DC Comics is rebooting 52 of its titles, giving fans the opportunity to own the coveted No 1s.
DC Comics get a reboot
Have you ever wished you could own a copy of a Batman or Superman comic book stamped "No 1", but without having to become a bank-robbing supervillain first? Well, soon you will be able to.
This month, the publisher DC Comics announced that 52 of its titles are about to be rebooted with new storylines and redesigned heroes better equipped for the 21st century. But most importantly, all of the issue numbers, some of which have climbed beyond the 700 mark during the company's 76-year history, will be brought back down to zero.
"We really want to inject new life in our characters and line," Dan DiDio, the co-publisher of DC told USA Today. "This was a chance to start, not at the beginning, but at a point where our characters are younger and the stories are being told for today's audience."
First to fly into comic shops will be Justice League No 1, out on August 31 in the US. The superhero dream-team, which debuted in 1960, features Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and many others. The writer of the revamped series and DC Entertainment's chief creative officer, Geoff Johns, has promised to dedicate the first year of the restarted run to giving the group a new, more believable reason for teaming up in the first place.
"With the world's greatest superheroes, how does that team actually work? Do they all get along? Being able to pull together and see how that relationship is forged and continues to grow has to be at the heart of that book," said Johns.
A torrent of No 1s will arrive in September, for the first time appearing online in digital format on the same day that the physical comics are released. The planned relaunch of the entire DC Universe has been designed to boost sales of comics, which have fallen in recent years. A large proportion of collectors are now in their thirties and uptake among young readers has been low.
By appealing to younger audiences, the publisher is also hoping to claw back some market share from its main competitor Marvel. Both DC and Marvel (owned by Time Warner and Disney, respectively) now make more money from films based on their heroes than comic sales.
Although some fans will be on tenterhooks as they wait to own the first issues in DC's new universe, others are likely to take a more cynical view.
"This is something that a lot of comics companies have been doing because No 1s have been seen as collectors items - things that increase in value over time," says Adam Rogers, the head of the comics department at the retailer Forbidden Planet in London. "Marvel is probably more guilty of this than DC, which has never done anything in this large a way before."
In March, Marvel restarted one of its most popular brands, Fantastic Four, and sold around 50 per cent more copies than any other comic that week.
Rogers says fans are also incredibly protective of their favourite characters and can be unhappy when back stories are changed.
Furthermore, previous attempts to restart the numbering of series has made collecting comics an increasingly complicated business.
"This has happened before and been reversed as a result of fan pressure. Restarted runs have actually reverted back to match the older series' numbering," he said.
While arranging one's comic book collection could be about to become much more difficult, understanding the goings-on of the complicated DC Universe might actually become simpler. DC hopes the revamp will act as a jumping-off point for readers who might have become alienated by series with near-impenetrable narratives and characters with bloated back-stories.
"DC was particularly guilty of having a continuity so complex and conflicting that it had become very different to keep track of things," says Rogers. "Once, they did a big storyline called Crisis on Infinite Earths in which they streamlined their multiple dimensions - before that, you could have had five different Supermans running around."
But Rogers also believes that rebooting DC's series will help to generate new interest in the publisher's existing range of characters and could possibly boost the popularity of comics in general.
"I think it does help, but it's likely to be more of an influence on people who don't often buy comics, rather than the people who do it every week."
While little information has been released about how individual heroes will be changed in the new universe, it's been revealed that the celebrated artist Jim Lee is spearheading the contemporary redesign of costumes, as well as altering the physicality of many of the characters. Lee, who in recent months caused a stir by replacing Wonder Woman's famous corset with a pair of black trousers, describes the process as "trying to have your cake and eat it, too".
"You're trying to keep the iconic elements there, but at the same time freshen up the look so that people are intrigued by what they're seeing and hopefully come and sample the wares."
Recent years have seen DC's cannon of characters becoming more representative of the real-life demographics in the US, including the Hispanic hero Blue Beetle and the African-American crime-fighter Cyborg.
One of the characters that will receive the greatest push in the relaunch is the intergalactic law-enforcer Green Lantern, to tie-in with the Hollywood film starring Ryan Reynolds. As well as a brand new start for the fighter pilot-turned-superhero, three other No 1s are set to be launched based on the comic's sprawling mythos, including Green Lantern Corps,Green Lantern: The New Guardians and Red Lanterns.
For the first time, the publisher's pricing structure will see customers in the US paying the same amount for physical or digital versions of the comic; $2.99-$3.99 upon release (Dh11-15) with the online price falling after four weeks.
"We're allowing people who have never bought a comic book in their lives to download them on portable media devices and take a look," says Lee. "Having the ability to give people access to these comics with one button click means we're going to get a lot of new readers."
With the exception of Green Lantern in July, DC heroes will be thin on the ground at the box office this summer, with its rival Marvel likely to dominate. As well as last month's Thor and the recently released X-Men: First Class, the latest big-screen appearance of one of Marvel's oldest characters, Captain America, will arrive in July.
DC is expected to fight back in 2012, however, with not only a long-overdue reappearance of Superman in The Man of Steel, but also the final instalment of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, The DarkKnight Rises (its predecessor remains the highest-grossing comic-book adaptation in history).
With the rivalry between Marvel and DC continuing to make Superman and Lex Luther's beef look like a neighbourly squabble, Marvel's executive editor Tom Brevoort took to Twitter recently to comment on its competitor's revamp, writing: "You know what this means? There's no point buying any DC comics until September, since none of them will 'count' anymore."