The DC Universe has not fared well whenever Dan DiDio gets his way with it. He wants everything darker, less fun, and less heroic. The opposite of what makes the DC Universe so enjoyable to most fans. When Batman isn’t dark enough for you what you get is the parody made real. You know, that part about how dark and broody Batman is supposed to be. Then there’s the constant shake-ups to the point where there isn’t a status quo. Rebirth fixed all those flaws so naturally he undid all of it as soon as he was back in full charge. However, we aren’t talking about DC’s universe but the comics that contain their stories.
Last year DC broke out Zoom and Ink, two titles that were supposed to reach younger audiences. While they’ve gotten into libraries and bookstores they really haven’t seen much impact in comics. Back in the 1990s DC created Vertigo, a creator-run darker imprint that was separate from the DC Universe outside of Swamp Thing, but he and Constantine are now DCU regulars. It had the horror stuff. All three of these are going away as DC restructures their branding. While Vertigo’s disappearance may not be the best move, what they’re doing with Zoom and Ink is actually something I would do if I ran DC Comics so take that for what it’s worth. I think it’s a good idea. Of course they’re still screwing part of it up because that’s what DiDio does best, but it may be their first smart move since tossing out Rebirth and putting Brian Michael Bendis on Superman, thus ruining everything they were getting right. So I expect it to be ruined right fast.
I don’t even remember which is which, and that may tell you something about how bad the “Zoom” and “Ink” names were marketing wise. I know one of them was for younger kids and one was for older kids. Good luck telling them apart from the name. Instead, in a recent press release DC laid out their new labeling system, one of which has already been going on, Black Label. You know, where someone decided to show Bruce Wayne’s money pouch to the readers. Here’s the new labeling.
- DC Kids will focus on readers ages 8-12 and offer content created specifically for the middle-grade reader
- DC, focusing on ages 13+, will primarily be the current DC universe of characters
- DC Black Label will focus on content appropriate for readers 17 and older
Like I said, this is what I would have done. A kid-targeted line to get new kids reading the comics, one for the current DC Universe, and one for readers who want something different. They used to have this with their old DC Kids line. (I wonder if Johnny DC will return as mascot and what he’d look like this time?) Vertigo is, soon to be was starting in 2020, not the same as Black Label though. From what I can tell Black Label is just a more “mature” take on the DC Universe while Vertigo was focusing on darker supernatural themes. And yet there is no world that they’re dropping any of their other imprints. We’ll still have Wonder Comics, the imprint that gave us Wonder Twins who come from a planet where shape-shifting orgies happen if the wind blows the wrong direction. I don’t even know what Young Animals publishes and that will still be going. Bendis’ Jinxworld is moving to one of the DC labels. Of course Jim Lee is continuing WildStorm. I’d be surprised if that was gone as long as he was around.
So this isn’t quite the same way I would do it, or at least if it is you won’t see it in the press release. For example, the regular DC will handle the main DC Universe as well as other titles in this age group. However, I’m betting they’ll still be writing for the trades instead of embracing the advantages of a monthly 22 page periodical and how that can tell a story. DC Kids is a good idea but will they actually get places kids can find them, and more importantly will they be friendly to the allowance of an impulse-buying kid? They may continue Zoom’s (I looked it up) graphic novels, which means the only way a kid will get their hands on one is if they have a friend or relative already into comics who will buy them one. Black Label may be all graphic novels, which is how I would do it. In other words, in my DC Comics:
- DC Kids would still focus on readers ages 8-12, but would be printed in a way to reduce cost and thus reduce the price. I would also try to get them into places kids would see them. There would still be graphic novels for libraries and such but I would want a cheaper alternative in stores where kids may go with their parents, or maybe if they bring back Toys R Us, like I’ve heard rumored. Magazine racks or by the registers (that’s how I got my first Fury Of Firestorm comic), spinners in certain stores, maybe a toy department somehow–the Walmart partnership had the right idea but didn’t do it right. These would also be primarily one or two-part stories, like the DCAU “Adventures” related titles but there could be some minor continuity, like in Adventures Of The DC Universe, where you don’t need every issue to enjoy it but if you do you reap an extra reward.
