A Note from Comics Bulletin’s Publisher, Jason Sacks-
I would like to remind everyone reading that the while the practice of creating comics is undoubtedly an art, the practice of publishing and selling comics is a business. That’s not meant as a jab toward the industry, simply a factual statement about it. It’s easy to conjure up caricatures of comic publishers counting their stacks of money as they recklessly put all our favorite superheroes into awkward faux-turtleneck costumes, but in that corporate environment there are thousands of people counting on higher-ups to steer the company toward profitability so that they can keep their jobs and feed themselves. This article is not intended to make arguments about the validity of high salaries for top-level publishers, but I feel this is an important fact to keep in mind. Large overarching decisions are generally not made purely with the mindset of padding the pocketbooks of top brass.
Steven: Earlier this week DC Comics announced its March solicitations, which brought the surprising news that a whopping 12 ongoing titles will be coming to an unexpected end. The full list, as you may or may not have heard by now, includes:
- Secret Origins
- Star-Spangled War Stories Featuring G.I. Zombie
- Green Lantern Corps
- Green Lantern: New Guardians
- Red Lanterns
- Aquaman and the Others
- Trinity of Sin
- Worlds’ Finest
- Arkham Manor
- Swamp Thing
Also coming to their scheduled conclusions are Batman Eternal, The New 52: Future’s End, Earth 2: World’s End, and Injustice: Gods Among Us Year Three.
When DC Launched the New 52 in 2011 it was with the claim that they would have 52 ongoing series at any given time, emphasizing variety, and as books were cancelled new ones would take their place on the shelves. The most noteworthy titles in this list of cancellations, to me, are the Green Lantern family books and Arkham Manor.
The Green Lantern family books are the only three on this list that have been published through the entirety of the new 52. They will be ending with their 40th issues in March. I have not read all 120+ of the issues that have been published since The New 52 began, and what I noticed is that the art in all of these books, while incredibly polished, does not seem interested in taking creative risks. They all have a very clean space-age sheen, and they work in a very tightly integrated fashion. In fact, one of the biggest complaints I have heard repeatedly about the post-Johns Green Lantern books is that they have struggled to stand independently, relying on each others’ books to tell stories rather than being their own unique titles.
It’s entirely possible that the Green Lantern family is collapsing and folding into the Justice League banner of books, but if not this mass cancellation most certainly means a large creative shake-up. If DC is looking to their star character, Batman, for inspiration, the recent changes to that family may indicate changes the future for the Green Lantern family. Predominantly, it could mean much greater creative variety and diversity within the family.
It seems to me that the more you can differentiate your books from the other books in the family the better off the publisher will be as a whole. Creating books that are drastically similar means that you are producing your own competition. DC has parsed out their titles into families of books (Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Justice League…) and I see some fairly significant creative differences between those different families but within each of them there seems to have been a fair bit of monotony, with Mark Doyle’s editorial guidance finally providing the Bat-family with some much needed creative diversity.
Under the Bat-banner we now have Batman, Gotham Academy, Batgirl, Grayson, and Detective Comics, all with very unique artistic and story-tones. If you aren’t a fan of one of them, chances are pretty good that another one is more your style. If the cancellation Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians, and Red Lanterns is an indicator of similar changes coming to that lineup, color me intrigued!
Luke: For me this isn’t even a “family” issue. This is an entire “DC Universe” issue. Virtually every book I’ve read of the “New 52” has felt more or less the same. I feel like DC editorial is mad-libbing their titles just to make sure they’ve got a fixed number of books on the stands. At the time, I thought relaunching their universe was about the biggest move they could’ve made. However, it now feels like it was a move to introduce the most risk-averse line of books imaginable. “Hero X fights Villain Y over Z issues.” Rinse, repeat, relaunch. It’s a formula that creates a fixed number of sales, and hey, it worked in the “Golden Age”!
