Industry Watch: Editorial changes coming to DC?

(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.


  1. Kyle Pinion says

    I’m very sad to hear this news, as DC’s line-up currently is better than its been in years. Heck, I think the Bat-line is stronger and more diverse than some publishers entire output. But, as you say Heidi, it’s very likely that the market just isn’t there to support more idiosyncratic books in the superhero space. A few, surely, and I expect that Batgirl and Grayson will continue to do their thing (their sales have been relatively successful); but as a friend of mine said, Marvel’s post-Secret Wars line-up is boring and bland for a reason.

  2. Magewolf says

    I think it goes more to the fact that there is only so many times you can change everything about a character but their name and expect people to keep following the character. And it often seemed with DC that you had a lot of people writing and drawing characters that they really did not want to because of market forces(any new characters from them would sink like a rock) so they folded and spindled what they had access to into as close a fit as they could to what they wanted.

  3. Rollo says

    The title says asks if editorial changes are coming to DC but nothing in the article mentions that ot hearing any rumors about that. It talks about most of the same things BC mentioned yesterday which is interesting but I expected something different when I clicked the link. Anyway very interesting like I said to see play out if all true.

  4. says

    I think what we’re seeing in these numbers is a hangover from the last few years of Didio’s “meat & potatoes”/”house style” approach. Killing these new attempts at line diversity three months in totally disregards that fact that prior to DC You the New 52/editorially-driven approach had stopped working. DC’s last two “traditional” crossovers were *spectacular* non-starters. Walk into any store and you’ll see literal heaps of unsold Convergence and Future’s End titles staring at you from a corner somewhere. Getting burned that badly is enough to make even the most bullish retailer pull back on their DC budget a little bit, especially on books that push the boundaries like the DC You do.

    Which is a shame, because DC’s new crop has some really great stuff in it: Justice League United, Gotham Academy, Midnighter, Grayson, Batgirl, Omega Men, Martian Manhunter, Dr Fate; all really good books that cover a broad spectrum of approaches to superhero comics. Way more diversity of subject matter, styles, tones and creators than anything Marvel announced for their ANAND titles. (Not that everything needs to be a DC/Marvel spitting contest, but Marvel sticking the landing on Infinity and Secret Wars, back to back, certainly helped them cement their market lead.)

  5. Mo Walker says

    I believe people were feeling meh about the June relaunch because they got burned by Convergence. The post-Convergence product has been fairly decent, especially the new titles. However Marvel has been generating heat because Secret Wars is a solid product, much sturdier at this point than Convergence.

    I do not believe rebooting is the answer. Convergence has already given them a solution, place some of the titles on different Earths. People who want the pre-New 52 continuity can have titles that exist on a particular world/dimension.

  6. Brian says

    Fucking hell DC. The problem is not your critically acclaimed and fan loved books like Batgirl, Omega Men, Grayson, Constantine, Dr. Fate etc and diversity. The problem is shit like Convergence and your New 52 house style and editorial fuck ups that turned everyone away from your books. I honestly stopped reading anything DC for awhile after the firing of JH Williams. If they start cancelling all those great books then I’ll go back to not reading them.

    With Marvel’s lack of diversity and new talent in their post Secret Wars books (All New All Different, lol) and this development, pretty soon I’ll be reading very little new Big Two stuff which makes me very sad.

  7. Donnie says

    Sales say one thing. Sell through says another. If sales are 30K but sell through is 80%, real sales are effectively 24K (and just about breakeven for the retailer). I’ve never heard of a publisher caring about those numbers.

  8. veronica says

    “Reboot the whole line to Pre-Identity Crisis and I’ll buy every issue.”

    I wish this was possible, but dude DC move on too far away from it and they would need another event to retcon a lot of thing and mess continuity again.

    DC pissed off many fans with new 52, lois lane fans, steph brown, cassandra cain, tim drake, teen titans…
    agree with todd, what buned DC this year was filler events like convergence and futures end. if the event won’t have impact on continutiy just say it before people waste money

  9. Zach says

    I mean, even if there’s been a bit of an uptick in quality in some DC books, does it make sense to publish a giant line when sales are middling at best? I really don’t understand why Marvel and DC don’t do a proper purge of titles and start fresh with a core of books that fans actually want to read. If there’s suddenly demand for an expansion, carefully consider it and roll ’em out slowly.

