The New 52 Review Project — which ran on Eye on Comics through September and into October — proved to be one of the more popular periods for the site in some time. The endeavor saw me reviewing all of the first issues of DC’s New 52 line, and even as I approached the end of the project, I was getting a number of requests for readers to share my thoughts on subsequent issues — even for the entire line again. That wasn’t feasible. The project was a short-term undertaking, made possible by sponsorship and a temporary night-desk schedule at work. Still, in the time, I’ve continued to read some New 52 titles, while others I cast aside as soon as I was finished with the first issue. With three months of these comics behind us and the fourth about to begin, I thought it might be interesting to share with readers which titles I stuck with, which ones I’ve ignored since their debuts and which ones I’ve dropped in the wake of any initial enthusiasm.
Whew! That was a lot of writing about one publisher’s comics. My New 52 Review Project turned out to be a success, as far as Eye on Comics is concerned. Traffic on the site rose, and I found the tight schedule to review all 52 first issues in the line in a timely manner to be an interesting exercise in writing. I was able to write a lot more about each comic book than I expected, and I think I refined my process as a writer — not just as a comics reviewer, but in writing in general. I pumped out almost 50,000 words between Aug. 31 and Oct. 3, and it’s made me realize provided the right motivation and circumstances, I could pen a book (not about comics) I’ve had on the backburner for some time.
About a week or so before the release of Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1, which marked the beginning of a new era at DC Comics, I had a realization about one way in which the publisher could market its new line of super-hero comics, at least to those who still buy comics but few or no DC titles. It struck me that by starting over most of its more recognizable properties from Square One (the successful Green Lantern and Batman franchises being the exceptions), DC was avoiding the kind of story/sales gimmick that has been the bane of super-hero comics for years: the crossover event.
Marvel reached out to direct-market comics retailers this week to offer a special ordering incentive that’s perhaps unintentionally revealing about its publishing policies and plans for revenue generation. Retailers were told for every 5,000 copies of Ultimate Fallout #4 first and second printings (or any combination of the pair that adds up to 5,000), they can get a free full-page ad in upcoming Marvel titles.
The first thing that struck me about the promotion was the fact Marvel is trying to sell second printings of a comic book that’s still available in its initial print run. Why would there be a second printing if the first was still up for grabs?
I’m hopeful that DC’s super-hero line-wide relaunch in September will be a success, and I’ve applauded the publisher not only for its dedication to such a massive undertaking but the skill with which company officials have handled promotional efforts. Not only did they make a surprising splash with the initial announcements, but they’ve managed to make the initiative an ongoing, seemingly perpetual presence in industry news and chatter. It keeps rolling out new information and new images. Even the unveiling of a few new logos (and even an old one, for Resurrection Man) has kept the relaunch in the news cycle. It’s likely that DC will also dominate comics industry announcements at Comic Con International in San Diego later this month with more revelations about its ambitious new publishing initiative.
My one repeated criticism of its public-relations strategy is that it lacked a clear brand. DC hadn’t named its own new direction, leading others to stamp such titles as “The DC Reboot/Relaunch” or “DCNu” on it. Well, DC Comics has finally come up with a name for its new line. “The New 52” has its advantages as a brand, but it also has its flaws.
I’ve written before about the smart public-relations campaign that DC Comics has run and continues to run so as to promote its fall relaunch of its entire super-hero line (save for a couple of younger-readers’ titles). DC has dominated the niche world of North American comic-book news since its initial announcement at the end of May, and all signs are that it’ll continue to do so for the rest of the summer. With 52 new titles, most of which boast new creative teams, the publisher can keep providing teases to its readership, ramping up anticipation. And honestly, I think it’s working. I wasn’t all that interested in the new O.M.A.C. book by Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen, for example, until I saw some interior art previews in recent days.
The only real complaint I had about the initiative, and more specifically, with the PR campaign, but the lack of a slogan or brand name for such a bold publishing plan. Well, it was my only main complaint until now, as I’ve recently made my way through DC’s website listings and solicitation information for the new 52 first issues. Some instances of sloppy promotional writing might point to just how rushed and chaotic things have been at DC since it first began to gear up for a summer of sensationalism.
The first time I saw Gene Colan’s art, I didn’t care for it.
