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Sunday, August 14, 2011

DC Comics' September Reboot: The D&D 4.0 of Comics?

Today in The Cube:

If you're a comic book fan, and haven't been under a rock for the past few months, then you know that DC Comics, certainly the most venerable (if not necessarily the best) comics publisher, is scheduled to fully reboot 52 of its titles, starting back at Issue #1, next month.
That's right: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, etc., etc. are starting over. And it's not just changing the number on the cover. As the result of the current Flashpoint storyline, characters, costumes and continuity are all being redesigned and altered.
As a additional shock, each of the comics will also be released digitally at the same time as the paper copy. Superstars Geoff Johns and Jim Lee are the creative team for the premier title, Justice League America, which at least shows DC has put some thought (and money) behind the venture.
Will it be for the better? Who knows.
Alan Sepinwall, on his blog HitFix.Com, asks the big question: is this going to be a for-real, definitive altering of the DC Universe or, like the mid-1980s' Crisis on Infinite Earths, will it be an attempt at wholesale change that falls flat (and creates more problems down the road)?
In Sepinwall's post on the subject, he notes a letter sent by DC to comics retailers that even says some of the characters' origins are being altered.
What this reminds me of, unfortunately, is when Dungeons and Dragons shifted from the much-loved (albeit complicated) Version 3.5 to a supposedly more user-friendly Version 4.0, after only a few years in an attempt to attract more people to the game and away from MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. The change essentially set the gaming world on fire (D&D gamers suddenly had to buy expensive new books and supplies if they wanted to continue playing), and has brought the previously obscure gaming company Paizo into popularity with its Pathfinder game system, which is essentially a protest version of D&D 3.5 featuring necessary player-friendly changes. I've learned anecdotally that Pathfinder draws more players at conventions than D&D 4.0; I know that, at the last gaming convention I attended, D&D 4.0 sessions were almost non-existent while Pathfinder sessions were numerous (and sometimes overbooked).
Obviously, in any major change, you will have the audience split - some fans will lash out at the changes, while others will embrace them. The concern I have is that DC is trying to draw in a new audience to comics (certainly a laudable goal) but at the expense of what made those comics great in the first place, and runs the risk of alienating the longtime fans that have supported them. The average comics reader is in their mid-30s, and that population base has more disposable income that they might take elsewhere.
Now, reboots and retoolings of characters in comics are nothing new - look at Marvel's Ultimates line, for instance, as a prime example which has succeeded. A friend of mine, however, pointed out that as the films based on comics have become successful, and the comics themselves have dropped in circulation, comic books are basically loss-leader advertising for the film franchises. Case in point: after the first X-Men film, did you notice that suddenly all of the characters started wearing black leather outfits like those in the movie? I'm just saying.
My advice to DC is to tread lightly here - the reboot has the potential to do great things for their characters and the industry itself, but too much change (altering characters that have been beloved as the world's first superheroes for almost 80 years) can create major issues. Will fans want to have to re-buy their favorite characters' comics and follow them from the beginning?
Only time will tell...

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