Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Team Prayers

Posted by Don MacPherson on April 8th, 2008

One of DC’s mid-level super-hero titles has been the focus of a fair bit of discussion online as of late. Plummeting sales figures have prompted industry pundits to ponder the problem with The Brave and the Bold. It’s been a critical darling of many reviewers, and it was launched to a bit of fanfare, especially given the involvement of two of comics’ stalwart talents: writer Mark Waid and artist George Perez. The series had a lot going for it. Seemingly separate from current DC continuity, it’s an accessible read, embracing a more traditional approach to super-hero storytelling. Comics readers tiring from endless events and crossovers could find relief in Waid’s words and Perez’s pencils. Those who thought the super-hero genre had grown too dark — especially DC’s take on the heroes, in light of its Identity Crisis series, with its incorporation of rape, betrayal and ethical breaches into the plot — were offered a kinder vision of the publisher’s iconic characters.

With the latest sales numbers coming in at only a little more than 39,000 copies (down from almost 100,000 for the first issue), it seems a given that The Brave and the Bold might be destined for the same fate as Marvel’s recent attempt to relaunch a team-up title: cancellation. There’s no sign of it from DC yet, though. The fourteenth issue is solicited for June release, with popular artist Scott Kolins stepping in to take over for Perez’s replacement, Jerry Ordway. The series trudges on despite speculation about its sustainability.

There are other considerations that can come into play before cancellation occurs, of course. In the comic market today, it’s not just the sales of the individual issues that come into play. In December, the hardcover collection of Waid and Perez’s first six issues — dubbed The Lords of Luck — moved 3,054 units. Those aren’t exactly astronomical numbers, but one has to bear in mind that it’s a more expensive hardcover book, carrying a cover price of $24.99 US. That’s the equivalent of more than 18,000 copies of the regular comics selling at more than a dollar more per issue and ranking in the 24th slot on Diamond’s graphic-novel sales charts for that month.

Of course, the collection’s sales performance seems a little dimmer when one considers that the No. 18 book on the same chart was Showcase Presents: The Brave and the Bold: The Batman Team-Ups Vol. 2. The black-and-white reprint of 1960s super-hero team-up tales is priced at $16.99 US. Granted, DC’s Showcase editions probably have a longer shelf life for comics retailers than the newer material, but the campy, awkward plotting of the Batman team-up stories from decades ago seems to have a slightly stronger following and market appeal than the more refined efforts of two of today’s more popular creators.

It seems as though DC is still behind the book. A second hardcover collection — The Brave and the Bold: The Book of Destiny Vol. 2 — has been solicited for release in August. Softcover editions of the collections seem to be a given; the publisher always follows up a hardcover book with a slightly cheaper trade paperback, after all.

But the perception is that the book is faltering. Perhaps that’s not the case. Maybe The Brave and the Bold is bringing in solid money for the publisher despite its slide from a strong debut. Maybe the book is exactly at the level the publisher expected and wants. However, perception is reality, after all, so why does DC keep the book going?

Well, not long after the online debate about the new Brave and the Bold series got started, there was a new announcement about the latest other-media opportunity for DC Comics. The Cartoon Network has announced its latest DC super-hero cartoon will be Batman: The Brave and the Bold, with episodes teaming the Dark Knight with other, lesser-known DC characters. Maybe DC is maintaining the comic series because it anticipates a growing audience. For all we know, this has been in the cards since the new B&B comic was first envisioned. After all, it boasts an old-school approach to super-heroes. The toon channel has already promised the appearance of the new Blue Beetle, and he and Batman have been the featured players in an issue of the comic book.

The unfortunate part of the debate in the comics blogosphere is that talk of how poorly the series is faring in terms of circulation numbers can serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s like the stock market. When rumors of market instability arise, investors sell off stock, creating the very instability they fear. If we look at The Brave and the Bold as an inevitable failure, that brings it one step closer to its demise.

Some have dismissed the title as having a limited appeal, drawing in only us longtime super-hero genre readers with a thirst for nostalgia that’s yet to be quenched. It’s a valid argument. But for all we know, DC isn’t even after the main demographic that drives comic-shop sales and by extension the Diamond sales charts. Maybe DC is planting the seeds for an all-ages super-hero comic that will exceed the reach of the Johnny DC and Marvel Adventures lines combined. Maybe it anticipates a demand to arise as a result of the forthcoming animated incarnation of the partnership property.