  10. Kyle Pinion says

    Sadly, that’s been the strategy for the Big Two for decades on end. Drown out all possible competition by taking up as much shelf space at the retailer level as possible. I wish they’d follow your line of thinking Zach. The idea of even going near those new Marvel #1s in October gives me a headache.

  11. Cory Strode says

    Looks like they are going back to what we got after the start of New 52 – editorially driven comics, creative teams being replaced over and over again and a return to the Marvel storytelling style of 1994 – 1999.

    What DC should have done is to lure creators who have ideas as to what to do with the books, have the editors help them do their best work and have an overall vision for where they want the shared universe to go over the next 2 – 5 years. They need to bring back some focus on the backstock and keep things in print (DC made a hell of a lot of money off of hardcovers and trades in the 90’s and 2000’s).

    Instead more stunts, more Jim Lee style art, more “mysterious masterminds” and the like. Too bad. I was really liking a few of the books DC was publishing after the editorial stranglehold loosened up a bit.

  12. Hufnagel0 says

    @Zach – That’s what I’m talkin bout. Trim the total amount of books and focus on quality; a “Valiant-ing” of the line. The total sales will be elevated by the limelight being shone (shined?) on wonderful creators telling epic stories. Don’t have another event for a few years, and when you do, it’ll automatically feel more important. Like it’s, ya know, a special event or something.

  13. Dave says

    “arrival of books from Oni, Archie, IDW and Boom into Diamond’s Top 10 shows that a lot of different things can work.”

    Those only made the top ten because of the geek box subscriptions.

    Issue #2’s were no where to be found.

  14. says

    Well, rumors are just rumors. Given that the majority of the “DC You” line-up is 1,000% more new-reader friendly, I imagine DC’s not really going to have a great idea if it “worked” or not until they start publishing trade collections and see how those do in book stores. I can’t imagine a “New 52” Black Canary comic EVEN EXISTING, but a DC You one works…and if it hasn’t found a Direct Market audience, that doesn’t mean it won’t find a bookstore/library audience.

  15. Shawn says

    That’s a shame. I finally came back to DC a year ago (after a four-year hiatus) when Grayson and the new Batgirl debuted, and am now also buying Midnighter and Omega Men. Part of the reason was that it felt like DC had finally decided to embrace some smart, writer/artist-driven longform DCU storytelling for an adult audience that generally prefers Image titles to endless, tedious lines of Superman, Batman and Green Lantern. (I know they have their audiences, but I’m not among them.)

    The idea that this would represent the “Batgirling” of DC was probably meant as sexist disparagement by the person who said it — but if the Batgirl revamp, minor missteps aside, is at the heart of the DC books I’m currently reading, that’s a wonderful thing, and they mess with it at their own peril if they plan to reach and keep readers who expect a high, Image-level quality of comics from whatever title or publisher they read.

  16. Oscar Wilkes says

    It seems clear to me: DC needs to hire a new Editor-in-Chief, one with an actual vision.

    Didio’s definitely had some success – particularly in the early days – but DC has been floundering for years now. The New 52 ultimately failed. Convergence was a disaster. DC has to take some time and win back faith; cancelling a bunch of highly publicised new titles within their first few months is not going to do that. Marvel’s Secret Wars is critically and commercially successful because it’s actually good. It has strong talent telling good stories with great art and it actually works as a unified whole.

    Reading the industry news about Warner Bros. recently, it’s quite possible that Kevin Tsujihara is going to be gone soon. I think the smartest move for both them and DC is, ironically enough, to reboot their corporate structure and clean house. We need a New DC.

  17. Tim says

    I’m hearing about a little retailer/reader mistrust in regards to DC these days. Lots of people missing Bob Wayne.

  18. timothycat says

    The competition BC mentions DC trying to get more money from trades. Strikes me that DC has really fallen down on that front as of late. Trades and hardcovers such as archives and the omnibuses of older material strike me as a good high margin way to get money out of the well off older fan base. DC used to get far more money out of me than Marvel on this front, they’ve switched places over the past two years and according to the catalogues this trend will continue through April 2016. Am now spending far more money on Marvel archival projects as the output is there. There’s very little output from DC to spend my available money on. Is this just me, or is anyone else experiencing the same?

