As many answers as the news of DC Comics impending September relaunch and the 52 titles it will introduce into the marketplace has given about the future of DC, the news has opened up many questions for readers, retailers and comic fans in general. Today, the answers start arriving.
CBR News spoke with DC's Editpr-in-Chief Bob Harras and DCU Executive Editor Eddie Berganza about the creative and business goals behind the massive restructuring of their superhero line, and in the extensive interview, the pair lit upon every major topic that's been burning up message boards and blogs for the past two weeks.
Below, the DC head honchos dive in to why they felt the need to make such a big move in a soft marketplace, how the new line will be promoted to old school fans and new superhero movie goers alike, what the challenges of going day-and-date digital will be and what major story points still impact the DC Universe from the arrival of Superman as the first superhero through the surprising changes like the return of Barbara "Batgirl" Gordon. Plus, the pair drop and exclusive piece of news on the future of fan favorite title "Batman Beyond."
CBR News: Gentlemen, there's so much to talk about with the changes coming to the DCU, but I wanted to try my best to start at the beginning by asking where the beginning was. How long has this relaunch been in the works?
Bob Harras: It's been a ways back. We've been in the process about talking about this and building storylines with our writers, artists and editors so long that it seems like it's been forever. But the main thing that I think I take away from the whole process is how excited we've been and how engaged we've been since this whole September launch. Everybody's been very engaged and involved by what we've got planned.
Eddie Berganza: There's an energy from everybody since we started, and it just rolled from there.
Has this process been running concurrently with the books you're still getting out and causing twice the workload, or were you able to shift from one set of books to the other some?
Berganza: I guess the way that works for me is that I'm doing "Flashpoint" as we speak so it's been a nice balancing act. But in "Flashpoint," we're introducing some concepts and characters, and now it's nice to see that there's some payoff to go into September.
The big question all around is the "Why?" of it all...and there are a few whys. First up, why do this now? Was there a specific thing about the market that made now the time?
Harras: I think one of the things was that both Eddie and I came into these roles sometime last January now, and we both came in as fans as well as professionals - I think mainly as fans. And one of the discussions in this job was our love of the characters and our excitement over our characters -Â the desire to have more people come and experience what we've got and what we've got planned. That's part and parcel of what September became: How do we get our readership excited and our talent excited? And how do we reach out to readership beyond the people coming in day to day? Really, it was an evolutionary process, but it was based around our love for the characters.
Berganza: Every week you see that there's a new superhero movie out there, and to not take a hold of and invite the viewers of those films in to read our comics is kind of a crime. The thing is to open it up for everybody.
I had a fan e-mail me a question asking if there would be a plan to reach out to those new readers in a big way. I've heard rumors of TV advertising maybe. Can you confirm that there are any plans for promoting this that are outside the box?
Harras: There are definitely plans. I can't speak to too many of them because we're not involved in the day-to-day of that. But this is a very bold, broad initiative from DC Comics and DC Entertainment. So I would say that everyone is all hands on deck for September.
Another thing people may wonder is DC's "Hold The Line At $2.99" promotion of how the books will be priced. Has that been successful enough in sales to continue?
Harras: I can say that we're still holding the line at $2.99, and 48 of the 52 titles in September will be $2.99. It's important to us, and we'll continue to hold it.
The other question I had on this front was about the #1s. These happen often in comics these days, but the big shocker here was around the legacy titles -Â "Action," "Superman," "Detective" and "Batman." What discussions did you have surrounding those titles? Was there a little trepidation about relaunching books that have been here for decades?
Harras: There was definitely a discussion. As I said earlier, everyone here is a fan. Everyone is aware of the iconic nature of our characters and their history. So the decision was made very thoughtfully, and it's part and parcel of how important we think September and moving forward the rest of the DCU is.
Berganza: Right. Just because we're starting with new #1s doesn't mean we're getting rid of the history attached. A lot of those big, important storylines are remaining in tact. What happened in "A Death In The Family" stays true, and so does "Blackest Night," "Brightest Day," "The Killing Joke"...
Harras: "Identity Crisis." Again, this is a well thought out process before we went forward.
