Thu
Jun 2 2011 1:37pm

The DC Comics Revamp: A Reaction

True story: after Batman Begins came out, my mom called and asked, “Steven, in the real story of Batman, the Joker killed his parents, right?” To which I replied, “Well, first, we’re going to have to talk about what you mean by ‘real’…”

On May 31st, DC Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee, with DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns, dropped a bombshell; in September, DC Comics is revamping their entire superhero line. All fifty two comic books they publish will be the first issue of a new series, featuring redesigned and updated versions of their familiar characters. Additionally, every superhero comic will be available digitally on the same day as the physical book (Archie Comics is the only other publisher who has done that so far.)

Reaction in the online comics community has been mixed. Some have welcomed the change. Some have declared DC Comics dead to them, seeing the renumbering, redesigns, and digital availability as a snub to the loyal comics collector and the direct market retailers (comic book shops). Most have reacted with snark, calling out the reboot as a sales stunt, one DC has done before; most famously in 1985 with Crisis on Infinite Earths, again in 1994 with Zero Hour, and relatively recently in 2006 with Infinite Crisis: launch a slew of new titles and goose sales of ongoing ones by promising “jumping on points” for new readers who don’t need to know decades of continuity.

You can put me in the camp that welcomes the news. First off, it got written up in USA Today, which only talks about comics when a superhero dies or renounces America. So, yeah, it’s a sales stunt, but it’s one that’s working!

More importantly, a revamp tied into going digital shows that DC Comics understands a simple truth: the audience for superhero comics is dwarfed by the audience for superheroes in ANY OTHER MEDIUM. DC’s current bestseller Green Lantern sells roughly 75,000 copies a month. If only one hundred times that number sees the movie Green Lantern, it will be considered a failure. Roughly three million people watched the finale of Smallville on the CW, which is about how many bought the video game Batman: Arkham Asylum. And that’s not including the clothes, toys, backpacks, cartoons, coloring books, and Twinkies.

The world loves these characters, and might love to read comics about these characters, if they didn’t get the message, loud and clear, that superhero comics are just not for them. Most superhero comics read like micro chapters in a massive epic, which can be exciting for those like me who have been reading comics for the last twenty years….

Hold on, I’m having a moment. Twenty years. Geez....

Anyway, for geezers like me, reading a new comic can be an exciting piece of a larger puzzle, but for the uninitiated it can be like watching fifteen minutes of a mid-third season episode of Lost. Totally mystifying, frustrating, and a little insulting, like you’re somehow to blame for not understanding who McGurk is.

 

I don’t blame the publishers for this, either. The comics buying crowd have repeatedly shown that they will buy comics they hate but think are “important” over highly praised books that exist on the periphery. (Compare the sales of the critically neutral and widely mocked Brightest Day to those of the universally praised Xombi.) So of course they pander to those that crave continuity and universe altering events instead of story and characters, even as the law of diminishing returns kicks in, and the audience of 200,000 shrinks to 100,000, to 50,000 to who knows what. Revamping the line and offering the books digitally says the current audience just is not enough.

In the short term, yes, going day and date digital will hurt the comics retailers. I’m sure there is a large contingent of comics readers who will stop buying hard copies when they can read comics on their iPad. But there is that MUCH LARGER audience who loves superheroes and isn’t reading comics at all, that might if they are available in a convenient format, and once exposed to the characters, writers, and artists, might seek out other works from those creators, physical copies they can store in their home and decorate their shelves, and in the long term, a larger audience is better for everyone.

To those grousing that rebooting the books and characters is an insult to you, because now your books don’t count, I have two words for you. Grow. Up. We all know you’re not going anywhere. As Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort recently said (admitted?), angry fans are more consistent buyers than apathetic ones, so your threats are pretty much empty.

But furthermore, what does it matter if books “count” or not? There are like five or so different versions of Batman that I love (Timm’s, Morrison’s, Miller’s, Nolan’s, West’s) that are all equally real to me. The best Superman story (best superhero story?) of the last decade was the wildly out of continuity All-Star Superman. If writers and artists need to be free of continuity to tell the stories they want to tell, let them be free and just buy the books you actually enjoy reading.

The major caveat, of course, is that DC actually has to deliver really enjoyable books in that first month, and that’s going to be a challenge. Fifty two books is almost twice the number of titles they currently publish and details have been sketchy. It’s been announced that three quarters of the current titles will get new creative teams, but only one team has been announced, Johns and Lee on Justice League.

