Retailers on the Pros and Cons of the DC Rebirth Announcement

DC's Rebirth plan has been revealed. How does it stack up in the eyes of comic shops?

It’s been almost two weeks since DC announced its Rebirth initiative, and every person tangentially related with comics has seemingly weighed in with their opinions (including myself). It’s a big deal, so it makes sense. Naturally, though, I wanted to go to the core audience DC is targeting: retailers.

They announced it at a retail centric event, and its clear that DC is courting that audience in a very real way. Of course they want to do that. Retailers have lost a lot of faith in what DC has been doing. Changes were needed in the eyes of many comic shops, but now that changes are en route, the question becomes something different: does it seem like the changes are the right ones needed to reengage their fanbase? It’s a question worth asking, so today, you can find out the thoughts of a bevy of shops on the subject of Rebirth.

One point before moving on, however. We still don’t know a lot about Rebirth. Creative teams haven’t been announced yet. The titles have been announced but we don’t know who stars in them or what they’re about. In short, there’s a lot to be determined. So this is very much an early reaction, but it gets you an idea as to where things are with retailers after the big announcement.

Let’s start with the big question. When you first heard the details of DC’s Rebirth initiative, the roll out plan of titles and everything else they shared, what was your initial reaction? And has that shifted now that you’ve had some time to think about it?

Patrick Brower, Challengers Comics + Conversation, Chicago: Our initial reaction is optimism. Unfortunately, DC Comics sales are a fraction of what they have been, or have the potential to be, so any change can be a good change. We hope. And now that we have had time to digest it, we are still optimistic. I mean, it’s not like their sales can be any worse…

Ralph DiBernardo, Jetpack Comics, Rochester, NH: Well let’s start with the fact that there are absolutely no secrets in this business. I first learned about this two to three months ago. I was psyched when I heard about it then in hushed “rumors.” I was PRAYING it was true. DC’s New 52 relaunch was a financial boon for comic shops, distributors, licensors and more. Both DC and the industry need another such thing. Given the amount of commitment that DC is giving this I expect big things and lots of happy stores and comic fans.

Jennifer King, Space Cadets Collection Collection, North Oak Ridge, TX: The reality is that DC has been in trouble for quite some time. The industry knows that. Store owners talk about it in the forums often. Do we want them to fail? Quite the opposite, but they never ask us what works and what doesn’t. Wouldn’t we be a great resource, as we are the ones hand selling every week, reviewing their comics and listening to customer feedback? My first reaction was not positive. After decades in this industry, I have become cynical about relaunches, gimmicks and variants having seen the way that my regular customers (not speculators) react to it. For example Secret Wars became a jumping off point for many of my pull box customers. They just wanted a consistent story and great art.
Here is a quote today from one of them:

“So… ‘Give us money.’ Why does it have to be a thing? Why can’t making quality books be their focus? Everything doesn’t need to be some huge event. Marvel would’ve made more money from me had they not done Secret Wars.”

I’ve thought about it this week. We will order very conservatively and based on current pull lists. We will advertise the new launch to our customers and gauge interest. I’m wishing the best for DC, but planning for moderate reception.

Matthew Klokel, Fantom Comics, Washington DC: My initial reaction was the same as I’m sure 99.9% of the retailers in the room: eye rolling. We all heard the same pie-in-the-sky claims last year about Convergence, which turned out to be, excuse my language, dog poo, both in quality and based on the reaction of our customers. But yes, after Didio’s passionate advocacy, the commitment DC is putting behind this and – most importantly, of course – the vision behind the release, I’m cautiously optimistic, which is very high praise in this context.

Scott Tomlin, Comics Dungeon, Seattle, WA: At first I was actually angry, but most of that came from speculation and rumors I had heard online, that seem to be at least initially false. I was worried they were over indexing on the movie and tv universes. Now that we have some more specific information, I am somewhat relieved, but also pensive. I am still worried that they are biting off more than they can be successful all at once. I am somewhat hopeful after seeing Johns’ video, I trust him as a creator as he always focuses on legacy when he does make changes. We will see!

DC Rebirth Header
DC Comics’ Rebirth promo image

From your perspective as a retailer, what were the biggest positives from the announcement?

Brower: I think the biggest positive is the announcement itself. When a major publisher realizes they no longer have a grasp on the industry and that their output is severely underperforming, taking bold steps in an attempt to correct this can only be seen as a positive. DC knows what we all know, and that’s that they need to do SOMETHING different.

DiBernardo: The New 52 left the old DC readers behind. While DC promised that all our favorite moments still happened, there was nothing that you could use to hook and appease the old readers. A large number of them just went away, still haunting comic shops, waiting for a taste of the past. This is going to bring those old readers back and I see DC doing more than enough leg work to keep the current fans on board as well.

