Pipeline: Talking DC's Relaunch

Tue, June 7th, 2011 at 12:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

DC: MY HEAD IS SPINNING. PLEASE MAKE IT STOP.

It's been an interesting week, hasn't it? Shortly after I put last week's edition of Pipeline to bed, DC went ahead and decided to crack the internet in two, stealing the greatest play from Joe Quesada's playbook. It would be shameless if it wasn't so darn entertaining.

It's a good thing, though. We need shakeups like this to bring out the crazy in everyone. Do yourself a favor and visit some message boards from the last week and prepare to have your mind blown. I apologize in advance to those who I'm about to offend, but the stereotype of the closet- or basement-dwelling geek who doesn't get out much exists for a reason. Sadly, those voices were heard often this weekend. Even the intelligent ones went quickly off the rails, declaring the end of the comics industry from the dominos that will drop after this move, or the "death" of characters who die on a regular basis, anyway, as if this would be any different.

I mostly stuck to Twitter, where everyone attempts to be as clever or as snarky as they can be in 140 characters or less. The gang at Marvel had a lot of fun with this, and a bevy of other commentators went to town. I'm not immune. The quotes you see sprinkled through this column come straight from my Twitter stream.

Here, now, are some thoughts on the big change:

THE ULTIMATIZATION THE DC UNIVERSE

"Coming this September: DC finally goes Ultimate!"

"Superman: Birthright wasn't. All-Star Superman wasn't. Superman: Earth One wasn't. Is September FINALLY Ultimate Superman?"

"Marvel: "We're relaunching our Ultimate line in September." DC: "So are we!""

It strikes me that what DC is doing here is exactly what people were afraid Marvel was going to do a decade ago: "Ultimatizing" their universe. Replace everything with less continuity, younger characters, new costumes, etc. Publish them in as many formats as possible to attract new readers. Modernize the works. Blame everything on Bill Jemas if it fails.

Maybe not that last part, but does DC have a back-up plan here? If this whole thing does blow up, who takes the fall? Would that be enough to oust Dan DiDio?

But, then, the Ultimate Universe worked. Until it didn't. Then it became a confusing publishing program and a mess, relaunched twice over and bearing all of the same problems as the main Marvel Universe it was created to simplify. So let's revisit this section in 2020 and see where we are. By then, Jeph Loeb should be warming up to destroy half the DC Universe, right?

Let's just hope DC doesn't follow the playbook too closely, or we might see the return of line-wide mixed case lettering. I shudder at the thought.

"Poor All Star Batman never stood a chance..."

What about Frank Miller and Jim Lee's "All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder?" It was supposed to return at the beginning of 2012, right? It's possible that Jim Lee's been quietly working away on enough of a backlog for both that and "Justice League" to pull that off, but do you think it's going to happen now? Is Adam Hughes' "All Star Wonder Woman" still in play, even?

I was going to write another section about rebooting/relaunching an entire universe, but I think Tom Katers handled it well over on iFanboy. I'll let him do the typing. I just shake my head and hope some of the bigger nay-sayers take a step outside and get some fresh air. Repeat to yourself: "It's just comics. And nothing I've ever read will instantly disappear because of a reboot/relaunch."

Also, costume changes don't get me worked up. So long as they're superficial -- which the ones I've seen so far are -- I don't care. Until you get into the silliness of Daredevil armor or Superman Red and Blue, I can't get excited about it. I will say this, though: Wonder Woman can more effectively fight at night because her pants will keep her legs warmer. Her breasts will be popping out of that bustier at an alarming rate, but maybe that's there to distract the bad guys.

THE WILD SPECULATION BASED ON THIN THREADS

"This might be DC's chance, @Samuraigodzilla, to integrate WildStorm characters into the DCU en masse. "Maul" #1, anyone?”

I tweeted that just a few short hours before Bleeding Cool ran a report that there are, indeed, WildStorm titles in the works. I felt prescient, so I doubled down:

"Ya think we'll see "Watchmen" #1 in September? Doesn't DiDio want that, too? #NuDC"

Remember the stories floating around a couple years back about DC quietly approaching creators about doing new "Watchmen" comics? And did you see that interview with J. Michael Straczynski where he said DiDio has wanted to relaunch the DCU for years now? Is it too obvious to put two and two together and then to start saving my pennies for Brian Azzarello's "Batman/Rorschach" special?

