As a result of the events in Flashpoint, DC made some major changes both to its publishing format and industry as a whole, as well as to the fictional universe – the New 52. It was, in essence, a total and complete overhaul from the top down. First up, DC canceled its entire line of publications and is embarking on the unprecedented effort of releasing 52 all new #1s. This includes titles like Action Comics and Detective Comics, which had been continuing their respective runs since the 1930s. In addition, DC is embracing the information age by releasing their titles digitally on the same day as they are published, called day-to-date publishing. This means that folks that have been using their laptops or tablets to read comics of late no longer have to wait weeks or months to keep up to date with their favorite stories.
In addition, they are not actually really rebooting their universe. DC made a very concerted point to call their effort a “relaunch,” as they are picking and choosing the best parts of their respective characters’ histories, and then putting a fresh face on it moving forward. After having read Action Comics #1, I am so pleased that I did not have to read about Clark Kent falling to Earth yet again, and instead saw this young brash hero, and how terrified the population of a modern city could be by the concept of a man who could bend steel, tearing his way through town on his own moralistic crusade. This orchestrated retelling and revisioning of its past was, of course, met with the same fury and outrage as all change is perceived in fandom – with abject rage and condemnation.
Rather than interview a normal fanboy or fangirl about this new effort DC is taking on, I thought it would be more appropriate for a retrofuturist, such as myself, to explore the future of the DCU by instead looking backwards. As such, I took advantage of the gigantic pop culture festival juggernaut called Dragon*Con to sit down with some creators and artists and get their thoughts.
Among the brightest points of this research expedition was talking with Mike Grell. I sat down and had words with this long time comic creator as he drew a fan commission of Green Lantern, which I found all too appropriate. For those new to the DCU, Grell is most famous for bringing Green Arrow into the forefront with his own title with the hallmark book called the Longbow Hunters. In addition, Grell has been drawing for DC off and on since 1973, was the creator of the popular Warlord character as both writer and artist, and has worked with many famed and not so famed DCU characters, but none more so than the Emerald Archer himself, good old Oliver Queen.
“I like to see stories that have a lot to do with the world we live in. [Green Arrow is] a non-powered super-hero. It makes the character more relatable to the audience. He just has a superior skill that anyone can learn,” said Grell of the hallmark character. With his own decade’s long work on many other characters in the DCU, Grell did express some reservations that I think were typical of the rumor and scuttlebutt surrounding the relaunch:
“I would like them to be aware of the heritage that goes into these characters,” said Grell.
And rightly so. Grell very recently participated in the DC Retroactive project – a look at the long history of many of the classic characters of the DCU from the 70s, 80s, and 90s in which a classic writer/artist team creates a story in the style of the era and it is paired with a classic reprint story of the same time. The overall effect makes for a wonderful homage to the length and breadth of the DCU. These books were put out this past summer, so by all means take a look for them at your local comic shop.
Amid the general discussion with the artists and fans at the Con, there was a lot of apprehension and general concern. Not only for the launch itself, but for the embracing of the digital comic frontier with day-to-date publishing. Many of the comic shop owners expressed to me a general concern that with comic shops already having a hard time getting new customers into comics that the convenience of shopping from their tablet or other device may cause even more local shops to close. While that opinion was expressed, all have since seen some record level sales with the unveiling of the New 52’s line of books. As much, many feel that the new digital format is unlikely to really impact store sales at all.
Comics legend Peter David, best known within the DCU for his work on Young Justice – now a primetime cartoon show soon to enter its second season, and rumored to be part of the “DC Nation” block of Cartoon Network programming in 2012, put it best, “What would be nice is if digital comics got people back in the habit of reading comics weekly.” He remains very optimistic that the future of the industry could very well continue on with the digital era, whereas other printed mediums such as newspapers have been struggling even more than comics.
All in all, the legends of DCU’s past were cautiously optimistic, some more suspicious than others, but all hoping that DC’s intrepid effort be well executed, well received, and well intentioned to those whose collective efforts have shaped these characters time and time again.