When June arrives and DC Comics launches 24 new titles while shaking up the status quo on it biggest characters, there will be two major points of emphasis: A new weight on story, and a drive for different flavors.
“We’re updating the line, but selectively,” said co-publisher Jim Lee. “So rather than having 52 books all in the same continuity and keeping a universe that’s tightly connected with super-internal consistency and one flavor, we’ve broken it up. We’ll have a core line of about 25 books that will have that internal consistency and will consist of our best-selling books, but then the rest of the line of about 24 titles will be allowed to shake things up a bit.”
In short, you could call DC’s June (and July; as six of the 24 new titles — Cyborg, Dark Universe, Martian Manhunter, Mystik U, and Justice League United — will debut one month later) a “soft relaunch” of 2011’s 'New 52.'" The New 52 started 52 DC titles over with new #1 issues and a single universe.
Old guard titles such as Batman, Superman, and Justice League will continue—with major changes promised in all three, including an “all-new Batman” who appears armored—and be joined by standbys such as Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and more
And there is much excitement over new titles with different points of view such as We Are Robin (a “crowdsourcing” of Robin), Prez (about a teenage girl elected President of the United States), and Bizarro (a title dedicated to Superman’s highly imperfect double).
DC will give readers a massive free sample, with 8-page stories for all 49 books, ongoings and new #1s both, available in May titles. The 8-pagers will also be made available for free via DC’s website and digital partners such as comiXology. DC’s Free Comic Book Day, Divergence, will consist of three pivotal 8-page stories.
“The Batman 8-pager will change the status quo of Batman, the Superman 8-pager will change the status quo of Superman, and the Justice League 8-pager will set up the Darkseid War,” said DC Co-publisher Dan DiDio. “So each one of those will have ramifications, as people will expect.”
After the May 2 Free Comic Book Day, 8-pagers will continue in DC’s books throughout the month. “People [will] get a chance to read these books, see the different styles of art, read the different types of stories, and see how we plan to interpret our characters in a new way,” DiDio said. “And hopefully, in doing so, they’ll get excited about the new books when they come out in June. I think this is a necessary tool, and really so valuable to inform out what we have planned for all these books. It gives everyone a chance to sample them in advance before they hit the shelves.”
And when they do, Lee is confident people will see something different.
“We’re really asking the creators to put story and character first, and really focus is on canon, rather than continuity,” Lee said. “By focusing on canon, which is really the stories that matter, the best stories that we tell with these characters that have really got elevated, that’s the history we want to create around these characters. This is an attempt to re-focus the line, focus on story, and let the creators tell their stories without necessarily being confined by the restrictions of ‘continuity,’ which I put in quotation marks.”
DiDio clarified canon versus continuity.
“Perfect examples are if you look at something like Dark Knight Returns or Kingdom Come, which were outside the realm of our normal storytelling,” DiDio said. “Those stories became so powerful that they started to work their way into the continuity. We still have a shared universe, we still have a shared space where these characters can interact. But the main goal is to allow each of these characters to exist on their own, build their own sense of story, their own sense of direction, their own supporting casts, and their own audiences. And when you do that, you build a much stronger foundation for the DC Universe, and ultimately what happens is that as you start to see what works, you can bring audiences and concepts together to expand and cross-pollinate.”
DiDio said that some of that cross-pollination is built on recent DC successes. “You see a book like Black Canary coming out, which expands out of Batgirl,” he said. “There was a sensibility in Batgirl that people got excited about, so we expand that there. Same thing when we see the success of Harley Quinn, we bring that same team over to Starfire. We want to build on success and build outward.”
“Building outward” can sometimes involve building something that’s not right up your own alley.
“When you are overseeing a line like Dan and I do, you have to realize that not everything is going to appeal to your own personal taste,” Lee said. That’s a challenging part of the job. So you have to trust your editors. You hire your editors for their taste, their relationships, and their ability to curate content. And I think they’re done a masterful job for June.”
DiDio thinks the author’s voice is of greatest import.
“What I looked for in talking to [creators] was point of view, something to say,” he said. “I think that’s important these days. My greatest fear is that everything’s getting homogenized. These people have a hunger for these projects, a real passion. I go to Mark Russell on Prez, and he has a hunger for the story he wants to tell. And he feels he has the vehicle now to present what his concerns and interests are through these characters. And when I hear that passion, I get excited.”
Both DiDio and Lee are banking on a variety of passions ruling the day.
“For every Bat-Mite and Bizarro, there’s going to be a Section 8 and an Omega Men, which are probably the hard-hitting side,” DiDio said. “And we’re going with every shade in between. We have to go out and sell every single title individually. Which is what we want, because each book is its own entity, with its own sensibility.”
“[Writer] Garth Ennis probably last worked at DC…10 or 12 years ago?” Lee said. “Him coming back with a book that is just a kind of dark, humorous take on the DC Universe is, well, Garth doing what you expect him to do. And it’s great to have that kind of tonality back in the lineup.”
And in today’s “synergy” world (Hello, Arrow and Flash TV shows!), DC says they’re guided by their own compass.
“The material inspires the TV shows,” DiDio says. “The comics here, they set the tone. They don’t attract the same size audience that the shows or the movies do, and we’re aware of that. But what we do is we inspire the people who create those TV shows and movies to look at what we have and use the material that we create to fill their stories. We have to be the leaders. We can’t follow the other medium. We have to be ahead of everybody else.”
Lee sees a tangential link between the different branches of DC Comics and Warner Bros., but stresses that the tail can’t wag the dog.
“When we have a character like Black Canary rising to prominence in the Arrow TV show, rather than trying to mirror what they’re doing there, we just want to produce the best version of that character possible,” he said. “I think most fans realize there are multiple versions of anything they’re watching. I mean, the movies get rebooted, there are different actors, different origins…the idea that there’s only one version of that character has really broken down.”
While so much of the focus is on 24 new titles, DiDio stressed to the ongoing creators that their imperative was to step their ongoing game up…and shake things up there as well.
“Every team was challenged, saying, ‘You’ve got to rise above all these new #1s. You’ve got to do something that makes your book stand out. You can’t sit back. Take this opportunity, and do something cool in the ongoing books right there,’” he said. “We’ve got some major storylines in place. The Batman story is going to play across the Batman books. The Superman story is going to play across the Superman books. The Justice League story is going to have little one-shots and things like that that build around it and support it.”
But DiDio also stressed that a line-wide crossover is not in the cards at this point.
“The last thing we want to do right now is cross over a bunch of books while we’re letting them form and shape and find their audience,” he said. “We spoke to the creators and we told everyone we’re giving them some running room to establish themselves and establish the books.”
For his part, Lee hopes the new establishment looks different from the old.
“June is about breaking down whatever perception people have of DC Comics and the DC universe and really just going for broke,” he said. “We should be doing all sorts of different, crazy ideas.”