House of Cards?: DC’s Reboot of 52 Core Titles

The DC announcements, for now, are over. And we the readers at least glimpse at if not yet fully understand the plan set for September. It’s then that DC relaunches its publishing line and sets forth 52 new comicbook series. We’ve all heard this before. It’s been talked about to death in the blogosphere.

But still, it’s something worth considering and reconsidering. It’s big, big news. And, while already over-dissected, this event will dictate much discussion by fans and critics alike for sometime to come. Most likely, years from now, the historians (well the comicbook ones) will look back at this summer and the next six months to ponder what it meant in the grand scheme. Was this the moment to predict the end, or was this beginning of a new golden age? Or, was it just like any other renumbering we’ve seen so often in the modern superhero market?

True, these are the questions of the moment. But answers will have to wait for those future writers and pundits. For now, another question burns in my mind.

What’s the creative direction and tone?

With only the bare bones of the announcement, (before hearing all of the specific details) I immediately put forth an opinion on Twitter. A relaunch is all good and fun. But for it to really make a mark, talent behind the books is necessary. I still stand by such an opinion. Why? Comicbooks sell and generate favor by the talent that supports them.

That’s just plain common sense, right? A good comicbook sells well, just as a bad one sells poorly. The most readers’ focus is the artists and writers producing the work. Well, things rarely make sense in comics, and such belief has not always been the case. Instead, for most of its existence, the superhero market has been dominated by fanfare and expectancies of “what happens next”. For most of its existence the industry as been story-driven. With writers falling in line with editorial direction. For decades this situation created an environment that seemingly rewarded ignorance of the creative talent involved.

But all that’s changing now, kinda. Publishers seem to be increasing the font size of their writers and artist with each passing month. Readers now list their favorite artists and writers and easily name their most notable works. And with this comicbook readers seem to be leaving the character/plot-driven mindset behind. They’ve entered the age of the creator being real. The internet has made reading a new kind of adventure. Twitter and podcasts present live coverage of the behind-the-panel process. We watch writers (like Marvel’s self-dubbed “Architects”) as if they were the story themselves.

Interior art from Batman, Inc. #5, ‘Masterspy’

Understanding this, it would seem important that a new line of books be headed up by strong talent. And by strong talent, I mean writers and artists who both “wow” through quality but also possess a dedicated audience and hold an industry presence.

In an ocean of 52 comicbooks, it’s very doubtful that even half are something worthwhile. But 15, maybe 20? That should be doable. And I feel DC may actually have a line up to do that.

Here’s a list for the sake of a list:

Justice League Geoff Johns & Jim Lee Wonder Woman Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang Aquaman Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis The Flash Francis Manapul & Brian Buccallato Green Lantern Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke Batman Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo Batman: The Dark Knight David Finch & Jay Fabok Batwoman J.H. Williams III, Haden Blackman & Amy Reeder Batgirl Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes Catwoman Judd Winick & Guillem March Batwing Judd Winick & Ben Oliver

Swamp Thing Scott Snyder, Yanick Paquette & Francesco Francavilla Animal Man Jeff Lemire, Travel Foreman & Dan Green Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE Jeff Lemire & Alberto Ponticelli Hawk & Dove Sterling Gates & Rob Liefeld All-Star Western Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray & Moritat Grifter Nathan Edmondson, Cafu, & Bit Action Comics Grant Morrison & Rags Morales

Personally, not all of these announced titles grab me right away. But I think this is a case where everyone could potentially receive their piece of the pie. Look at the Bat-Family titles. Snobs get their J.H. Williams’ book while fans can happily read Batman by David Finch. Both groups, both audiences, have the select few talents they follow in this now creator-driven market. DC has been clear enough in having a well-rounded group of creators to hopefully speak to both of these audiences.

Sell comics to all we can. Let’s not target just one audience demographic. That’s the plan.

Interior art from The Last Days of Animal Man #5, ‘Accept’

And speaking of speaking to the multiple audiences… Is DC in this for more than just restoring sales-figures? Is this move meant to inspire a new generation of lifelong comicbook readers? What better market to target with all of this mainstream press than the lapsed reader of 1996? If you know comics, you know the 1990s were a big time. Spawn #1 sold a million some copies. Enough for Todd McFarlane to probably have bought a space shuttle. In the 90s comics were spread wide across the general populace, the mainstream of popular culture. And the money seemed endless.

Now it seems like DC has the major players to possibly drum up that kind of excitement again. They have just the right arrows to target those readers who left comics with the collapse of the later 1990s. They’ve got Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Scott Lobdell, and Bob Harras, to name but a few. Two of the 90s most iconic artists, the guy who wrote X-men in the 90s (when X-men was BOOMING), and erstwhile Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics. Three guys, arguably four, who were singlehandedly responsible for the 1990s superhero aesthetic. Now they are all in one place generating a comicbook event for the new millennium.

As Bob Harras found his way to DC last year and Jim Lee became the new co-Publisher, they probably set out to make a portion of their line 1990s inspired. It’s what these guys know and what they do. Back then, that look and that vibe sold comics. It was a time when the industry possessed a rapid energy. Now those same guys are channeling that energy into this new, drastic course-change. Maybe in hopes to once again capture that 90s boom?

Interior art from Jonah Hex #36, ‘Seven Graves, Six Feet Deep’

The issue is this. it’s 2011 and I’m not sure I’m in the mood for another round of Jim Lee knock-offs or 17 Batman titles. I always find it better to progress rather than re-capture the past. But hey, DC is after the varied audience and this may bring back some of the 90s faithful. Plus, I still get Morrison writing Superman in Action Comics, so DC is certainly future-forward, at this point.

Then again, you’ve got to ask: what was a more exciting time in comics than the 90s boom? Of course these creators would want to channel that energy and pump it into DC’s new drastic course correction. It might sell books.

Obviously, I haven’t read any of these books yet, but looking at the announcements I feel I’m getting the sense of what DC may be going for with this relaunch. But I won’t make use of my gut to give you yet another list of recommendations. No, there’s a bigger question: what’s the stylistic intent?