DC decided to announce their “Rebirth” initiative… whatever it will really be… at the COMICSPRO retailer summit. Which is all well and good, because DC needs strong retailer buy-in and strong in-store subscriptions (pullboxes, if you prefer) if a new initiative is going to fly.
And let’s face it, DC is not in a particularly strong place at the moment. Last year’s relaunch tanked. Retailer confidence is not high. Even monthly sales on Batman seemed to be down with the “Robo-Gordon” as Batman arc. On top of that, DC’s going to be leaning heavily on bi-weekly titles.
Let’s talk about bi-weekly titles for a moment. The first thing you need to know about bi-weekly titles is that it means standard attrition can happen twice a month. You know how most titles lose 1%-3% each month? OK, OK… 1%-5%? Well, that happens twice a month when the title is bi-weekly. Gives you more incentive to launch hot out of the gate. We’ll come back to this in a second, but it means DC really needs retailers invested at launch and pushing the books or the party is over twice as quickly as it would be with monthly books.
But here’s the thing.
DC announced what the titles will be and what the frequency of those titles will be… but they didn’t announce who the creators will be.
There’s a school of thought that says this is supposed to build anticipation and buzz. I’m not a member of that school. Oh, as a journalist, it’s easy content if they start dropping one team each day. As reader? As a reader, it makes me feel like I’m being talked down to. It makes me wonder where DC’s priorities are.
“Hey, look at these great titles. Go set up a pullbox. It doesn’t matter who’s on the creative team.”
That’s what these kind of announcements say to me. That the brand is supposed to matter to me more than the creators. And that’s usually not the case.
Or that they don’t have all the creative teams set yet.
One hears stories that DC likes to commission first issues from different creative teams and decide who gets the title at a later date. There were some hurt feelings around the New 52 launch when some creators didn’t end up getting the titles they were under the impression they’d been greenlit for.
When I see this kind of an announcement, that’s one of the things that comes to mind.
When you’re doing bi-weekly titles, it’s much more important to have issues in the bank and some runway. When Steve Wacker was editing Spidey, he had things planned out fairly far ahead and had different teams working on arcs. That’s the better way to be doing this. Nobody really wants to pick up a comic that alternates artists 2x-3x in the same story arc. If you’re not very, very careful about complimentary art styles that’s even worse for the collected edition. And let’s face it, DC doesn’t have the best reputation for not needing fill-in artists to begin with.
If I wanted to go full-on conspiracy theory, I could speculate DC’s still hoping they can convince some “name” talent to hop on over from Marvel and slot them in at the last minute. While that would be sad and desperate, it would also be playing the anticipation hype game.
Which is to all to say, announcing titles and frequency without creators gives the impression Rebirth isn’t so much carefully planned out as several somebodies just might be flying by the seat of their collective pants.
What I read today was a corporate publishing plan, not a proper announcement of new titles. The sort of thing where the publishers and sales huddle and quickly cook something up because they’re getting heat from upstairs.
- We absolutely can’t sell 52 different titles
- Yes, we’re still fixated on the number “52”
- Let’s make any property that sells remotely well or has a transmedia tie-in bi-weekly and hope we can consolidate sales
- We’ll drop the price to $2.99 and see if we can lure readers in by not being over-priced… but it will cost them $5.98 for two issues of Batman and the other better selling titles each month, not $3.99. We should gain $1.99/month from each reader!
- We’ll act like we did when we rebooted for New 52. (See: $2.99)
Did you see any creators selling comics in that plan? Nope.
Instead of talking about who’s working on these relaunched/rebooted/whatever titles and anything that’s different about the new comics – you know, talking about the actual content that someone might want to buy and read – Geoff Johns was trotted out to act as the face and soul of this new initiative. To talk about character legacies. To talk about hopes and dreams. An appeal to emotion more than anything else.
It didn’t help that Geoff Johns decided to use his Flash reboot (as opposed to his original run) and Flashpoint as his examples of how to get back to basics. It absolutely ruined the argument when Johns started talking about his writer’s room and whiteboard of what they want to do. And then a bit later talks about individual voices.
Well, that just feeds into the complaints about writers appearing to be writing towards editorial agendas. “Here’s what we decided we love about The Inferior Five – can you write it, with this villain for the first four issues and you need to have Chemo in issue 5 because we’ve got an event coming up?”
Those whispers about creators who thought they’d been greenlit? That’s supposedly when they’re hired to do dueling takes on the characters and perhaps the desired blueprint. Only they don’t realize it’s a duel. Allegedly.
Which is to say, this all sounds like the same old dreary relaunch -> tank ->relaunch cycle DC’s been in since they decided to reboot with New 52 where the only thing that’s been constant is Batman. Except Synder’s off it now, isn’t he? Or is he? Do we really know?
If DC actually wanted to excite me as a reader, I’d want to see creative teams on these titles. I’d want to know what their take was, not necessarily what editorial writer’s room take was. I’m tired of DC and Marvel acting like they’re licensing their characters from the licensing department. I’m tired of color-by-number rollouts.
The most ridiculous part of the entire rollout is the part where DC pledges to release the all creative teams at WonderCon on March 26th. That’s nice. Except the June solicitations will be out a couple weeks before that, so I expect we can start getting a trickle – doled out or leaked one at a time – of the June relaunches in about two weeks. It’s not going to be all at once. It can’t be.
It’s not like this should be surprising, so much as the creator-free slate announcement is even more transparent than usual.
Am I being cynical? Maybe. But there was nothing in the announcement to give me hope for better comics. Just the same editors who’ve been saying the same thing for close to 10 years.
I would prefer to live in a world with a healthy DC. The least DC could do is act a bit more like the content matters.
While somebody may have eventually realized that announcing titles and shipping frequencies was an utterly soulless way to give the impression a new leaf was being turned over, there wasn’t enough meat to the announcement to stave off extended eye rolling.
Call me when you’ve got some creators lined up and perhaps I can spare a care at that point. Until then, the mechanizations of sales are just that – mechanical.
Want to learn more about how comics publishing and digital comics work? Try Todd’s book,Economics of Digital Comics.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.