DC Comics: Heading Back To Basics?

Superman and Batman new

Recent information from the bean counters at DC Comics says they are behind forecasted sales by 2 million for 2015. A number of reasons can be factored into this, some of which are not comic related, like the move from New York to the west coast.

While moving can be a costly endeavor, that doesn’t explain the lack of excitement over the whole Convergence event, or the lack of sales from it. The fact that some books have been slapped with a $4.99 price tag doesn’t help either. Having printed books in the past, I know exactly what it costs, and it isn’t cheap, but $4.99 is still overpriced for a company the size of DC. A company of their stature can negotiate much better price breaks than the average Joe, and that’s even in the American publishing market.

It appears the grand idea behind Convergence has fallen flat on its face. All the hype of its reboot (let’s call it what it really was), and the so-called storytelling freedom it would allow the creators, has failed.

Rich Johnston, of Bleeding Cool, says that several of his editorial contacts at DC have been told to stop “batgirling,” a term that refers to taking an existing character and then turning them on their ear to try and make them appealing to a larger market.

So what’s happening? I hate to say that I told you so, but it looks like I was right about my earlier criticism of the company’s intentions. I wrote earlier about the new direction DC was taking and, while I applauded their attempts to bring in new, more-diverse creators, under the pretense of giving those creators increased freedom no less, I also saw it for the gimmick it really was. To say the new direction was a complete gimmick would be wrong, but when you depart from the established so abruptly, all you’re doing is going for the shock value.

In response to what Rich Johnston wrote, Dan DiDio and Jim Lee addressed those concerns during an interview with Beau Yarbrough of the LA Daily News:

Not all of the experiments succeed, of course, but the co-publishers said, despite rumors to the contrary, the company’s not backing down from the “DC You” approach.

“If you’re trying to build a fan base, a new audience, you’ve got to nurture it. You’ve got to take your time. You’ve got to take your losses,” DiDio said. “Sooner or later, it’s going to take hold and hopefully be a leader in the business. Right now, our goal is to try and feed out as much product that’s as different as possible to try and attract the widest audience possible.”

The company will start “adjusting a little bit, and start to focus,” he said, looking at what’s working with the new “DC You” initiative and what has not.

“We had some hits, we have some things that are under-performing,” Lee said. “What we (did) in June is definitely step one towards this sort of transformation of the (comics) line. And I think that story is still being written.”

So what can we learn from what was said here? Well, nothing we don’t already know. For instance when DiDio says, “If you’re trying to build a fan base, a new audience, you’ve got to nurture it. You’ve got to take your time. You’ve got to take your losses,” the number-one thing that stands out is the “building a new audience” part.

He is saying that the new focus is to bring in more readers. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s a solid idea if your publisher. The problem I have is the fact they are trying to do it by simply changing the existing characters, a bad idea really, because if you do it wrong you alienate your existing fan base — something that DC has been doing a lot of recently, going back to the New 52.

The next part that stands out to me is this. “‘The company will start adjusting a little bit, and start to focus,’ he said, looking at what’s working with the new ‘DC You’ initiative and what has not.” This is their way of saying they are going to change back, or cancel things that don’t work. Nothing overtly wrong here. But I have to think that if they took the time to deliberately and organically cultivate these changes from within, instead of just hitting the readers over the head with another forced reboot, it might have worked better.

How about this line: “Right now, our goal is to try and feed out as much product that’s as different as possible to try and attract the widest audience possible.” While I agree with the concept, and it’s smart for a publisher to have wide appeal, you don’t gain that by simply smashing up everything you already have.

I’m sure DC has taken a lot of cues from what Marvel has done, trying to emulate it but not succeeding. Take for example the new Ms. Marvel. If you want something that is different, and you’re afraid it won’t work without any name recognition, here is a great example of how DC should be doing it. The new Ms. Marvel book features a completely separate character, just borrowing the name. Now, I’m not saying do the exact same thing, but here is a rebooted character who doesn’t necessitate getting rid of their predecessor.

This, of course, is easier done with a second-tier character like Ms. Marvel. Now let’s look at James Gordon, Batman. They not only are messing with two characters in doing this, they are messing with one of their flagship characters at the same time. Not the best of ideas. But still it might work, maybe, if done correctly.

Now it would be simply wrong to say that DC comics is the only culprit here. Marvel is just as bad and, with their new mouse overlord, it’s become almost downright blatant. The difference between the two companies appears to be that Marvel is simply putting out better books. The writing, art, and focus at Marvel, even with their new Earth-shattering Secret Wars, is still a lot tighter and easier to follow than the convoluted Convergence was.

So what’s going to happen? Pretty simple, DC is going to go back to basics, doing silly things like putting Bruce Wayne back into the batsuit, having Superman ditch the t-shirt and jeans look, and making a hard right back to what the readers expect from these types of titles.Superman and WonderWoman

If I was in charge at DC, I’d have each and every one of my editors, take a long hard look at what has come before them in the comic industry. Take a look at how comics used to be story-driven, and would find ways to build good stories around their characters instead of just adapting them to the latest fantastic spin that can be cooked up.

The changes for the characters should be derived organically from within the story, not mandated from editors who think it would be neat to throw Commissioner Gordon into the role of Batman. It’s as if they have forgotten that these stories are to be about the character, and the fact that they are superheroes is just supposed to be part of that story. Get me to care about the character, and what is going on in their day-to-day lives, a life that just happens to include fighting super villains.

The DC Comics style guide from 1982 has been popping up all over the web recently, and I think there is a direct correlation between that and what’s currently going on. Long-time readers are longing for a better time in comics, a time when the comics were just better, a time like the 1980s. Sure, you have people who will say that the art wasn’t as good, and that’s a personal preference, but I still say that the stories from the mid and late 80s had more substance than their modern-day counterparts. Of course we will skip over the 1990s, when the corporate influence started at the big two in earnest.

Take a look at Scott Snyder’s and Greg Capullo’s recent run on Batman. What about this run made it something everyone was raving about? Seeing how I’m not a big Snyder fan, and didn’t care much for what he was doing there, I only read enough of it to know that he was using this basic formula. He was giving us a Bruce Wayne story, where Batman was making an appearance. If DC actually gets back to this formula, they will be fine, but I’m not sure they will be able to.

The new accepted norm is all about the gimmick. It’s all about tying everything into the mega event, or the movie, or changing the super heroes so that existing characters are nothing like what they used to be. With the huge successes of the movies (excluding colossal bombs like the Fantastic Four movie), the films are influencing what we see in the comics. While I’m not 100% against this, you have to remember, though, they change things to make it more compatible with the big screen; what works on the big screen doesn’t necessarily translate back to comics.

While I keep my fingers crossed, and hope that they get it right, I’ll simply keep reading the books coming from Dark Circle and other smaller publishers when I want a super hero book that’s doing it right.

William Henry Dvorak
About William Henry Dvorak (87 Articles)
William Henry Dvorak has grown up around comics his whole life. He's worked in a comic book shop, owned a comic book shop and has been writing off and on his whole life. Over the years William has tried his hand at a number of different careers, from acting, to being a private detective, but always came back to his first love, comic books and writing. Starting in 2011 William got serious with his writing and founded Wicked Studios LLC, a sequential art and entertainment company and began work on his stories and novels.

Leave a Reply