Welcome to Go FOC Yourself, a weekly column at The Beat about comics on Final Order Cut-Off (FOC) and bits of the retail process that don’t merit a full column. This week, I’ve been diving through the back issues in our overstock and I have caught a little space madness. This will turn out quite well.
SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #9
For the course of this book’s entire run, I’ve been typing “Superman Unchined”, which is a thing that I want to seen drawn for reasons. You definitely needed to know that, especially given my propensity for grammatical errors.
This week’s final order cut off has the last issue of Superman Unchained, and now I can set fire my feelings of disappointment and send the whole thing off to sea. While Scott Snyder and Jim Lee put together a phenomenal book, DC could have done so much more with this series. So, so much more.
The series launched in June last year with an eye to become the flagship Superman title as the Man of Steel movie hit the theatres. A new ongoing featuring white hot creator Scott Snyder and artist powerhouse Jim Lee? There was almost no way DC could screw up this marketing opportunity. And yet.
Starting with the baffling Unchained moniker, the entire run of this series runs like “how to not sell a series” seminar. Launching a new Superman book along with the movie? Smart. Doing so without the easy cash in of the unused Man of Steel series title? A little foolish. Then there was the decision to attach a creative team whose time was heavily taxed, resulting in heavy delays. While seeing the names Scott Snyder and Jim Lee on a Superman book definitely moved a few copies, the shipping schedule did more harm than good. Add to that the fact that this was nothing more than a mini-series disguised as an ongoing, and things get a bit dicier.
There are two things a series needs to have going for it in order to sell: it has to be regular, and it has to be ongoing. The characters and creative team involved certainly matter to a great extent, but all is for naught if a series doesn’t ship on time, or if it has a pre-announced end point. Retailers and fans alike will react negatively to books with pre-set end dates and late shipping books.. If a series manages to combine both qualifiers, it’s doubly bad. Do you know where a series by Scott Snyder and Jim Lee should be on the sales charts? Name power alone says it should be destroying Batman, let alone a launch tied in with a movie watched by millions of people. In practice, it moves a little over half the copies that Batman does. Is that where Jim Lee should be on the stands? Most certainly not – but you can’t shrug off the effects of a late shipping book. Late shipping books tell the reader that they are going to have to wait for content – and if the word “wait” is floating around in their heads, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump over to “I might as well wait until this comes out in collection”. Why tease yourself with content once every… three months? Why not wait to get the whole story?
This reaction is always compounded when a series is only set to run a certain amount of issues. DC curtailed a lot of this by leaving the status of this series deliberately vague. History stated that if Jim Lee was attached as an artist, the consecutive run wouldn’t be a long one, owing to his general production pace, and the demands placed on him as one of the higher ups in DC – but the question remained: would the series continue with different creative components? Would Unchained become a strange boutique book for big creators, or would it go the Astonishing X-Men route, tossing on creative team after creative team until the whole thing lost steam and came to a halt? The answer turned out to be “retroactive mini-series” which is the worst of all possible outcomes. While a different creative team is never ideal, it does elongate the span of time a retailer can sell a book – because make no mistake: a book might be popular when it is coming out, but sales (especially back issue sales) take a steep nosedive the moment that a final issue hits the shelves. Why? Well, if the series has ended, and the momentum has stopped, why not wait for a collection? There’s no impetis to go forward, no reason to collect. And so, a book like this bleeds away 75% of its sales over the course of it’s 9 issue run, both a success (because it always sold enough) and a failure (because it could have been so much more). And in the course of it’s run, it also damaged the idea of a Superman series selling in the current market. Have you seen the numbers for the Geoff Johns/John Romita Jr. run? Pitiful, considering the players involved, and I suspect it has a direct correlation to the fact that DC couldn’t properly execute a big launch tied to a movie, with two of the company’s biggest creators and a new number one. Seriously, how do you mess that up?
Speaking of the whole “finite series” stigma, have you ever noticed how Marvel generally doesn’t tell people when something has reached the end of it’s run? For the most part, they wait to let people know about the last issue in a series until after a retailer places their final orders for the final issue. In this way, they bypass a bit of the “finite series” stigma, and can squeeze a few extra sales out of a dead series. It’s short term thinking at it’s worst, and probably effects titles like Loki and Hulk when they disappear for a few months without much in the way of explanation. (Yes, I know both series were put on hold while the Original Sin series ran, but you had to be the type who pays attention to the actual comics and the Comics Internet, and a good chunk of reatilers do not do that. So.)
ON ITS AXIS
This has already passed the point of being on the final order cut-off, but the heft of the event demands a little bit of comment: I breezed through the copy of AXIS #1 that Marvel provided about a week back, and noticed a few interesting things. One: the file was called Days of Future Now, which I would guess was the working title for the storyline. Two: the story does rely heavily on the events that have taken place in Uncanny Avengers, so much so that it could almost function as a continuation of that series. The recap page does take care of the bigger plot points that need to be addressed, but if you’re the type to require more of a complete experience, I would definitely hazard on the side of grabbing the Road to AXIS issues of Uncanny Avengers – and if you’re the really plot sensitive type, I’d get the whole damn series. A note: with the right attitude, you can read AXIS just fine without complication – in fact, the majority of folks predisposed to this kind of story will and love it. That said, there are more than a few delicate flowers out there who will need to start grabbing copies now. If you’re a retailer and know the type, make sure you have back issues at the ready. If you’re a customer, and feel the itch, start looking now before someone else does.
FOC PICK OF THE WEEK // RASPUTIN #1
So many reasons to pick up this series. I started following Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo when they started Proof together, and both have grown considerably in that time. Alex is now a New York Times best selling author, and Riley has gone on to produce some stunning works, from creator owned book like Green Wake, all the way to the trippy drug sequences in the later issues of Daken: Dark Wolverine.
This series digs right into the heart of all the weird Russian history stuff that I loved as a kid – only this is comics, so things get strange pretty fast. Rasputin by way of dark magic and occasional bears. This is something you need.
TO BE CONTINUED…
And that’s where things end for this week. Next time, the first batch of November releases will hit the sheets, and we’ll go through all of that then. And hey, maybe I’ll get around to changing the title of this series. Wouldn’t that be nice? I’m taking suggestions, BTW.
Stay tuned for Monday when my Retailer’s View series resumes with an update on how The Death of Wolverine is selling and the preliminary results of speculators flocking to the series. Until then, you can check out my column on events in general, and stress the hell out.