DC has announced it will reboot its whole blamed universe in September, launching fifty new first issues and generally tweaking continuity to “where our characters are younger and the stories are being told for today’s audience.” I have some thoughts about this.
First, DC has done this before. A lot. You can argue that the Silver Age DC Universe was simply a massive reboot of the publisher’s Golden Age line. But more to the point, DC has attempted this “everything is starting over (well except some things)” stunt no less than four times in the last twenty-five years, in the aftermath of Crisis On Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, and now Flashpoint. (I’m not even going to count all the times WildStorm did this stuff, all the way into oblivion.) Frankly, if it was such a good idea in the long term, they wouldn’t need to keep doing it so frequently in the short term.
The heart of the matter is that this is a very top-down, corporate approach to marketing DC comics, completely in keeping with Dan Didio’s editorial style for years now. The publisher doesn’t do what’s best for each individual title or character; rather it tries to apply one idea to all the titles and characters at once. Everything has to connect with everything else–Wonder Woman will effectively be rebooted as a spinoff of Flashpoint, a Flash storyline presaged by Time Masters: Vanishing Point, a tie-in to a Batman storyline needlessly connected to Final Crisis, a story about whatever the hell Grant Morrison is smoking, and so on. Whether Wonder Woman needed this, or indeed if this makes any sense to do with Wonder Woman at this point in time, is both unimportant and unconsidered as far as DC is concerned.
There are all kinds of problems with this sort of line-wide reboot. We know this because, as noted, DC has tried this three times before and never gotten it just right. It’s pretty clear from the press release that some continuity will be more rebooted than others, which is only a good idea if you want even more characters to be as confusing as Hawkman, Donna Troy, and Power Girl. But it’s to be expected, because you know that DC isn’t about to retcon away everything Geoff Johns has done with Green Lantern for the last six years, or tell Grant Morrison that he has to abandon the last six issues of Batman, Incorporated and start over.
So a lot of questions are left unanswered. For example, if Batman’s going to be a little younger, does that mean Dick Grayson or Tim Drake will be Robin again? And DC had better answer that carefully, lest they completely fubar whatever continuity they want to carry over in, say, Teen Titans or Batgirl. Did Hank Hall still flip out and kill Dawn Granger before becoming Monarch? If not, what happened instead, and will that story ever be told? I don’t think it’s sustainable to have a lot of illusory backstory (e.g., Black Canary was a founding member of the Justice League, the Matrix version of Supergirl never existed, etc.) floating around, because it simply creates new headaches prompting further reboots. Dan Didio, Jim Lee, and Geoff Johns don’t have answers to these questions; they’re going to leave the details to the poor sods who have to actually write most of the comics. The task of telling good stories will necessarily be secondary to world-building and bookkeeping.
Trying to launch fifty #1 issues in September is a horrible idea, best summed up by the fact that DC will end up having to market fifty #5 issues in January. (That’s assuming none of these mega-hyped titles run embarrassingly late from the outset, but I think I can safely say at least four of them will.) A better approach would be to roll out each title’s bold new direction more gradually, allowing readers time to get sold on a new Justice League series before you blitz them with three or four new Batman series. But of course, that approach would be incompatible with the “big bang” of rebirthing the whole universe from the top down, which is vital if you want to get the publishers’ names in USA Today.
Will any of this actually boost DC’s sales? Probably, at least in the short term. But who cares about the short term? It’s clearly very easy to boost sales in the short term–just hotshot some gimmick with a hot creative team or a renumbering trick or a crossover. In the long term, all this does is erode the confidence of the existing fan base, such as the readers who jumped on with the last company-wide gimmick five years ago. You can attract new readers with a reboot or a revamp, but not if you do it so frequently that people know they’re jumping onto a lame duck. The post-Crisis Flash #1 was a big deal because DC had never done anything like that before with one of their main characters. The post-Flashpoint Flash #1 isn’t going to mean anything because DC hasn’t done anything like that to the Flash since, uh…2010.
A couple of years ago Domino’s Pizza started a daring ad campaign where they admitted their pizza was shit so people would believe they really changed their recipe. I suppose it worked for a lot of people, but I haven’t ordered Domino’s ever since. I kind of liked the old recipe, and the ad campaign made me feel like a total idiot for liking Domino’s, and moreover I now cynically expect them to one day admit the new recipe sucks too. This is sort of how I feel about DC. They’re going to tell me I should get on board their hot new Superman revamp because he’s gonna be younger and more relateable, when the only problem with Superman was that the exact same peckers thought it’d be a good idea to have James Robinson and J. Michael Straczynski tell moody boring stories about Superman (and/or Mon-El) moping around doing stupid crap nobody wants to see. There are some obvious solutions to my concerns about the character (hint: maybe Superman should punch a bad guy sometime this century). But when it comes to fixing its comics, DC only has one tool, and it’s worn out.