Last week, DC Comics — the house of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Beppo the Super-Monkey — called a do-over.
A bit of background: A summer crossover event called Flashpoint is currently wreaking merry havoc across the DC Universe. Just about every superhero title DC publishes is experiencing temporal quakes and reality rifts and throwdowns with alternate-timeline doppelgangers — the whole "EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW IS WRONG!" schmear, really.
We true-believers have seen this before, of course. A threat to the very fabric of space-time is a rite of the superhero summer: It is the very zinc oxide. The ice cream sandwich. And, at times, the prickly heat.
What we didn't appreciate, however, is that this particular crossover event will have real-world ramifications. Come September, DC's entire superhero line will start over: Some 52 different titles will get all-new "first" issues.
Also? From now on, all of them will be available digitally on the same day the physical comic arrives in stores.
So What's the Big Deal, Here? The Renumbering?
Depends on who you are. To collectors and speculators, yeah. I mean, superhero titles relaunch all the time — hell, there've been like seven Aquaman #1s over the years, if you count mini-series — yet still they get snapped up.
To folk like me, who read superhero books for the characters, stories and face-punching, the number on the cover has never mattered much. Oh sure, when I was a kid, I knew several guys who could reel off the issue numbers of various character's origins, deaths, costume changes, etc., but lately? Not so much. I've a feeling this very particular skill set is going vestigial, the appendix of comic book nerddom in the age of Google.
No, the renumbering's all about people like you. You, the non-comics reader.
It is an attempt to underscore a point the people at DC are making VERY EMPHATICALLY: You don't need to know a blessed thing about these characters to pick up any of these #1 issues. They are wiping the spandex slate clean.
So, It's the Rebooting of These Characters? That's the Really Big Deal, Here?
Well, it's a big deal, anyway. Not in the sense that rebooting a superhero is in any way unprecedented — editors at DC and Marvel do so much rebooting they could moonlight in shoe repair — but the scale of this endeavor, its company-wide simultaneity, that's notable.
There have been similar wholesale, company-wide changes to continuity, over the years, with names like New Universe and Crisis on Infinite Earths, and all of them - every last one - has been driven in part by the desire to reach beyond the likes of me and my pasty colleagues in comics nerdery, to you. The vast sea of yous, out there, with your money, and your income, and ... your money.
For we have arrived at the great, abiding myth that the superhero comics community clings to: "The reason normals don't read about superheroes is because they're put off by the dense continuity, so all we need do is give them a clear jumping-on point, AND WE'LL HOOK 'EM."
See also: "The reason more people don't read romance novels is because they don't like the naughty bits, so all we need do is clean 'em up, AND WE'LL HOOK 'EM."
And: "The reason more people don't watch bridal reality shows is because they hate weddings, so all we have to do is make a show about the rehearsal dinner, AND WE'LL HOOK 'EM."
The salient reason that more people aren't reading about mainstream superheroes, of course, is not because they are unaware of their existence, or confused by backstory — it's that they don't happen to be particularly interested in mainstream superheroes.
Any genre self-limits its audience to a greater or lesser extent. My love of the goofier aspects of superherodom, for example, is deep, and it is shared by many different men and women of various ages. But man, is it niche-y.
And while someone who isn't particularly interested in superheroes might catch The Dark Knight on opening weekend, the experience isn't going to turn that person into ... well, me, for example.
Now: Can a genre like superhero comics, with a bit of proselytizing (hi there!) and innovation, achieve a wider appeal? Sure.
Will September's company-wide reboot help? It could: The full line-up hasn't been revealed yet, but there signs and portents that the new line-up will include horror comics, Western comics, war comics — the kind of fare that took over the comics racks in the 50s, when the superhero's appeal first went into retrograde. (Granted, DC seems to be hedging its bets by making these titles SUPERHERO horror comics, etc. Even so.)
There's more to say about the changes coming to the titles — including some surprising returning characters and an apparent editorial effort to increase diversity among the super-ranks — but we'll wait until we get closer to the pub dates, and know more.
What About That Same-Day Digital Distribution Thing?
For my money ... literally, for my money ... that's the big deal, here, the part of this whole initiative that'll have the longest-term effects.
According to DC, the physical and digital versions of a comic released on a given day will sell for the same price (say, $3.99); four weeks later, the price of the digital version of that issue will drop (to say, $1.99).
Retailers and readers alike are sharply and vocally divided on how this will affect comics shops sales. It'll be fascinating to watch.
And Finally: Batman in Culottes. You Heard Me. BATMAN IN CULOTTES.
In the aftermath of the initial announcement, various DC artists and writers took to Twitter to offer cryptic/cruel teases about what lies ahead.