MY New DC Comics (Or: Work Smarter, Not Harder)

Posted: July 29, 2011 in comic books, crotchety ranting, Jeff Holland, Threat Quality
Tags: , , , ,

With Comic-Con finally wrapped, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I would’ve handled the DC Reboot situation, were I the Man in Charge.

Since the initial announcements, there’s been some moments of brilliance – starting with the fact that doing something as drastic as restarting and expanding all the properties has people paying a lot of attention to DC Comics. So from that perspective, mission accomplished.

But a lot of moves since then have been a little baffling. There WILL be current readers who throw up their hands, say “Fuck it!” and stop buying in frustration, after hearing that the Lois-Clark marriage is being erased, or trying to make statements like, “Oh yeah all the major events of the last 25 years totally happened” jibe with “Also, the Justice League is only five years old and they were the first superheroes. Except Batman’s been operating for 10.”  DC’s hope that they’ll somehow manage to gain more readers than they lose is a huge question mark.

(Also: When readers hear Dan Didio explain – with a straight face – that what they really think is a great idea for Superman is to make him a lonely, isolated figure who’s exploring his alien side; and this is a wonderful idea, for a character called MARTIAN MANHUNTER.)

And of course, they’re putting a lot of time and effort behind books that seem like obvious nonstarters (I can see the crossover appeal drawing some Vampire Diaries/True Blood/Twilight fans to “I, Vampyre,” but there are, straight-up, only about 5 people who give a shit about Captain Atom).

Point is, they’re doing it the way they think is best, but from the outside, it looks…risky.

But here’s how I would have done it, and once I started thinking about it, I was surprised just how far in the opposite direction I would’ve gone – to generate excitement while minimizing risk.

Idea 1. CUT THE LINE.

See what I mean? 

You want people to try a whole new line of comics? Make sure there’s only enough for them to reasonably consider buying, and make it feel like they’re all VITAL PURCHASES.

This means you can have a Batman and a Detective Comics, but no more “Gates of Gotham,” “Batman & Robin,” etc. Same with the Superman line: sorry, Superboy, you get to be in Teen Titans. And ONE Legion book, dammit.

This line should be 16 titles to start: Superman/Action, Batman/Detective, Justice League, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Legion of Superheroes, SHAZAM!, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, The Flash, Blackhawks, Jonah Hex, Batwoman, Supergirl.

Then in four months, trot out a few more books, as “Wave 2” or something.

Please take note of the titles I’ve picked out. Each book should serve a different function or genre. Green Lantern and Flash are wonderful superhero comics, but there are plenty of offerings beyond traditional superhero stuff. SHAZAM! should be an all-ages book aimed at younger readers. Supergirl should be the comic EVERY teenage girl wants to read. Jonah Hex is a western, Blackhawks is GI Joe style paramilitary adventure, etc. There should be a flavor available for every reader’s interest. (This should even extend to an idea DC occasionally flirts with – Batman the “superhero”-flavored Bat-title, Detective the “crime fiction” title.)

DC had the right idea, but with 52 titles to brand, went TOO broad. “We got vampires! We got cowboys! We got army guys! We got 90’s Wildstorm dudes! We got Dr. Manhattan Captain Atom! And five Batman titles!” is overwhelming for the new audience they’re aiming for. Paring down AND diversifying the line increases the chances readers will try a lot of different books.

Don’t get me wrong – I am curious about titles like Demon Knights and Justice League Dark. But you can bring those out later, once you’ve proven to the new audience that this is something you plan on building over time.

Initiave II: Make JUSTICE LEAGUE  HUGE.

If nobody buys anything else, they should still be buying Justice League. It should feel like The Event Book every month. And yes, Geoff Johns and Jim Lee qualify as a big deal, so good work there. (What it SHOULDN’T be, though, is “Here’s a new origin for the Justice League” at a time when they’re also trying not to get bogged down in continuity. But we’ll get to that.)

Plan three: PAY FOR TOP-TIER CREATIVE TEAMS.

Look, I’m sure he’s a very nice man, but J.T. Krul is not “top-tier.” Dan Jurgens is a solid journeyman artist, but he’s not going to get a lot of buzz (not enough to have him on two books, at least).

What I mean here is, pay Warren Ellis a shitload of money to write Batman for a while. Not forever, just for six months to a year. However he wants to do it.

Bring Mark Waid back to The Flash (or other “Return engagement” ideas).

Steal someone from Marvel. ANYONE. Jason Aaron? Greg Pak? Any of those guys is fine! Are Abnett & Lanning getting tired of the Marvel Cosmic books? Now is your chance!

