The 52

A column article by: Regie Rigby

There is a danger that I could begin to sound like a bit of a whinger during this column. I’m going to try not to* but I fear it may be inevitable, because that’s what old blokes sound like when they complain about change, and I’m afraid that’s what I’m going to be doing. I’ve tried to ignore this week’s subject and realising I couldn’t, I’ve tried to put off the evil day when I have to deal with it – but sooner or later the bullet has to be bitten.

I’m talking, of course, about the DC 52. Cutting the list of titles on the roster to 52, and starting everything again from issue #1. Readers of a nervous disposition should be warned – the following column may contain ranting.

You see, this is important to me. Long standing readers amongst you will know how much I love the Batman, because I’ve mentioned it more than a few times over the years. Those who pay real attention may have also deduced that I’m something of a DC man. It’s an odd schism – something akin perhaps to the equally fraught chasm between Coke and Pepsi**, but in comics, if you partake of the “mainstream” there seems to be an expectation that you will ally yourself mainly with DC or mainly with Marvel. Who knows why this should be, and perhaps this divide is less pronounced that it used to be – but it’s still there. At heart we are a tribal bunch.

Personally, I’m a DC man. Marvel has never had anything that has caught my imagination in quite the same way. As an objective observer I know that to people from outside this corner of fandom Marvel and DC are pretty much indistinguishable, and that the average “Marvel Zombie” is every bit as discriminating as I am. This doesn’t change the fact that I don’t really care about what goes on at the House of Ideas I care very much about what happens at DC.

Still. Let’s start by looking at the good reasons for doing this.

These are, as has been observed on many occasions both here and elsewhere, somewhat straightened times. Comics are what, back in the days when I studied economics, I would have referred to as a “discretionary purchase” – that is to say that we don’t actually need them.*** When economies have to be made, comics are likely to be on the “cuts” list. This means that if you’re in the business of selling comics it makes sense to streamline your offering a bit. If a guy can only afford three books, and there are fifteen that he might like to read, he might be so bewildered by the choice that he doesn’t buy any.****

Oh, hang on a minute. If I’m going to keep up with all the Batbooks. It’s still going to cost me about a gazillion quid a month. So that can’t be a good - or even valid reason for doing it.

Of course, starting again from issue #1 might be a stroke of genius. I’ve been banging on for years now about how important it is to hook in new readers, and one of the things that puts potential readers off is the sheer weight of bewildering continuity in some titles. Looking at the cover of a monthly book and seeing that it’s on issue #650 or so can be daunting – it can feel as though there’s no way to catch up. Looking at the cover and seeing a bold #1 gives you the feeling that you’re in at the start of something. That’s attractive, and I wouldn’t be surprised if DC’s sales figures go up a little as the first issues hit the stands.

That’s probably attractive too, and although I suspect editorial staff at DC would deny it, a potential spike in sales figures may have been part of the motivation behind this move. DC have been quietly aggressive in pursuit of increased sales in recent months – “Drawing the line at $2.99” being the most obvious stroke of marketing genius – and even if any sales spike resulting from the launch of the 52 turns out to be short lived***** the extra income will no doubt be useful.

There is also, of course, the extra profile that the re-launch can give to some of the less well known titles. I have to confess at this point that I’m currently on vacation from FoolCentral, and forgot to bring my notes and the promotional material for The 52 with me to the wilds of Cornwall (where I also don’t have internet access, so I apologise if this column was posted late – I’m writing it with the intention of posting as soon as I find some WIFI) so I can’t actually name any of the more obscure titles on the list.****** I’d still suggest, however, that people will be picking up titles featuring characters they wouldn’t normally seek out. If the work is good, well, maybe they’ll stick with it.

That has to be good, doesn’t it?

Oh, I know that there are people who don’t like the idea. If I’m honest, in my heart I’m one of them. There is a huge amount of history wrapped up in some of DC’s books. Books like Action Comics and Detective Comics have been in continuous monthly publication since the 1930s. A lot has happened. Milestones have been reached. Starting everything again from #1 basically pisses all over that heritage – I’d be a liar if I said that this didn’t bother me.

On the other hand, I return to my friend Budgie’s comment about comics publishers. They are not in business to make comics. They’re in business to make money. People depend on them doing this well for their livelihoods, and there is no room in business for sentimentality. If this kind of stunt******* helps the business thrive, then so be it. That’s good for the business, and therefore ultimately good for the fans, because we’ll only get our comics if the business is doing well.

Ultimately though?

I’m too cynical to be anything other than irritated by this whole idea. I simply don’t believe that the books with long histories – books like Action and ’Tec - won’t revert back to their original numbering in the fullness of time. I’m surely not the only one thinking back to the time when several Marvel titles carried two sets of numbers on the cover.******** It feels more than a little manipulative, and I don’t like to feel manipulated.

Still, like I said at the start of this little ramble, I’m a DC man at heart. I hope that, however the whole shebang turns out, DC continues to publish good comics that people want to read. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.

Isn’t it?

*What? There’s a first time for everything after all…

**I’m a Coca-Cola man, for the record. I know that some people prefer Pepsi, and I can just about accept that. Others claim not to be able to tell the difference, which frankly I find incomprehensible.

***I know, I know. This is heresy to many of you. It’s heresy to me when I’m in the right mood.

****And before anyone gets in touch to tell me I’m being sexist because girls read comics too, can I just say that I know that, it’s just that I’ve never met a woman (and trust me, I know quite a lot) who had that much trouble making a decision.

*****Which is, of course the nature of a “spike”…

******Which is, of course, the nature of “obscurity”…

*******Because ultimately that’s all this is.

********Because this isn’t, of course, a new idea. I can’t decide whether Marvel’s “Still number 326” splashes this month are a really funny joke or a really snide and hypocrytical comment. I’m going with the former because I’m on holiday and therefore I good mood.

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