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Roundtable Discussion: On DC's Rebirth, and the Diminishing Returns of Reboots

Comic Books

Roundtable Discussion: On DC’s Rebirth, and the Diminishing Returns of Reboots

So, let’s talk about that DC reboot:

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Dog: “At DC we believe in superheroes, and what makes them great,” DC Entertainment Co-Publisher Dan DiDio said in a statement. “And, we also believe in the direct market and the core comics fan.”

Shots motherfucking fired. “Take your diversity and cram it, Marvel!” This is the real comics Civil War.

Sadly, DC doesn’t really have any other moves right now. “Batgirling” put them on the path to financial ruin, so they’re doing what comics companies always do when they need stability — meat and potatoes. I guess the comic audience isn’t quite broad enough just yet.

If nothing else, this will help DC claw back some market share for a few months. Then they’ll have to keep the eyeballs they attracted. Will they retain 25% more readers than usual, i.e. enough to offset knocking a dollar off the cost of EVERY book? Hard to believe. And are they really only going to publish 32 ongoings? Has there been a contraction this severe in modern memory? Talk about circling the wagons.

Nick: Here’s the thing: I get why the Big Two do all these reboots/relaunches. It gives potential new readers a good jumping on point. Unfortunately, it’s also killing the golden ‘new series’ goose. There was a time when a the start of a new book (or the very rare renumbering of an old one) was a huge deal. Now it’s met with diminishing returns that continue spiraling down toward barely above average sales numbers.

If you’re going to do a ‘season’ model, then do it like Locke and Key did and actually…you know, do that. Or run a legacy numbering system (big bold NEW number, grey/background original number) to satisfy the crusty old fans like me and relaunch to your heart’s content, which hopefully draws in a few more new readers.

One thing I have to give Marvel credit for over DC, however, is being new reader friendly. I never read much from them until New 52. I went 100% on board with it and picked up more DC titles than I ever had in my life. Unfortunately, a lot of them ended up losing me. Maybe I’m just not very smart (totally possible), but the storylines began involving characters, history, and events that I had no idea about. Add in DC’s insistence on not using recap pages (why can’t they copy Marvel on THAT idea), and Rebirth has convinced me to drop virtually all of my single issues from them and wait for the trades…or use this relaunch as a good ‘jumping off’ point, instead.

That said, DC did still hook me with some fantastic books. I never thought I would like a Batgirl title and now it’s one of my favorites. Snyder/Capullo’s Batman run was masterful. Superman was actually interesting (for a while). I know this doesn’t apply to new readers, but I’ll be a lot more interested in the creative teams than yet another #1 slapped across the cover.

Roundtable Discussion: On DC's Rebirth, and the Diminishing Returns of Reboots

Chris: From the get-go, I felt like the New 52 initiative seemed rushed and not too well thought out. And while books like Batman have stayed creatively strong, the majority of series quickly dropped off in quality. So I say bring on Rebirth! I want DC to return to its glory days, when you’d hear how good Green Lantern was, or about the interesting things going on in Flash (both acclaimed runs were by Geoff Johns, of course).

Marvel heroes bounced back from the hip makeovers they received in Heroes Reborn, and DC characters can do the same following the New 52. Will we see the return of the original JSA and an older Green Arrow? Not sure yet, but the focus on pleasing longtime comic book fans definitely pleases THIS longtime comic book fan.

It’s also clear DC means business by locking down rising talent like Tom King, essentially killing Marvel’s The Vision before it had a chance to get too big. It reminds me of when Marvel signed some of the hottest creators in comics a few years back. It’s an interesting time in comics with many of the biggest names of the past few years focusing their energy on creator-owned work. I can see the Big Two locking down as much talent as possible in the months ahead.

What I hope to see from both companies is a greater focus on telling good stories and less reliance on marketing gimmicks. Like, we know a sales gimmick when we see it. Civil War II? Is this a story that NEEDS to be told? If it is, did it really need to be a sequel to Civil War – the same Civil War that has a major film adaptation coming out soon? New readers matter, but let’s not forget the loyal fans who were buying books like Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy before their films were dominating the box office.

Your move, Marvel…

Dog: Well, Vision’s going to get the full 12 issues that was planned, according to King.

Hey, did Johns write the Domino’s rebirth, too? “Look, we know s--t’s been bad lately, but we’re fixing it! I swear!”

Greg: A lot has been said about Rebirth by a lot of important people in the comics industry, including, implicitly, Image Comics’ Eric Stephenson. It’s worth reading and discussing, but for the sake of brevity, I’m going to focus on expressing my own feelings here rather than trying to unpack what everybody else has said.