Character growth and development would be fantastic for long-time readers… but that entails developing long-time readers. But it is much, much harder to get people to follow a 60 issue mega-arc, than to try to hook a new batch of readers for ten six-issue arcs. They obviously know that those same readers aren’t going to hang around that whole time, but as long as an equal number of readers jump on as jump off, it doesn’t really matter.
Only two issues of Arkham Manor have been released, and while it’s not entirely unheard of to cancel an ongoing series after that short of a run it does indicate the possibility of DC embracing the model of shorter ongoing series, pushing sales of first issues and putting the titles to pasture only to bring in the next #1. And there’s some sense to it. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve told myself, “Oh, I’ll check out the first issue, to see how it is if nothing else,” only to be disappointed and immediately drop the title from my own pull list.
Steven: In my own opinion this seems like a rather shaky business model, cashing in on audience optimism rather than being honest about what you’re producing. If you’re going to produce a limited run of a series I would prefer maturity from the publisher by asking that they market it as a limited series. On the other hand, it certainly allows for a much greater flow of new ideas and as long as DC is closely watching those and is willing to latch onto successes, letting them explore characters more deeply rather than cast them aside for the next #1, it could be a really powerful way to promote creativity. But it’s still taking a stance of dishonesty with the consumer when you present something as an ongoing series rather than a miniseries…to that point:
Luke: We were actually talking about this earlier this week regarding Scott Snyder and Jim Lee’s Superman Unchained. I ordered the hardcover collection last week, and I had read the first couple issues in floppy format. So, I guess DC got me to buy 11 issues of a 9 issue series.
Steven: For you kiddos at home doing the math, that’s an extra $8 that Luke forked over for one of the most underwhelming stories told by one of the industry’s leading writer/artist duos.
Luke: There is zero doubt in my mind that everyone involved with the creation of that book knew it was going to be a limited series. But they also want people to buy the individual issues, and there is zero doubt in my mind that I would not have picked up any of those individual issues had I known for sure that it was going to be a limited series. Once it became clear to me that this series had a finite run and would likely be collected in a single trade (I assumed Lee would be leaving after one arc, but I thought Snyder might stick around), I dropped the issues and waited. But they still got that extra two issues worth of cash from me, so, in a sense, the strategy worked.
The downside to this, though, is that I almost exclusively trade-wait now. I’ve been burned far too many times to really even consider trying a new #1 (or jumping on to any series, regardless of the number, for that matter.) I have spent entirely too much money on the same issues in multiple formats to ever do it again. In fact, I even avoid most paperbacks with the thought process of “if it’s that good of a book, it’ll get a hardcover treatment sooner or later, and I’m not buying it twice.” It’s why I haven’t read Transmetropolitan or Scalped yet. However, I will soon, since there are Absolute and Deluxe editions of those titles, respectively, on the way in 2015.
I remember reading recently that Peter David was a bit upset that more and more people seem to be doing this now after his All-New X-Factor was cancelled for low sales. I sympathize, but I don’t think it’s fair to put that on the readers. If the publisher doesn’t have enough faith in a series to get it to a point where a nice hardcover edition can be put together, when they know full well that people do this, I don’t see why the burden of “saving a series” should fall to the readers.
Steven: As a counter suggestion to this very valid concern why not present these new #1 issues as miniseries with the potential to become full-fledged ongoing series, provided the sales are good. Treat this as a “pilot run” and make sure that the creative team on the book has a definite beginning, middle, and end for that first run. Take a hiatus for a collected volume of that first run to be released, and then take those numbers into account as well. Why does the life or death of a series have to be based on the sales numbers of floppies alone? People who buy the collected volumes are still buying the books, spending anywhere from $15 to $30 on that group of comics. A preference for collected volumes shouldn’t mean that your voice as a consumer doesn’t count.
Issue-by-issue consumer dependence can be an incredibly crippling thing on the creative side as well, and has led to many cliffhangers or hastily written conclusions as a result of an unanticipated cancellation. Using a pilot run model allows them to flesh out a complete story, present a conclusion, and then pick it back up fresh after a brief hiatus.
