I’m hopeful that DC’s super-hero line-wide relaunch in September will be a success, and I’ve applauded the publisher not only for its dedication to such a massive undertaking but the skill with which company officials have handled promotional efforts. Not only did they make a surprising splash with the initial announcements, but they’ve managed to make the initiative an ongoing, seemingly perpetual presence in industry news and chatter. It keeps rolling out new information and new images. Even the unveiling of a few new logos (and even an old one, for Resurrection Man) has kept the relaunch in the news cycle. It’s likely that DC will also dominate comics industry announcements at Comic Con International in San Diego later this month with more revelations about its ambitious new publishing initiative.
My one repeated criticism of its public-relations strategy is that it lacked a clear brand. DC hadn’t named its own new direction, leading others to stamp such titles as “The DC Reboot/Relaunch” or “DCNu” on it. Well, DC Comics has finally come up with a name for its new line. “The New 52” has its advantages as a brand, but it also has its flaws.
“The New 52” is concise and rolls off the tongue thanks to the rhyme scheme. It’s memorable and catchy, and that’s just the kind of thing a company wants in a brand. Judging from a DC promotional video, it appears as though the phrase was incorporated into the cover art for one of the new 52 titles to launch in September (namely, Static Shock #1), so it’s quite possible that DC had it in mind for the line from the start. However a quick look at the listing for the comic on DC’s website shows the same sign in the background of the cover art reads as “DC Making History,” so it looks as though the image was altered for the video. It’s also possible “The New 52” was always a part of that art and that it was replaced with the “Making History” blurb so DC could roll the brand out later. However, I just reviewed the video again, and it’s clear the former scenario is the case.
The choice might also be telling as to possible content implications. The emphasis of the number 52 in the branding is interesting. DC has used the number in the title of a flagship, weekly series back in 2006-2007 that eventually led to the restoration of the multiverse concept to the DC Universe. Instead of one main setting, the DC super-hero domain was to be made up of 52 distinct universes. I can’t help but wonder if “The New 52” might point to DC’s return to that multiverse concept. Then again, its decision to incorporate its Wildstorm characters alongside its more iconic super-heroes in one apparent shared continuity in the new line would seem to contradict that. It appears that the Wildstorm Universe and the main DC Universe are now one.
As for the effectiveness of “The New 52” as a brand, there are problems. First of all, while the word “new” is in there, the emphasis in the phrase is on the number of titles, not so much what DC’s trying to accomplish in terms of outreach, accessibility and updating. Furthermore, “The New 52” can only really serve as a short-term umbrella for these new comics. We already know that the DC Comics super-hero line won’t be limited to 52 titles. We know the Batman Inc. storyline will continue in a new title next year, and Neal Adams has said that a second volume continuing his Batman: Odyssey series will launch with a new No. 1 issue in October. It’s doubtless that DC has other titles in the works as well. While some of the new 52 titles will no doubt fade into cancellation, that won’t happen immediately.
Therefore, we know that the line won’t be permanently limited to 52 titles, giving “The New 52” a short shelf life (just a month) as a label for the initiative. Really, I would think DC would want some kind of succinct brand for the first six to 12 months of its new drive to dominate the North American mainstream comics market. But perhaps “The New 52” isn’t the real name. It’s possible we still haven’t heard what DC Comics plans to call this project. My hope is that officials have something in mind and aren’t still in the process of coming up with something.
I’ve got some ideas, but it’ll cost them.
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