First of all, let’s all breathe a little: as far as I’m concerned, if they’re not hitting the reset button on the entire continuity, it’s not a reboot, as annoying and potentially confusing as it may be to invest in yet another Wonder Woman #1.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what Dog said about “Batgirling.” It actually made me think about what it means to be a “fan” of a corporate powerhouse like DC or Marvel, which let’s not forget are both owned by other corporate powerhouses like Warner Brothers and Disney, respectively.

Because here’s the thing: I LOVE what Cameron Steward, Brendan Fletcher, and Babs Tarr have done with Batgirl (though I must admit that it was one of several titles that I unfortunately had to drop recently due to circumstances involving space and money), and how its influence extended to more superhero comics. I’m not just talking about in-story elements like the more practical costumes for women or, more importantly the fun, humorous tone and accessible feel. I’ve said this before, but it’s one of the rare comics that I feel like aren’t necessarily aimed towards me, a straight white man that grew up on superheroes, and I am absolutely okay with that.

I don’t know how the new direction with Batgirl affected sales, but it did seem to make waves within the rest of the industry. Suddenly, superhero comics seemed to be making an active effort to become more inclusive. At DC, Midnighter brought an-openly gay hero to the forefront (and an openly gay writer), while Cyborg worked similar magic with a black protagonist and black writer. Over at the competition, Spider-Woman got a sleek, practical new costume that looks like something an actual woman might choose to wear, while The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl not only shined a light on an obscure female character, but it’s an extremely rare modern example of an all-ages-friendly comic that is set firmly within primary continuity.

(The new Ms. Marvel run, which predates the recent Batgirl run, should be given some credit for this trend in inclusive superhero comics as well, but that’s another discussion).

Yet Dog claims that “Batgirling” so many series in their “DC You” campaign brought DC to financial ruin. And that very well may be true. I understand that art and commerce do not always mix well, so genuinely good, unique comics may never be able to thrive so long as they’re published by corporately owned publishers, if we’re to be pessimistic. But I’m not going to blindly follow DC into a wrongheaded direction just because I love some of their characters. Quality must come first.

Roundtable Discussion: On DC's Rebirth, and the Diminishing Returns of Reboots

And by the way, I’m no financial expert, but doesn’t it take time to build a following? Why try so hard to appeal to hardcore fans when they’re going to be the first ones to buy your product anyway? Why not try harder to reach new fans? Just because you release a comic with a gay character doesn’t mean every gay person is going to immediately show up to buy it, but if you actually take the time to invest in the long-term reputation of your brand, maybe you don’t have to resort to such gimmickry.

Also, if DCYou was meant to be more inclusive, and Rebirth is meant to be a return to appealing to the hardcore fans, how can we not read that as a rejection of inclusiveness?

Ultimately, this is all just speculation. None of us can really judge the success of Rebirth until we’ve had some months to read their comics. Maybe they’ll be great! But it comes down to this: I’ll love DC’s characters until the day I die. And I’m sure they’ll continue to publish great stories in that time. But I can be a fan of DC comics without being a fan of DC the Corporation.

Dog: Batgirl itself actually sells pretty well. Well enough, anyway. That’s probably what gave DC the confidence to try “DC You” in the first place. Turns out, you can’t ape the tone and art of a successful book and just wait for the cash to flow in. It’s a mistake movie studios will likely make after Deadpool’s surprise success, and it’s one comics might have already made: If it’s not something they’re already used to, people need it to be unique with a tangible creative mojo and, by definition, you can’t replicate that.

Rather than being grateful for catching lightning in a bottle with Batgirl and Ms. Marvel, DC and Marvel have structured large swaths of their respective lines around similar books. Crazy-ballsy moves that I personally have no problem with. As a fan, I like variety, and as an amateur market-watcher, it seems like a good idea to diversify your audience. The two companies surely didn’t expect the “hardcore” fans to tune out to the degree they have, though.

That’s the problem. The “outsider” audience isn’t big enough to float these ships yet, and the old-timers finally, FOR ONCE, followed through on their typically idle threats of giving up. So now both companies seem to be feeling the pinch, though Marvel not as much. They’ll have a few cancellations in the coming months, but DC’s general collapse has has left a large piece of the pie to pick up. And Marvel will get a boost, too, from the FOUR events in 2016. Sorry, just in the FIRST HALF of 2016.

The push for diversity is great, but it was too much too soon. Any new title is a hard sell, and the conventional wisdom is that books never really do “build” an audience — they start at their highest level and suffer gradual attrition until they’re no longer profitable. You’re right, Greg, in that this mindset doesn’t really allow time for non-hardcores to figure out a book exists, but DC’s current numbers will scare any suit into a knee-jerk reaction.

And as to this point:

“Also, if DC You was meant to be more inclusive, and Rebirth is meant to be a return to appealing to the hardcore fans, how can we not read that as a rejection of inclusiveness?”

It’s hard to argue, logically. Pretty unsettling implication.

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