Also unclear is the extent of the reboot. Will Superman #1 feature the first day Clark put on the blue tights? Or will he still be married to Lois? Grant Morrison is in the middle of highly entertaining “Batman Incorporated” storyline. Will that get cut short, or will it continue on into the new era? And will the comics DC publishes under their non-superhero Vertigo imprint also be available same day as the physical books?

Until these questions are answered (and there’s supposed to be bigger announcements to come this weekend and next), I remain cautiously optimistic. This may be a giant flop, but it’s a well-intentioned and brave endeavor. So kudos to DiDio, Johns, and Lee for saying comics have to be for everyone; for the kid coming from Saturday morning cartoons, for the dude who really likes Ryan Renolds and wants to know more about this Hal Jordan character, for the woman who always wanted to be Wonder Woman when she grew up. For people who don’t want to search out a comic book store to find the latest issue, and the people who don’t want to learn seventy years of history before they can care about Flashpoint.

It’s time for comics to be for everyone who loves Superman.


Steven Padnick is a comic book editor who loves Superman.

21 comments
Steven Padnick
1. padnick
Note, this post is ALREADY out of date, as DC just announced 9 more titles.

And if Cliff Chiang is drawing it, I have to buy Wonder Woman again. Especially if it's this Wonder Woman.
Joseph Kingsmill
2. JFKingsmill16
I walked away from mainstream comics (DC & Marvel) forever after Spiderman's Brand New Day Storyline. Also individual comics are way too expensive especially in todays economy. Especially when you compare that two comic issues will give you maybe 10 minutes enjoyment where the same money spent on a novel will give you hours. Plus the market is so saturated that collecting new comics is almost pointless. It's like collecting baseball cards now. Everyone has them and they are worth next to nothing.
mirana
3. mirana
As someone who's into comics, but has barely ever read any superhero titles, I whole-heartedly welcome a start-over. People have been saying for a very long time that DC/Marvel need to put out BOOKS with numbers on the spine, so anyone can go into a store, say "HEY, I like Batman in the movie/game!" and pick up #1! That's part of the reason manga did so well.

The other part is good writers and good artists. Keep the storyline consistant. That whole cross-over thing where-in BIG STUFF happens that then gets hinted at back in other books? It's annoying and confusing. You know what makes me want to read other titles? Knowing a company puts out good product. Hearing good reviews or recommendations. And if you have to do a cross-over, make it a frivlous one that introduces us to an interesting character, but doesn't muck up the continuity in their regular book.
Fake Name
4. ThePendragon
This may finally get me to read comics. So it sounds great to me. As long as they don't start bleeding previous continuities in and make it available on my preffered DD mediums.
mirana
5. cranscape
As I figure it, collectors are going to continue to collect. The decade has already worn the subscription base down to that level of follower anyway. Mainstream film fans and even cross-genre fans aren't being drawn to the stores these days and they've had years to try to figure out how to change that and they haven't solved the problem. Sticking to a traditional system isn't going to grow the market. Promoting a timely digital copy might take away any hope of expanding the market in the traditional, B&M way but I'd say that boat had already sailed. People have been holding on to false hope there for some time. They might label this the fatal blow, but that came a while ago.
mirana
6. DonWhiteside
I completely agree with you on most points but I think you've set up a bit of a strawman here. What percentage of folks are really "insulted" by the change? I guess you might lump me into that group, kinda sorta, because my big issue with this move is that it makes so much more out of continuity than I think it should.

Just tell good stories! The people who care that you've contradicted some obscure old plot point from twenty years prior are the vast minority. The only time we get really cranked up is when you do these revamps that are so drastic that you should have just made a new character. Killing off Superman and exploring what that means for DC? Fine. Throwing out four new Supermen who may or may not be the real one? That was dumb and poorly done and was annoying because it was BAD STORYTELLING. It was the comic version of introducing the killer for the first time in the 3rd act of the mystery.

THAT is what concerns me about this massive revamp - the potential for doing it poorly, and my feeling that it's unnecessary. You don't need to do this drastic thing to tell the stories you want to tell - just tell them! Massive universe-rewriting events are sops to the small percentage of continuity obsessives... and they still don't make them happy.