Nah, I really don’t think so either.

Personally, I love the book, even without Perez’s participation. I’m a sucker for a team-up title, but I won’t stick with one that’s not well-crafted. Fortunately, The Brave and the Bold is.

7 Responses to “Team Prayers”

  1. Ovid Says:

    I’ve been loving this book as well, although more for the individual issues than for the Challengers of the Unknown through-story. The main difference between this book and other B&B incarnations seems to be that Batman doesn’t always star in this one. If this were clearly a Batbook it might sell a bit better. Mind you, I guess that’s what Batman & the Outsiders is for.

  2. Botch the Crab Says:

    I am reading The Brave and The Bold for many of the exact reasons you mentioned:

    – Great stories, both the self-contained issues and the overreaching arc.
    – Great talent in both Waid and Perez
    – Most important, not reliant on current DC continuity.

    In fact, B&B is the only DC Universe book I am currently reading. I was admittedly disappointed with Ordway’s fill-in work, and the end of the second arc was a little weak, but so long as the book maintains those three bullet-points above, I will keep buying it.

    My guess on its less-than-expected sales performance? Maybe:

    – Modern DC readers mostly *do* like the larger continuity; otherwise they wouldn’t be modern DC readers (they would have left some time ago).
    – Not enough A-listers month-to-month (not enough Batman).
    – Even readers faithful to Batman and Superman aren’t necessarily convinced that they want to invest in so many other non-Batman/Superman issues to get the larger story.

    If the series wants to sell on an issue-by-issue basis based on the pull of that current issue’s starring characters, maybe they should focus on making the individual issues even more self-contained?

    But personally, I like it the way it is. I hope it’s not canceled. If it is, I might not be reading any DC books at all.

  3. Nick Piers Says:

    Honestly, I want to check out this book, but being a “wait for the trade” kind of reader, I want to get it in a collected format.

    Unfortunately, both DC and Marvel have been collecting their stories in hardcover formats lately that I just can’t abide by. The best collecting format I’ve liked is the way Marvel initially handled the Ultimate line: trades come out almost immediately following the story and a hardcover after every two or three trade volumes are out. I don’t mind buying hardcovers, but only when it’s worth my money (the Marvel hardcovers or DC’s Omnibus or Absolutes). To waste a hardcover on just a six-issue story is ridiculous.

    I’ve flipped through issues of B&tB, as well as seen scans on Scans_Daily, but I still want to enjoy it in a collected format.

  4. Michael Rawdon Says:

    I love B&B, too. However, although I thought the story in the first six issues was very strong, I thought the mostly-unconnected flashback-style stories in the second 6 issues have been far weaker.

    Looking at the sales numbers, it looks like there was an incremental fall-off from #2 to #6, and a much steeper fall-off afterwards. So I wonder if many readers agree with me on that. Especially with #10, which is three issues after #7 (and three months after #8), so anyone who didn’t like #7 or #8 might have decided to stop ordering the title — orders which would have been reflected with #10, which showed the steepest drop since the 1-to-2 drop.

    It is rather embarrassing that the book isn’t even selling as well as Countdown, as that latter book is just plain awful.

  5. Gokitalo Says:

    I’m a fan of Brave and the Bold as well and find it disheartening that sales have dropped so much. Like you said, Don, it could be a great alternative for folks with “event fatigue,” but I don’t think that fatigue’s set in yet for a lot of readers.

    Although it would be nice if the upcoming cartoon lead to a sales boost for the comic!

  6. Jason Says:

    I enjoyed B&B but jumped off after the sixth issue. It didn’t blow me away and I was looking to chop monthlies from my buy list. I figured a book like B&B was one that I could pick up in trade if I want it and get a fairly self contained and full story. I wasn’t aware of the drastic drop in sales, but with weekly comics and huge event books dominating the charts, ones that compel customers to pick up crossover titles each week, it makes it easy to shelve the more self contained stories and wait for a collection.

  7. Don MacPherson Says:

    Jason wrote:
    I figured a book like B&B was one that I could pick up in trade if I want it and get a fairly self contained and full story.

    So do you plan to pick up the second hardcover (collecting issues 7-12) this summer? Or are you waitig for softcover collections?