Ever since DC announced plans to re-launch their whole universe people have been asking me what I think of their plans. The truth is that I’ve already talked about it so much with so many people that I’ve grown tired of talking about it. Still, I thought rather then just reviewing another comic it would be a good idea to spend this week outlining my thoughts on the subject; that way everyone will know what I think of DC’s plans.
Let me begin by saying that I firmly believe that DC does need to re-launch their whole universe. I don’t have the time to do the necessary research but I think I’m on safe ground when I say that DC’s readership is at an all time low. In fact, DC’s number of paying readers maybe so low that the company could actually be losing money on its comic book line. One of the major reasons DC has been unable to attract significant numbers of new or lapsed readers is because, after more then seventy-five years, the DC universe has become so convoluted and so bogged down by a mind numbing continuity that DC comics are virtually inaccessible to new or lapsed readers. I mean really, who would want to spend their hard earned money on a comic book that they can’t understand even after they’ve finished reading it? How can DC overcome this obvious impediment to attracting the new and lapsed readers they so desperately need? The answer is simple dump all that useless continuity and give people a fresh starting point. A point where people can jump on and follow the whole universe from the beginning that way people will be able to understand and really enjoy what they are reading. Giving people comic books that they can read, enjoy, understand and are willing to spend their money on should be DC’s number one aim. If DC did produce these kind of comic books then it would go a long way to growing their readership.
I know right away some people are going to say if you re-launch the whole DC universe you will alienate existing readers. If it is done properly I don’t think DC would run any real risk of alienating existing readers. Maintaining the integrity of what fans have read over the years is the key. I can think of several ways to bring the current DC universe to a close that would maintain this integrity while still clearing the way for a new DC universe. Now, I don’t want to spend the rest of this column pitching story ideas but I will say I think the absolute best way would be to have the end of the current DC universe give birth to a new DC universe.
While, I support the idea of re-launching the whole DC universe for the reasons I’ve just outlined I find it difficult to support the way DC is going about it. In fact, I believe DC is making just about every mistake possible. Let’s begin with DC’s apparent failure to understand the fundamental reason for a re-launch, to attract new and lapsed readers, by giving them an easy access point to the DC universe free of the past seventy-five years of continuity. Instead, DC’s new universe will carry over some continuity from their current universe while dumping other continuity and reworking yet other continuity. In short, DC is going to make their convoluted and inaccessible universe even more convoluted and inaccessible. The second problem I have with what DC is doing is that they are spinning their new universe out of the Flashpoint miniseries, a miniseries that takes place in an alternate reality. This has already lead many people, including myself, to doubt the staying power of this new universe. Most people are already of the opinion that if this new universe does not sell well enough DC will take advantage of the alternate reality nature of the events in Flashpoint to undo their new universe and re-instate the old DC universe. The huge problem with this is that if people don’t think this new universe is going to stick they have little incentive to invest their time and money into it so this is another stumbling block to attracting the new readers DC is seeking. The way DC should have done it is to spin their re-launch out of an event that left no doubt that the old universe was gone for good. DC could have publicized this huge climatic miniseries event as the end of their universe creating perhaps the biggest comic event ever. Not only would this have generated huge sales for this miniseries but it would have served as a great lead-in to the launch of DC’s new universe. People need to know that this new universe is here to stay and spinning it out of Flashpoint just undermines that goal.
My next problem with how DC is going about this re-launch deals with how DC decided on the new titles that will initially make-up their new universe. As far as I know and I admit my knowledge on this point is limited DC did not do any market research at all in advance of making this decision to re-launch their universe. They made little if any effort to find out what comic book readers and perspective readers really want to read. DC didn’t even plan out which characters or titles would fill the various niches in the overall comic book market. Basically, DC just went out and solicited series ideas from different comic book creators then picked the ones they liked. I grant you this is basically how it is done in much of the comic book industry but that doesn’t make it the right much less the smart way to go about deciding which titles you are going to publish especially at such a crucial time. Like the old saying goes you only get one chance to make a first impression. The final problem I have with how DC is handling all this is my biggest and as far as I’m concerned just demonstrates how out of touch DC’s management is with the end consumer. Not that anyone should be surprised that DC’s management is out of touch since their decision making process seems completely insulated from any outside input. What is my biggest problem with how DC is handling this re-launch? Where does DC think people are going to get all this extra money to try all these new series that they are putting out in one big dose? I have maybe three or four customers that can actually afford to pick-up so many new titles at once. Right away everyone else is being forced to pick and choose which titles they are going to try. DC’s objective should have been to get as many different number ones into the hands of as many different people as possible. You can’t possibly hook a reader on a new series if they can’t afford to try it in the first place. If DC had rolled their new universe out over the course of a year then a far greater number of people could have tried a far greater number of number ones. In fact, if DC had rolled their new universe out over the course of a year the number of people who could afford to try all the new titles would have increased many times. If DC had rolled their new universe out over the course of a year this also would have allowed DC and its retail partners to concentrate their promotional efforts on each individual title as they came out. This would have given each individual title the best chance of success rather then just throwing them all out there at once and hoping some stick. With so many titles coming out in such a short amount of time some are sure to get lost in the crowd.
The problems I’ve just outlined really aren’t the only problems I have with how DC is handling this re-launch but they are the major ones and the only ones I’m going to cover in this column. The really sad thing about all this is that I applaud DC for recognizing that their properties are not living up to their full potential. I also applaud DC for realizing that a complete re-launch of their universe is a necessary first step to achieving the full potential of their properties. Still, the hasty ill-conceived way DC is going about this re-launch holds very little hope that it will achieve the goals DC’s management has set out much less achieve everything that a re-launch could have achieved. In the end, given how out of touch DC’s management evidently is with its customers and how insular their management’s decision making is I worry about the future of DC Comics. I’m not saying that there is no chance for this re-launch to achieve some degree of success. In fact if enough of the individual titles are of sufficient quality, in their own right, then DC will see enough of a short and near term increase in sales that management will be able to declare victory. Let’s all hope for at least that otherwise DC Comics and the entire comic industry could be in for a rough time.