As far as the sales opportunities you discuss, here's hoping. A more robust comic market is good for everyone. It's sad if it means an end to the direct market sales and the people we've built relationships with but the world changes - we can't preserve the pony express AND have the telegraph. Refusing to be a part of the future because it's bad for some people doesn't stop it from happening, it just harms everyone along the way.
Emmet O'Brien
7. EmmetAOBrien
DonWhiteside@6: I'm not at all convinced that caring about continuity represents a minority position among people who buy serious amounts of ongoing comics, as opposed to people casually dipping in. Both because a preference for stories making sense seems fairly widespread, and because, unlike thirty years ago, in the event that missing any specific allusion bugs you there are Google and Wikipedia to help.

I think the comparison with blockbuster movies is unhelpful to the strengths the ongoing comics form has by virtue of being ongoing; I would posit that ongoing superhero comics might perhaps better be compared to soap operas as a story format, and soap operas do not seem to be in danger of dying out. Nor am I aware of any soap operas feeling the need to do a universe-reboot to attract new viewers, though that could very easily be a gap in my cultural background. If one uses movies as a moddel for continuity, one might as well reboot every issue (a la Suicide Squid).
j p
8. sps49
I'm one of those angry fans who stopped buying comics years ago (mid-90s), mostly because it became evident to me that the publishers didn't care about their product at all as long as some slick talker could make a case for short-term money, whether or not it was likely to pan out.

DC wants to toss aside issue nine hundred and -something of Detective and Action Comics to sell some Issue 1s? The marketing folks are driving the company, with little desire for quality product (good storytelling). This will work as well as it does with Fortune 500 companies doing the same thing- drawing in a shot of new customers, who will be sold shoddy product, thereby alienating more people than if the marketing ploy hadn't been tried.

It's a bad move for the long term.
Sol Foster
9. colomon
I dunno. I don't have any great stakes in this thing -- I've always preferred Marvel, and most of my DC reading has beenVertigo, obscure titles, or out of continutity stuff like All-Star Superman. Even so, it's really hard not to be completely cynical about it.

It feels like they've made their universe so complicated they need to wipe the slate every so often -- and a lot of that is the result of routinely massive, ill-thought-out crossovers and "events". I'd welcome a return to good, solid storytelling without stupid marketing gimmicks. But this reboot is a marketing gimmick, for sure, and the only thing that remains is to see if it is stupid.
Mark Means
10. mmeans68
I stopped collecting comics a couple of years ago partly due to the rising prices ($4.00 is WAY too much for a comic, imo), but mainly because...well, they just weren't -fun- anymore. The few I have bought, since, haven't impressed me. Nowadays they don't try to sell a comic based on the character but, instead, hype who's writing it. I'm so sick of hearing about Geoff Johns that I could puke. Granted, he may be a great talent but he's not the only one D.C. has. This is coming from a former, dyed in the wool, DC Fan to boot.

It sort of sounds as if they're throwing over the people who have been fans for decades...following their favorite characters...getting to know these characters....collecting their exploits, for "the dude who really likes Ryan Renolds and wants to know more about this Hal Jordan character". Yeah, sounds like good business to me.....*eyeroll*
Nick Rogers
11. BookGoblin
Other than some of Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Marvel 1602 issues off of ebay, I can't remember the last time I bought a comic book that wasn't a TPB collection.

I'm guessing some point in the very early 90s. When I was in high-school.

Is it because I don't like comic books? Not at all, I love comic books. Do I dislike comic book shops? Nope, I love them.

Is it because finding and then taking the time to go to a comic book shop in some part of town I don't live in hasn't been a part of my realm of activities for two decades now? Yeah...might be onto something there.

I buy books from Amazon and read them on my iPad. I buy a lot of print books from amazon still, and the library, and the used book store down the street from my house. I used to shop at Borders, but aparently not enough because we all see what happened there. My closest Barns and Nobles is about 22 miles away, and I live in one of the largest metro markets in the US (remember when there was a Waldenbooks in every mall, and an independent bookstore in every town? Yeah, those were the good ol' days).

Based on access, amazon.com is about right for me. I hate not being able to look in person, but blogs (including this one) are helping me find what I want and I discovered that I'm actually buying MORE physical books now than I ever have, and ebooks are actually helping me get into series and authors I never would have otherwise. Authors and Series that I purchase in physical book format once I get into them.

