All we’ve seen of Rebirth is a big blue curtain, and there’s a lot of anxiety about what’s behind the curtain. You may recall the game show Let’s Make a Deal where contestants had to pick the prize behind one of three curtains. Will Rebirth be a new car or a box of macaroni and cheese?
The entire comics industry benefits from a strong DC Comics. A lack of customers who are eager to read the exploits of some of the medium’s best known characters is a concerning thing to retailers and even other publishers, who know that the Big Two are the core of the existing business. I’m told even some at Marvel are worried about the effects of Rebirth. DC execs faced many tough questions at the ComicsPRO meeting where it was announced, and skepticism and hope were felt in equal measure, sometimes by the same person.
I’m also told that the reason creative teams weren’t announced is that many were still being decided on. This kind of seat of the pants roll-out worked for the New 52, but not as well for DC You. The anxiety among observers is certainly understandable, and internally there has been a lot of disagreement as well.
As usual David Harper has done the heavy lifting of reaching out to retailers to see how they feel, in a lengthy roundtable. As usual you’ll need to go read the whole thing, but here’s a sampling. The concerns are frankly stated, along with a great deal of optimism:
Patrick Brower, Challengers Comics + Conversation, Chicago: Our initial reaction is optimism. Unfortunately, DC Comics sales are a fraction of what they have been, or have the potential to be, so any change can be a good change. We hope. And now that we have had time to digest it, we are still optimistic. I mean, it’s not like their sales can be any worse…
Ralph DiBernardo, Jetpack Comics, Rochester, NH: Well let’s start with the fact that there are absolutely no secrets in this business. I first learned about this two to three months ago. I was psyched when I heard about it then in hushed “rumors.” I was PRAYING it was true. DC’s New 52 relaunch was a financial boon for comic shops, distributors, licensors and more. Both DC and the industry need another such thing. Given the amount of commitment that DC is giving this I expect big things and lots of happy stores and comic fans.
Jennifer King, Space Cadets Collection Collection, North Oak Ridge, TX: The reality is that DC has been in trouble for quite some time. The industry knows that. Store owners talk about it in the forums often. Do we want them to fail? Quite the opposite, but they never ask us what works and what doesn’t. Wouldn’t we be a great resource, as we are the ones hand selling every week, reviewing their comics and listening to customer feedback? My first reaction was not positive. After decades in this industry, I have become cynical about relaunches, gimmicks and variants having seen the way that my regular customers (not speculators) react to it. For example Secret Wars became a jumping off point for many of my pull box customers. They just wanted a consistent story and great art.
One of the biggest worries stated here, and in conversations I’ve had, is that Rebirth is being brought to you by the same staff and creators who brought you some of the flops of the past, as stated by Comics Dungeon’s Scott Tomlin:
My biggest concerns simply boil down to storytelling. DC has some great talent, but the current staff is part of the problem in the new DC universe. If the stories are good they will sell. Can the creators that brought some of the worst DC stories really turn the universe around? This is DC’s last big bet for a while, it needs to land on two feet solidly or it could be a rough several years for DC and retailers.
I’ll tell you one thing about comics: people don’t forget but they forgive quite easily. Comics is a tribe, and even when a tribe member messes up, they’re allowed to come back and give it another go. For all the mockery over “Has DC Done Something Stupid Today?” if they fix things up, everyone will be happy. If Rebirth works—and “works” here is defined as improving sales and reigniting the enthusiasm of the fanbase—everyone will heave a sigh of relief.
And what if it doesn’t? I’m asking that not to be a Debbie Downer but just because I’ve heard a LOT of very frankly expressed concerns over this. The rising tide of the New 52 lifted a lot of boats, and every retailer would like a repeat flood of curious customers to come check out the new offerings. The world is very different than it was 5 years ago, however. The fanbase is incredibly different, and DC hasn’t shown a knack for reaching out to these new readers.
As I’ve stated many times, nothing will kill comics, despite the nagging belief in many creators for the last 70 years that the industry was about to die. If DC limps along at its current levels, comics will evolve, just like they always have. Other publishers will step into the breech in one way or another: Image and Valiant seem poised to pick up different segments of the audience, and other publishers are upping their game, as well.
The best case scenario, of course, is that these improved efforts catch hold AND Rebirth works. The majority of the tribe is sincerely hoping this is what happens, but they’re making some plan Bs just in case.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.