Let's talk about those story issues because that's what the two of you have been so enmeshed in this whole time. We know some things are remaining exactly the same and others are changing a little. As you looked at each franchise, what was the guiding principal you took to each character? What kind of version did you want to present?
Berganza: The thing was accessibility. Can someone pick up this comic and understand the character? Can they get what they're about? I want to underline that because it's what it's all about. You can read a story and it can make sense, but if you don't care about the character, it's pointless. We're getting to the root of the many varied characters we have.
Harras: Yeah. We were having discussions with each around "What makes this character tick? Why is this character so important?" That was a great exercise for all of us. It really boiled down to the fact that we had to know all of them and empathize with where they come from as we read their adventures. That's what we're doing every day here.
Berganza: If you look at those stories we mentioned, they all effect one individual in particular, and that's why you care about them.
Were there any points in the process where you lit upon specific characters you thought you had to reintroduce? Everybody knows Superman or Green Lantern. Was there somebody that had to be positioned differently than in the past?
Berganza: For me, I had done the title "Resurrection Man" a while back, and I always felt like it was so great and easy to understand. This was the perfect opportunity to roll that back out again because it's such an easy concept -Â he dies, he comes back with a new power. That's all you need to know!
Harras: Others we're real happy about are "Swamp Thing" coming back to the DC Universe and launching. That's a very exciting part of what we've got coming up.
Berganza: "I, Vampire" is another one.
Harras: "I, Vampire" is great! Again, these are books that we're really excited about doing. We saw the concepts and the potential for stories, and it's amazing how much fun it is coming in every day and seeing these things come together. We put these together, and I think they're just going to blow people away.
We know Grant Morrison and Rags Morales will be starting out their "Action" run with the origins of Superman as the first superhero in the DCU, and Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's "Justice League" will have its first arc set in the past as well. So some of these stories will be establishing a new status quo and new history. How have you been getting that balance between stories we already know and new elements working? For example, how are guys like Scott Snyder on "Batman" or Brian Azzarello on "Wonder Woman" playing things with the rest of the universe knowing Batman and Wonder Woman's initial meeting hasn't been told yet?
Berganza: The thing you have when you're working with Geoff and Jim is that they're giving you some background as to what brought these heroes together. Grant is introducing Superman into the world in a realistic manner to ask "What would you do with this guy who has these powers and abilities?" It gives you that perspective that we lose sometimes because we're in comics on a day-to-day basis. It has that realism and that initial wave of real reaction from the public. And that idea builds out to the other titles and the guys are working on.
Harras: And the other thing we're working on too with the writers is having all those little elements from one book have a ripple effect in the other books. We want to have a synergy is I guess the word I'm looking for between the titles. They do exist in the same world, and Wonder Woman knows Superman because they met in the Justice League. We want to create that effect across the line.
Berganza: You're going to be reminded that this is one universe. You might be surprised to find that something in the Western book has an effect on something in a Justice League book.
The other thing that I think fans have been anxious about is the big changes and how they'll all fit in. Eddie mentioned "The Killing Joke" and that's a story where everyone will wonder about because Barbara Gordon is now Batgirl again. How many of the series start with the characters "as is" without worrying about those questions versus addressing whether a story was canon or not?
Harras: We've taken a long time to build up this relaunch, and one thing is that we did look at how all the continuity of our characters worked and the events that were very important to them which would ripple across their loves. Eddie and his team created a timeline of the DCU and the DC characters that is very important to us. It's a document we're using all the time going forward for all the characters that incorporates their pasts and serves a platform for future stories.
Berganza: It's a living, breathing document, and as ideas come through, we find out what fits and what makes for the best story. We keep adding to their lives.
Harras: But everything's based on what's most important to the character and what events have had an impact on their lives that will drive story in the future.
Berganza: And what's nice is that those events are usually the ones that fans really like and the ones that we like. It makes for a nice history.
For each of the 52 books, how have you been playing with that synergistic idea in terms of direct crossovers. I'm sure each book will come out of the gate with standalone arcs to establish the tone of each title, but have you already discussed things like events or title-to-title crossovers or will they remain separate for now?
Berganza: We're letting everything be very organic. First, we figure out what the story is, and when you have 52 titles, you start seeing what lines cross. With all the story there is, you start to see the potential for bigger things. Bob and I will look at everything and go, "Hey! This could be cool!"
