Pros and Cons of DC Comics’ Rebirth Relaunch
On January 22nd, DC Comics co-Publisher Dan DiDio tweeted an image that was just one word on a stage curtain – “Rebirth” (co-Publisher Jim Lee later tweeted the same image). The Rebirth teaser came after rumors circulated that DC might be carrying out another line-wide reboot, only five years after the “New 52” restarted their entire comics line. It now appears that as series that have lasted since the start of “New 52” approach their issue #52, DC will be relaunching the entire line. At this point, it appears to be a relaunch rather than a reboot that would eliminate all current universe continuity (as “New 52” effectively did).
There are also rumors that the newest DC Universe will be more in line with other DC Entertainment
, like the movie universe that will begin in earnest with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
and television shows like Arrow
, The Flash
, Legends of Tomorrow
, and Gotham
(and, I guess maybe, Lucifer
). So there are a lot of things to consider, but a big question is what are the potential pros and cons of DC Comics’ “Rebirth”?
Resets flagging series
The original buzz of the “New 52” reboot was enough to generate some fresh excitement about DC Comics. Over the first few years, though, that dissipated a bit, as series from the original line of 52 titles were canceled. Last year, DC tried to gain fan interest through unconventional titles across its “DC You” initiative. Some of them, such as Black Canary
, have been good. Still, there are many struggling titles at DC, especially beyond the Trinity and Justice League-related series. So DC can reset and push news series that could use a refresh. It might bring in some curious new readers, too.
It’s no secret that issue number ones sell better than other comics. It is a short-term strategy, but selling a bunch more number ones of many series could make a strong overall sales impact for DC. So while the increase would probably not last, the sales boost of new #1 issue is real and potentially important for DC.
Cross-interest from other media
DC Entertainment seems in many ways to be outperforming the comics publishing. While there seem to be a lot of mixed feelings about Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
across the Internet, there is also a lot of chatter and press, so the movie will do well financially. Suicide Squad
and Wonder Woman
, on the other hand, may not sell as many tickets as Batman v. Superman
but seem to have more positive buzz, which is useful. There appears to be mostly strong impressions of DC-affiliated TV shows like The Flash
(the feelings on Gotham
seems to be mixed). So if DC could bring some of those movie/TV fans to their comics through “Rebirth,” it could have a positive and very crucial impact on sales.
While there is nothing inherently bad about DC relaunch five years after rebooting, there is something about the way they are limping towards that move that presents this as less than ideal. Since the TV and movies were not a big deal at the time of “New 52,” it’s hard to believe this was the plan at that time. Overall, whether this is true or not, it feels like a business decision rather than a creative one. DC has a tricky situation here because they could alienate the fans who did like “New 52” while simultaneously cementing that the reboot was a bad decision to those who didn’t like the change. Making “Rebirth” a relaunch (something Marvel recently did) rather than a reboot does make it feel less drastic and somewhat more natural.
Chicken or the egg?
While getting TV/movie fans to buy DC Comics titles is a great goal (and very tempting from a financial/corporate angle), it could present problems creatively. Will the comics be independent and simply “inspired” by the TV/movie versions or will they be directly linked to them? If it’s the latter, that presents logistical and timing problems. In it’s the former, which version are they emulating – TV Flash or movie Flash? It would also seem strange if the main version of Batman was the Dark Knight Returns
-inspired version that Ben Affleck will play in Batman v. Superman
. While Marvel has had success with their movies, they have also shown how difficult it can be to bridge that world to the comics. The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
comic book has hardly been a critical or sales blockbuster, after all.
Reaching sustainable sales
While a bunch of new number one issues will likely create a short-term sales boost, it is also very unlikely to result in long-term sales changes. I looked at the sales of “New 52” comics in 2014
and found that most titles (except for those related to Batman) were not doing better than pre-“New 52” numbers. The key to “Rebirth” leading to better sales is simple, really. They will have to be better series. If fans feel like the “Rebirth” relaunch is just a marketing formality, they will not stick around for long. If, however, DC uses this opportunity to relaunch a bunch of strong series, “Rebirth” could lead to better long-term sales and a healthier comics line.
There still are not too many details about DC Comics’ “Rebirth,” but it is an important moment for the company. DC needs to retain some bit of autonomy from the movie/TV universe or else the comics will feel like adaptations. They also need to use the “Rebirth” relaunch to reinvigorate their current and new series, or this will simply be an exercise in renumbering.