Grab some outside guys – what a coup it would be to advertise, say, “From the minds that brought you Zombieland!” Or, hey, you know who Grant Morrison knows who’s a really good writer? My Chemical Romance frontman GERARD WAY.

You see what I mean here. Draw as much attention to who’s doing the books as the titles themselves. (Note: This does not mean “Kevin Smith.”)

Clever ploy 4: Just ignore continuity for a while – don’t throw it away.

This is a golden opportunity to practice the rule of “Every issue may be somebody’s first.” Readers shouldn’t need to know ANYTHING about the characters beyond what the new Issue #1 comic tells them. But that doesn’t mean they need to start from scratch. Just introduce the status quo (if it has to be reformed, like Green Arrow’s new book, that’s fine, as long as there’s an in-story explanation) and tell a new-reader-friendly story. If new villains or mission statements are required, fantastic.

But if all you need to do is some variation on, “I’m Wally West. THE FLASH – The fastest man alive,” then there’s no reason to throw the baby (or, say, Wally’s kids) out with the bathwater.
Don’t want to draw attention to the old-timers in the Justice Society? DON’T MENTION THEM. Which doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It just means they just aren’t something new readers need to know about right now.

The point is to let new readers know they can come into the book cold, while letting long-time readers know it’s just the start of a new story, and signaling to lapsed readers that now’s a great time to jump back on.

A “no crossovers” rule for the first year may also be a good start.

However it’s done, just Think Forward. The only rules should be, don’t tell stories mired in past continuity, or in cross-company-crossovers.

Diabolical scheme 5: NEW COSTUMES – BUT ONLY WHERE NEEDED.

Ditching Superman’s underpants and putting leggings on Wonder Woman are quick, easy ways to get a page in Entertainment Weekly without throwing people into a panic. But there is NO REASON to update Green Lantern and The Flash, who already had ideally-designed costumes. Pick your battles, dammit.

Man, we’re up to 6 already? PRACTICE THIS PHRASE: “WE HAVE EXCITING PLANS FOR [INSERT CHARACTER HERE].”

Don’t play coy. If, say, a Nightwing title isn’t part of the initial 16 lineup, whet fans’ whistles that they’re in for a treat in a few months when you do start the book up again. If someone asks, “Where’s Power Girl?” and you only have her in a supporting role, don’t be a prick about it. “Keep an eye out for Karen Starr in Mr. Terrific – we’ve got some stuff for her starting there.”

My Crowning Achievement, Plot 7: Brand new “FIRST ADVENTURE” trade dress. Don’t worry about telling ANYONE’s origin again. In most cases, it’s already been told, pretty well, somewhere else. All DC would have to do is tell curious readers where they are.

To this end, I’d put out new editions of stuff like Batman: Year One, Superman: Secret Origin, Green Lantern: Secret Origin, Green Arrow: Year One, and so on. with the trade banner “DC UNIVERSE: FIRST ADVENTURE” or something along those lines.

The hypothetical new audience member says, “I like this new Batman comic, but what do I need to know about his origin?” Here. Take this $15, go to your local shop and pick up the book that says “Batman’s First Adventure” right on the cover (or download a bundle to your iPad, whatever).

For characters that don’t have something as iconic as Batman: Year One or as recent as Superman: Secret Origin – and here I’m looking at, say, Wonder Woman (who I don’t think has had an “origin comic” since the 80’s George Perez series) and the Barry Allen Flash – you can put out a brand-new, 80-page OGN that also has the “First Adventure” trade dress.

Then continue that trend on, say, a quarterly basis. Put out a recognizable Year One alongside a new one – Jeff Smith’s SHAZAM! Monster Society of Evil the same month as a brand-new Carter Hall Hawkman book.

And that’s how you make an event out of essentially just putting out a series of Greatest Hits reprints!

I think if DC had gone this way they could’ve grabbed all the attention they’re getting, without making more work for themselves or freaking out older readers.

But hey, that’s just me. I’m sure oversaturating a market that’s already shaky, putting off old readers in hopes of attracting new ones, and basically acting like the 90’s are something to aspire to rather than avoid has its merits too.

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Comments
  1. I had very similar ideas a couple of months ago. Humour books, (Angel and the Ape, Inferior Five) pirate books (Captain Fear) romance books (Smallville) books for little kids (Metal Men, Shazam) fantasy books (Amethyst) and others. But no more than twenty or thirty titles. Fifty-two seems crazy. And you’re right: who really cares about Captain Atom?

  2. NotQuiteMyStuff says:

    It’s like you predicted everything that would be wrong with JLA #1, except for “Don’t charge $4 for a 22/25 page book after spending a year saying you were holding the line at $3”.

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