OP/ED: Is the NEW 52 Going to "Reshape" Comics?

SUPERMAN Dons Jeans & a T-Shirt

 

Unbeknownst to most casual comic book industry observers, at 11:59 p.m. EDT Thursday evening, a key moment for DC's "New 52" initiative will pass. That's the deadline for direct market comic book retailers to submit their initial orders to Diamond for products offered in the July 2011  Previews catalog … or books that go on sale in September 2011, to you and me. And in this case, it also happens to include Justice League #1, which goes on sale August 31.

Without getting too deep into the intricacies of Diamond policy, tonight's deadline is called "initial" for a reason. Retailers will still have 20 days before each title goes on sale (the final order cut-off, or “FOC”) to raise or lower their orders on individual titles without penalty or loss of discount, so this first wave of orders is hardly the last word. But this is the key date for which retailers base their heavy-lifting budgeting for the upcoming months — when they allocate where they're going to spend the majority of their wholesale dollars.

By tonight midnight, the shape of ordering patterns for all of DC #1s will largely be determined, barring any unforeseen x-factor that will send retailers back to the drawing board. So presumably, if DC had something they wanted comic book retailers to know about this initiative, something they'd consider a significant factor in how retailers order all the new #1s, they'd have likely made it known by now.

So with all that I mind, we put that assumption about "The New 52" in question form to DC…

Is that all there is to know?

Give us a moment to explain.

There is no arguing DC Comics has released a metric ton of information and images about the new initiative and have successfully captured the attention of the comics world and, dare we say, dominated the industry news cycles since the initial revamp/soft reboot” announcement on May 31.

And in our community, new #1s on Action and Detective Comics is nothing to write off capriciously — just ask the fans that are very, very angry about it.

If Newsarama's own traffic is any indication, interest … or curiosity … in the “DCnU” (© 2011 Newsarama) is sky high. How that interest manifests itself in early direct market sales remains to be seen, but to speculate somewhat, we think it's a safe bet sales of DC titles will be measurably higher in September than they've been in probably some time.

But that all said, we can't help but go back to some of the earliest comments from DC about all this, including this one from co-publisher Dan DiDio published in their DC Nation column several weeks back.

"This is an initiative to build and reshape an industry we all love..." wrote DiDio.

 

Now a little hyperbole is no crime, and par for the course for a marketing push of this nature, but we feel it's still a fair question to ask: what is the "build" and "reshape" part? All this time we've been somewhat expecting another shoe of some kind to drop — some announced effort to perhaps rethink the distribution model that is a large part of the contemporary industry's shortcomings.

Where is the change in the game-change?

Yes, DC has successfully courted some mainstream media attention to the new titles.

And there have been some new wrinkles announced for sure. DC gets due credit for being the first major publisher to move the digital releases of their titles to the same day as their published counterparts, but most observers also agree comics digital publishing is a market still in its infancy and whose true impact is likely still years away.

A plan to promote in movie theaters is a local retailer co-op program and requires the financial participation of individual storeowners, and finer details about an aggressive advertising campaign (including television) have yet to emerge.

So as we get closer and closer to the debut of Justice League #1, Action Comics #1 and the other 50 new titles, "New 52" seems to be emerging as largely a publishing and marketing initiative — to live, die, or carry-on based on the basic appeal of the new titles/#1s editorially, the new line's ability to attract new, lapsed, or existing readers via the existing market infrastructure, and DC's ability to get the word out.

And there are even a couple mixed signals emerging from a pure editorial perspective, depending on your poin of view.

Regardless of who's more responsible, DC or fans, the “soft” reboot approach — where titles that were humming along successfully like the Batman and Green Lantern lines will remain mostly unchanged, and others like Superman, Justice League and Teen Titans will be radically different — has been received as mixed signals by some readers.

And creatively, despite the emergence of a few rising talents like Joshua Fialkov and Nathan Edmondson and names new to DC like Greg Capullo and Scott Lobdell, the New 52 appears to be more of a creative reshuffling than a reshaping, with a mostly unaffected DC staff and a mostly familiar talent pool charged with rethinking the DCU, and to a degree, their own past efforts.

 

Now none of this means that DC can't achieve success with the New 52 for what it now appears to be, perhaps even to whatever the publisher's internal goals were from the start. That story is yet to be written, and won't be for some time.

And the New 52's long tail, how DC eventually leverages this all in the mainstream book trade, where it reportedly enjoys an historic competitive advantage, also remains to be seen. Direct market sales figures are always only one part of the story.

But to get back to the original question — are readers and the press at fault for maybe expecting a little more than what's emerged? Guilty of projecting our own expectations or interpretations onto DC and this initiative?

That's entirely possible. But while the "New 52" has most certainly fueled interest and arguably infused a great deal of energy into the status quo the last couple of months, the mechanism for a "reshaped" industry remains unknown or unclear, and today is a day retailers could have really used that sort of information.

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