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DC Comics goes for No. 1, fans conflicted

By Ann Hoevel, CNN
  • DC Comics will be renumbering 52 of its superhero titles in September
  • New comics will be available for download same day they appear in stores
  • Fans react with skepticism, hope

SPOILER ALERT: If you don't want to know what DC Comics is doing in September, and if you didn't notice Tuesday's story in USA Today, be warned. There are images and information in this story that could educate you.

(CNN) -- Fifty-two superheroes are getting a makeover, and comic book fans can't stop talking about it -- even though they've seen this sort of thing before.

DC Comics announced Tuesday on its blog, and in exclusive interviews with USA Today, that come September, not only will many of its titles get a more modern look under respected artist Jim Lee's direction, but they'll also get renumbered, starting issue counts back at No. 1.

(DC Comics, like CNN, is owned by parent company Time Warner.)

For readers emotionally invested in the stories of superheroes like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, this kind of announcement can be threatening. Based on fans' Twitter reaction, it's obvious that anxiety, or at the very least skepticism, has set in.

"I've seen their attempts to revamp before," said David Whitehead, a 39-year-old client performance strategist who has been collecting comic books for 20 years.

"So, I guess I'm going in with some guarded skepticism," he said. He wonders what kind of stories DC has up its sleeve, and how interesting they could be. He hopes the iconic publisher can pull it off, he said.

"I was the biggest Jim Lee fan in the '90s, and then after seeing what he did to the Wonder Woman costume, I'm a little hesitant to see what he's done with the rest of the Justice League and the rest of the DC Universe," Whitehead said.

Fans also know that any kind of reboot is, in part, a business decision for the comic book publisher.

"What they're shooting for is the opportunity for readers to jump on at an issue No. 1," said Kathleen Saracen, manager of Titan Games and Comics in Smyrna, Georgia. "New readers feel like, 'Oh, it's a No. 1, I could start reading it now,'" she said.

Comic book sales often jump up with a No. 1 issue, she said, "but I think it gets tiresome, from a collector's point of view, to constantly have to renumber your collection."

With comic books, she explained, many titles order story lines by volumes. At the beginning of a new volume, the issue number of a comic book may or may not roll back to No. 1. So for hard-core, superorganized collectors who have been following one comic book for a long time, she said, the chronological order of their copies isn't always so logical.

And renumbering hasn't always been appreciated in the past.

"One book that comes to mind is Wonder Woman," said Erika Peterman, a DC Comics fan and blogger for

The Wonder Woman comic book was relaunched by DC in 2006, and by last year the new volume had reached issue No. 44. After a fan write-in campaign, DC revised the issue numbers to reflect the original starting date of the title, resulting in the next issue being numbered 600.

"Fans were like, 'Yes! (Wonder Woman) deserves that high number because she's been around since the 1940s, this puts her right up there with Superman and Batman,'" said Peterman.

Despite all the apprehension, fans say they want DC to be successful in this latest endeavor. They know that more people reading comic books means they get to keep collecting. So even if DC's across-the-board revamp isn't engineered to please loyal fans, it's a move that they understand -- because it's designed to bring new readers into the fold.

For the most part, said Peterman, comic book collectors are in their mid-30s, which may surprise outsiders who think comic books are juvenile. Younger people are not collecting comic books the way they were 20 years ago, she said.

Whitehead points out that comic books aren't generally available at the corner store anymore, so the impulse buys he made at the drug store in his youth are less likely to happen. These days, comic books are sold almost exclusively in comic book stores.

That's where the second part of DC's announcement comes in: With the renumbering, they'll be offering day-and-date digital. That means that the same day new issues of comic books are in stores, they'll be available for download as well. Whitehead said he thinks younger readers are more likely to read comics electronically.

"We're having a party," said DC Executive Editor Eddie Berganza. "We want as many people coming to that party as possible. If day-and-date digital is a way to get more people involved in comics and see what we're doing, I think that's great."

"It seems to be the way the whole world is going," he said.

In addition to the announcement Tuesday that the comic book "Justice League" would be starting again at issue No. 1 in September, DC officials told CNN the publisher would also be renumbering and modernizing such titles as Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, The Fury of Firestorm, The Savage Hawkman, Green Arrow, Justice League International, Mister Terrific, Captain Atom and DC Universe Presents.

The characters brought to the fore with the reboot will be interacting in ways they never have before in the DC universe, said DC Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras.

"For me, I wanted to get into the Cyborg character, who will be part of the Justice League," Berganza said. "He's always been one of my favorites from the Titans and now to see him step up, really take his place among the bigger pantheon of heroes is excellent. He's such a cool character."

"We're doing a book called 'Savage Hawkman' and to see the excitement between the artist (Philip Tan) and the writer (Tony Daniel), taking a classic DC character, and to see what they're doing with it is so amazing," said Harras of the energy he sees in the pages of the rebooted title.

"It's an epic that we're putting together, and we're incredibly excited about it," he said.

Even so, fans still have unanswered questions about the upcoming reboot. As DC continues to announce its 52 superhero titles getting the treatment, fans can't help but wonder what will change. For example, after giving Wonder Woman pants, what will Lee do to modernize DC's other heavy hitters, Batman and Superman?

DC wouldn't tell CNN. Guess we'll have to wait and see.