all we know about the Wildstorm universe is dead and gone with those characters starting from seemingly starting from scratch again in a new universe.

   I think if DC was going to do a reboot, they should have done it all out and started from scratch.  Who really cares if continuity still happened if everything that happened in all the issues sitting in fans long boxes are not the events that make up that continuity.   I realize this is a tricky area to play in for DC, continuity is one of the appeals for some of comic books in the first place.  Just seems to me that changing it is changing it, whether you say the changes already happened or are going to happen.  Plus, if you are going to start fresh and get rid of existing continuity it gives you the opportunity to truly do so and not have a bunch of Robins or Lanterns running around to dilute the originals. 

  They say any press is good press, but DC was already getting a ton of press (the good kind) with the relaunch.  I don't think the bad press they got on a couple of their books really helped much.  Catwoman and Starfire of Red Hood and the Outlaws (oh yea-- the other-other-other Robin) stirred up quite a bit of it with their overly sexualized female leads.  I think that if they wanted to take a more sexual angle with a character it should have been better written it and less gratuitous if they wanted it too work past just stirring up controversy for controversies sake.

Where does DC go from here?

  I don't know about you, but I worry what is going to happen on the books I am liking.  Will Morrison or Azzarello be leaving after an arc or two?  Will DC start prepping for their next mega-event as the cloaked lady we saw from Flashpoint that has appeared in all the #1's starts messing with things to prepare them for whatever she said is coming.  (Another Crisis I guess)  Will they pull a marvel when a title gets close to some milestone issue number in a couple years and change the numbering back to the old issue numbers?

  I never know what these companies will do, they never cease to surprise me.  But what they should do is focus on quality products.  DC put out 52 books and probably 10% of them were actually top quality and the bigger issue: much more than 10% were very low quality.  DC still has a chance to improve by changing up creative teams on some of their weaker books and get them into reader's hands.  In a year from now they will be back to where they were before the relaunch as fans get settled in their places again and the feeling of "figuring out a book to jump in" will have returned.

  They also need to keep a tight reign on their product editorial.  Not just to keep up the quality of writing, but to keep stories and characters fresh.  You will have writers coming in that have imagined a character a certain way their whole life and had story ideas for them as well and you will have to make sure they are for example: writing the new superman and not the old.

   DC also needs to push more heavily into digital.  Marvel announced they are going same day digital and hardcopy release next year, DC should follow with the same.  Personally I also think they need to get pricing under control, both in the print version and the digital version.  Even taking inflation into account, no other product has increased price as much as comicbooks in the last twenty years.   Price could be an entirely different discussion, but it's worth mentioning in passing at least here.

The State of my DC Pull-list:

Week 1:                                        Week 2:                                             Week 3:
Superman #1                                Superman #2                                     on chopping block:
Action Comics #1                         Action Comics #2                                 Grifter
Justice League #1                        Justice League #2                                 Superman
Batman #1                                    Batman #2                                            Batman & Robin
Dark Knight #1                            Batman & Robin #2                                Stormwatch
Detective Comics #1                    Batwoman #2
Batman & Robin #1                     Animal Man #2
Batwing #1                                   Swamp Thing #2
Batgirl #1                                      Grifter #2
Batwoman #1                                Stormwatch #2
Men of War #1                              Wonder Woman #2
Animal Man #1
Swamp Thing #1
Justice League Int. #1                    cut after reading #2:
Grifter #1                                            Dark Knight
Voodoo #1                                          Detective Comics
Stormwatch #1                                   Batwing
Green Lantern #1
Wonder Woman #1
Birds of Prety #1                            added:
Teen Titans #1                                     I, Vampire
Captain Atom #1
Resurrection Man #1

So in three weeks DC goes from me reading almost half their line to me probably sticking with about a half a dozen books to see where the first arc takes us.  It's six more books that I wasn't reading from them before, but to be honest I would have been willing to try them out without a whole scale reboot.  Snyder's Batman would fit in perfectly in the existing DC as batman got very little changed about it, any hot Vertigo or Wildstorm books I would have tried out if I heard good buzz or saw good stuff about it.  Wonder Woman I would have been willing to pick up if I heard the pitch for it as it doesn't seem to be any different than jumping into the middle of a series as it is.  Really only Superman receiving the big reboot is the only change and I'd bet Morrison could have written a quality Superman book without a reboot needed.  All-in-all this leaves me wondering if, other than the media and speculator attention, was this relaunch by DC really necessary or could they have done something else to get their books into new hands?

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