It’s six and a half hours before the Midnight launch of DC’s New 52, and there are already twenty-five people waiting on line outside Midtown Comics in Times Square. Another five minutes, and there’s another five people. By 10 PM, there were already at least 250 people on line (according to Midtown’s count, it may have stretched up to 300), and they had to start turning people away.
I’d say that’s a pretty successful launch, wouldn’t you?
Granted, this was only the crown jewel in the national launch taking place in comic book stores across the country – and the culmination of months of speculation, planning, and agonizing on the part of everybody from retailers, to fans, to DC Comics themselves. For a lot of people, this is the night that could potentially change the comic book industry forever. At the very least, it could mean a number of slaps on the back – or a number of pink slips a few weeks from now.
That may seem over-dramatic, but there’s clearly a lot on the line for DC Comics, and they were pulling out all the stops. Here in New York, that meant a signing at one of the county’s biggest retailers, Midtown Comics. It meant having a signing with Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, the writer and artist respectively of Justice League #1, the launch title of the New 52. It also meant parties, photo ops, and DC’s press machine going into overtime.
While the first guy on line - Ian, a young man reading Batman: The Long Halloween who had been there since 11AM, and professed being such a big fan of Jim Lee he decided to take his chances and show up more than twelve hours early – was just getting settled in, Johns and Lee had already been interviewing on the radio for hours, getting the word out to the general public about how it was safe to read comics again. And I’ll tell you what: this, it became very clear over the course of the night, was a very important message to get out.
I was hanging to the side of the line, chatting with a reporter from a rival blog (not that there are any, mind you, I’m crazy) about – what else – The New 52, when a reporter from CNN plopped down next to us. She clearly seemed overwhelmed, and we joked a bit about the cosplayers on line. One woman had dressed in a homemade Sinestro Corps costume, complete with yellow contacts… Even though she was wearing goggles. After a pause, she turned to us and said, “I’m sorry, but why is this a big deal?”
Now, it’s not like she had come into this clean. She had the basic info, but it just didn’t seem to her – an outsider from the comic book industry – why people were going so crazy about the event. I explained digital sales, reinventing a superhero universe, the death of the comic book industry, and stopped just short of trying to lay out what had happened in the first four issues of Flashpoint. After a pause, she said, “Can you repeat that on camera?”
And I did, but this wasn’t the first time myself, or another member of the press, had trouble explaining to people passing by why there were hundreds of people on line to buy a comics book. You could see confusion, slight understanding – and with the exception of the CNN reporter, who walked away from her interview with us saying, “We’ve got our story! Let’s get back to the studio,” – eventual disinterest. You can chalk that up to an inability of comic book fans to simplify things down, but frankly, a group of comic journalists should be able to explain to the random passerby why this was exciting and new… And we couldn’t.
Is that because of how convoluted comics have gotten? Maybe. But I think I’ll chalk it up to the Regular Joe on the street not understanding the need. As one pedestrian asked, “Oh, so they’re brand new characters?” No, we had to explain, it’s the old characters, but they’ve been rebooted. “Kind of like the Star Trek movie,” explained one reporter, which is when we lost him.
That all aside, though DC – and the comic book industry – may have a ways to go before they win over Joe Schmo, the fans seemed pretty convinced on the line. Not the most scientific sample set, but with girls dressed in homemade costumes (there were two Zatannas, a Supergirl, and a Black Canary at least), a guy with the most intense Batman tattoo I’ve ever seen, and pretty much everyone reading comics, it was clear there was a buzz in the air.
At about 7:00pm, Johns and Lee, who had been getting prepped inside Midtown Comics, surprised the line with boxes of free slices of pizza, which they passed out to excited cheers. "We tried to take some tips from Apple," said Johns. "We should have give out iPads," quipped Lee right back, to laughter from the hungry fans.
For me, I was chatting with writer Scott Snyder (Batman, Swamp Thing), who nearly got bowled over by the mob of picture takers and pizza grabbers surrounding the duo. First things first: the pizza was delicious, and I waited until everybody on line had gotten a slice. Second, one of the things that made this event special is how the New York DC contingent came out in force.
Co-Publisher Dan Didio showed up later, as did most of the marketing and press staff. But Snyder showed up early to say hello to fans and sign autographs. He had tweeted out that he would be there only from 6-7, but Snyder stayed well into the night, chatting, taking pictures, and talking at length about his runs on American Vampire and Detective Comics – as well as occasionally giving lucky fans glimpses of the first issue of Swamp Thing, which he had in his bag.
Then it was time for the launch party, held at a swanky venue near Midtown Comics – featuring appearances by artist Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman), Amy Reeder (Batwoman), and writer Ivan Brandon (Men at War).
