Op/Ed: What is DC's Next Step? RELAUNCH Every Single Year

"Excuse me sir," said the newcomer who wandered into a comic book store, "I just saw The Dark Knight on blu-ray and I'd like Batman #713 please."

Have you heard this conversation in your local comic book shop? No, and you never will. No new reader will ever ask for Detective Comics #881 or Action Comics #903 when they walk into a store. Sure, the shop has the classics like Dark Knight Returns or new entry-level graphic novels like Superman: Earth One, but those don't bring in new, monthly readers, which is what this industry is built off.

Jim Lee he wants the relaunch to make characters "more identifiable and accessible to comic fans new and old." His co-publisher Dan DiDio says he wants to "inject new life in our characters and line."

Unless you've been living under a rock, you heard that DC Entertainment announced recently that they are relaunching every comic book in their "DC Universe" line. With 52 new #1 issues, they're creating an environment of openness and opportunity to new readers. Someone that sees the Green Lantern film or the upcoming animated series will be able to walk into a comic book store in September and ask for Green Lantern #1, and actually have it available (and relevant).

But what happens down the road? Even after just one year, we'll be at #12 issues for these books. Two years and we're talking about 20+ issues, and thus a 60+ dollar investment to "get started" in the stories of each individual book.

There have been critics saying that DC reboots/revamps/relaunches too often, but we're here to say it's not often enough. No, in fact, DC should start with a new #1 every single year.

The concept of "seasons" has been tried a couple of times in comic books to varying success. Marvel's Runaways was relaunched in a seasonal format (though that sadly didn't continue). Other books have of coursed had varying volumes, though WildStorm's Authority and Marvel's Ultimates probably came the closest to the format I have in mind, but also didn't keep it going.

With a 12 issue over-arc format, relaunching with #1 each year, DC would do a few things. They would help reign in certain writers, keeping their stories concise and comprehensible - easily the biggest current detriment to new readers. With 12 issue stories, DC allows for a large enough theme to be built with 2-4 smaller stories being told within. A new first issue the next year could continue the story; it wouldn't be wiping things clean, it would be shifting the focus slightly, just as new seasons of TV series do every year. A nice 12-issue hardcover coming out each year would be your DVD box-set, and labeling them as seasons makes it easier to understand the serialized "finished yet continuing stories" format for new readers.

With DC's plan to advertise their comic books on television, this makes even more sense. Now you're telling people who are used to regular serialized content that effectively relaunches every year, "this is a new way for you to enjoy similar content!" A yearly renumbering to #1 (and effective restart of the primary story, with background secondary stories continuing) would allow new readers a lower entry point of understanding; rather than the comic book industry trying to teach people how to enjoy the content, the people are the ones informing the method of release.

This also opens up the use of the digital serialized format more. If you teach readers to expect a collection every 12 issues, a book that only comes out digitally in the month-to-month format can have that same 12-issue hardcover. With the digital issues, you have the potential to do new "special features" as well; just plain comic books, the way they're currently written and drawn, won't be enough for the digital audience forever; the sooner someone innovates in that arena the better. Alas, that's probably a whole different column.

There are, of course, some major potential issues with this. The first is the issue of timeliness. Comic book publishing is not an exact science, much to the dismay of fans, creators, and editors alike. Books frequently run late, and don't come out exactly 12 times a year. This could put some people off, as it's relatively uncommon in the TV world (though not unheard of), but it could also actually work to DC's advantage. With inevitable delays, they could potentially have a period of four or five months a year where any number of their titles hits a new #1. 10-15 titles each month for all the fall/winter months hitting their next season could actually take this momentum and split it up nicely. The other major issue is of course the long-time comic book fan, the collector. In this case, DC can look at them as someone they can teach, that they can inform. Ultimate, comic book fans want to read good comic book stories. If the quality of the tales being told maintains at a high level, or even winds up being higher thanks to a regular interval such as the one proposed, ultimately the majority of fans will hopefuly be sated – or replaced by new ones.

With seasons, or 12 issue volumes, DC Comics could keep their characters fresh, keep their stories exciting, and be accessible to new readers not just this fall, but next fall, and the next, and the next. It really does seem to be the next logical step. Don't just relaunch now, DC, but please make it a yearly event.

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