In September, DC Comics is starting over.
The company, which began publishing superhero comic books in 1938, is canceling every title in its primary imprint. Then it is bringing out 52 new titles throughout the month, each starting at #1. (DC is also selling each title simultaneously in stores and digitally.)
Some are relaunches of existing titles, some resurrect characters who've been out of the spotlight for a time (in fact, one is called Resurrection Man), and some are first-timers. This means DC is aborting the runs of both Action Comics (in which Superman debuted in 1938) and Detective Comics (where Batman debuted in 1939). These titles have run continuously since the Great Depression. Soon their history will be history, as far as uninformed readers will know.
DC calls itself a forward-thinking company. I've been told it doesn't acknowledge anniversaries of its properties because that reminds readers that many of its most popular characters are also its oldest. This cultural ageism doesn't affect any industries outside of comics that I can think of; children's books, for example, regularly sport anniversary badges with pride. I find it misguided not to honor the longevity of a property. Heritage is something to celebrate.
Yet DC's experiment is bold, and I feel it is the right time to try it. At this stage, it may be the only time. The goal is clear: lure in new (young) readers because the primary audience is adults and we're only getting older. Is there a way to attract young readers without alienating older ones? I used to think it would take nothing more than good stories, but this is a life-saving mission, and that means you've got to make bigger moves.
Though I am a traditionalist, I am not incensed (as some are) that the updated costume for Superman is lacking red underwear. (I am more bothered by the renumbering of Action and Detective than by the redressing of Superman.) If the updated costume was lacking red, blue, a cape, and/or an "S," I would disapprove. But the costume has been tweaked before to keep speed with the times, and Superman remained easily identifiable. Besides, just like comic book deaths, if this experiment doesn't work, the company would likely revert to the status quo currently in place.
The reason I am posting on this subject, however, is not to pontificate about the business strategy (too late) but rather to make an objective observation. In the relaunched DC Universe, titles are grouped by category, seven total.
Three of the seven categories are simply the name of a character (Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern). Superman and Green Lantern have four titles apiece. But what is more telling is how many titles fall under the "Batman" line.
Yes, nearly a quarter of the total—and seven more than Superman, DC's flagship character (who gets the same number of titles as a character many people hadn't even heard of before the movie this summer).
Here's a screenshot from the DC site:
Longtime comics writer/guru Mark Evanier once speculated that Batman is perhaps the most lucrative comic book superhero in history. Even simple stats like the above seem to support that.