King: I’m interested in the advertisement reimbursement program. DC has offered 100% reimbursement for any advertising related to the relaunch (within the rules). That would help tremendously, allowing that reimbursements would be handled quickly.

It has gotten retailers talking. I hear that the response at ComicsPro was slightly hostile. I know that DC means well by this program, but good intentions and actual followthrough are two separate things. I’m hoping that this gets people interested in DC again.

Klokel: From a strict retailer’s perspective, the fact that DC is so confident in Rebirth that they’re allowing 100% returnability for retailers says a lot. They’re putting their money where their mouth is. The norm in the industry, as you know, is that we retailers take all the risk, so they can sweet talk us into bed and we have no repercussions if we wake up the next morning next to a dog. This says to me, “No, we stand by our product!” From a fan’s perspective – and I am a fan – the biggest positive I took from after-hour conversations with DC folks was that they’re tightening their universe; focusing on fewer, higher-quality stories that allow a fan to dip in and out of the DC universe as much or as little as they want and not feel that they need to get on Wikipedia to research, say, the Green Lantern-verse or the Batman-verse before trying out the title.

Tomlin: Hard to say, I am hoping we get some of the DC fans back. I am happy to see lower cover prices, assuming it does not take away too much content in the books.

Convergence Promo
Convergence promo art by Carlo Pagulayan, Jose Marzan, Jr., and Hi-Fi

Conversely, what were your biggest concerns?

Brower: Generally, I’m concerned by the fact that the architects of this change are the same people that have been in charge for the last several rebirths/restarts/refreshes. Without an editorial shake-up, or fresh eyes to look at the problems, these latest attempts at fixing things may very well wind up being as misguided as all previous efforts.

Specifically, I’m concerned with the creative teams. Titles alone don’t give us enough of a reason to trust this new line yet. Blind optimism can only take us so far. If these new books have the same creative teams as the current DC product, sales will not increase.

DiBernardo: For the first time, in years, I’ve got no concerns. While the Big Two can still claim the largest market shares, the volume of books it is taking to achieve this is incredible. DC single issue sales, for us, are less than half of what we were enjoying three months into the New 52. I do not see a downside here. My only minor concern is that Marvel has a rotating door of first issues. I have no doubt that research showed Marvel that constant #1’s equal sales, but this last batch of relaunches has the first issues at the same or less than the ending issues of the previous incarnation of the same series. People are sick of it.

King: My biggest fear is that for all of those comics coming out twice a month, we will have no customers. It’s too much. The economy is in the toilet, especially regionally where our economy is oil and gas driven. I know of two major companies having more layoffs today or this week. There just isn’t enough in people’s pockets to keep up, so they are unlikely to add those titles.

Klokel: Fool me once (the dilution and expansion of the New 52 to the point of ridiculousness), shame on you. Fool me twice (Convergence), shame on me. Fool me three time…well I don’t know if I’ll be able to look people in the eye anymore. Long and short: I’ve heard this same siren song before and ultimately I’m only relying on the word of Didio and Lee that Rebirth is going to bring ’em in with quality stories and art.

Tomlin: My biggest concerns simply boil down to storytelling. DC has some great talent, but the current staff is part of the problem in the new DC universe. If the stories are good they will sell. Can the creators that brought some of the worst DC stories really turn the universe around? This is DC’s last big bet for a while, it needs to land on two feet solidly or it could be a rough several years for DC and retailers.

Cover to Prez #1 by Ben Caldwell

Speaking specifically of the announced titles, it seems that DC is refocusing on core characters and teams in a smaller overall lineup. As of now, the efforts they made to expand their line beyond the core elements seem, at best, on hold. Do you think that’s a positive move?

Brower: I honestly don’t know. While I applaud their previous DCYou diversity, it just didn’t seem to land with readers. I think Prez was very underrated and Omega Men is excellent. How can Vision connect so well yet Omega Men gets completely over-looked? Both are non-standard Big 2 fare; both by the same writer. Also, both good. So why does one land and one miss? I certainly don’t blame DC for this core refocusing, but I hope they continue to look beyond their core. I hope this gives them the confidence to keep looking ahead.

DiBernardo: I absolutely see this as a positive move. Focus on the characters that people know and love. Focus on the characters that you’re going to use in movies and TV. Focus on the characters that have the best chance of license. DC has a great stable of characters to draw from as well as a great stable of creators to work with. There is no way that every story has been told for these characters.

I do think DC needs a TV line of comics (just as Marvel needs a movie line) for the TV fans. I can’t tell you how many times people come in, looking for the character they love in TV or Movie, only to leave unable to fill that exact niche.