- DC, would of course be the main DC Universe. It would no longer be padded stories to fit a trade. If a story took one issue, fine. If it took eight, fine. The story would be priority. Of course it would also be closer to Rebirth and whatever crud DiDio is trying to do the DCU but that’s another story. It would also feature non-DCU stories for the 13+ age group they’ll be shooting for, with the DC Universe banner kept for stories set in the main DC Universe. This would have a stronger shared continuity as well as an ongoing flow. Good writers can stick with canon without creating a bad experience for anyone who hasn’t read every comic. Maybe they’ll go back and check that issue out, maybe they won’t, but they shouldn’t be punished for it, nor should the longtime fans be punished for sticking around with a beloved series and characters. Think of it as serialized format but with less cliffhangers or shorter arcs with maybe longer subplots in the characters’ personal lives. We all know shows like that with seasonal arcs with shorter main stories.
- DC Black Label would stay as advertised, focusing on “R” rated stuff, but would be set in their own universe. While I would still want the character to match their iconic appeal it would be more mature stories. Since they’re ditching Vertigo, I guess most of their titles would end up here as well. There is crossover potential between Black Label continuities and the main DCU, to alert the main readers that when they’re old enough and for some reason decide that the main DCU isn’t mature enough that they can come here to see a different take on the main characters. However, those of us who enjoy the classic DCU (“classic” because we’ve had three huge continuity shifts and a ton of little ones) can still see the characters in their intended form.
See? Everyone wins and DC makes money. In theory.
“We’re returning to a singular presentation of the DC brand that was present throughout most of our history until 1993 when we launched Vertigo to provide an outlet for edgier material,” said DC Publisher Dan DiDio. “That kind of material is now mainstream across all genres, so we thought it was the right time to bring greater clarity to the DC brand and reinforce our commitment to storytelling for all of our fans in every age group. This new system will replace the age ratings we currently use on our material.”
Vertigo wasn’t just about being edgy though, and the only reason the main universe is “edgy” now is that DiDio keeps forcing it in there, even with characters they shouldn’t, like Superman. There’s this uniform darker tone that just isn’t right. Some stories should be dark, like Batman–just not in the direction Tom King or Frank Miller went with it. (I’m talking about All-Star, not Dark Knight Returns, which I admittedly don’t care for but hear was good.) Others shouldn’t and it was that variation that kept the DCU fresh so that everybody had at least one direction they could enjoy. And if they liked both Batman and Superman, more money. Instead everything’s Batman and Batman is even more darker, so you only appeal to one group and thus less readers.
“What we’ve done here is apply an ages and stages organizing philosophy that will strengthen what we’re already doing well, whether that is our move into the young adult and middle grade audience or our long track record of success with creator-driven pop-up lines,” said DC Publisher and Chief Creative Officer Jim Lee. “We will also continue to publish creator-owned projects, and will evaluate and assign to the appropriate label to help our fans find the best books for their interests. These new labels not only bring greater consistency and focus to our characters, but they also open up a wealth of new opportunities for the talent working on our books.”
I’m okay with this, but I would like to the creator-owned projects get their own area. Again, that’s what Vertigo was. Maybe put them in the Wonder Comics imprint or even Black Label because I doubt too many of them are doing a kid-friendly story, and if they are it will be library friendly and not allowance friendly. Or maybe Young Animals. Seriously, what kind of stories do they even publish?
I see potential good in this new system but I also see potential for more of the same mistakes DC Comics and the rest of the industry have been making for the past batch of years. Maybe it will work out, but I’m not convinced DiDio is the guy to do it given his track record and preferences. As usual I’ll try to be hopeful because DC is my favorite universe but I’m not optimistic.