Harras: Again, it's that echo effect and ripple effect. Eddie used the perfect word in "organic." We're looking for points where characters' lives intersect initially.
Turning back towards the practical elements of this as a publishing initiative, you're doing day-and-date digital releases across the line. People have tried that strategy here and there -Â you did it yourselves this year with "Batman Beyond" -Â but doing it with every book is a big move. That theoretically opens up the books to folks who don't have a comic shop near them, but what have you guys been discussing in terms of how this affects retailers? Do you feel as though that could cannibalize some of the print readership?
Berganza: I think you said it yourself. There are some people who just can't get to the shop. I think a fan is going to reach out and get a comic. I mean, I still go out and buy CDs. I'm old fashioned that way. [Harras Laughs] I still pick up magazines. I don't think most people are going to abandon their habits because there's a new platform. I think a new platform brings a whole new readership.
Harras: It's a way of looking to the future and getting as many people as possible excited and involved in our characters. It's really additive to what we've got going. Again, we're embracing the world as it's developing in a real way.
The other issue with digital is one of logistics. Getting books approved each month on the Apple platform can be tantamount to prepping things for the printers on time. We've heard that you're pushing to get at least three books per title in the can before September. How confident are you that you'll meet all those production requirements?
Harras: We are very serious about having three books ready. That is our goal. It's what the talent is working towards, and it's what editorial is working towards. I will say that we are going to be there, and that's the important thing. We're very cognizant of the fact that fans want the books to be there, and that's our motto.
Berganza: Nobody wants to be the creator who doesn't make it. [Laughter] Everybody is really going for this.
Between now and September, there's going to be a lot of speculation about what's going on with the books and what we as readers expect to get out of so many new titles. I know some people have been making hay out of the fact that between announcement and solicitation, there was a mystery woman on the cover to "Justice League International" that's been taken off. What's the challenge in playing story points to the vest while still promoting the comics to retailers and fans? Are there still some things being ironed out storywise that may create some of this dissonance?
Berganza: I'd say it's a little bit of all of the above that we're dealing with right now. There are certain things we're refining.
Harras: Yeah. Moving forward, the good thing about having three months of titles in the works is that we can go "Okay, maybe we want to tweak this a little." That's one of the things we are looking at across the line. It's all part of the process of making these books the strongest they can be for September.
Overall, looking at the story of the DC Universe there's going to be no "Justice Society" book or even that team since Superman is going to again be the first superhero. I know that changes things in small terms like there no longer being superheroes who fought Hitler or what have you, but are there ways in which that change effects the overall thematic approach to the line?
Berganza: As I said earlier, I think it's the realistic approach you'd have to the kind of man that comes from the stars. You wouldn't go "Yay!" initially. You'd be a little apprehensive. It's about winning the trust of the people, and that's something that's evolving and it affects the overall story of the characters moving forward.
Harras: And just because a title doesn't exist within the 52 titles doesn't mean we might not have plans to role out those characters or concepts later. This is just the beginning.
So through October, November, December and into next year, can we expect some more titles to continue to build out the line?
Harras: Yes! Mark that as an emphatic yes! [Laughter]
Well that leads to one question we've had on our site lately about the fate of "Batman Beyond," which Adam Beechen has said there are more plans for moving forward. Should that be on the slate soon?
Harras: We will have a "Batman Beyond" series coming out later. That character and that series has been a major success for us, and it'll be on track for the future. That's part of our bigger plans moving forward.
Lastly, we've talked so much about the little working pieces of this line, but on the whole, for fans who are nervous about the changes and may be thinking this is as good a jumping off points as easily as they'll be jumping on points, what would you like them to remember as they wait for September to arrive?
Harras: I think they should remember that these are going to be incredible adventures of the most amazing characters in comic books. I can't stress how much I think they'll enjoy what they'll see in September. Everyone here from the writers and artists to the editors is incredibly engaged by what's happening, and I think they're going to see it on the page.
Berganza: And as the editor of "Flashpoint," that was a great series to open everyone's minds to changes, and there are a lot of surprises to come in the series itself yet.
Stay tuned to CBR in the days ahead for more on the DC Relaunch!