King: I do. We have almost no sales of those titles beyond the main ones. DC was wise to “cut the fat.”

Klokel: I 100% do. Look, you can be McDonald’s or you can be a craft brewery. If you can pull off the McDonald’s model, more power to you. You make good-enough burgers of consistent quality and you sell enough of them to a gargantuan market that you make beaucoup bucks. DC was trying to be McDonald’s. Sure, let’s do Telos. Sure let’s try Prez (which personally I LOVED, but it didn’t belong under the core DC brand). Now they’re waking up to the fact that this isn’t the 1950s anymore. Nobody’s ever going to sell 1,000,000 copies of anything anymore; there’s simply too much competition from other amazing publishers and comic book readers can afford to be picky. Rebirth is giving me hope they’re moving from the McD’s philosophy to the craft beer philosophy: we have a core competency (our gallery of very, very valuable legacy characters) and we’re going to artisanally brew the sh*t out of it.

Tomlin: I am torn about this, they should stick with what they do well, this is smart business. But at the same time they need to be thinking about the future and how to make things for the new readership. If a company is does not reach beyond their core, I am confident in saying they will not survive the changes in readership. While I love the history and legacy of the DCU, not every reader wants that experience. Books like Doctor Fate and Prez need to happen and DC needs to find its voice with that audience too. Now more than ever they should be experimenting, not over investing Batman, Superman and Justice League. We don’t need 8 Bat-titles each month, just a couple really well written ones.

Now that we have a framework for Rebirth, what are you hoping to see next? What above all would help garner more attention in DC’s comics in your shop?

Brower: The way I see DC standing out to our patrons is by announcing stellar talent on their books. Names that get people excited. Their current output shows that characters alone don’t draw people in; you have to have exciting creators to make exciting comics. I’ll even take stunt casting—anything to garner interest.

DiBernardo: I think DC is absolutely on the right track to get a lot of old fans back and turn a lot of frustrated comic fans onto something fun, new and exciting while maintaining their heritage. The biggest point DC has to make is in assuring fans that this is NOT ANOTHER RELAUNCH. No matter what companies may think, fans want to be able to count on something.

While I do feel they are leaving money on the table at $2.99 (especially (when) there are so many $4.99 and $5.99 comics coming out), the lower price point might bring a few extra readers onboard. The big hurdle for them is to secure the best talent they can and maintain it. Anyone that has read comics in the last five years knows that a publisher launches with top talent to get sales way up, and then swaps out for lower paid talent, to let sales slide to a point that is too low where they put another top team on. It’s been a rinse and repeat cycle for years. If DC can afford to pay top rates and bring sales on all their titles up to new levels, they will then need to maintain that quality to insure readers don’t leave them again. When they move to the $4, $5 & $6 price point people will expect the best quality they can get. DC needs to give them that.

Consumers are paying $6 for Dark Knight and not complaining about it. People will pay top dollar for top quality. DC needs to make it a point to deliver that across all of their titles.

King: Communication. I get personal emails from the heads of all of the independent comic companies almost weekly with PDF’s of upcoming comics. I and my staff read them and then have talking points to approach customers with to get them excited about those titles. We would love this kind of attention from anyone at DC. I have personal sales reps or contacts with the heads of all of the independents, why not DC? A weekly call or personal email would do wonders.

Just some additional talking points: DC said at ComicsPro that they were thinking of the retailer first. Here are some things that would help in that regard. Delay the digital versions of comics for a couple of weeks to allow us to sell the physical copies. Allow returnability. Most shops can’t afford to order large amounts of comics blindly right now. This would help us get the books to the shelf and in front of the customers. Include retailers in the conversation when brain-storming what you should do next. We are smart people and love comics just as much as they do and our living is tied up in it, just like theirs.

Klokel: DC committed to an aggressive national advertising campaign. Quality of the work aside, that’s what I’m hoping to see next. Assuming Rebirth is as good as they say, if DC can market this nationally and get them in the door, we’ll ABC (you know, from Glengarry Glen Ross) Rebirth and close the deal with EVERY person walking into our shop.

Tomlin: With the new framework, based on the Johns’ video, I am hoping to see multiple continuities and alternate takes on the characters on the same publishing schedule. I am hoping to see Red Undies Superman in Action that takes place in a universe pre-New 52, similar to Batman in Detective, the reverting to old numbering makes me hopeful there. This will bring the DC loyal base back in, but they need to reach the Ms. Marvel reader. If Valiant can do this like they did with Faith, then DC should be able to.

Thanks to everyone for the retailer perspective on Rebirth. As we get closer to launch, expect to see more from retailers on how things are looking and where everything is headed.