I do worry about comic books. I’ve been buying them regularly since, oh god, 1982 or so, but the monthly floppy periodical business model may be something that, like a lot of good ol’ non-digital pastimes, is fading away.
So DC Comics shook things up quite a bit by deciding to cancel their entire nearly 80-year-old line of books (some up to #900 or so), and starting all over from scratch. I can’t get too fussed about that, really – there have been more “reboots” than I can count of comics universes in my 30 years of collecting and I’m sure there will be more.
I see this move, though – 52 new first issues of 52 series, all over the course of a month – as a real “hail Mary” pass for the future of comic books as a monthly concern. So far, fortunately, it seems to have at least for now been a financial success – because frankly, if it were a huge flop, it would be bad for the entire comics industry by proxy. While DC is far from the only comics company, they're one of the two biggest. I wouldn’t be half surprised if Marvel followed with some sweeping move of their own sometime soon.
I haven’t picked up a ton of the new DC 52 comics but I have generally liked the ones I tried. DC have put together a nice mix of mainstream heroes like Green Lantern and The Flash with more offbeat books like "Frankenstein" and "All Star Western."
The new “Justice League,” much touted as the flagship of the line, was a mixed bag – I’m over the “let’s take 6 issues to put the team together” decompression school of storytelling, and Jim Lee’s art has always been a bit overrated to me. But it wasn’t TERRIBLE – merely routine. Grant Morrison's new "Action Comics #1" is a far better relaunch -- a new vision of Superman that draws heavily on the nearly forgotten gangster-punching strongman of the early 1930s, but modernised with a twist.
I quite enjoyed the quirk-hero adventures of “Animal Man” (an old favourite of mine) and “Frankenstein and the Agents of S.H.A.D.E.” Also good fun were the medieval adventure “Demon Knights” and, surprisingly, the relaunch of conspiracy-heroes comic “Stormwatch” which combines a variety of franchises and DC’s venerable Martian Manhunter together and might actually make the characters Apollo and the Midnighter interesting for the first time in a few years. “Justice League Dark” was pretty cool, too, a kind of Vertigo-meets-mainstream caper with some excellent art.
More importantly, this whole "new 52" business has given comics a jolt of excitement that all the endless "big event" miniseries have failed to do. While there's a fair amount of junk among the new 52, I have to admit I've now suddenly got more DC Comics than Marvel on my monthly pull list for the first time in a long while.
In what is probably a testament to the problems comics sales are facing, I ended up downloading a couple of my very first comics on our new iPad too. It’s interesting to note that it was cheaper to download than buy them here and now that DC and Marvel are both doing day of release digital, it’s hard not to imagine that market taking off.
I was pretty impressed, actually, at how gorgeous “Superman #1” and “Justice League Dark #1” looked on the iPad – stunning colours, very user-friendly interface, and closer to “reading” a “real” comic than any other such digital endeavour I’ve seen. I'm still a sucker for the tangible object, though. I don’t think I’ll download often, but I have to say Comixology and the publishers have made reading a comic on an iPad a pretty satisfying experience.
Will DC’s “new 52” gamble pay off in the long run? I honestly don’t know. When you look at the figures a comic sells nowadays – if it breaks 100,000 copies it’s a huge hit, whereas 20 years ago some comics sold in the millions – it’s a tough fight ahead. However, whatever happens next I don’t ever think we’ll see the end of comics as a medium of expression – yeah, they may go entirely digital like so much else has, but the comic book is a sturdy, endlessly vast and variable way to tell a story, from “Love and Rockets” to “Archie.”
The comic book has its fingerprints all over pop culture these days. It ain’t going anywhere soon, no matter how it changes.