Comic books are the Big Bang of geek culture. Their heroic and antiheroic characters have fed generations of teenagers’ daydreams, become national symbols and inspired TV and film franchises worth billions of dollars. But for all that, the books themselves are facing a villain not even Batman can defeat: reader erosion.
In the 1980s, a hit book could sell more than 500,000 copies; now a comic is considered a success if it scores one-tenth of that. But DC Comics isn’t letting the storied American art form go the way of silent movies and arcade halls without a fight.
In an unprecedented step, DC co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee, along with chief creative officer Geoff Johns, have decided to relaunch the company’s entire line of comics, starting with new issue No. 1’s and new creative teams. It’s a risky move with a lot at stake, and initial reactions from DC’s fiercely vocal followers were predictably passionate (among supporters and detractors alike). But the DC toppers claim it’s all about making comics once again as special as the special-effects-laden films they’ve inspired.
” ‘Reboot’ and ‘relaunch’ are thrown around a lot, but in reality this is a companywide initiative,” says DiDio. “It’s not going to be six months and then we’ll be rushing back to renumber the books again as another stunt. This is moving forward — there’s no looking back here, from our standpoint. This is who we are, and we’re defining the company for the future.”
Canceling books then relaunching them is nothing new. Marvel seems to do it every few months, and even DC famously relaunched Superman, Wonder Woman and Flash in the ’80s. But DC’s Action Comics, which arguably kicked off the superhero genre with the introduction of the Man of Steel in 1938, and Detective Comics, which gave DC its name, have never been touched. This time, not even those icons are excluded from the massive scope of DC’s ambitions.
“You couldn’t exempt those titles; it would show we weren’t serious,” says Lee. “It was a difficult decision.”
Behind the move is a feeling that DC must re-energize itself for the 21st century, not only to combat Marvel’s dominance but also to counter the perception that only die-hards are still combing through the periodicals. So, in sync with a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign, DC will, in an industry first, release digital issues day-and-date with hard copies and develop new stories designed to recapture lost readers and win over a younger generation. (And potentially sow the seeds of future blockbuster TV and film franchises.)
Heroes will be tweaked and aged down to showcase them not as established titans but as strivers who “have to sweat to fight the bad guys,” Lee says. For example, Johns’ new take on Aquaman — here THR offers an exclusive sneak peek at pages 5 to 8 of issue No. 1, with art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado — retools the underwater-breathing hero so he is no longer the king of Atlantis and now plays off his second-banana status.
“Geoff has dived into the grandeur of the character while addressing that he’s been a running joke,” Lee says. “It’s going to have humor and majesty.”
And, if all goes well, buoyancy.
Check out an exclusive sneek peek at Aquaman No. 1 on the next four pages.