The Case For DC Unlimited
With their Rebirth publishing initiative it’s clear that, after five years of the New 52 pretending that DC Comics were established in 2011, DC are finally embracing the legacy of their comics once again.
Oh, yeah, I should mention: I’m going to be talking about some of the big revelations that kicked off Rebirth. If you, for some reason, don’t want to know them turn back now.
With the return of the pre-Flashpoint Wally West kicking off an initiative that seems to once again sees Geoff Johns and his Silver Age-coloured specs back in the driving seat of where DC Comics it heading, I’d say it’s about time to embrace their legacy, right? I mean, the company is home to some of the greatest and most well known superhero characters of all time. They have a burgeoning movie franchise and established and loved television franchise built around translating the worlds, universes and even multiverses created in their comics.
With such a emphasis being put on DC’s legacy as a publisher lately, I only have one question: why is there no easy way to read DC’s old comics?
Sure, you can go to your local comic shop and rake through the back issue bins, hoping to slowly amass seven decades worth of comics. Or you could start buying up old issues on comiXology or DC’s digital comics app (which is powered by comiXology), but that’s still going to cost a hell of a lot of money. Why should readers have to go to such lengths for just being curious enough to delve into the backlog of a comic book publisher?
I guess what I’m really trying to ask is: why is there no Unlimited service for DC Comics?
I’m a recent customer of Marvel Unlimited and I’ve found it’s actually reinvigorated my comics reading. Having thousands of Marvel comics at my fingertips is perfect for someone with a twenty minute commute to and from work. It’s allowed me to plow through more than half of Brian Michael Bendis’ run as writer of The Avengers in just over a month. This is something I’ve been meaning to catch up on for years now. The best part for me, being someone who (let’s face it) doesn’t make a lot of money, is that I didn’t have to slowly curate over a hundred issues in my comiXology account or buy who knows how many physical collections to read them. They were literally all right there for me to read.
I’m aware I’m very close to sounding like a commercial for Marvel Unlimited, but I think it’s genuinely the best model out there for consuming back issues of superhero comics. Both Marvel and DC’s comics exist in shared universes so characters and storylines crisscross across each other over the years of storytelling which, actually, leads us to Rebirth.
Rebirth is an initiative designed to bring back the legacy of the DC Universe from before Flashpoint. The “original” Wally West is back. The New 52 was some awful mistake of a universe created by Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen. The Superman that’s running around in Rebirth is actually the same one from before Flashpoint, having shown up in the New 52 universe thanks to the events of Convergence, meaning to get his full life story you’re going to have to track down pretty much every Superman comic since Infinite Crisis.
Geoff Johns has been pretty clear in the fact that Rebirth is aimed at established DC readers, the kind of people whose eyes don’t glaze over at the mention of Crisis On Infinite Earths, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to lock out new readers in order to relish in your own established continuity. Marvel does a fantastic job of wearing their continuity on their sleeves (or they did, prior to Secret Wars) and thanks to Marvel Unlimited there’s always somewhere you can point a new reader to if a new comic to is too continuity-laden.
With the release of Captain America: Civil War, they even had a huge push for the Unlimited app by giving away a free trial month, knowing they’d have an influx of new readers thanks to the size of the movie. Couple that with the ever updating Discover tab in the Unlimited app that gives simple and handy reading lists for characters and events that become relevant in recent comics, films and TV shows and it’s the perfect way to introduce someone new to the Marvel Universe.
The idea that DC doesn’t have an equivalent to Marvel’s Unlimited app becomes more and more ludicrous with every passing day. As their comics lean more and more on the legacy of the universe in response to the reactions to the New 52, it’s simply a good business choice to give new readers a place to catch up on what happened previously.
This is, I think, the perfect model for consuming this kind of content in bulk and it doesn’t just exist in comics. With the WWE Network, every single episode of WWE programming exists somewhere in the cloud for you to watch for a monthly subscription. The intricate labyrinth of wrestling storylines doesn’t need to be worked out as you watch it. You don’t have to be in the dark of what’s going on from week to week while you try to read Wikipedia summaries. You can go back and follow the Undertaker’s life in the ring or John Cena’s rise to become the face of the company. Of course, it’s going to take hundreds of hours, but that’s the way we consume this media.
We love our media to be connected. We crave interconnectivity and we crave intertextuality. We love that feeling of seeing a character in a movie that’s a reference to another movie that’s based on a comic we’ve read that crossed over with this other comic that’s the basis for the next movie. It’s the current big trend in media and the best way to capitalise on that trend is to allow us as consumers to consume everything we can at our own pace. Netflix was the spearhead of this movement and we’re seeing it pop everywhere from Amazon Prime Video to the WWE Network to Marvel Unlimted to even comiXology Unlimited.
The only ones behind the curve are the ones who could benefit the most from it right now: DC Comics.