The Imminent Demise of DC Comics

Dwindling sales at DC Comics were saved by the reboot, but are there too many flaws in the execution to save DC from certain death?
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Dwindling sales at DC Comics were saved by the reboot, but are there too many flaws in the execution to save DC from certain death?

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In August 2011, DC Comics made the brave step of rebooting their entire line of Superhero comics and essentially started from scratch. It was a bold move, and the thinking behind it was sound. DC’s sales figures were steadily dropping and competition was high.

The New52 was DC’s way of enticing new fans, a good way to allow readers a starting point, where they didn’t have to worry or know about the intricate histories of every character.

It worked on one level. Sales figures slightly increased. They also had the game-changing idea of making their new releases available digitally. That model is now industry standard. The New52 helped some of their major characters grow again. Wonder Woman sales are right up, despite a controversial re-imagining of her origin story and Aquaman is good for the first time in years.

The difficulty is that much of the good that has come from the New52 could have been done without the stresses that it has caused. And the problems that it has caused have been vast and incredibly damaging. 2012 may well be remembered as the year that DC committed commercial suicide, and that for me is a problem. I grew up with DC. They were always the best of the bunch. They had the most iconic characters, the most artistic freedom granted to their creators. They tested and pushed boundaries. Their Vertigo line (headed by the ‘too-talented-for-words’ Karen Berger) kept millions of people interested in comics when they could easily have grown out of them.

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The list of errors in 2012 is extensive. Let’s start with the fact that the timelines are skewed to such an extent that many characters don’t seem to fit anymore. The entire Bat-family is chronologically unsound. Dick Grayson still kind of works as Nightwing, but Jason Todd and Tim Drake don’t. Drake doesn’t even have a history of being Robin at all, he jumped straight into being Red Robin. Damian Wayne just compounds the problem in terms of time line confusion. Nit-picking? Certainly. But seriously, too much history has been lost.

Then there’s Lois Lane, once again relegated to the sidelines as a tortured and lonely Superman struggles with his place in the world. That’s not Lois Lane, and it’s certainly not Superman.

More significant is the loss of fan-favourite characters like Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown. The sudden absence of these two women, especially the interaction between them, has left a void in the DC universe that can’t be replaced, no matter how many minor characters they bring into play.

The biggest issue for many, myself included, has been what has happened to Barbara Gordon. Love or hate The Killing Joke, former Batgirl and Jim Gordon’s daughter was shot and paralysed by the Joker. It worked, and became such an integral part of the character that DC even went on record saying that they would never give her a ‘miracle cure’. Her character evolved, became the brilliant ‘Oracle’ and helped fight crime from behind an extensive computer system. She was brilliantly written and understood by writer Gail Simone (as well as many others), and formed an essential, vital link in the Gotham City canon. She was also a disabled hero, something sorely lacking in a world that claims to mirror represent our own.

So despite saying that she would remain wheel-chair bound, they went ahead and gave her a miracle cure anyway. Gone was the wheelchair and Barbara was straight back into the batsuit. Again, writing duties went to Gail Simone, who has made the best of a bad situation and written outstanding stories despite the starting point.

Then there’s the problem of bad writing or inconsistent art. Catwoman is repeatedly drawn in a way that is meant to be seductive, but usually means that she appears to have a deformed spinal column. Nightwing as well is tepid both visually and in terms of dialogue. Truly, everything that’s awful about ‘bad comics’.

Don’t even get me started on Hellblazer, which will finish with issue 300. A truly unique character, John Constantine has been the cornerstone of Vertigo in recent years. Sales have been consistent, writers clamour for the chance to have their chance at writing him. Clearly the best thing to do is to cancel that flagship and replace it with a PG-13 version. Even better, take a character who is grounded in UK folklore and relocate him to America. Obviously, all comic book action has to take place in the States. Nothing else happens in the world.

And that’s another problem with DC. They don’t recognize their European fans in the slightest. They discard us, offering contests that we can’t enter as if our money isn’t as important as the almighty dollar.

The best things that happened in the New52 are things that would have worked just as well without it. Scott Snyder is hitting it out of the ballpark with his Death of the Family story arc. Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Justice League would have been fine.

It seems that DC are pinning their hopes on the films.

Everything is riding on Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. That’s ok, it’s Superman. He can take it. But the intention is now to use that lone Superman film as a springboard into a Justice League film. That isn’t going to work. There are too many flaws in the plan. The solution is easy. Don’t make a Justice League film. Not yet.
Make a Trinity film. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. That’s all you need for now. Use the film to show the Amazonian Princess kicking ass. Audiences already know who Superman and Batman are, but Diana needs some serious screen time. Give it to her.