I’ll be covering what you need to know about this whole DC relaunch thing that started last week (this column was delayed due to partying too hard) with the all-new Justice League #1. We’ll look at the other 51 titles over the nex
t three weeks and deal with future waves as they come (or, more likely, as I feel like it). Before we get to my thoughts on JL#1 it’s probably pertinent that we discuss what this relaunch is all about: What’s happening, why it needs to happen and what we can expect from a move this big.
So what is happening? DC Comics is pushing a big ‘ol reset button, relaunching its entire line of books with new series’ in an attempt to straighten out their laughable continuity problems and bring in as many new readers as possible. In doing so, almost all of their characters and the stories they’ve lived will be altered to varying degrees. Some, notably their better selling franchises, will see little to no alteration while many more are being recognized as the messes they may or may not actually be and are getting the overhaul. The first wave of this multi-tiered attack comes as 52 brand spanking new number one (#1!!!) issues debuting over the month of September, give or take a day. Many of the books existed last month but many more showcase the return of series that haven’t seen the shelves for years. It’s a bold move by DC with many new creators being added to their rosters and a focus on expanding their brand a little more beyond the traditional superhero world than they have in quite a while.
But don’t worry fan boys, they’ve got their foundations covered. All the flagship titles are here: Action Comics (relaunched after 904 issues over 73 years), Batman, Justice League and, of course, Hawk and Dove. [Author's note: do not buy Hawk and Dove. This was a joke, not a recommendation. Seriously, don't.] Those that aren’t seen this September have been confirmed or hinted at as being part of future waves. Yes, the JSA will eventually exist again, but in a new way that’s just like an old way. The big thing DC is doing is trying to get to the roots of their characters. To boil them down and see what really makes them worth our time and money. They want new people to be able to walk into a comic book shop, grab a Superman book after, say, seeing the upcoming movie and be able to understand what’s going on without having to worry about that 73 year history and all that it entails. At the same time they have to be cautious not to alienate those fans that have been with them all along. They have to make these changes meaningful and steeped in the mythology that makes these characters who they are, lest they risk losing those devotees that have kept Johnny DC and family fed all these years. Still, the main goal here is to give everyone a good place to start within this new DCU.
That said, you won’t find yourself bombarded with a million origin stories this month. They’ll be there but not in every title. That’s because DC is wisely not starting with the origins of this new universe. They’re jumping in 5 years or so after a multitude of super-powered individuals began popping up one by one in a world that’d never seen the likes of such creatures before. Our heroes, or many of them anyway, are already established pros. They’ve saved the day many times over. At the same time, we’ll see tales that flash back to the early days of the emergence of the Justice League (viewed as being a sort of “year one”) and the even earlier days that saw a certain orphaned Kryptonian coming into his own (in Action Comics aka “year zero”). Additionally, September brings the incorporation of the characters of the Wildstorm Universe (previously a DC-owned imprint headed up by current co-publisher Jim Lee) and a few from the Vertigo imprint as well. Unlike Wildstorm, the Vertigo imprint is not becoming one with the DCU. Rather, versions of some of its characters are changing teams and showing their super-heroic colors. But you won’t see Man-Of-Bats showing up to save the Rez in Scalped. Though maybe someone should take that idea to Grant Morrison and Jason Aaron ’cause I guarantee you that’d be fucking rad. Maybe as an elseworlds tale. Are they bringing back elseworlds?
There’s no doubt this is a drastic step DC is taking but it’s hard to deny that it’s a necessary one. So why is this a move that DC needs to make? Well, on the creative side of things, they’ve got to get their continuity in line. If they can’t get their stories straight, they’re heading towards a crisis unlike any they’ve ever seen; and that’s saying something. In 1985, DC published a continuity-affecting crossover called Crisis On Infinite Earths. Since then, they have published story after story (many with “Crisis” in their title) with the intent of working out the fissures left after. Despite good intentions, they’ve only ever made things worse and the quality of stories and characters have suffered for it. This has lead to a weakening of stories that have routinely placed DC behind Marvel in their ongoing battle for comic book dominance. Month after month, save for rare occasions, Marvel has taken the top spot in the sales charts for about as long as I can remember. In an industry with an ever-diminishing readership, routinely being number two just isn’t good enough. They need to streamline their universe. Strengthen their stories so that they might truly compete. It would seem that their way of doing this is to take note of what Marvel has done before and apply it to themselves.
When announcements of the relaunch were first being presented it was understandable to view this whole thing as the marvelization of DC. We were told that we would find our godly heroes more grounded and human. As we learned more, we found similarities with what Marvel did a little over a decade back when they unleashed their Ultimate Universe into our lives. We would see these heroes re-imagined in a more modern light. Updated with today’s science, cultural influences and characters that feel like they were born within our lifetimes. They offer new takes on classic characters without the weight of extended continuity. Because of this ultimate marvelization, DC guarantees itself that top spot for the month of September and probably for a while beyond. If we’re all lucky, this will see an increase in readership across the board and the revitalization that the comic book industry both needs and deserves.
What can we expect? Well, we can expect the unexpected [Editor's note: booooooo!]. Or we can hope for it at least. Otherwise, what we’re looking at is a handful of excellently crafted ongoing narratives, twice as many that have no right seeing the light of day, and a whole field of mediocrity sitting somewhere in between. In other words, we have the same thing we had last month and each month before that. Let’s hope that a move this big amounts to something more than a publicity stunt. Let’s see a bar being raised and an influx of new comic book readers coming into the shops week after week. It’ll be interesting to see the sales figures on the second issues of these books and those that follow.
JUSTICE LEAGUE #1: The flagship title of the all-new 52, Justice League #1 is the issue that starts it all. With Geoff Johns and Jim Lee at the helm and the (new) big seven of the (new) DCU in lead roles, the Justice League is back in a position it hasn’t been in for years: front and center. While Grant Morrison is more accomplished and to my liking, I think it’s fair to say that Geoff Johns is DC’s top writer. One by one he’s revitalized some of DC’s biggest dead or dying properties. From the Justice Society to Green Lantern to the upcoming Aquaman, his work grabs readers attention and never seems to really let go. In February of 2010 he transitioned his success into his new position as CCO of DC Entertainment. At that same time Jim Lee, himself perhaps DC’s biggest artistic superstar, found himself being named Co-Publisher of the company. So not only is this book being handled by two creative juggernauts, it’s being handled by the men that are the driving forces behind this whole show. How can you do anything else but BUY IT?