When periodical sales struggle for DC Comics, there seems to only be two strategies towards attempting to fix them in a hurry in the short term. These involve either a crossover event or rebooting their fictional universe’s continuity (either slightly or completely). As reported by ICv2 over the weekend (January 25), co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio have teased a “Rebirth” for their company via Twitter.
All which has been confirmed is the image of a blue curtain with the word “Rebirth” which was shared via the official Twitter accounts of the two top brass within DC Comics. Anything else remains rumor and conjecture, which has been mostly provided by the comic scoop site Bleeding Cool (which is usually accurate). According to their sources, the entire DC Comics line will be relaunched in June with fresh “#1” issues and a universes intended to resemble the line of feature films that DC Entertainment is (belatedly) producing (beginning with “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” in March, “Suicide Squad” in August and “Wonder Woman” next year). Some titles will reportedly ship bi-weekly, which is a strategy which DC Comics has been modestly successful with Batman related comics (such as “Batman Eternal”). Less outlandish is the report that Scott Synder, who is without a doubt the company’s top writer, will be leaving “Batman” after five years to move onto “Detective Comics” (which has historically been a core Batman title as well).
While nothing has been confirmed or denied, what cannot be denied is the struggle that DC Comics has seen in terms of sales. Despite the continued domination of the small screen with live action TV shows across three broadcast networks (“Supergirl” on CBS, “Gotham” on Fox and “Arrow”, “The Flash”, and “Legends of Tomorrow” on the CW), their monthly comic book sales have struggled mightily with their rivals at Marvel Comics. The initial “buzz” from their last reboot, “the New 52”, in September 2011 has long worn off, and sales for their recent “Convergence” crossover (intended to buy the company time to finalize a west coast move) were underwhelming. The company not only has seemed to be eclipsed by Marvel Comics in terms of dollar and unit share, they have also lost ground to Image Comics in that regard. Recent launches such as the “DC You” have all failed, with many of those titles slated for cancellation. Mixed with a sense of both abandoning longtime readers and being unable to please or entice new ones, DC Comics is caught in a negative cycle through which some editorial action was inevitable.
As the title suggests, rebooting their entire fictional continuity has been done so many times by DC Comics that it has almost become a go-to solution. Ever since 1986’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” seemingly recreated the DC Universe from the ground up, the company has relied on one line-wide relaunch after the next (with varying degrees of severity) ever since. These include “Zero Hour: Crisis in Time” from 1994 (which involved a maddened Hal Jordan trying to recreate the universe), “Infinite Crisis” in 2006 (which saw some of the abandoned figures and realities from pre-1986 return), “Final Crisis” in 2008-2009 (which involved Darkseid trying to rewrite reality and the temporary death of Batman), and “Flashpoint” from 2011 (in which the Flash rewrite time trying to save his mother). That entails four continuity reboots within thirty years, and three within ten years, even without the specter of “Rebirth 2016” floating around Twitter. Clearly, if such a strategy worked in the long term, it would not need to be utilized with increasing frequency (especially within the last decade). However, with increasing focus on multimedia properties handled by another arm of the conglomerate which controls DC Comics (which is DC Entertainment and Time-Warner), the comic book wing may see a need to continue to make quarterly reports look strong even if this means merely producing a string of short term solutions as editorial policies. Marvel Comics has been facing a similar challenge since Disney took control of them six years ago, although they have come out ahead of their “distinguished competition” for some time. It will remain to be seen whether the “same old trick” is being deployed and whether it will be any more (or less) effective than the last time.