Granted, long hiatuses can often damage momentum in a comic series, so the process of reviewing these pilots would have to be very tight, but I still see this as an excellent way for the publishers to
There are also a lot of business safety-nets in place with this model. If the editorial brass is not confident in the creative team/story they could rein in the number of issues in that pilot run. It also gives them the opportunity to promote successful books with a literal resurrection of the title…not the character. It also allows publishers to cash in on the idea of #1s being the most valuable without being quite so backhanded.
Luke: In today’s industry, the only issue number that matters is #1. Long gone are the days where Alan Moore is taking over Swamp Thing with issue #19. Garth Ennis isn’t taking over Hellblazer at issue #41. When new creative teams get attached to books now, it makes far more sense to relaunch it with a new #1. Hype goes up, sales go up. (I’m not saying big names will never take over a title after 18 or 40 issues, I’m just saying the company will start that numbering over again.)
True story: I was in my local comic shop when Captain America relaunched with a new #1 (volume 6) in 2011. (It has since relaunched again, with another scheduled for January.) There was a kid in the store who I would guess was approximately 7 years old. He saw that “Captain America #1” on the stands and lost his mind. “This is Captain America number one?!?!? And I can buy it?!? For $3???”
Does that kid have that reaction if he sees “Captain America #641”? No, of course not. Granted, it’s basically lying to him; he has no idea what relaunches are. He just knows how numbers work. He thought he was getting the first issue of Captain America ever published, and he wanted it. And, of course, his dad bought it for him. “Mission Accomplished.” – Joe Quesada
In my mind, the biggest roadblocks to relaunches are losing the continuity of the high numbers and creating possible jumping-off points. These obstacles are virtually obsolete anymore. DC’s highest numbered books right now are sitting at 37, and three years of numbering isn’t tough to cast off when you’ve previously tossed aside 70+ years worth. Marvel, on the other hand, has become quite adept at “legacy numbering.” Simply relaunch a title with a new #1, let it go for a few years, and then add those 25-50 issues back into the original numbering when you get to a nice, round, anniversary-type 500th issue. Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and various X-Men titles have all had this happen in the last decade or so.
The “jumping-off point” is a little trickier, but I have to believe DC made their peace with that when the New 52 launched. They decided the new readers with the new #1’s would bring in vastly more sales than anyone who jumped off those titles with a relaunch. Plus, I think both companies have reached a point where they know where specific “character loyalties” lie – x number of people are going to read the flagship Batman book, no matter what DC does to it. That number can increase with good art, writing, promotions, whatever, but x is the absolute lowest that number will go. The same goes for Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and every other character that has had at least one continuously running title since the Silver Age.
Ultimately, cancellations and relaunches don’t bother me; it’s the constant reboots that kill me. For me, one of the best, and most unique, parts of reading comics is the history that goes with them. Generations of creators build upon one another’s ideas to create a truly unique tapestry for each character. Sure, sometimes it’s goofy and stupid and doesn’t make a lot of sense – but I’m sure most people could say that about some periods of their lives one way or another. It doesn’t mean that you just refuse to acknowledge that ever happened.
Remember when Sony rebooted the Spider-Man film franchise even though it had only been ten years since the first one was released and five years since the most recent one? And everyone went, “Really? Already? I feel like I just saw this…” Sure there were extenuating circumstances about needing to crank out a movie to keep the rights, but even if they’d recast Tobey Maguire with Andrew Garfield and gone straight to “Spider-Man 4,” I think that move would’ve been much more well received. (It’s worked for James Bond and Doctor Who for over fifty years now.)
But, then again, “The Amazing Spider-Man” made $758 million worldwide. Nobody was really happy about it, but we all went to see it anyway. As long as we keep paying money for #1’s whenever they hit the stands, companies are going to keep giving them to us. We only have ourselves to blame.