My introduction to Colan’s work wasn’t through his iconic run on Tomb of Dracula or Iron Man. I didn’t really get into Marvel’s comics until the mid 1980s, so it was his work on Batman that probably served as my initial Gene Colan experience.
It may have been Batman #340 — penned by Gerry Conway and introducing a villain named the Mole, a character that’s never resurfaced, as far as I know — that was my first Colan comic. The next was likely Batman #343, which introduced another footnote of a villain, Dagger.
It’s been a rather intense week or two when it comes to announcements about super-hero comics, but obviously, DC Comics dominated the discussion with its rollout of details of its September line-wide relaunch. Over the weekend, Marvel Comics entered the fray with one of those announcements that it’ll announce something. It put the word out that it would deliver some big news Monday afternoon. The move seemed pretty clearly sparked by DC’s week-long PR campaign revealing the titles and creative teams that will serve as Marvel’s main competition in the marketplace in the fall. And even if it wasn’t a direct response to DC’s successful and well co-ordinated publicity moves, the perception certainly is that there’s a connection between the two.
When Marvel’s news finally arrived, it was word of a new ongoing Spider-Man title — Avenging Spider-Man — set to begin in November. Written by Zeb Wells and illustrated by Joe Madureira, the series will focus more on the title character’s super-heroic life (especially as a member of the Avengers, duh) rather than his personal life. Furthermore, it will feature repeated team-ups with other heroes.
Before moving onto my thoughts on the second half of DC’s new fall lineup of titles (the first half is discussed here) and what DC did right and wrong with those choices, I first want to discuss briefly what it’s done right and wrong in another respect. Overall, regardless of how one feels about these new comics and the impact this broad publishing initiative might have on the comics marketplace, I think DC is to be commended for how it’s conducted its publicity campaign thus far. Not only has the September relaunch dominated industry news and discussions, but DC has managed to penetrate the mainstream media consciousness with this move. People outside of comics are aware of the relaunch. Furthermore, it’s managed to control the story well and kept a significant number of players from spoiling its secrets. And with DC’s announcement this week it will follow up that PR campaign with national television advertising, the publisher has demonstrated that this is not business as usual. Such dramatic shakeups in any business, let alone the comics publishing industry, are rare, and one has to respect the willingness to take on such an immense professional undertaking.
While I’ve taken issue with some of the choices DC has made in terms of specific titles in this relaunch, there’s been little to criticize as far as the publicity is concerned. There’s really only one aspect with which I take issue, but unfortunately, it’s a significant issue. DC forgot (or so it seems) to do one thing for this initiative, and that’s to identify. DC hasn’t named its baby, and that’s led to some possible misinformation and misrepresentation. Newsarama and Comics Beat have taken to calling the initiative “DCNu,” a play on “DCU” (short for “DC Universe”). Others keep referring to the relaunch or reboot, and DC officials have maintained it’s not a reboot. Maybe the publisher is holding off on announcing the branding identity for the relaunch so as to give it something to announce later on, thereby keeping the initiative in the pop-culture news cycle. Still, failing to name this line-wide endeavor seems like a missed opportunity to me and a painfully obvious move that DC shouldn’t have been able to overlook.
For a long time, comics readers in North America fell into two main categories: those that discovered and favored DC Comics titles as kids, and those that latched onto Marvel Comics characters. The first three comics I ever got as a kid and read were an issue of Charlton’s Six Million Dollar Man, Amazing Spider-Man #183 (featuring Rocket Racer and the Big Wheel) and Batman Family #19. It was the latter to which I was drawn the most because it featured more colorful characters and more stories. That was the summer of 1978, and right away, I was a DC kid. It wasn’t until the mid 1980s that I ventured into the world of Marvel.
So, skipping ahead 30 years or so, the DC kid inside me is rather intrigued about DC’s ambitious relaunched initiative, set to begin in September with 52 new first issues. Now that all 52 new titles and creative teams have been announced, I felt like offering my two cents’ worth about the new DC Universe line as a whole, in the order in which they were announced, and by clusters.
It was only after I posted my editorial about DC’s fall reboot/renumbering initiative a little while ago that I happened upon the Jim Lee illustration of the new Justice League lineup that’s to star in the new Justice League #1 that Lee’s doing with writer Geoff Johns. The image says a lot about the coming changes without saying much of anything at all.
