An Open Letter to DC Comics, Part 2: Are You Really Trying to Appeal to New Readers?

Geek Culture

Image © DC Comics, photoshop courtesy of Hurbert Vigilla

Booster Gold looks confused. So are a lot of long time DC comics readers concerning the new DC Universe first announced by Dan Didio in USA Today.

If only current readers were at stake, I wouldn’t be so concerned. DC Comics obviously can’t grow by staying with the same core group of readers who make titles that sell 30,000 copies a month a success. They need new blood.

Unfortunately, new readers may be confused as well, despite the so-called reboot and the shiny new #1 issues of 52 titles. For those keeping track, here’s the full list of the 52 #1 issues being released in September. Oddly, the books that I believe will appeal to new readers the most are titles that could have existed without rebooting or half-rebooting the universe.

That first interview by Didio in USA Today seemed to indicate that DC’s superheroes are getting a completely fresh start. But subsequent interviews indicated this isn’t the case at all. So this seems less of a fresh new start — as supposedly signaled by making every issue a number one — than a mishmash of old and new elements.

In an interview at Newsarama, DC Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras and Executive Editor Eddie Berganza said that many previous stories are still in continuity, which in non-comics speak means that they have already happened to these characters who are getting a fresh start. Then there was this report at BleedingCool which stated that while some characters are in, others are out.

For instance, I would hope that DC would try to appeal to new readers by promoting the most famous versions of heroes to non-comics readers. And they are doing that in the case of Batgirl (now Barbara Gordon) but not in two of their big franchises, Batman and Green Lantern.

My children only love one Green Lantern: John Stewart, from the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited TV shows. Alas, he hasn’t had a solo title in decades. Though he is in one of the Lantern books, there’s a whole ton of other Green Lanterns being featured as well, with Hal Jordan at the top of the pyramid. Perhaps this to capitalize on the new Green Lantern movie starring the Hal Jordan Lantern but I’m not sure that one lackluster Hollywood movie is going to attract more readers than a long-running and successful television show.

More, according to the interview: all the Blackest Night stories from the last two years or so did happen as well, which means not only will new readers get introduced to several Green Lanterns, they’ll also learn about Lanterns of the other color spectrums: the Red, Indigo, Blue, Yellow, Orange, and Violet Lanterns. If you can name what emotions are connected to all those colors of the top of your head, well, you’re a bigger fan of Green Lantern than I am.

There are also going to be four Robins headlining titles over in the Batman books. Can you name all four of the Robins? (Well, really there are five, but DC has a history of forgetting about Stephanie Brown.)

I’m guessing those of you who haven’t been paying much attention to current DC comic stories can only name one for certain — Dick Grayson — or perhaps two. So I’m not sure what DC’s logic is with giving all four a title, though the writer of one of the series, Scott Lobdell of Red Hood and the Outlaws, does insist the new book will be very new reader friendly.

I believe him. Creators can write a new comic with characters that have a lot of backstory and make it interesting and easy to understand to new readers.

But why do a reboot of the story universe if you’re going to keep the baggage of that universe? How many casual fans are going to grab the first issue of a series that features Jason Todd, who fans called in to kill some two decades ago? Not to mention the fact that since his return, Jason has been an outright murderer. Hardly heroic. No word on whether that’s erased from his history or not.

Onto the Superman titles, where DC has gotten Grant Morrison to write the superhero he knows best in Action Comics. That’s great, as Morrison did a wonderful job in All-Star Superman. But with this apparently comes the elimination/didn’t happen of the Clark Kent-Lois Lane marriage. Even non-comics readers know that Lois and Clark are meant to be together, given they were married on Smallville just this year and on the Lois & Clark: Adventures of Superman series. Some reports have Superman in a dalliance with Wonder Woman. I hope that’s not true.

And then, according to the interview with Harras and Gerganza linked above, Identity Crisis still happened because it’s apparently a top seller in trade. (It was written by New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer.)

But how many of you readers know this? In this story, Elongated Man’s wife is brutally murdered and then retroactively raped (retcon inserted in the worst way) and the heroes all feel guilty because they mind-wiped the villain who raped her way back when and also mind-wiped some of their fellow heroes (Batman) who didn’t like the idea, and then that all turns out to be a side issue because the murderer is really another hero’s ex-girlfriend, her motivation being she was crazy and thought that attacking significant others of other superheroes would bring her hero back into her arms. (I lost you all at Elongated Man, didn’t I?)

Merits of the story aside, I’m not sure how keeping Identity Crisis and its events around makes getting into the DC Universe any easier for new readers. But there is hope: There are some books that will definitely start from square one because they feature fresh collections of heroes and new and interesting ideas.

Those titles include Demon Knights, which I mentioned in the first part of the letter to DC. Wonder Woman has a new start — though this this is her third reboot recently — but the cover art by Cliff Chiang is stunning. There’s also The Fury of Firestorm, who is basically the version from Batman: The Brave and the Bold on Cartoon Network; Mister Terrific; DC Universe Presents, an anthology title; Batwoman, who had a critically acclaimed run in Detective Comics last year; Animal Man; Justice League Dark, which is a collection of magically based heroes; Resurrection Man, who gets a new power each time he dies; Static Shock, starring Static from the television show; Blackhawks, starring modern-day mercenaries; Sgt. Rock and the Men of War, which brings back the war comic; All-Star Western, starring Jonah Hex;and Blue Beetle, the Jamie Reyes beetle from Batman: Brave and the Bold.

That’s fourteen titles that just might work to entice new reader. Looking over the solicits, the storylines can easily be picked up without any previous knowledge or the book is starting from square one, like with Mister Terrific.

But fourteen titles — give or take a few that may or may not appeal to you — isn’t even half of the new DC Comics title being offered. I also can’t see some of the titles drawing an audience large enough to sell well enough, such as Grifter (an obscure character from the Wildstorm Universe) and Voodoo.

In short, I don’t follow DC’s reasoning:

They say they want new reader friendly books but they still load down some of their biggest titles and most well-known with complicated backstory.

They say they want the most iconic versions of their superheroes that are well-known to the public but John Stewart as Green Lantern is not featured prominently.

And they say they want to broaden their audience but they’ve filled their shiny new titles with obscure characters that yet have a lot of backstory, like Jason Todd.

It’s entirely possible — and I hope this is true — that all 52 new titles will be awesome and easy to follow. But DC isn’t making it easy to believe that.

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