  19. nate says

    Convergence sold pretty well considering it was developed to cover DC’s move to LA. But the new books after that aren’t that strong. Characters like Superman don’t look right ,and the many untested new artists aren’t very good at inking and polishing the art when they use a computer. The Jim Lee art style was tired because so many foreign studios were just copying Lee. Nice, more traditional artists like the Kuberts, Chad Hardin, Lee Weeks, Paul Pelletier and Jason Fabok are the better way to go. After all, the most loyal floppy fans are older and driving them away will kill sales overall. Sales can’t only rely on buzz from a small number of online commentators!

  20. Torsten Adair says

    Here’s the big problem:
    In recreating the anniversary relaunch of 1984 in 2011, DC made one big mistake:
    They forgot to publish groundbreaking mini/maxi-series as a sideline to the monthly titles.

    Back in the mid-80s, sometimes, you got Watchmen. Sometimes you got… Silverblade.
    Later, with Elseworlds, there were enough variations to populate half of the “52 worlds” schematic.

    Aside from “Earth One”, there haven’t been many new backlist classics. Even Earth One should be more robust than it is now… Batman, Superman, Teen Titans, and upcoming: Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman. There should be a new volume each year (136 pages=6 monthly comics), and they should be staggered to keep interest ongoing.

    I don’t think DC is thinking about the teen and kids market. Will we see a 6×9 trade edition of Prez aimed at book clubs and big box stores? Will we see more original graphic novels, or is Earth One the only option?

    As one who received the monthly box of comics from DC, I really liked the DC You titles.

    The big question is this: After setting up Multiversity, will DC now publish titles which are separate from the New 52-niverse? Or is it just more soap opera for guys? How will DC build on the foundation that Morrison built?

  21. Deep-shock says

    The New52 managed finally to destroy DC. They tried to hide under the rag that within a year the reboot started to flop :they were flooding the market with titles, putting out countless variants, tricking buyers with 3D covers and even did BEFORE WATCHMEN!
    Alas the truth is that only a few BAT titles sell better than pre-New52 despite all the tricks. DC’s higher numbers were manufactured by unsold copies which are now coming back to hound them!

  22. agent_agnes says

    I think the market has passed Dan Didio by and DC needs fresh leadership.

  23. agent_agnes says

    “Characters like Superman don’t look right”

    cop out excuse, considering Marvel can genderswap a main character and still pull in decent sales figures.

    I think DC (mostly Didio) needs to realize that the titles and content aren’t the issue here. Marketing, promotion and a long-range plan that won’t be rebooted at the first sign of trouble are more integral to building and maintaining new readership.

    The move to LA was so a fresh, new opportunity for DC to market itself as the thinking reader’s big-two company. Don’t let Didio and his outdated ideas of what comics should look like scupper the grand plans.

  24. says

    @Torsten: “I don’t think DC is thinking about the teen and kids market.” Correct. I’ve been grumbling about this for 10 years, my son is now 13 and the only DC product he’s interested in is Teen Titans Go. The New DC line was too bleak and dystopian for me to buy, so I definitely wouldn’t buy it for him.

    Which is really too bad, because he LOVES the Arrow and the Flash on TV, but aside from the tie-in comics, there’s very little output from DC that I’d consider buying for him on a regular basis. The DC You titles appear to be a little more attractive, but they are outliers to the main line too.

    And the increasingly prevalent $3.99 price tag? Yikes.

  25. Nicholas Post says

    My buying habit with DC titles has shrunk, extremely way downward.
    It used to be Batman, Batman & Robin, Batman, Inc. and Batwoman (by JH Williams only.) and some infrequently issues of Action/Superman and it’s related titles.

    Now it is just Batman and Robin, Son of Batman, Batman: Earth One vol. 1 & 2.

    Marvel? I don’t recall when was the last one, Daredevil, maybe…

    Independents from Boom!, Image, IDW, among few other publisher exponentially rose.