Reaction to DC’s announcement Tuesday that it’s revamping its entire line of super-hero titles and relaunching with 52 new titles featuring its familiar characters (some perhaps tweaked to be a little less familiar) was met with immediate reactions, and many of them were highly negative, leery or outright hostile.
Some of the thumbs-down comments were understandable. Comics retailers are faced with a major shake-up of one of its top two product lines, a spike in the number of titles and the task of trying to assuage their customers’ concerns so they can hold onto those sales in the months ahead. DC’s announcement will have a direct impact on the livelihoods of the owners of comics shops and those working there, so one can’t begrudge them the valid comments and concerns than have arisen in the hours (and days and weeks to come) since the bomb was dropped.
The more puzzling reactions I’ve read online were those from readers. Many have complained that since DC continuity is getting some sort of a reboot (or at least a partial reboot) in the fall, all of the stories unfolding in DC titles now, in recent weeks, and in the months and years that have passed “don’t matter.” Somehow, a retooling of the DC line, its characters and continuity means those stories didn’t happen, that having read them and invested in the adventures of DC’s heroes and villains was time and money wasted.
Well, that didn’t take long.
Earlier this year, IDW Publishing happened upon a fairly interesting and effective promotional campaign involving variant covers. Now, variants are hardly the freshest idea in the comic-book industry, but this one was a little different. If a shop ordered 500 copies of Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters #1, its copies would feature a cover image of the Japanese monster’s gigantic foot crushing its premises to rubble. About 75 shops took advantage of the promotion. It definitely boosted sales on the comic book. Numbers indicate the comic sold almost 59,000 copies, which is probably somewhere between 30,000-40,000 more than it would’ve sold without the marketing gimmick.
Given this success, it was only a matter of time before other publishers gave it a shot. Avatar offered a special personalized variant cover to retailers featuring a unique piece of art for each of those covers (as opposed to the same image being tweaked slightly, as was the case with the Godzilla retailer variant. Given how small a publisher Avatar is, though (despite the popular and established writing talent it draws upon), I don’t think we’ll see tens of thousands of these personalized variant editions turning up.
I read with interest and sympathy last week the report that popular comic-book artist Adam Hughes would no longer do commissioned sketches at comics conventions anymore after being frustrated time and time again to see the artwork he’d thought he’d created for fans sold online for several times more than what he charged for the sketch in the first place. While being told he was fulfilling a fan’s dream, he was really engaging in work for hire. His disgust with repeated deceptions is completely understandable, and it’s a shame that opportunists — who clearly know what they’re doing is shady — have ruined things for others.
I’m not only a big fan of comics, but I collect original comic art too, and I’ve got a great little collection of sketches in a small sketchbook I bring to cons (on the rare occasion I can get to one). Many artists do what Hughes has done in the past, doing sketches for a short list of fans who pre-pay. I’ve never availed myself of such services. I don’t begrudge artists the decision to charge for con sketches (especially when such paid commissions are usually fairly detailed); after all, many comics professionals are shelling out money from their own wallets for display space at these events, and selling sketches (along with limited edition sketchbooks, original art and other merchandise) is a good way to recoup such expenditures. I’ve just decided to direct my financial resources and time at cons in different directions. Whenever I’ve gone to cons, I’ve been on a budget (travel has always been involved), and I wasn’t keen on leaving my sketchbook with an artist for a day or more at a convention. Like I said, it’s a small sketchbook, and I don’t like having it tied up with just one or two artists for the entire event.
Among this week’s new releases from Marvel Comics was Thunderbolts #156. I’ve been enjoying the new direction for this series since writer Jeff Parker took it over last year, and regular artist Kev Walker’s gritty, harsh depiction of some of the unsavory and unusual characters who comprise the cast adds to the non-traditional take on the super-hero genre that’s been a part of this property from its inception in the 1990s. On its cover, this particular issue — and many of those that came before it — boasts a T+ rating. Marvel’s website defines its ratings as follows:
“Each Marvel comic gets a rating: A is appropriate for ages nine and up, T+ is appropriate for ages 12 and up and Parental Advisory is appropriate for ages 15 and up. Other ratings you may see are self-explanatory.”