THE TIMELINESS ISSUE

"52 #1s in September 2011. How many #12s in August 2012? Place your bets! #NuDC"

If there's any issue in the world of comics that's universal, it's timeliness. This isn't DC specific, but it is something that will be much easier to spot now. If 52 titles launch all that once and are on-going series (not sure if that's the case, but we'll see), then a year from the first issues hitting, all of the 13th issues should be hitting store shelves. We won't see any 14th issues because Mark Bagley isn't at DC anymore, but how many series will be limping to issues #10, #11, or #12? And how many of those will still have their original creative teams?

"I can't wait to see who all the fill-in artists will be on all those #3 issues in November. #NuDC"

"#NuDC is serious about timeliness in their relaunched line of books. That's why they have a small legion of inkers locked in the basement."

If there's one indicator of how quickly a book is coming together at DC, it's the number of inkers they bring in to finish off pages. There have been titles in the last couple of years whose artistic creative teams rivaled the phone book. They've looked like crap, but at least they got out the doors.

As I write this, DC is announcing that David Finch is doing a new "Dark Knight" #1. The jokes write themselves, as did this one:

"Hot on the heels of David Finch's historic six month run on "Dark Knight" #1 & #2, comes "Dark Knight" #1!" #NuDCMarketing"

THE CREATOR CONUNDRUM

"Looking again at DC's first creative team listings for their new #1 and can't help but thinking, "Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.""

Maybe there are some big announcements coming in the next week before "Previews" is released, but it seems to me that the bulk of it is the same creators working on slightly different books. As a bonus, there are more artists writing books. Perhaps giving them free reign to design relaunched characters will shake things up enough to bring a new energy to the line, but do you think that's the problem?

So far, the injection of new talent into the DC Universe reboot is Scott Lobdell and Greg Capullo. Capullo hasn't left Todd McFarlane's studios in 15 years, so it's a little exciting to see him draw something different. Since McFarlane still hasn't drawn that "Spawn/Batman" crossover he announced at San Diego a whole lot of years ago (2004?), this is likely as close as we'll get to McFarlane drawing Batman.

The other hot rumor is that Grant Morrison will be doing a Superman book, in which Clark and Lois are not married. Now, if Mark Waid follows him and we see the realizing of the long-ago failed "Superman 2000" pitch that Tim Callahan compared to "All Star Superman" at CBR, then at least one corner of the universe will be wild and worth reading.

THE MUSIC INDUSTRY DISCUSSION, DIGITAL COMICS, AND REPRINTS

We've had endless talks in recent years about what the comics industry can learn from the music industry. Let's have one more.

Lady Gaga released a new album a couple weeks back, "Born This Way." Amazon put it on sale for 99 cents. They sold 440,000 copies that way and melted their servers. Lots of people who had never bought a Lady Gaga album before bought this one. It was a dollar. It was an impulse buy. It was pocket change. It didn't impact their lives.

Yes, I was one. I'm not a Gaga fanboy. I enjoyed a couple of her earlier songs, which I downloaded so my wife could have them on her iPod when she's working out, but that's about the extent of it.

For 99 cents, I was willing to gamble on there being one or two decent songs on there.

If they had made her first record 99 cents, would it have sold like gangbusters? No. And not just because so many people had already bought that album, but because there's something exciting about The New, and about something that everyone else is excited about and talking about. Lady Gaga didn't go on the "American Idol" finale to sing a song from her first album. People weren't talking about "Poker Face" last week. The buzz was on the new album. It was available for 99 cents on two different days that week.

And, again, it sold enough to nearly melt the mighty Amazon servers.

DC is going day-and-date digital with all their comics starting in September. Good for them. Congratulations on one-upping Marvel. Congrats to DC's staff for making a smart decision. This is the future and welcome to it. In fact, this is the big news of the relaunch. Costumes, continuity, and characters come and go routinely in comics. Opening up a new distribn channel utiojust a bit further on your own m

Can I vent a little, though?

