Finite Possibilities; Or, the New 52: the Good, the Bad, the Nothing

A column article by: Ace Masters

The New 52 is upon us, whether we like it or not. You cannot escape it. Everywhere you look it looms large like Superman's shadow over Metropolis.

The speculation for the reasons behind this relaunch varies greatly. The speculation has ranged from it being a mandate from Warner Bros., to being as simple as DC has become 'stale,' to a 'official' claim that the relaunch is to give DC and the comics industry a much need injection.

The main reason for a relaunch like this is always a business decision. Hollywood doesn't do remakes because they think they can make a better film then the original. They do it because of the belief the film property already has a built-in audience and it has a better chance of making money. (As a side note, this is usually the studio's motivation; oftentimes the filmmakers themselves do believe they can make a better film.)

In the same vein, relaunches or reboots are rarely done to improve the product - as the old saying goes 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' - but instead to try and improve the bottom line. Make no mistake: to create better titles and tell better stories is probably low on the list of reasons for the relaunch.

In the case of DC Comics and Warner Bros., they want to refresh the product and bring in new, younger readers and hopefully increase readership. Increased readership means increased sales, which leads to a higher profit margin in the long run. This is a business decision.

From a business standpoint, the quality of the titles means little, only the endgame matters, which in this case is increased sales.

A relaunch like this is a huge gamble and there are really only finite possibilities as to the impact it can have:

  • The Good - A successful relaunch that does exactly what DC wants.
  • The Bad - The relaunch falls flat.
  • The Nothing - ???

Why only three listed possibilities? Because these are the main endgame results of the relaunch. Everything else that could happen, will stem (or fall out) from these.

Finite Possibility One - The Good

This is what DC and Warner Bros. is hoping for. In fact they are banking the future of DC Comics - and perhaps the industry as a whole - on the relaunch being a success. If it is a success, the relaunch goes smoothly and they are able to keep most of their formerly loyal readership while gaining a new, younger and hopefully long-term audience, then it will all be worth it.

If it works, it could even put DC in the coveted #1 spot.

It could also be a boon to the industry as a whole. New, younger readers into stores could turn into increased sale for titles not put out by DC.

If this possibility does come to pass and the relaunch is successful it could have good repercussions for DC and the industry, but it could also leads to other companies jumping on the relaunch bandwagon.

That demands one question to be asked: if this does work, how long before Marvel decides to relaunch their entire line from scratch?

Finite Possibility Two - The Bad

For every chance the DC relaunch has of succeeding it has an equal chance of failing. This is a risky venture that could see the New 52 depowered.

If it does fail, the failure could have far-reaching implications that will really depend on the perception of how badly it fails and how DC and Warner respond to the potential failure.

Worst-case scenario: a failure could lead to the end of DC Comics. If the failure is an epic decline in sales showing that comic book readers have stayed away in droves and the odds of returning any profit are too high against it, Warner could potentially pull the plug on DC as a whole.

If this happens, it would be a devastating blow to the comic book industry as a whole. The industry could lose up to forty-percent of its total readership, something it cannot avoid. The fact of the matter is, over seventy-percent of the readership only reads Marvel and DC. If DC goes . . .

Of course, there is another scenario. The people running Warner and DC are not stupid; they know the risk they are taking and have probably planned for a potential failure. Any good businessperson or publisher HAS to plan for failure as well as success.

If this does fail, DC and Warner probably have a plan to return DC to its former universe and put things back the way they were. Thus they have a contingency plan to get back the audience they may have loss.

If the relaunch does fail, there is another possibility. There is also the chance that another publisher (Dark Horse, IDW, Dynamite) finally steps up and makes a run for the number two spot.

All that said, Warners probably has prepared to deal with any potential failure of the relaunch. Warner definitely does not want, nor can they afford, to lose DC Comics, not if they want to continue exploiting DC's catalog of characters.

Finite Possibility Three - The Nothing

In this case Nothing is defined as no real change. Meaning everything stays Status Quo. There is no real increase in sales, and a new, younger readership does not emerge. This is the worst thing that could possibly happen. Even worse than DC going out of business.

How, you may ask? If there is no effect, if sales stay basically the same as they were 'pre relaunch' that would signal a lack of growth for the industry. A lack of growth and opportunity to expand is detrimental to any industry.

The comic book industry as a whole is hurting, with 'brick and mortar stores' going out of business. Stalking Moon and the Atomic Comic chain of stores have closed in the last month in the metro Phoenix, AZ area alone. If an event of this magnitude doesn't bring in new readers and has no effect (positive or negative) at all that is a woeful sign for the industry.

How the relaunch will go and what will happen no one knows. And no one will be able to determine that for at least a few months. No matter what the sales numbers are for September and all the New 52 number ones, the true story will not reveal itself for a few months.

That said, early indications are that the relaunch is being successful. Reported numbers for JLA #1 are around 200,000 copies. Per DC, a second printing has already sold out and a third printing is on the way. In addition, Action Comics #1 and Batgirl #1 are also going into second printings.

These second and third printings are being created by demand, which is exactly what is wanted, and more importantly, needed. Being successful and being 'a success,' are two different things. This number and multiple prints are encouraging, but can they be sustained?

That is the ultimate question; can this short term success be sustained? Will future sales number stay within twenty-five percent or so of this first numbers?

Or, over the next few months will these number cool off as the curiosity and investor factor ware off? Will numbers eventually return to 'pre-relaunch' numbers?

First issues of any series often sell in inflated numbers that do not reveal what the long term success of the line will be. Add to that, the fact that there are probably any number of 'investor collectors' who are inevitable coming out of the woodwork to snatch up as many of these first issues as possible, with the hope they will be valuable fairly quickly.

No, the true indication of success will be the sales number for issues four, five, six and beyond. Initial sales numbers mean little, it is sustained long-term sales that reveal the story and tell where the future will go.

'From a business aspect, the quality of the titles means little, only the endgame, which in this case is increased sales.' I wrote this above and it still rings true. However, for this to have any chance to succeed, the quality had better be there.

I want to end this column with this personal comment:

I am not an avid reader of DC Comics; the only character I follow from them is Jonah Hex. I do not have an overwhelming emotional investment in DC or the relaunch. I do have an overwhelming emotional investment in the industry as a whole.

I want DC to succeed. If not for DC, then for the industry as a whole.

As for Jonah Hex, his title becomes All-Star Western and will launch on September 28, 2011, in a story putting him in the middle of Gotham City. Since Hex is my one investment in DC Comics, I will let all know what I think when Jonah is unleashed in the relaunch.



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