It started with DC’s New 52 initiative back in 2011. Across the board, DC cut their entire mainstream output and replaced it with the titular 52 books. This created a new DC Universe (DCU) complete with characters from the Vertigo line, even though Vertigo remains its own separate entity. Ostensibly, the reason behind this was to eliminate the infamously convoluted continuity of the DCU.
The results of this movement are debatable in their efficacy. On one hand, sales boosted significantly. On the other, the mission statement fell to the gutters. Some characters received slightly different origins, such as Wonder Woman. Other characters not only essentially remained exactly the same, the “new” books could easily have been the next issue in the ongoing series.
Primarily, this can be seen in Green Lantern, which failed even to change creative teams. Geoff Johns, who had been working with the title for many years, continued his position as writer. Though the title introduced a potentially interesting concept, it was nothing that would have been out of place as the new arc in the old numbering and changed none of the mythos Johns created.
If DC’s main concern was to streamline their continuity, then they went with the pick-and-choose method. They picked their top-sellers to continue as they were while only allowing creative alterations to characters and titles that did not top the monthly best-seller list.
New 52 has become a marketing brand, a structure that could be debilitating to the content by adhering to an arbitrary number. If only 40 titles are of quality, why force yourself as a company to put out 12 mediocre titles merely to meet this number? And what if there are excellent pitches being tossed out in order to maintain a stable 52?
Marvel is only slightly less guilty, and that’s because they haven’t pigeonholed themselves into a certain number of titles nor claimed that it was done to ease the stress of a complex continuity. Just a year after DC’s New 52, Marvel came out with Marvel NOW!, which did exactly the same thing as DC by re-launching a slew of titles with new creative teams or creating entirely new ones.
Marvel’s relaunch seems to have been the more successful of the two for a variety of reasons, and they clearly want to do it again because this year sees Marvel’s All-New NOW! line. They don’t even bother to re-name it. It’s a blatant marketing rehash of a marketing scheme designed to challenge their main competition’s marketing scheme. If that sounds cynical, it is. It’s also accurate.
Inherently, there is nothing wrong with either company restarting titles to number ones if there is a genuine reason to do so. For example, Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil deserved its new numbering. It was a radically different view of the character and the direction Waid wanted to take him. But why is he getting an All-New number one when it’s the same writer?
Part of Marvel’s upcoming titles are already being changed. Two titles, Inhumanity and Elektra, are changing writers before the titles are even released. And DC is pumping out mediocre titles to replace failing titles for the sake of maintaining a numerical standard. It seems like the companies are so attached to their marketing campaigns that they are allowing the content to become a secondary concern.