There's nothing really comparable for comic books right now. Sure there are a few titles from the big two, delivered in clumsy ways with clumsy purchasing models to iPad...but it's not enough to grab me. Buying issue 287 of some series I've never heard of during the "darkest-brightest-night-day-war" isn't goint to cut it. If I could start over from issue 1...

I'd gladly subscribe to comic books delivered to my iPad. I do that for Mariners baseball games thanks to MLB.tv and for movies and tv thanks to Netflix and Hulu Plus.

I'm a soft touch, hit me with a serious amount of content that I can pay for and enjoy "right now" and I'm in. If I'll buy a $15 app and pay for a $120 subscription to watch my Ms struggle to reach .500, I'll certainly buy comic book apps and pay to read Superman and Batman and Green Lantern, or the X-Men and Spidy for that matter, like I did twenty years ago.

Actually, if someone could talk Top Cow into digitizing and re-releasing all of the Witchblade, Darkness, Gen-13 and Fathom stuff, I'd pay handsomely. Seriously, I don't want to crack the spines on my TPBs...I'd pay retail again and smile for the priviledge.

Digitizing the backlog, indexing it and selling it back to us is a great business model. I'd pay to read old Superman stuff from the 80's. Darkseid, Granny-Goodness, Supes' imprisonment on Apokolipse and his battle with the New Gods...so much good stuff that is lost to the ages/boxes in my parent's attic somewhere. Even in ugly dot-shading and newsprint colors...I'd love it.

I'm an adult male in my late 30's with money to spend. I haven't given a comic book publisher significant sales in many MANY years, and I'm standing here telling them "take my money."

It sounds like DC was the first one to really listen.
mirana
12. matthewcharles
I'm a 31-year-old who grew up loving comics, but I despise comic book stores so much I just hardly buy comics anymore, except occassionally ordering TBs from Amazon.

I don't have any interest in collecting comics, but I do have an interest in reading them and I am willing to pay for that. I will almost certainly give DC's new program a shot, though I would really like to see the prices come down.

Ideally, I'd love DC to have a Netflix-like subscription plan. It could be tiered, so you could sign up for 1, 3, 5, or unlimited number of titles, giving you access to those titles' back-issues as well. I would gladly trade the ability to own and re-sell a comic (whether digital or paper) for the ability to read more of them.
Kevin Maroney
13. womzilla
Emmet @ 6, In the US at least the formal TV "soap opera" is dying out--there are no prime-time soaps left (at least, none identified as such), and 2 long-running daytime soaps will end this year. As to the main article, which says "If writers and artists need to be free of continuity to tell the stories they want to tell, let them be free and just buy the books you actually enjoy reading." I would say that the problem with the pending reboot is precisely the opposite--that DC has mandated that all 40-50 of their current main-imprint titles must be rebooted regardless of quality, regardless of whether they are tightly or loosely tied to current continuity, regardless of sales, regardless. That is precisely the type of intrusive continuity that drives casual readers away.
Allana Schneidmuller
14. blutnocheinmal
I agree with the likening of comics to a long-running series like Lost. I
rarely got to the comic shop in town without first researching online,
and I rarely buy anything but TPBs.

Though nowadays, retail price on some on the slimmest of the new TPBs is
$20, and for 5 issues, it's just the same as buying the issues
separately. The issue (pun intended?) here, is that comics don't shelve
well, and TPBs can go with your novels.

In my humble opinion, comic publishers would be better off releasing just TPBs every 5-6 months, and stagger the releases, so in March/September you release the new Superman (anda few other titles), June/December you release the new Batman (plus a few others). Of course, that wouldn't stop Batman and Superman from appearing in other titles.

I think the online idea is a great idea. I myself am happy to wait for
TPBs, but I'm sure there are plenty of fans would would love to have
digital subscriptions.

They wouldn't necessarily have to stop printing individual issues, and

in fact if they made TPBs the norm and released issues in small numbers,
they could actually bring 'rarity' back to comic collecting.

This forced reboot on the otherhand, seems part ploy, part misguided
attempt to do right. I was following this whole Batman Inc thing, and
hoping to eventually pick up TPBs. If they're forcing all the series
running right now to just 'wrap it up folks, it's over', I think that's
not a great idea. At all.
Binyamin Weinreich
15. Imitorar
Rebooting was never the answer, because the continuity will just convolute itself in another ten years. What DC needed to do was to get writers who knew how to tell good stories that didn't drag on forever and used continuity to increase enjoyment for long term fans by throwing out references and a sense of scope, while at the same time not making it necessary to read decades worth of comics to understand what was going on by letting the story stand on its own. And I think they were doing that. But instead they decide to mess around with everything. I just hope they do it with more forethought than they did 25 years ago.

