As part of DC’s Fandome, Publisher Jim Lee answered a number of fan questions in prerecorded videos from his home studio. One of those answers gave some pretty definitive information about DC’s upcoming publishing schedule. “There won’t be a project called 5G or a big reboot or whatever,” Lee told the remote audience.
Lee was responding to speculation about DC’s rumored crossover that might have done everything from replacing all of the current big heroes with newer characters to a hard “back to 1939” reboot for the line, depending on which corners of the internet you mined. Instead, Lee told fans, DC’s publishing plan was to focus on a core line and let the meta-narrative of the DC universe evolve organically, letting individual books breathe and grow rather than “dumping [all the big changes] in one month and renumbering the line and going for that really short-term spike in sales.”
This was one of several questions about DC and Lee’s publishing future – among others were questions about adding diverse voices to DC’s team of creative talent, publishing more women-led team books, bringing back Wildstorm, and what Lee himself might like to do. The answer to the last one included the Justice Society and the Legion of Super-Heroes, which put the office fainting couch to some good use for a moment.
Lee’s Q&As were refreshing in their candor, and perhaps benefited from the intimate setting of his home studio as opposed to a crowded convention hall, a setting that tends to lend hucksterism to even the blandest marketing presentation. There have been, understandably, some concerns about DC’s future following a half year of turmoil at the company and in the outside world.
But even going back further, while the company has had pockets of utter brilliance – DC You and Young Animal were top to bottom fantastic, as were the most recent Vertigo and Black Label batches – too often those brilliant books weren’t given room enough to breathe and grow. Lee’s answers indicate not only a commitment to the comics, but a general attitude emphasizing organic storytelling over gimmickry. The pressure DC is putting on itself with these public commitments to story and diverse voices to tell those stories sets a high bar that, if cleared, could lead to a sustained period of instant classic comics.
Furthermore, there’s been a subtle shift in the way Lee (and through him, the company) talks about comics that, taken in isolation, is very easy to read cynically. Talking about comics as part of the continuum of content that AT&T offers is hackle-raising…until you look at the changes DC has already been making to how they put those comics in front of readers.
The middle grade graphic novel program has been so successful that its mastermind is now one of the editorial heads of DC, and these books are nowhere to be found in many comic shops. DC propped up two new distributors in the middle of a pandemic, and (hopefully) remains committed to maintaining the comics side of a streaming service with a massive, rich back catalogue. Hell, look at the pile of books they put out for free just during Fandome.
Fandome itself is a sweeping change in con culture. It lacks the spontaneity and channeled chaos of in-person comic conventions, but it’s one of those pandemic changes that have inadvertently and dramatically increased accessibility to events like this. As such, it’s putting a ton more eyes on DC characters and DC Comics than might have otherwise been.
Looking at the pattern of moves and the shape of the conversation Lee and DC are trying to have and you see DC leadership hoping to marshal the resources of the conglomerate they’re in now to send fans in both directions – from the comics to the movies, and from the movies to the comics. This is work that comics folks have been trying to do for 20 years now, since Grant Morrison changed all the X-Men’s costumes to try and match the movies, but it’s not clear if it’s ever been tried with the kind of resources DC might have access to now. I think, with everything else going on in the world, I might try and be hopeful on this one.