DC Comics co-publisher Dan DiDio gave New York Comic Con a brief glimpse of a blurry continuity timeline on Friday…and in doing so, inadvertently tipped DC Comics’ 5G, the next New 52 or Rebirth-style publishing initiative for DC’s superhero universe. It’s a move that has sent shockwaves through the industry, with retailers questioning what it means in the face of already unsteady superhero sales.
DiDio unveiled the timeline during NYCC’s DC Nation panel. It was dotted with the major stories from DC’s past, and split into four sections that DiDio described as generations (more on that later). He called it “the basis for all of DC Comics in the future,” and added, “While we won’t go into what the future is, we want to show you that what’s happening now is a high level of planning.”
That future, however, is getting clearer.
In short order after the timeline dropped, Bleeding Cool connected the dots to DC Comics’ 5G, a mysterious project that the Beat has been hearing rumors about for a few months – and that BC reported back in June. As the weekend continued, Bleeding Cool dissected the timeline, connected more dots, and reported that the crux of 5G is that characters like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman and maybe others will cede their mantles to replacements, some of which will be surprising (Batman, for example, will be replaced by Luke Fox, rather than a Robin, a Batgirl, an Orphan, etc.).
The Beat has now confirmed with multiple sources that this is in fact what’s coming, or at least that’s currently the plan. In addition, next year will likely see another crisis setting things up, combined with a hypertime concept to explain in part how heroes who debuted long ago remained active for so long.
See, along with the low-resolution glimpse of the timeline at NYCC, DiDio elaborated on splitting DC’s past into four distinct generations. Within this, generation one is defined by the advent of Wonder Woman as the first public superhero (which is a new thing in terms of continuity…and something Dan hinted might be explored later, cheekily saying, “Hey, I don’t remember reading that story!”), a second generation starts with the appearance of Superman, and a third generation spans from Crisis on Infinite Earths (1986) to Flashpoint (2011), with a fourth generation being the comics we’re reading today. The fifth generation is presumably 5G (which is likely a placeholder title, considering 5G is also the name of the new small-cell wireless technology that’s reshaping the nation’s high-speed Internet infrastructure as we speak, but I digress). You can learn all about what was said publicly here.
DiDio first confirmed the timeline’s existence in July at SDCC, saying the publisher was in the “advanced planning” stages of something that would organize its history. It next showed up on the company’s streaming app, DC Universe, appearing on the promotional news show DC Daily in September (that’s okay, we missed it too at the time), again blurry and in the background of a Dan DiDio interview.
It’s a long-time coming as well as a big undertaking, and the reason behind it seems to be accessibility, which has become a guiding aspiration for much of what DC Comics does these days, from its mass market retailer-friendly giants to its bookstore-ready Black Label comics to its YA-skewing OGN’s like Raven and Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass.
It’s perhaps telling that DiDio transitioned into talk of the timeline at NYCC by bringing up the New 52, the publisher’s most recent attempt (Rebirth aside, that being a whole other thing) at creating a more accessible entry point for its universe and characters. A contrite DiDio said that while there was “great excitement that came along with [the New 52],” DC editorial also slipped up by making everything brand new, rather than figuring out what fit into continuity and what didn’t. The effect (combined with the new leaks) is a sense that something New 52-esque is coming, just in a way that also keeps past continuity intact.
In an interview Saturday at NYCC with The Beat, DiDio also briefly touched on the timeline (drawing a watchful glance from a nearby publicity staffer), essentially saying they need to create easy entry points for new readers without (to use a cliche) throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
But what now seems most telling is a comment at the end of the DC Nation Panel from DC Chief Creative Officer and Co-Publisher Jim Lee.
“There’s a lot of interesting implications this timeline sets up,” Lee said. “If there are characters that came about way back when, what does that mean today? I’ll leave you with that…”
It could mean a superhero line focused on the new adventures of a generation of younger characters that haven’t appeared in dozens (or hundreds, in the case of Batman) major stories dating back years, while other segments somewhere within the publishing line (Black Label, the giants, etc.) continue doling out Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent like a band playing its greatest hits.
This all largely gels with what’s happening on the page in the DC Universe right now too. The Justice League is embroiled in a storyline that involves Perpetua, a character who is literally the mother of all Monitors (Monitors being the multiversal beings that often usher in the crises that upend DC’s continuity). There are some notable runs ending, and if you squint a bit, you can even see things like the recent resurfacing of the Jackson Hyde version of Aqualad as a road to replacing heroes. A framework is in place (or getting close) to make switches.
So far, the reaction from fans online has been wildly predictable, listing (of course) toward negative. The two major lightning rods for outrage have been continuity tinkering and replacing heroes, both of which have fraught and complicated histories among wide segments of people who consume weekly superhero comics, the reasons for which can sometimes be downright ugly.
Direct market retailers are also concerned that massive sweeping changes will harm their sales, and we’re told they have already been active voicing these concerns in forums, strongly urging DC to clarify or reconsider any changes while at the same time complaining that sales for so-far-unchanged books have started to dip (ahem).
Anyway, an optimist may be excited about all of this, trusting it as an attempt at thoughtful organization while expecting that the mix of New 52 accessibility and Rebirth back-to-basics will give rise to a wiser DC that is equipped to finally do a reboot right (whatever that means…mileage tends to vary). The pessimist, however, may think DiDio sounds a bit like a continuity-restructuring addict, assuring everyone he is going to party hard one last time before kicking the habit…while also not quite grasping what made Rebirth so successful in the first place, both critically and commercially. It’s also a throwback to DiDio’s aughts strategies, which saw crisis after crisis – Identity, Final, Infinite, Countdown to. Well, aughts nostalgia is growing every day.
Time (or maybe hypertime, is more appropriate) will tell.
Anyway, here’s a quick FAQ of what we know, based on the questions I’m seeing all over slack channels and Twitter.
What is 5G?
It is presumably a working title for a new line-wide DC publishing initiative in the same spirit as the New 52 or Rebirth. It stands for fifth generation, because DC is currently organizing its continuity (via timeline) into four past generations, with the fifth not having taken place yet.
What will it involve?
Leaks that we’ve been told are true say that it will involve replacing familiar heroes with newer characters like Luke Fox or Jon Kent.
When will this start to happen?
The seeds are likely to be planted next summer in the midst of a hypertime-meets-crises event, with the first 5G titles launching in the fall.
Why is this happening?
Like much of what’s happening at DC right now, this looks like an effort to ultimately make the publisher’s stories and characters more accessible to new readers by creating obvious entry points….and while, yes, this has been tried before (eight years ago, to be exact, with the New 52), the newness here is that it will also seek to incorporate past continuity as well (like Rebirth).
– Additional reporting by Heidi MacDonald