You can't have superhero comics without continuity, not in the form they've been in since 1938. It's a serialized medium, and that means that stories get to build on each other. Sometimes they're more independent than others, but you never start from the beginning again at every issue. People who aren't willing to accept a bit of a learning curve and the need to hunt down information on previous storylines shouldn't be reading serials.

I just hope DC makes the most of this opportunity and markets their product. The reason comic sales are so low, aside from the quality of the comics, is the accessibility, or lack-there-of. People don't know where to buy comics, or what sorts of comics to buy, or that there even are superhero comics out there. A comic book shop is its own little world. Day and date digital releases are all well and good, but if nobody but comic fans know they're available, how has DC expanded the reader base? They need to let a target audience know that there's a New DCU out there ripe for the reading.
Stephen Aryan
16. StephenAryan
As a long time comic book fan and reader I think this is mostly a positive step for me. Some of the comics now have such complicated continuity, and even with various reboots and clever writers trying to make the best of it, they were struggling to be understood by the fans. Wiping the slate clean, up to a point where it is necessary makes perfect sense to me. They've said they are only changing some origins and I can see why and where this would work. Superman's origin has never changed. It's simple and easily understood. Hawkman has about six or seven origins and its a huge mess. Wiping it clean and sticking to one of those and not ever mentioning the others is a great idea. Its not a reset, it's clearing out the junk and going forward.

The whole de-aging thing, I guess that's just to appeal to a younger audience, although I don't think its necessary, and it makes me worry about the legacy characters, former sidekicks who took over the mantle or become something totally new - such as Nightwing and recently Tim Drake as Red Robin.

I think Imitorar makes a good point. This is a bold step but there are still a number of issues that need resolving. The number of monthly comic book sales is falling. Blame the economy or other distractions but they are falling. Unless they advertise outside the normal comfort zones, there will be a spike in sales and then a dip back to normal levels again. So marketing need to be working extra hard and being extra creative to get new readers in.

Comic shops themselves need attention. They are (mostly) stocked by company which doesnt help new readers.

If in 10 years time they need to do this again then why not? The alternative is to makes comics generational. My Batman is Bruce Wayne. If you picked up Batman now, its Dick Greyson, and that's fine with me as a long time comic fan. In 10 or 20 years if it becomes someone else then that is fine too. I suspect they will not do the latter, like Judge Dredd and 2000AD where Dredd is now quite an old guy as he has aged a year for every year Dredd has been published.

Pricing. Lots of issues there. The delay in digital pricing I think has been done to help retailers. There are lots of other ways they could have done it, but time will tell if this works. I think it would be very interesting to look again in 12 months, once the first storylines have wrapped up and they are on the second arcs of the new titles to see how many new readers there are and if they stuck around.

It's a very complex subject with lots of facets that cannot be easily solved or discussed in one post.
mirana
17. DarrenJL
If this actually was a reboot, it would be nice. A Clark Kent who didn't work for the Daily Planet, because print newspapers are dinosaurs. A Bruce Wayne who maybe would not decide to put a little kid in the path of bullets, because sidekick sales numbers aside, Robin never made sense for him. And as readers we'd have no idea where the story would go. Instead it's just renumbering with some costume changes. Matching collars on the JL, for example. It means nothing.
mirana
18. DieHeroDie
DC is dead to me, it has been for a long time now. I only cared for the ocassional lobo appearance and the secret six. I'm more of a Wildstorm guy (realistic meta- human relations) and when it died, my interest in anything cape related plummeted. Vertigo is ok, i love Scalped and some other titles and especially the graphical crime novels (ratcatcher was amazing!).

I'm not getting on board because i just don't care anymore. I recently read Daredevil Redemption and the Status Quo ending was so ridiculous..i was laughing my ass off and it was a stark reminder as to why i won't waste any money on this or any more marvel / dc events.

Goodbye superheroes, you suffer, you die , you get resurrected and you start over..i won't miss you
mirana
19. Pendard
Normally I would be happy to see what DC has come up with, figuring that new is good. I was a big fan of Spider-Man: Brand New Day, for example, while most comics fans took it rather badly.

