Today, DC Comics revealed its next major publishing initiative: a run of brand-new comics starring new characters branded as Dark Matter.
But while the headlines of the initiative will draw eyeballs with its list of all-star artists and writers, the real question surrounding Dark Matter is how it will fit in and find an audience in a changing comics marketplace. To answer these questions, DC Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee as well as Dark Matter artists John Romita, Jr., Greg Capullo and Andy Kubert met with a small group of press during Diamond Comic Distributor’s Retailer Summit (itself a prelude to this year’s C2E2 convention in Chicago).
At the press roundtable, DiDio and Lee spelled out their major plans for Dark Matter including its newly buzz-worthy practice of putting artists out front, its relation to DC’s Rebirth initiative, its potential to diversify the line both on and off the page, and its chances for sales success in a soft market.
Conceptually, books with the Dark Matter branding will serve two roles. First, the books offer up brand-new characters and concepts created collaboratively by some of the publisher’s top talent. But aside from that general “newness,” the creators stressed that there is a stylistic flourish here that will set these series apart from previous launches. “All this stuff is set in the DC Universe,” Lee explained, but that doesn’t necessarily make them straight superhero stories. He promised that all the series would be influenced by everything from action to science fiction to horror tropes, bringing a new sensibility to their core line of titles.
DiDio backed this idea up, saying Dark Matter represents “a style and tone of comic book storytelling that embraces what we know and love about comics.” He said classic storytelling themes like secret identities and the price of power will merge with fanciful new worldbuilding opportunities that are bigger than anything seen on a movie screen.
Of course, any new comic launch today faces not only an expectation that the genre ideas in play will be different, but that the content on the page will represent a more diverse world and readership. The DC creators spoke to the idea of diversity in the line, but many of them stressed the idea that more diverse characters would come not from a mandate but from the organic process of artists making stories in the 21st century.
DiDio in particular drew a line between the recent Rebirth launch and Dark Matter saying, “Rebirth was satisfying the old fanbase. Dark Matter is about building new fans.” He felt that readers would be more interested in getting on board with these characters than previous attempts at recasting DC icons with new identities because there would be “no preconceived notions.”
Romita backed this claim up, noting that the new hero Silencer he’s creating with writer Dan Abnett is a female assassin, but that “I don’t think of it as a diversity item. I think of it as a new character.” The artist said that if a story like this would be attempted with, say, Marvel recreating the Punisher as Francine Castle, he’d understand how readers would question the integrity of the story. But when artists start with the goal of making something totally new, there were no restrictions or second guessing, adding that with original characters as the focus, “There have been great female characters and great characters of color over the years.”