COMICS

DC Comics hopes new superheroes will widen fan base

Publishing house launches 21 new titles and says its headed in a 'bold, new direction'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 June, 2015, 11:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 June, 2015, 11:02pm

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The publisher is calling it "DCYou". Various websites call it "the Batgirlisation of DC". Whatever you call it, it's an attempt to broaden the base of comics readership.

This month, DC Comics is launching 21 new titles and changing the premises of a fistful of others. A press release describes this initiative as a "bold, new direction", but since it's been only four years since DC's last "bold, new direction", is there any reason to believe the hype?

Actually, yes. While most "bold, new directions" usually translate to "what we were doing before, only more of it", this time DC really is trying some new things. And while not all of them will appeal to everybody, they shouldn't: there should be comics to suit a broad range of tastes, not just generic superhero stories that appeal to the same fan base over and over.

Two of the most interesting new books debuted on June 3: Bizarro and Bat-Mite. The former you might remember as the backwards-talking super-moron with the chalky white skin, and he's back, on a road trip with Jimmy Olsen. ( The Daily Planet's young photographer is trying to trick the blundering, destructive nincompoop into going to Canada. Sorry, Canada.) The latter is a hero-worshipping imp from another dimension with magic powers who dresses up like Batman and is on a mission to "improve" the superheroes of our dimension.

Naturally, our heroes don't want the help, especially since it invariably takes the form of immense property damage.

Yes, both titles are superhero-ish. You can't really stray too far from the tropes of cape-and-cowl, a genre that has proved its popularity for decades and, on several occasions, has been the last man standing when the sales floor dropped out from under other genres.

But Bizarro and Bat-Mite are also unabashed humour books. Whereas superhero titles have spent decades starring teeth-clenching heroes in grim-and-gritty adventures, those characters will be, in Bat-Mite and Bizarro, the butt of the joke. And while I love superheroes - who doesn't? - that's going to be funny.

More humour can be found in the new Starfire title, starring the eye-poppingly voluptuous, amusingly hyper-sincere and embarrassingly honest alien from the Teen Titans, who has moved to Key West, Florida, to wear as little clothing as possible.

Harley Quinn continues to find humour on the shady side of the law, and will be joined by a comedic team-up miniseries aptly named Harley Quinn and Power Girl. And then there's the hard-to-describe Section 8 about a group of useless, wannabe superheroes such as Sixpack (a drunk), Dogwelder (just what it sounds like) and Señor Bueno (don't ask).

While most ‘bold, new directions’ usually translate to ‘what we were doing before, only more of it’, this time DC really is trying some new things

Naturally, a lot of effort has been expended to skew younger in virtually all DC books, some younger than others. Black Canary ditches the character's long history and multiple iterations, and renders her as late teens or early 20s, so she can be the lead singer in a rock band. Prez re-imagines a short-lived, goofball title of the 1970s, by starring a 19-year-old girl as the first teen president of the US (constitutional requirements aside), set in the near future. And all of this started with Batgirl, a title that relaunched the character as a young, hip college student given to Doc Martens and home-made capes - and was a surprise hit.

You want younger still? Gotham Academy is a cute book continuing the adventures of youngsters at an upscale prep school that has its fair share of secrets. Robin: Son of Batman stars the pre-teen Damian Wayne, who tries so hard to be an adult, it hurts. We Are … Robin features Gotham street kids who take inspiration from Batman's sidekick and fight crime in their own unique way.

All of this experimentation is welcome, but, of course, there must be a lot of high-selling superhero books to support the new titles until they find an audience. And there's no shortage of those, although there are changes in status quo up and down the line: in the Batman books, the Dark Knight is presumed dead, and Jim Gordon has taken on the role in a hi-tech, armoured batsuit. (Spoiler: no one really believes Batman is dead.) In the Superman books, Lois Lane has revealed him as Clark Kent while simultaneously the Man of Steel is mysteriously losing his powers (and his suit).

In the newly relaunched Justice League of America, the team is at its teeth-clenching best, caught in the middle of a war between DC's two biggest baddies, Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor.

Batman Beyond returns to his devastated future, with someone new behind the mask.

Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) is on the run from the law in his own book, while the bulk of the Green Lantern Corps is trapped in a nightmarish otherworld with no explanation in Green Lantern: The Lost Army. In an unfortunate similarity to Green Lantern, Aquaman is being pursued by Atlantean warriors at the order of his estranged wife, Queen Mera, who considers him a traitor.

Several B-listers are getting new shots at a series, too, including Martian Manhunter, Omega Men, Dr Fate and Midnighter. But frankly, their respective track records aren't good. Dr Fate looks like the most off-beat of the bunch, as it stars a second-generation Egyptian-American med student in what promises to be a light-hearted book. And Midnighter, for all the ultra-violence, stars a gay man.

DC is also exploring a market for supervillains. Lobo, Sinestro and Deathstroke all have their own books. And Doomsday stars a kid infected by the Doomsday virus, who occasionally hulks out to fight crime, which terrifies the people he's saving. Can readers root for the bad guy? We'll see.

And while Constantine was cancelled on TV, that hasn't stopped DC from relaunching the character with a new title. Let's hope creators of the new title understand that the appeal of Constantine is that he's not a hero, or even a nice guy (which the TV show didn't seem to grasp). From the 10-page preview on DCcomics.com it appears they understand this perfectly.

Yes, there's a Constantine preview on DC's website. In fact, there are 43 10-page previews there, which can eat up an afternoon. DC is also promoting "DC You" with more than 500 online issues from 2011 to present on sale at ComiXology for 99 US cents until June 22 - which can eat up a month.

So, credit where it's due: DC is trying some humour, a little rejuvenation and a great many titles that don't star straight white males. (I don't think Bizarro counts.) It may work and it may not, but the publisher deserves credit for the effort.

Tribune News Service