(Above, Ryan Sook’s cover for Superman: Alien American #1)
If you’ve been following our sales charts here at The Beat you know that June was the big relaunch month for DC following Convergence and the move west, with 20 new #1s and new storylines and new costumes for old favorites. And sales were pretty good for some of the new titles. But many included 6-8,000 in sales for variant covers, and with first issues in the 30s, a standard attrition level seems to be coming swiftly. David Carter will have the July sales charts any minute now, but from the ICv2 July numbers, you can see that Marvel is crushing DC in market share; in both June and July Marvel has a minimum 15 point lead in both units and dollars. Now much of this is the Star Wars comics juggernaut—back in, to pick a random month, October, 2014, Marvel led by a mere 5 points—but Secret Wars is still beating the DC You by a handy margin.
The fresh look for DC, with a far more diverse line-up both on the page and behind it, was lauded by many and seems to have excited some people, and just a few weeks ago it was announced that the relaunching and rebooting had come to an end by Dan DiDio, reboot mastermind himself. Alas, although we’re only a couple of months in, the word I’m getting is that the new direction is being viewed as a bit of a flop, and new tactics are being considered. And right on schedule, our Beloved Competition returned from vacation and read their email, and had all kinds of rumors about all this, including a $2 million shortfall in projected budgets, due to added moving costs and low sales, and a call for the “end of Batgirling” in editorial, which is shorthand for new, diverse comics.
DC co-publisher Dan DiDio was something of a reluctant emigre to the West Coast—for a while a few years ago he was telling everyone he wasn’t going to make the move—and the tone of the DC You books was definitely not his decision. However I’ve heard from multiple sources that with the “Nü Look DC” failing to excite retailers and readers, DiDio’s way is making a comeback. It’s still early on all this—although some of the ideas I’ve heard being floated around are shocking—so it’s too soon to tell if this means a return to a tightly interwoven overarching continuity or just a return to DC’s house style.
In all honesty, I’m sort of of two minds about all this. The comics industry HAS moved on from the Post-Jim Lee 90s loving house style that DC adhered to following the advent of the New 52. It has really, really moved on with multiple art styles, age ranges and storytelling methods finding readership in many different formats. At some point, DC has to update, because Curt Swan may have been the best in 1970 but that style wouldn’t fly now, and no corporate style stays current forever.
But in my idle moments, I’ve pondered whether the Crisis Era may be the only thing that retailers understand. Maybe the shock and awe, dismemberment, random death, future’s end style storytelling is the only thing that works in the superhero-centric periodical market that we have. I know Image has well and truly shaken things up — and the arrival of books from Oni, Archie, IDW and Boom into Diamond’s Top 10 shows that a lot of different things can work. But sometimes playing to the base is the only way to survive.
The story of West Coast DC is very much being written right this very moment. Many corporate and personal narratives are colliding, some for the best and some not so much. So if ever there was the need for a “Developing…” tag this is it. And of course, if you want to enlighten me as to why I’m full of shit on all this, just drop me a line.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.