DC Comics announced today that they're planning to relaunch all of their books with 52 new #1 issues once the final issue of Geoff Johns' new Flashpoint series ends, giving us our first hint at what to expect once Barry Allen's warped universe is returned to what passes for normal. DC also says that they will start publishing all these new comics digitally at the same time they're released in comic shops, beating Marvel to the punch and possibly making comic shop owners a little more nervous.
Will the availability of digital comics on the day of sale cut in at all to the rampant piracy that's just as timely? Will that cut into the sales of traditional comics that are already suffering? That remains to be seen.
On August 31, DC will only publish two books to kick this off: Flashpoint #5 and the new Justice League #1 as written by Geoff Johns with art from Jim Lee, offering "a contemporary take on the origin of the comic book industry's premier super team."
Longtime fans always groan at the prospect of pointless renumbering, because many of us like the idea of having the books reach Issue #1000, which the original Action Comics will do in 99 more issues. However, publishers believe that series with high numbers are intimidating to new readers, since it's easier to jump on board with a #1 issue than it is with a #662 issue. New #1s always feel like a hollow stunt, but they always wind up reverting back to the original numbering whenever they approach a landmark (i.e. a somewhat less hollow stunt), so it's not like nobody's keeping track.
In this case, though, rumors have been swirling about a full-on reboot for the DC universe post-Flashpoint, and this might be the first sign of it. Will there be legitimately huge changes in the offing to put a button on the old continuity and start fresh with new stuff? Will DC go that far? It's entirely possible. We'll keep you updated as we hear more out of Dan DiDio and the DC Nation.
UPDATE: USA Today's interview with Johns and Didio includes revelations that Jim Lee has redesigned the looks of more than 50 costumes "to make characters more identifiable and accessible to comic fans new and old."
DiDio confirms a full-on reboot along the lines of Marvel's Ultimate universe, but with the main DCU. "We looked at what was going on in the marketplace and felt we really want to inject new life in our characters and line, This was a chance to start, not at the beginning, but at a point where our characters are younger and the stories are being told for today's audience."
Does that mean Superman is single again? Does that mean all the myriad Robins will be brushed away for the original Dick Grayson to go back to the green panties? Does that mean Wally West is going back to being Kid Flash sans twins again?
All we know at the moment is that Johns' Justice League will consist of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash and Aquaman – apparently leaving out the Martian Manhunter, which would mean there's no more Big 7… just a Big 6.
"What's the human aspect behind all these costumes? That's what I wanted to explore," Johns said, apparently implying that all the previous writers have just been writing costumes instead of characters.
This looks like it's going to be a huge deal. Many fans will cry vitriol to the heavens. This is going to make the convention season pretty darn interesting when DiDio runs his DC Nation panels.
UPDATE 2: Jim Lee on the character redesigns, which are said to not only contemporize the DC heroes' costumes but also alter their physicality: "You're trying to have your cake and eat it, too. You're trying to keep the iconic elements there, but at the same time freshen up the look so that people are intrigued by what they're seeing and hopefully come and sample the wares. It's part of our jobs to make sure that these characters stay dynamic and relevant, and that's what drove us on a creative level to make these kinds of changes."
One could argue that the fact that they're making movies about these characters 70-some years later would indicate that they're already dynamic and relevant, but of course, this is really about making comic books themselves more lucrative. "If we can convince the people here we're doing something brand-new and fresh, we have a good chance to really get the people outside on board," DiDio explains.
Johns' Justice League will include up to 14 people, so ol' J'onn J'onzz will likely show up there after all. It's also going to include Cyborg, his latest pet character.
DiDio also says that three quarters of the creative teams will be shuffled around, boasting a new set of creators coming in with new voices. "It's not just about straight superhero characters and stories," he notes. "We're going to use war comics, we have stories set in mystery and horror, we've got Westerns."
Among the tidbits:
"The new #1s will introduce readers to a more modern, diverse DC Universe, with some character variations in appearance, origin and age." Interesting that the only preview image released so far is of four white people.
"We have taken great care in maintaining continuity where most important, but fans will see a new approach to our storytelling. Some of the characters will have new origins, while others will undergo minor changes. Our characters are always being updated; however, this is the first time all of our characters will be presented in a new way all at once." Who wants to bet that Wonder Woman will now no longer be made of clay from an ancient Greek island? Maybe she'll be CEO of Themyscira Inc. after all.
The "digital day-and-date" thing only gets one sentence, touting it as an "industry first" and seemingly hoping that retailers might not know what that refers to – online comics so people might be able to avoid retail shops entirely for their comic fixes.
So what do you think? Cheap, annoying publicity stunt or essential risk taken to draw in young blood and new readership?
Or, to get further into wacky speculation – the fact that there are exactly 52 new #1 issues in the pipeline could be a clue. Perhaps this is just their way of introducing an "Ultimate" style DCU as one of the 52 worlds in the multiverse, and after a year or so, we'll find out this was all an elaborate launch stunt and we'll get books going back to the main DCU while the new stuff that succeeds will continue in their own dimension. A thought!