So one thing that occurred to me recently, and may have been brought up somewhere on the Internet since DC launched its New 52 initiative three years ago and I missed since I can’t read the entire Internet, is how this “The New 52!” slug that’s slapped on all of DC’s covers is like one more barrier to new readers. It’s a very minor barrier, and one that’s easily explained if someone in the know is around to explain it, but it’s still one more bit of weird information, the meaning of which is not immediately obvious, one more thing that says “this is an indicator for people already in the club, and not for people such as you.” “52 what?” I’ve heard more than once.*
We’re probably stuck with that “The New 52″ logo for the time being, even as others have noticed that the majority of the original 52 titles DC launched in September 2011 have since been cancelled, or at least retooled and restarted. Abandoning the New 52 idea would be tantamount to an admission on DC’s part that the publishing initiative was a failure, and I don’t expect that to happen. More likely is that, assuming Warner Brothers would want to continue publishing comics and not just turn all those properties over to the toy companies and animation departments, there would be a new rebranding of DCs publishing line, and yet another overhaul of their books. It would allow them to save at least some face to some extent, by spinning it as not giving up on the New 52, but instead moving the DC Universe forward to…the Great 38! Or, you know, something like that.
Since DC is stuck with the New 52 concept, I would almost prefer that DC would fill out their line of non-Justice League/Batman/Superman/Green Lantern comics with mini-series. I mean, intentional mini-series, marketed as such, not just planned ongoings that get canned after eight months. There’s no shortage of characters and concepts in DC’s vaults that could stand to be aired out a bit…put ’em in a series for six to twelve months, collect it into a paperback when it’s over, and now DC has something to show as a pitch for a new movie or TV pro…I mean, something they can sell in bookstores. And if it sells really well…what the hell, then make it a new ongoing series. I realize that’s more work, editorially, but if books are getting cancelled left and right anyway, might as well jump up right after falling down and declare “I meant to do that!” (And it would make my job a little easier, since problem I describe here is now comic-ordering status quo.)
Going back to what I was talking about at the beginning: a lot of what we, folks what read the funnybooks on a regular basis, take for granted is confusing to the uninformed. They are confused that there can be more than one ongoing series starring the same character, each with its own storylines and continuity, but they sometimes the series do tie in together, but not all the time. Batman and Detective are two entirely separate series, except when they’re not.
The very idea of issue numbers can be confusing. It’s such an obvious thing to me, and to you, that I don’t know how they can be confusing, but to someone not used to the vagaries of comics publishing, they are. That there are so many different series, several of them at least superficially no different from many others (“all these say ‘Avengers’ on them…they’re all the same, right?”), with so many numbering schemes, with so many restarts and reboots, it’s…well, it can look like bit of a mess.
The alternative is no issue numbers (at least on the cover…one could be present inside with the copyright information), and emphasizing the cover date, maybe. But that would create new problems, with people looking for, I don’t know, the April and May 2014 editions of Hawkeye, for example.
And then there’s the series within the series:
That’s Action Comics #32, but it’s also “Enemy of the State Chapter 1″ and it’s part of the “SUPERMAN: DOOMED” crossover event. But it’s not Chapter 1 of the SUPERMAN: DOOMED event, since we just wrapped up the “Infected” segment of DOOMED that ran through all the Superman books. It helps that DC put the additional visual cue of the border around the edges of the cover to clue people into the idea that all these comics with similar borders are related to each other. But that’s still a lot of information to throw at someone not used to comic book company design and marketing decisions.
I mean, I get it. In this marketplace everyone’s struggling to make their comics stand out, and making each issue part of some crossover event or special storyline is an attempt to make that comic seem like essential reading, like you’re missing out if you’re not grabbing the latest installment of this exciting adventure!
Of course, this assumes that new, uninitiated readers are taking in all this information being shoved into their eyesockets and trying to parse it. Sometimes it’s just enough Batman is on the cover, and that’s all the information they need.