With its upcoming DC Retro-Active line of nostalgic comics, DC is bringing back creative teams from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s and having them craft new stories featuring the characters that they’re not for having played with in the past. That DC isn’t looking further back than the ’70s is indicative of who the comics publisher’s core audience is: readers — mainly men — who first discovered comics in one of the three decades the imprint will explore.
From a sales and marketing perspective, I don’t know that DC Retro-Active will prove to be a boon to DC. It could create the impression that the home of the most recognized super-hero icons on the planet has run out of ideas. And when it comes to super-hero comics, who’s creating them — namely, the more popular, hot talent of today — is pretty important when it comes to moving product. After all, the most popular Batman comics of the past few years have been those crafted by writer Grant Morrison, not Batman: Odyssey, written and illustrated by Neal Adams.
That being said, I think it’s a great idea, and I’m looking forward to these comics, slated for release over the summer. To be fair, I’m among that afore-mentioned target demographic.
DC announced its Retro-Active brand at Wondercon recently. The comics — to be priced at $4.99 US — will feature 26 pages of new content by a classic creative team and 20 pages of reprinted material, presumably by the same creative team from the relevant era. Among the writers DC has announced are Len Wein, Mike W. Barr, Alan Grant, Cary Bates, William Messner-Loebs, Brian Augustyn, Dennis O’Neil, Ron Marz, Gerry Conway, Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis, Martin Pasko, Marv Wolfman, Louise Simonson and Roy Thomas.
Some artists have confirmed their participation online as well. Norm Breyfogle, currently working for Archie Comics, will return to Batman with writer Alan Grant for a return to the 1990s-era Caped Crusader (though I always saw them as a creative team from the late ’80s). Joe Staton confirmed on Facebook that he’ll return to illustrate a Green Lantern story (representing the 1980s era), and Kevin Maguire will illustrate a Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League story (though that particular creative team has already revisited those 1980s, humor-era comics on a couple of occasions in the past few years).
The writers’ names also provide some clues as to other artists who might participate. For example, Bates’ collaborator on The Flash was usually the retired Carmine Infantino. Messner-Loebs worked with artists Butch Guice and Greg Laroque on The Flash in the 1980s and with Mike Deodato on Wonder Woman in the ’90s. Among Gerry Conway’s collaborators on Justice League of America in the ’80s were George Perez, Rich Buckler and Chuck Patton. Wolfman did a lot of Superman comics in the late ’80s with Jerry Ordway, for example, and Louise Simonson worked with artist Jon Bogdanove for years on Superman: The Man of Steel.
There are a number of reasons that I’m pleased with the DC’s Retro-Active initiative. One is the chance to see new material from creative teams who helped define iconic characters for certain periods. Another is the fact that DC is putting some forgotten or almost-forgotten creators back in the spotlight and providing work to talent who helped sustain and propel the publisher to success in the past. DC Comics and its parent company, Time Warner, doesn’t have the best of images as of late when it comes to respecting and doing right by the people who created the intellectual properties from which they’ve profited so much over the decades. The words of the late Joanne Siegel’s letter to the CEO of Time Warner still ring fresh in the ears of many industry watchers at the moment.
Maybe what I’m most pleased about when it comes to the promised DC Retro-Active books is the publisher’s willingness to experiment with format. The $4.99 price tag means readers will get about two comics’ worth of material for a buck less than it would usually cost with the publisher’s standard-format comics. As DC has demonstrated with its “Drawing the line at $2.99” promotional effort, it’s endeavoring to either (a) give the reader more value for his or her dollar, or (b) at least create the impression it’s doing so.
Another experiment in format and value has been DC’s DC Comics Presents/Vertigo Resurrected format, through which it offers reprints of four standard-sized comics for $7.99 US. I’m a fan of the format and see it as a success; I’m not sure the circulation numbers bear that out, but in my view, it was a good move on the publisher’s part. The added advantage of the project to DC is the possibility that these one-shots might spark greater interest in this older material, perhaps driving demand for more collected editions of related material.
My hope that this new experiment proves to be a success, and DC has timed it well to give it a good chance. With DC Retro-Active comics slated for release in the summer, there’s a decent chance many will be out in time for the summer comics conventions. New comics from creators who might be less active or prominent in the industry today will make those professionals more of a draw at cons. It would be nice if DC provided further support for the Retro brand (and the creators) by bringing some of them in question to those cons as guests.
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