  26. Sphinx Magoo says

    Sigh. I really wanted the DC You line to work. I know there was a lot of upset about the Superman line, but, goshdangit, he was going to go back to his blue and reds eventually! There are Underoos to sell! But fans have been tired of new and revamped Superman for a while. This has been brewing since before Infinite Crisis. I think fans could have gone along with Commissioner Gordon as Batman for a bit because of trust in Snyder and Capullo, but somehow the fact that Greg Pak did a bang-up job on Planet Hulk and great work on Superman/Batman seemed to get lost in the information shuffle. Everyone was just looking for a reason to hate on DC for not giving them traditional Superman (and Warner too from the broken record complaints about Man of Steel). Sigh…

    But despite all the great reviews the initial wave of books got, the biggest hurdle nowadays is the price point of keeping up with these books from month to month. As an older reader, I can remember being on a student budget and almost literally being able to buy the entire line of both DC and Marvel with a bunch of independents thrown in. I wanted to be be able to do that with these new books, but the price point is too high. It’s become a rich person’s hobby.

  27. Kevin says

    Several things I agree with in the comments, particularly that DC publishes far too many bleak/dystopian comics. Not that everything has to be happy and light, but still . . .

    Some mistakes I think DC has made: (1) The New Gods are EVERYWHERE. I may be in the minority, but a little bit of the New Gods goes a long way, and, with the exception of Mister Miracle, they really work best in their own corner of the multiverse; (2) Not enough titles for younger readers. Even Bat-Mite and Bizarro, two of the lighter DCYou titles, are rated T; (3) Ignoring its publishing history. Yes, the multiverse was created in 1961, “un-created” in 1985, and re-created in 2005-6, but DC has ignored the original Earth-Prime, -1, -2, -3, -4, -12, -C, -C-Minus, -S, -X, et al. designations by renaming (Earths Prime, C, S, and X are now Earths 33, 26, 5, and 10, respectively, according to Grant Morrison’s map of the multiverse), repopulating (Earth 2 now features characters with the same name as the JSA but aren’t THE (original) JSA, likewise for Earth 3 and the Crime Syndicate), or remaining vague (Earth 1). Having Convergence end with an “everything happened” ending and saying those other Earths are “out there somewhere” didn’t help, ’cause I’ve got plenty of comics that show the current Earth 2 isn’t the Earth 2 I read about when I was much younger. While I don’t believe everything has to be in continuity, I do believe that if you’re going to use continuity for storytelling purposes, it should be used consistently, and that includes the naming of the various Earths; (4) Art vs. Story. This has become a hot topic in recent years. It was mentioned in this article that Curt Swan’s art wouldn’t fly today, and, sadly, that is probably true. However, the man was a draftsman who didn’t need a two-page spread to portray an action sequence either. You ever time yourself to see how long it takes to read a comic book today? I recently read all 26 issues of Earth 2: World’s End in one sitting. Average reading time per issue? Seven-and-a-half minutes! A 20-page story in the ’70s took longer than that to read. Comics are a visual medium, and I enjoy looking at the art, but when I read a comic I do expect to see words too. Yes, older comics had some unnecessary exposition (” . . . and with a right hook, the Darknight Detective knocked the Joker unconscious!” as an example), but words are still a vital component; and (5) Trying to maintain a monthly schedule for all books. What happened to publishing some titles only 4, 6, 8, 9 or 10 times a year? I am all for having my favorite titles released on a monthly basis, but the story is told of Bat-artist Jim Aparo, who could only produce 20 pages per month. When launching Batman and the Outsiders, readers were informed from the onset that Aparo, who often inked and lettered too, could only produce 20 pages per month and that there would be times when a fill-in artist would be used or that backups would appear. The days when an artist would have an uninterrupted run of 25 or 50 comics (or more!) are long gone, but if DC really wants Writer X, Penciller Y, and Inker Z to be the creative team on a title, maybe they need to consider publication frequencies other than months.

    Just my two cents, of course.

  28. Paul Houston says

    They still publish Batman and Superman comics right? They gonna be just fine. This cyclical drama is weak.

  29. says

    There’s great passion, insights and ideas on this comment thread, but I wonder what the make up of Beat comment-ers is? Seems like there’s a disproportionate amount of older/longtime DC readers here. (Like me, quite frankly).

  30. chris says

    As a non-DC fan (I like some titles but do not read near all of them) and a non-geezer (is 30 considered old now? maybe), I think there’s very little to be concerned about; they have some big titles coming up. Their major problem has been not creating evergreen titles in the past 5 years outside of some of those Snyder Batman stories. Much of it was disposable and will not stand the test of time. Their bread and butter has always been creating those evregreen stories that can be packaged and repackaged and re-sold in the book market. The New 52 failed in this regard.

