As mentioned on a recent podcast episode, DC Comics is projected to be roughly $2 million under their projections for the calendar year (measured as expenditures against revenue). An expensive cross-country move, terrible sales on their linewide Convergence event, and the June DC “You” books launching softer than expected all contributed to some scary numbers. The big rumor was that Warner Brothers had a plan to dig their subsidiary out of the hole they’re in. While a once a generation (if that) move necessitated the terrible patchwork Convergence event, DC sales have been trending poorly compared to Marvel for a while now.
Well, now the other shoe has dropped. DC Comics is going to enter a period of “austerity” (just a fancy way to say belt tightening). Here’s the gist of it:
1. No more “batgirling” of books. The reinvention and continuity-be-damned success of books like Batgirl and Harley Quinn inspired much of the post-Convergence DC universe. Looks like creators are now being discouraged from doing this going forward. It may take a few months but expect a (somewhat) tighter continuity.
2. All titles have a shorter leash. This especially applies to a lot of the new June titles. DC had previously committed to at least 12 issues of each of these titles to assure retailers and fans and the help build a base of readers. The exciting new title, Promises has been canceled by DC comics as well.
3. A higher burden for new titles. New projects will be more difficult to get approved. This most likely means titles that are not somehow related to big sellers like Batman or Justice League. This policy seems fairly shortsighted. No one knew the new vision on Batgirl would be a hit and this higher standard to ensure more “safe” titles seems like it locks the company into a continued slow decline.
4. More ads and lower page rates. More ads obviously means more money. As long as this doesn’t cut into the overall page count of storylines this seems an easy fix that shouldn’t offend people too much. DC has long had a reputation of paying top dollar for artists. While this is all work for hire, money’s money. Offering less money isn’t going to help the perception that DC can’t retain their top talent (up and coming creators like Charles Soule and Mahmud Asrar, among others, were signed to Marvel exclusive contracts this year)
These are undoubtedly steps. Some of them even feel like they could be in the right direction. Ultimately though, this is the risk of having corporate overlords dictating editorial decisions to any comic company. This probably isn’t an issue if Warner Brothers didn’t also have a bad year but they did and there’s no changing that. There are some other ideas DC may or may not pursue in the near future to help:
1. More Harley Quinn. Let’s start with the easy one. Her book is a hit and they’re on the right track releasing Harley Quinn and Power Girl miniseries this summer. More of this. Marvel has been churning out Deadpool miniseries forever and its time for DC to match their rival. The release of Suicide Squad will only amp up interest in the character.
2. Embrace character design. New characters taking off isn’t just about ideas, design matters. Marvel’s Spider-Gwen has been a hit partly because of a great design. DC had a fantastic character design in Pandora. She was tied into the Flashpoint event that launched the New 52 and played a role in the Trinity War which DC had been hyping for – literally – years. The launch of her own (short-lived) book was plagued by a mediocre creative team, convoluted back story, and a bunch of loose threads. Then DC editorial gave up. The character is nowhere to be found.
3. Jim Lee needs to draw more. Ok, maybe this is the easy one. The Didio/Lee team has repeatedly failed as DC executives. Meanwhile, when Lee has drawn books they have always been hits. DC needs more hits. The Batman Europa project signals they may be realizing this but that’s a four issue miniseries. Even four best-selling issues is a drop in the bucket. Jim Lee needs to start providing more of those drops.
4. Integrate their line. Despite their current condition, DC Comics had a hit with the New 52 line. They experimented with great ideas and trusted great creative teams on their characters. Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing, and more traditional undersellers were hits. Everything happened in the same universe and many new and lapsed readers bought in. In the past year, DC has had very few traditional events encouraging readers to try out more titles to get the whole story. Darkseid War is going on in Justice League and involves Darkseid fighting the Anti-Monitor on earth (!!!) with the Justice League caught between. The storyline and art are amazing and sales have been great for the one book…because there are no tie-ins. Read that line again. How does this happen to a comic book company? Besides just selling comics, it gets fans talking and sharing their expertise. “You didn’t read Aquaman? It explains what happens while he’s away from the team in last week’s Justice League!” The cross-title conversations are an integral part to establishing geek cred and there’s nothing geeks love more than the ability to show off their geek cred. Even if sales don’t go up dramatically, it makes readers of Aquaman happier with their investment. It’s just selling comics 101 and they’ve failed. They can change this but it involves getting someone on board who can capably manage a shared universe. Maybe Greg Berlanti isn’t too busy. Hmm…
5. Hire Greg Berlanti as editor. Sure he’s running television shows like Arrow, Flash, and Supergirl. Maybe he can save DC comics too!
What do you think about these recent develops? Sound off in the comments!