As it happens, I only read one DC superhero comic, and that is Batman, Inc. Which I love. I've been reading Grant Morrison's run on Batman, then Batman & Robin, then Return of Bruce Wayne, and, finally, Batman, Inc. since the very first issue in 2006 and I've been completely enjoying it. It proves, through and through, that it's possible to tell an entertaining and totally original story that's totally rooted in eighty years of back story -- I mean, the idea that Batman was training Robin (Dick Grayson) to take over for him one day has only been around since 1940! It's a fantastic story.

Now, I don't mind if it's erased from "official continuity" after it's finished, but I will be a bit upset if the plug is unceremoniously pulled before the story is over, after I've spent five years reading this far into it -- especially, when it's reliably in the top 10, sales-wise. And it looks to me as if DC is trying to wrap it up quickly. The original plan was for Batman to spend twelve issues setting up Batman, Inc. and then the second twelve issues would be about Batman, Inc. fighting Leviathan, its mysterious nemesis. Well, last month in issue #6, after a very convoluted and frankly wonky story in issues 3 through 5, the team seemed to be formed and Batman set his sights on Leviathan. I'm not positive, but it seems like the story is being trimmed. That's a crying shame.

Whatever "back to basics" reboot DC has in mind will probably improve the quality of 90% of their titles, and I'm sure it will be a fabulous sales boon. But I'll be sorry if this particular story doesn't get the ending it deserves, and I frankly don't see how it can continue in a DC universe that's trying to shed the dead weight of past stories.
Stephen Aryan
20. StephenAryan
From what DC have announced so far, Batman Inc and indeed many of the changes Morrison made are not gone forever and erased. Damian is still around and will be Robin to Bruce Wayne's Batman. Batman Inc is not dead either and it will be back in 2012 I believe Morrison, so there are plans for the title and the characters he created during the last few years.
mirana
21. Spektre
First off, let me start by stating, I think continuity is a good thing in comic books. Continuity is a bad thing in comic books. Comics are found in collectible shops worldwide. The price of gold seems destined to increase as rising inflation will dilute the value of fiat currency. Ikura is the Japanese name for salmon roe which hardly anyone would refer to as caviar. As the diasthesis goes, so must waste forwarding. Jhu ysth ngbenk ulity mongt chxsasta.

PARAGRAPH #1 “Sentences will live. Sentences will die. And this article will never be the same! ”

First off, let me start by saying, I think continuity is a good thing in comic books. Continuity as related to fiction is, as Wikipiedia defines it, “consistency of the characteristics of persons, plot, objects, places and events seen by the reader or viewer over some period of time.” It is what enables the consumer of fiction to follow the events of the story. It is what makes one scene follow the other. It is what makes the “twist” at the end of a good Twilight Zone episode pungent. Simply put, without continuity, there is no story.

If you had trouble following the first paragraph you can see why continuity is a good and necessary thing, not just in comics but in any form of communication. I blatantly contradict the thesis statement of the paragraph by the next sentence. Going forward in the paragraph what thought is the reader to think is trying to be conveyed? As the paragraph goes on, I found the thesis statement too confining to tell a “new, fresh relevant story” and thus changed to something completely different midstream. Finally the constraints of sentence syntax, grammar, and spelling all felt too constraining, and thus I had to ignore these. As a writer, I feel psyched about my new, “extremely creative” work. Unfortunately as a reader, I have no idea what idea is trying to be conveyed.

Continuity traverses the gamut of fictional history from major plot elements to more mundane types of continuity. From the visual, “Wasn’t Rachael wearing a sweater when we just saw her outside the coffee shop? Why is she in suspenders now?” to the technical “If these two characters talking on the phone are in the same city, why is it daytime for one and nighttime for the other.” Without continuity stories become illogical and range from implausible to impossible. The enjoyment of the fiction is hurt as the reader’s “suspension of disbelief” is simply strained too thin.

Continuity as applied to serial fiction generally takes on special significance and means plot elements that are shown through the story, remain in the story’s history. Imagine if you will watching an episode of your favorite television show (Star Trek, NCIS, Glee) and having a well-established plot point simply being ignored (“We are completely helpless to stop the tragedy Number One. If only we had a method of instantly transporting ourselves from our ship way up here to the planet surface way down there instantly!”, “Thanks for your help McGee. No problem Tony, after all I am the senior NCIS agent and always have been.”, “This Glee club would be a lot better if Sue Sylvester hadn’t formed it.”). Wait a minute?! Don’t we HAVE a transporter? Isn’t Tony the senior agent? Didn’t that guy with the perfect hair form the Glee club?

