“Not your father’s Oldsmobile” was an ad campaign that was supposed to help make Oldsmobiles attractive to a younger crowd. Instead, it merely insulted the people who usually bought Oldsmobiles, and that was the kiss of death. Such a line stings when you realize you’re the father in the ad, not the sexy young kid.
The alienation of current comic book fans is not as important to DC Comics as is grabbing a new young audience with their massive reboot of their line. DC assumes that the older fans will resume their habit after a period of pouting. The only big unanswered question about such a marketing plan is: if current fans actually do desert comics en masse, can the smaller numbers in younger generations sustain the business as well as the huge numbers of baby boomers have? A smaller question is: are younger potential readers likely to be loyal to a company that shifts sands under their feet?
Looking at the life expectancy stats for male baby boomers still alive, they have maybe another twenty years. Some won’t make it that far and will die in their late sixties, the typical life expectancy for their birth year. DC Comics is going after a different audience with a longer life span ahead of it because otherwise its business will die with its baby boom readers. We don’t have to like it, but we are an older generation and the market does not venerate age, only buying power.
Of course many American companies make a mistake in not catering to middle-aged or older people who actually have very substantial buying power. Who today is buying all the classic comics and original art for many thousands of dollars? Too bad DC couldn’t think of a way to capture more of their financial resources.
The big mistake I see in this reboot, as I’ve said before, is in not trying to grab for 100% more market by attracting a female audience. Those new female readers would do a lot to make up for the smaller numbers in younger generations.
Comic books as a medium may be feeling its age. A radical shake-up is one of the many efforts a company makes to stay in business once it has a mature product. The American business model is always bigger and better—or bust. Dime novels and pulp magazines, once thriving businesses, are gone. Perhaps comic books can successfully migrate to iPad-style devices and find a secure new audience that will allow the medium to flourish. Otherwise, when the baby boom dies off, so will comics.
Along with this reboot come new costumes, new storylines, and more. The issue there lies in trying to do an end run around Superman’s legal creators by changing his iconic look. Supergirl does not have an iconic costume, and on the world stage of entertainment, she rates nowhere. Once Superman loses his iconic appearance, he can be tossed into the entertainment ashcan of history quite easily because there will be no generations of nostalgia associated with his modern incarnation. “Off with the old” does not automatically guarantee “on with the new.”
We’ll see. Opera is still limping along hundreds of years after its heyday, although most audience members in this country have gray or white hair. Perhaps comics, closing in on one hundred years themselves, can squeak through despite this hostile new direction. It won’t be the same, and that is the point. The new DC Comics: not your father’s comic books.