In September of last year, DC comics rebooted its entire line of comic books as 52 new #1 issues. Beginning in October, Marvel plans to relaunch some of its major properties under the Marvel NOW! initiative. This summer, three high-profile comic book movies – The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man (itself a reboot), and The Dark Knight Returns – have been released. The top-selling comic for May 2012, Marvel’s Avengers vs X Men, moved a little under 180,000 units, and Marvel Comics as a whole reported a little over $11 million in sales. That same month, Marvel’s The Avengers made almost $81 million in one day, its opening day of release.
Given their comparatively meager profits, what is the intended outcome of rebooting a comics line? Who, exactly, is the target audience for these reboots? From a corporate perspective (Disney/Marvel, Warner Bros/DC), why bother? Marvel, presumably, would like to capitalize on the success of The Avengers by offering a convenient jumping-on point for new readers. As DC did with the New 52, Marvel NOW! is also revising its digital strategy, making it as easy to buy a comic book as it is to buy a movie ticket.
Comics reboots/relaunches attempt to address the issue of continuity, their dense, often intimidating, decades-long narrative history. It’s an issue the films are largely able to avoid, as they strive to remain accessible to new viewers. (See The Amazing Spider-Man, which remade the first hour of a ten-year-old film before forging ahead with its own original story.) When announcing the Marvel NOW! initiative, Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso commented that: “This ain’t a reboot. It’s a new beginning.” Comics fans are notoriously – and justifiably – loath to give up decades of continuity, so Marvel’s choice to vociferously avoid calling Marvel NOW! a “reboot” is perhaps a strategic way to have its cake and eat it too. It can attract new readers and fans of the movies with #1 issues while at the same time assuring longtime readers that their years of devotion will not be callously discarded. Marvel and DC’s hope, certainly, is to attract readers not only to the new #1 issues but also to their other properties and extensive back catalogs in both comics and other media. These reboots/relaunches might also benefit the entire comics industry, introducing newcomers to an unfamiliar medium and its history. One can hope, right?