  31. solletaire says

    1) As a fairly new reader I find the DC You very confusing. I can’t tell what story is happening when and most importantly how do the different pieces fall together to form a larger narrative. For example, I picked up New Suicide Squad and Harley Quinn because Harley is awesome. But it felt like I was reading two books about two different characters that happened to look alike and share the same name. The closest thing to a nice narrative I’ve found is in the Bat Office books which tell their separate stories but still take place in the same Gotham.

    2) I finished reading Wonder Woman 41-43… That was one of the most generic story I have read in a while. Wow, just wow. You could easily substitute Diana for Aquaman, Donna for Garth, and London for Atlatis with some tweaks to visuals obv. and the story would have played out exactly the same! The art was OK, typical DC house style, but nothing to get me excited or to have me pouring over a page and admiring the craftsmanship.

  32. Kyle Pinion says

    I think the idea was that DC was trying to get away from the idea of “everything being connected” and instead focus on individualized storytelling over tightly wound continuity, or so went Dan DiDio’s mantra when this stuff was rolling out.

  33. solletaire says

    That’s what I heard, too. But I thought that meant they would get rid of all the crossovers (the title by title crossovers at the start of the New 52, the Green Lantern books for example). Titles will be able to tell their stories and eventually we might get an even series where these characters meet. One writer does not have to worry about how to explain that his titular character appears in Justice League the same month nor would they worry exactly when in their story does the appearance happen. That sort of thing. Or, for example, all that stuff that happened to Black Canary and her husband still happened, but her new series can deal with only if the creative teams feels it fits and when they feel it fits. It does not have to be referenced in the first issue (which to their credit is exactly what the Black Canary creative team did).

    Instead the titles seem to take A version of a character and run with it. And that version of the character seems to have a different personality, etc. from the version of the character that appears in a different book.

  34. Vince says

    As a lifelong DC fan (I’m 29) , my DC titles have shrunk considerably. I just don’t care about these characters as much as I did pre-new 52. I’m basically reading trades of older DC stuff (Justice League International, Legion of Superheroes, Doom Patrol Omnibus, and Kirby’s New Gods Omnibuses to name a few) and tracking down runs of certain comics (Grell’s Green Arrow run and the full Wally West Flash run). I enjoy these stories and characters more than the current DC line.

  35. says

    One reason that DC’s New 52 launched so well is that they went beyond the regular outlets (CBR, CA etc) to promote the new comics. They say a tonne of new readers because of it and while some disappears, others migrated to other publishers it was a step int he right direction. For DC You they didn’t give these new diverse comics the same kind of exposure and because of it not as many people took them up.

    The big problem with comics is there is a huge potential audience but the industry continues to preach to the converted, with the hope they buy more comics.

  36. says

    Personally, I think it’s a much simpler equation here. Monthly comics have outpaced the average consumer’s ability to purchase en masse. For example, back in the early 8ps, on basically a kids’ minimal monthly allowance, I could afford to buy nearly everything put out by both Marvel and DC plus some. Today, Marvel and DC have mostly continued publishing as if the customer base can still afford everything they put out monthly. And the attrition rate continues to grow because eventually people realize they are having to control where their dollars go more and more. As a result, choices have to be made and the consumer starts getting extremely selective with which titles get a monthly commitment from them. As a result, something like the DC You rollout is going to suffer by taking the familiar and overly upsetting the expectations of those who are used to spending their money on these things. The reason why your Swamp Things, Batgirls, Ms. Marvels, and such can be more….bold with their approaches is that they are fringe characters and don’t have the weight of preexisting expectation and exposure on the target audience. But no matter what, as long as a single monthly comic continues edging up to the $5 mark and beyond, the ability to successfully challenge to status quo is going to be increasingly difficult.

    In my opinion, the monthlies should be drastically reduced in numbers and focused more on perpetuating the licenses and world – building continuity that serves that purpose. Events should mix it up but outside the main titles. Primary focus of serious and experimental storytelling should be directed in the OGN area where the stories can be more dense, challenging, and complete — even if the OGN series is ongoing and within a line continuity.

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