DC and the Best of Breed Non-Reboot

DC seems to be moving to a “best of breed” approach to its comics line after Convergence.

Justice League of America #2: Image provided by DC Comics

Fans were expecting some changes after that big crossover. DC had announced intentions to drop the “New 52” tag it had been using since its September 2011 reboot. With Convergence pulling in characters from various eras of DC’s history, fans anticipated that DC would make some changes to its main “Earth 0” continuity.

That doesn’t seem quite where DC is headed. While the “New 52” labeling is disappearing, DC apparently is maintaining that continuity for its core line. But they’ve also announced a “story over continuity” ethos going forward. You could call it a “best of breed” approach.

In some ways, that’s not a total shock. While a comic book company like DC needs to have a main, shared universe as its base, DC has been demonstrating for several years that they can produce successful series outside that primary setting.

Arrow #12: Image provided by DC Comics

DC has had success with a variety of approaches. There have been several hits based on various television properties, such as Smallville, Arrow, Batman Beyond, the 1960s Batman series and others. Video game properties such as Injustice: Gods Among Us have captured a lot of attention. And fans have embraced series that tell timeless, self-contained, apocryphal stories, like Batman: Black and White, Adventures of Superman and Sensation Comics. Many of those titles also have been pioneers in “digital first” distribution.

This demonstrated to DC that a best of breed approach to making comics could attract loyal, sometimes substantial, audiences. Many fans liked not having to be versed in decades of continuity. And series that exist in their own pocket of DC’s publishing line are very friendly to new readers. Having a book like Arrow on the stands is a good way to engage TV viewers who might have discovered Oliver Queen via the CW drama.

A recent success for DC demonstrated how the best of breed approach can work within its main line, too. Batgirl had done reasonably well in the first three years of the relaunch. The book had a lot of admirers, but often flew under the radar.

Batgirl #39: Image provided by DC Comics

A few months ago, DC raised eyebrows by turning Batgirl over to the new creative team of writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher and artist Babs Tarr. They recast Batgirl (and her alter ego Barbara Gordon) as more youthful. They gave her a redesigned, modern costume and moved her into a hip, young adult enclave based on neighborhoods in real world Brooklyn. The writing was fresh and inventive. Batgirl moved beyond years of dramatic stories and took on a lighter, more current feel.

While some fans were shocked by the new direction, there was no arguing with success. Sales and buzz increased. People were talking about the character and the series in a way they hadn’t over the course of the prior three years. Not always positively (a twist with a transgender villain caused an internet kerfuffle). But by freeing the character from decades of story chains, Stewart, Fletcher and Tarr produced a thoroughly contemporary hit.

That’s the approach DC seems to be pursuing with this “best of breed” idea. Hardcore fans always want to know if a particular story “happened” or not. They want to put everything in context. They want a timeline that makes sense. Realistically, after eight decades, there’s no way DC can reconcile everything and have it all hold together.

Image provided by DC Comics

Instead, DC seems to be saying “If you liked it, it happened. Somewhere.” Post-Convergence, DC will have a multiverse where, theoretically, fans can find any past version of a character they ever liked. If a creator wants to tell a story set in the pre-52 DCU, they can do that. And be successful, as DC discovered with the 2014 Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell OGN set in the pre-52 DCU (more or less).

So DC isn’t going to sweat trying to fit everything into its main continuity. If something can be massaged into the Earth 0 model, the story will take place there. If not, DC will just set the series in some other continuity and not worry about it. Or they’ll take a “hybrid” approach, as is rumored for Bryan Hitch’s upcoming Justice League of America series. It’s set on Earth 0, but is also apocryphal. Meaning JLA uses Earth 0 versions of characters, but isn’t restrained by what’s going on in others books. I.e., if Hitch wants Batman to be Bruce Wayne in his series, Batman will be Bruce Wayne.

While some fans will never be happy without understanding how everything fits or knowing whether or not some event “happened,” DC is probably wise to move beyond that kind of thinking. The importance of out-of-continuity series has only grown. Even now, in solicitations, DC is no longer lumping those series at the end, after its main continuity books. All series featuring a character are listed together, whether or not they take place on Earth 0. It’s a subtle indication of how DC’s approach has evolved.

Going with a best of breed approach and making the entire DC sandbox available for use is smart. If fan demand for a series or concept is there, DC can go with it, regardless of whether it can fit into their main continuity. That’s not only good for business, it’s good for creators. And ultimately, good for fans.

Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on April 24, 2015.