You don't tug on Superman's cape, Jim Croce told us in a popular song. That's probably good advice -- a character like the Man of Steel is worth millions of dollars in licensing, merchandise and movies. And yet, it's exactly what the company that has published Superman for decades did this year.
In a move fraught with risk, Time Warner 's DC Comics reworked nearly every character under its supervision in an effort to make popular heroes and heroines more appealing to a broader audience. This fall, DC canceled all its continuing series -- including decades-old titles "Action Comics" and "Detective Comics" -- and restarted them from a new "Issue No. 1" or launched something different altogether. DC has also made certain that a digital comic is available the same day its print counterpart hits the retail racks.
The theory: With decades of stories under their capes and utility belts, Superman -- and other DC characters, including Aquaman and the Flash -- had ossified. Though relaunching its entire cast and making their adventures available to print and electronic audiences might alienate some hard-core DC fans, it might also gain plenty of new ones.
Making DC characters more popular is crucial for its parent company. While the comic-book business is way down from its heyday, its characters fuel big-ticket Hollywood movies that can generate millions of dollars in revenue and licensing. The pressure may be on DC because rival Marvel, now owned by Disney, has churned out superhero film properties on a regular basis for years.
Cognizant that changes to Superman and others -- he's no longer married to Lois Lane, by the way -- would generate a substantial amount of publicity, DC began parceling out news of its characters to as many niche and mainstream publications as showed interest. It also tapped into a technique that comic-book publishers rarely embrace -- actual paid video commercials.
The company believed "that the comic business as a whole could stand some shaking up in order to remind consumers everywhere the power of the medium and its characters and stories," said Diane Nelson, president-DC Entertainment.
Initial sales have been encouraging, with first print runs of many of the new issues selling out. The question will be whether DC can sustain the momentum after the initial buzz wears off.