First, they're not selling digital comics. They're selling digital files on specific platforms that can be read only one those platforms. I bought the Lady Gaga album on Amazon's MP3 store, so I have unprotected files that can be played on any device. I'm an Apple fanboy. I admit it. But you know what? I avoid buying music on the iTunes Music Store as much as possible. Amazon is cheaper and their files have always been unprotected. Apple's files are now, too, but there's an old DRMed reputation they have that still hasn't completely worn off.

Digital comics today from Marvel and DC are platform-specific, DRMed, and locked up. If one of those platforms blows away -- and odds are very good that at least one of them will, given how new this business is and how each are looking for a unique business model that works -- then those comics you bought for them are toast. Theoretically. In reality, some pissed-off hacker will work around it for you and release a free tool that would be annoying to use to convert the file to something more standard, like a CBR (no relation) or CBZ file.

So I'm not happy about renting comics from one of those places. That's doubly true if I'm paying full price. No, wait, let me clarify that -- I refuse to pay full price for a digital comic that I don't own outright. If DC's day and date digital comics cost the same as their print counterparts -- even for a month -- then there's no point to them for me. I'd rather go out of my way to a comic shop and buy the paper edition.

$3.99 for a digital comic #NuDC? Good luck with that. Protect the Direct Market until you're out of business [and so are they].

The argument often made about digital comics prices is that it doesn't matter if a comic is day and date, because digital should attract new readers who don't care about staying up to date. And for all the reasons I cited in the Lady Gaga example above, I disagree. People want The New today. They don't care about the classics. They want what's going on now. They want to read what everyone else is reading today. And as of September, they won't want to be reading about the DC Universe from 1985 - 2011. They'll want the new DCU of September 2011 and on. Maybe they'll get curious later on and go back, or they'll enjoy the stuff so much that they'll go on a voracious reading spree and grab those cheaper virtual back issues. But it's still key that the books they read about in USA Today or saw linked to from MacWorld.com or Andy Ihnatko's blog are available to them in a format and at a price point that makes them attractive. Remove the pain points and sell the damn things to them. Don't ask $2.99. That'll be a deal breaker for a great many of them.

Cameron Stewart argues intelligently for the 99 cent price point. I include the word "intelligently" here because he sounds logical. I've seen others argue the 99 cent price point for the most specious of reasons. Stewart has actually thought about this, though even he admits that he doesn't have all the answers some will want before diving into the deep end of this particular pool. I'm guessing right now that the only way such a drastic price point decrease will happen on a large scale is if the industry's back is pinned to the wall and it's that or instant destruction. Even if it fails, they'll have bought themselves a couple months that way.

I think it could work in an amazing way, but only if they were willing to ride it out longer than a month. Long term thinking has rarely been the strength of the comics industry, though.

The dirty little secret, though, is that day-and-digital here is a back-up plan. There's no way any retailer is going to order 52 #1 issues in one month perfectly. Lots of titles are going to be considered "underordered" when all is said and done. DC won't have to rush out a second printing quite so quickly on as many titles if they can point people to digital comics.

Leave it to Chris Marshall at CollectedComicsLibrary to ponder the trade paperback implications of that many new storylines hitting all at once. Better he than me. If you thought there were too many trades being produced today, just imagine what DC's publishing program might look like in 2012, with 52 series having fresh starts all at the same time at the end of 2011.

DRAW YOUR OWN COMICS INDUSTRY PARALLEL:

May I quote Colin Mochrie's Twitter stream now?

"Adapting phonebook into movie. Just cut the Q's and X's. Will piss off the fans but screw 'em, this is art."

Someone give this man his own comic book, quick!

NEXT WEEK

By the time next week's Pipeline deadline rolls around, all of DC's announcements will have been made. With any luck, I'll get a column out of that and we can all move on.

No matter what, though, I plan on discussing Lewis Trondheim next week. Fantagraphics recently reprinted some work of his, and it's exciting stuff. I'll tell you all about it next week.

In the meantime, check out my photography blog, AugieShoots.com, where you can see a really cool urban exploration video. Next week, I'll be talking about the Brian Wilson concert I'm shooting on Thursday. Or, go to VariousandSundry.com to read other oddball thoughts that aren't comics-related.

Twitter @augiedb || E-mail || Pipeline Message Board

TAGS:  pipeline, dc comics, new 52

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