Not Another Crisis: Thoughts on the DCU Relaunch (Part One)

Much publicized across pretty much every internet outlet, September 2011 sees DC Comics relaunch its entire catalog with 52 (very clever) new titles. And lo, The Internet exploded.

Jim Lee's new look JLA. Collars!

To the normalfolk, the idea of grown men and women displaying such a strong reaction was most likely laughable. It is a little embarrassing, I’ll admit. I didn’t cry I’ll have you know. I may have succumbed to mild panic attacks, but I’m revealing nothing more. Even as a relatively casual reader, it got to me.

After my initial… reaction, my personal perspective remains mixed. I’m curious as to what the new books will bring for the familiar characters moving in to a new era of fiction, disappointed at the early indications of the directions certain characters will take, but most of all I’m left  understanding the need for a clean slate.

Marvel comics, regardless of the relative importance of the character, do a great job of offering new readers and casual followers the chance to jump in at any singular issue or trade paperback and follow the subsequent pages without feeling left out or in the dark about what is happening and why (X-Men aside of course, it’s a universe all of its own at this point).

For some reason, DC never achieved this.

It is often said that Marvel characters are simply more recognizable to the wider audience, and as such, DC has less reason to cater for the mass market. I feel it has nothing to do with mainstream awareness. DC’s animated series have been both critically well received and popular with viewers of all ages. I don’t know a single human who didn’t see ‘The Dark Knight’, or the Donner Superman films of old. These characters are everywhere. Even my mother knows who The Flash is.

When I stopped reading comics in the nineties, it was because they sucked. When I got back in to comics, I maintained a strong Marvel only habit, with the happenings of Infinite Crisis retold to me by a colleague of the time. My reactions were simple, usually laughter and confusion. Superboy Prime lost his shit, threw a tantrum, and the world went wrong. To this day, it sounds awful.

While the Crisis events are considered to be a clearing house of continuity, you can’t make something confusing appear simpler by adding more confusion. It remains a mess.

While my mother knows who The Flash is, she won’t understand why there are so many of them. While I love unconditionally Grant Morrison’s work on Batman and the stories it gave rise to, explaining what happened to Bucky and Cap is far less of an undertaking than interpreting  ‘Batman Inc.’ to a puzzled onlooker. While there’s plenty of madness in the Marvel universe, it cuts away at the debris with an elegant catch up page and little more. I doubt the same could be workable for DC without this relaunch.

So, the reasons for the relaunch are clear. It’s all in the tireless quest for the “new reader”, that most nebulous of beings, constantly pursued by publishers of all media,  like catching fairies with a bug net. Hopefully the old consumer base, the ones with the disposable income to spend on all that lucrative merchandise, wont be alienated in the process.

Perhaps seeing the giant “Issue 1” on a cover will help the nervous make the jump from furtively stuffing Spider-man into their briefcase on a lunch break and try a DC book without having to study Wikipedia when they get back to their desks. If we take it at face value that the characters are nothing more than who we see on the cover having adventures, finding their allies, beating their enemies, it works out more fun for everybody.

Something tells me that the fan community, who invested so much in the history of the DCU, may not want everybody to be given that point of ingress.

To be continued