Upon entering, we were greeted by yummy snacks, free drinks, and best of all… Free copies of Justice League #1. No, wait, scratch that: the best part was not just the free copies of Justice League, it was the stack of printed comics from the first two weeks of The New 52, just waiting to be read. As I said to a friend soon after that, while I sat with a tray of nibbles, a beer, and a copy of Batgirl #1, “This is my ideal version of a party.”
In fact, I got to read a few of the launch books: Justice League, of course; but also Batgirl, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Action Comics, and Green Lantern. All number ones natch, and all rather good. In fact, some of them were damn great. I’m going to leave further impressions for a post later this week, when I’ll give you a rundown of EVERY New 52 title in the first few weeks (I’m such a tease). But suffice to say, these books are living up to the hype.
On the books I read, the writing is good, solid, accessible, and more than anything, the art and printing are really good. I’ve been hearing for the past few weeks that the artists had “taken it to the next level.” Turns out, nobody was lying about that. Artists I’ve seen done solid but unremarkable work have turned in exciting, clean visuals. Artists consider classics are doing the best work they have in years. And artists I’ve never heard of kind of blew my mind.
Just to talk about Justice League – since most of you have probably picked it up at this point, or at the very least, it’s already out there – I kind of loved it. Yes, it’s decompressed. But it’s also very, very funny, something I wasn’t expecting. Johns and Lee say it’s an all ages book, and I wouldn’t disagree with that, in the best sense of the term. Plus, Lee is drawing better than he has in years. Not that he’s been bad, but this is the first time, in a long time, when the Justice League is where it belongs: as the best superhero team book being published.
After the party, I headed back out on the street to wait for Midtown to open up for real – killing time by watching Supergirl, Black Canary, and Zatanna get ogled by a buff dude in a Superboy outfit. The first two fans in line had gotten over-sized posters of the Justice League from DC’s Marketing people, that had just been sitting inside at the party. And the busy execs ran up and down the line, giving out buttons and Wayne Casino poker chips (a coveted item at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con).
At 11:45, we were let upstairs, and penned in to take pictures as Johns and Lee got ready to sign. While making final preparations, a rep of Midtown explained that only 300 people were allowed in, because otherwise Lee and Johns wouldn’t get out of there until well after 3AM – and they were told that was the cut-off for the signing. Lee asked how many additional people there were waiting outside. “About 50,” he was told, that they were waiting around, just in case – it had been seventy more than that. He asked if they could buy the books on line, and was told that unfortunately, Midtown didn’t have a license to sell on the sidewalk.
After a pause, Lee said, “Can I buy fifty of the books myself?” He was told yes, and Lee said, “Good. Give them to the last fifty people, and tell them I’m going to come out and sign them after we’re done here.”
After that, it was time for the signing to start. Somehow, based on the rule that hot girls always win, I guess, the cosplayers dressed as Supergirl and Black Canary got to go first, before the guy who had waited for thirteen hours. He didn’t care, though, he was psyched, pumping his fist in the air, and saying, “Thirteen hours! Worth it!”
I stayed a while longer, snapping pictures, and chatting with the DC marketing people, but with a wrap-up to write, it was time to go. I snagged a copy of Flashpoint #5, and headed out the door, where eager fans were waiting to get their five seconds with Lee and Johns.
I walked out into a mostly deserted Times Square, empty except for the throng of people waiting to get their books signed, and chat avidly about what they loved – or hated – about the new direction. And it’s appropriate that there wasn’t really anyone else around: they wouldn’t have gotten it, anyway.
A few short additional notes, in the tradition of our Flashpoint Facts… A few final thoughts on Flashpoint #5:
- This ended way better than it started, making the story very personal at the last moment. Honestly, you probably could have read issue one, and issue five, and been fine, as they’re not just nice bookends to the story, but parallel their own structure.
- That Andy Kubert knows how to draw stuff, huh?
- For those of you who thought the New 52 would wait a while before delving into Events… Well, we don’t know when it’s coming, but boy, you were wrong, huh?
- Am I the only one that reads the meta-text of this book being that the big bad villains of this comic are Karen Berger, Jim Lee, and Paul Levitz? Particularly with the line, “They wanted to split you into three, to make you weaker”? (I’m paraphrasing there).
- Ultimately, this does justify the New 52, though reading this and then Justice League – which is set five years prior – gives me a time travel headache.
- The only really important Flashpoint minis were probably the Reverse Flash and Gorilla Grodd one shots. Otherwise, everything else was in the main book. That’s either good news, or bad news, depending on how much money you spent.
We sat down with Jim Lee and Geoff Johns to discuss the big event and huge, industry defining relaunch!
And that’s it! Goodbye, Old DCU! Hello, New DCU! We’ll see you back here later this week for a special preview of DC’s New 52 titles.