Comic books are one of the longest running, most prolific forms of serial fiction. The amount of “story” you achieve through each issue is relatively small. For example an average novel consists of 80,000-100,000 words. The number of words in an average comic book has been shrinking as the years go by. By a few accounts I have read online a comic book in 1964 had over 4000 words. With much variance, a comic today typically clocks in at less than 1500 words. Much of the story is ‘told’ through the artwork, but the main point is you are only receiving a very very small part of a story in each issue of a comic book. It is only though the knitting of many such story fragments that characters, settings and HISTORY develop.

I contend that for myself as a reader, it is this character, setting and HISTORY that makes a compelling experience with comic books. Without these characteristics, Superman is not Superman. He is some strong guy who can fly. In comics, especially those of the independent publishers that sprung up like weeds in the 90s, we have a LOT of strong guys who can fly. They are not Superman. (How are the sales numbers on those Image characters Mr. Lee?). You’re literally KILLING OFF many of your audience’s best friends, replacing them with cheap copies, and hoping nobody notices. Hasn’t anyone taught you that keeping existing customers is cheaper and easier than ticking them all off and trying to replace them with new ones? Are you trying to kill off your existing customer base and then hope to replace us with cheap copies, too?

Retcons, or changes to this continuity that do not occur as the result of a story, NEVER work well. (And I do not include Crisis on Infinite Earths as a retcon. There basically was no continuity prior to it.) Retcons are the result of sloppy editorial control, poor storytelling and/or a lack of respect for the material. This opinion is not born, as has been suggested, over some need to make sure that my copy of Batman #256 remains relevant. It is born out of a respect for the story. And the big secret of retcons? You cannot be selective about them. As every time travel story has taught us, changing relatively minor things in the past have unexpected ripples in the present. With fiction this translates to “uncertainty”. If you change ANYTHING about the past, EVERYTHING about it is uncertain until “retold” through clumsy flashback stories. It all happened, or none of it happened.

DC comics in their Infinite wisdom have decided that as of this September, they will reboot their universe. They claim they need to do this to make comics "more identifiable and accessible to comic fans new and old." More likely, this is just another in a long line of marketing stunts to try and prop up a medium with sagging sales. In either case, it is a bad idea. As a long term fan, I certainly have no problem enjoying the stories. For a new reader, an understanding of the history need only be cursory to understand and enjoy a story, AND they have the choice to go to amazing depth in reading about a character’s mythos.

DC plans to go digital with this retcon and offer their comics through download. This is a great move and is long overdue, but does not explain the need to change continuity. They also plan to cancel all ongoing series and restart them all at #1. While this move evokes some emotional chagrin for collectors (some of these titles had over 900 consecutive issues) I say, “Hey, if you need a very short term sales boost THAT BAD…go for it. Again, this is NO REASON to change continuity. Do you really believe your average 7-16 year old, who is not interested in comics currently and is glued to an Xbox and iPod, is suddenly going to start reading comics because Superman is 10 years younger, single and hasn’t met Batman yet? Also DC, if you intend to attract these new young readers, do you intend to change your storylines so that they are age appropriate for this group?

I purchase approximately 1000 comic books per year. The rich stories over hundreds of thousands of words and tens of thousands of images is what makes the experience compelling to me. Some directions that are taken in stories I like. Some directions I do not. But the one constant….is that the universe’s past is fixed. I do not have to constantly wonder, “Why doesn’t Superman recognize Batman?”, “Aren’t Lois and Clark married?”, “Aren’t Batman’s parents dead?”, “When did Wonder Woman come from Venus?”

DC Comics, I have followed you through a near Infinite number of Crises, watched while you exploded and imploded, and when you said jump ahead One Year Later, I asked how high. But this is the end of the road. I will not be following you into whatever your next story is. Your characters, settings and histories will not be these ones. You may have a trinity of a strong guy who flies, a dark knight, and a woman in a swimsuit (or whatever you are playing Barbie dress up with her these days) but you will not have Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. I think I prefer to head off to my paradise dimension than continue. So until “Crisis 2020 – The Search for More Cash” hits the newsstand/iTunes store, reinstating the current continuity…Make Mine Mar….er….Retro.

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