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So twenty or so years ago, when Mystery Science Theater 3000 was still on the air, and a feature film was in the offing, there was a not-insignificant amount of MST3K merchandise floating about. There were the t-shirts, of course, and a promo set of nine trading cards for the film (one of which is pictured to the right, there), and a Dynamic Forces lithograph, and all the stuff from the official fan club…and there was a planned comic book. Acclaim Comics was going to release a Mystery Science Theater 3000 comic book which, if my aged brain recalls correctly, was going to feature Mike and the ‘bots riffing over old Gold Key comics, presumably with their silhouettes superimposed at the bottom of the panels, or something similar.
The comic never did get come out, perhaps due to the MST3K feature film effectively being killed by its very limited release, or perhaps due to comics publishing/marketplace issues…whatever the reason, we didn’t get the funnybook that I, and probably many other MST fans, were hoping for.
Now, in 2017, with a new Mystery Science Theater 3000 TV series in production, and with years’ worth of DVD releases keeping the flame alive, and with the various similar spin-off projects finding new fans (most famously Rifftrax), now apparently is the time to try the comic thing again. Thanks to Johanna for pointing this out, as I somehow missed the announcement, but Dark Horse Comics has entered into a merchandising partnership with MST3K, explicitly mentioning a comic book series as part of the deal. Now, Johanna hopes it’s not just the adventures of the MST crew, and it probably won’t be. I’m sure it’ll be riffing old comics, like the Acclaim series was likely to be…though to be honest, I wouldn’t mind an “Adventures of New Host Jonah and the ‘Bots” series. But man, what I wouldn’t give for some kind of Avengers Forever/Watchmen/Crisis on Infinite Earths/Earth X/Kingdom Come type series tying together all the different iterations of MST3K into one cohesive continuity. Fully painted by Alex Ross, of course. …C’mon, you know that’d be great.
• • •
In response to Turan’s comment
regarding what kicked off my Atlas/Seaboard collection, asking if it was the Bog-Beast
what did the deed. The answer is no, believe it or not…when I was but a young Mikester, I was given a bag of old (well, perhaps not so old, then) comic books that were purchased at a thrift store. As I wasn’t yet the wizened old comics coot I am today, most of these comics were new to me…including the first issue of Grim Ghost
. I thought that comic was pretty great, and when the opportunity arose, I picked up another issue of that series…and eventually, I started picking up others from the publisher, just because they were so like
typical ’70s Marvel and DCs, but just different enough to feel sort of weird and mysterious and compelling. I don’t think I decided I was going to try for them all until after I was actually working in comics retail, but I think I figured there were few enough of them that it was worth a try. ‘Course, nearly three decades later I’m still trying to track some down, but that’s okay. All part of the fun of comic collecting!
By the way, I only remember a couple of other comics from that thrift store bag…one was this issue of Shazam! and the other was the Classics Illustrated version of Frankenstein. Man, thank goodness I didn’t get bit by the Classics collecting bug. “Finally collected all the first printings of the series…now to start on the second printings!” said 88-year-old Mike.
So the other day a lad and his grandmother came to the shop to look around, and everything was going well until the grandmother took a close look at the new comics rack and exclaimed “comics cost $3.99!?” It was a bit of sticker shock for her, as that was quite a bit higher than the new comic prices she remembered from her youth.
I mentioned this on the Twitters, and as the discussion continued from my initial post there, I realized there were two different issues that were perhaps being conflated. The first issue, and the one of greatest interest to those of us who regularly consume this particular artform, is that of perceived value. “Did I get my $3.99’s worth out of this comic?” “Did I just blow through this $3.99 comic filled with splash pages and no dialogue in two minutes?” “Did I just spend 20 minutes slowly absorbing the intricacies of dialogue and appreciating the beautifully-rendered art?” All questions we’re familiar with, I’m sure. And it is an important concern, that everyone from the reader to the publisher to the retailer needs to worry about: is the product worth it?
There’s no simple answer, of course. Maybe you don’t like the all-splash page comic with no dialogue, but maybe someone else loves the art in that comic and is thrilled to have huge images and no text to get in the way. Maybe I like dialogue-heavy comics that take me a while to read, and maybe someone else thinks if they wanted to read a prose novel, they’d have bought one. Everyone decides for him-or-herself if the price they’re paying for a comic is worth the value they get from it.
Anyway, we’re all comics people, we know all that. But the other issue I was thinking about, based on that grandmother’s response to seeing the price, was the very fact that the price itself is a barrier to new readers, independent of whether or not the contents could deliver on the cost of admission.
This isn’t a very deep topic, admittedly. “High price drives away customers” – no dur-hay, right? But it reminded me of when I wrote about DC’s “The New 52!” slug that they had on their covers for the last few years. For those “in the know,” it told us “hey, this is part of DC’s newly-rebooted continuity!” For anyone else who hasn’t read comics, it told them “you have no idea what this means, so clearly this isn’t for you.” Even though the New 52 initiative is no longer marketed as such (ending when it did just as reader Ray predicted), the phrase still exists on back issues and on the trade paperbacks and I still hear “hey, what does this mean” from folks new to the industry all the time.
Basically, it’s something on the cover that warns people not already reading comics “this is not for you.” And maybe the higher price points on the regular monthly series (currently averaging $3.99, with Marvel slowly getting us used to $4.99) are yet another warning. Okay, maybe it’s mostly a warning to people who remember when comics were ten or fifteen or thirty-five cents and have somehow wandered back into a comic shop only to discover 1) wait, they’re still making Howard the Duck? and 2) it’s $4.99 a throw? And I don’t think four bucks is too bad a price point for what you’re getting…that’s like a pack of Magic: The Gathering cards (I think…it’s been a while since I’ve had to sell any), or…fancy coffee, I guess? But it’s not “toss the guy a coin and not think about it” pricing…it’s not a significant amount of money, but it’s not nothing, either. And that’s just one more barrier to someone new to comics trying to decide if he or she really wants to take the plunge.
Again, this is hardly a new observation, but it brought me to think once again about what the breaking point is going to be. I’m sure those of us who were around a couple of decades back buying comics for, what, $1.25 or $1.50 each, would have laughed in your face if told we’d be buying essentially the same comics for $3.99. But here we are. And so far any comics that have been $4.99 or higher have had higher page counts or nicer production or some other aspect that improved the perceived value of the item. But then, so did $3.99 comics at one point. And so did $1.99 comics.
My thought was that eventually periodical comics would have to evolve into thick anthology magazines, front-loaded with ads to keep costs down, but attracting advertisers is a problem now for comics, too. So who knows where it goes from here…moving to a trade paperback-only model? Everyone moves to digital comics? Your pal Mike shutters his store and has to find a real job? I don’t know…it’s a thing I have to worry about, and it’s a situation that’s coming whether anyone likes it or not.
Boy, that’s cheery stuff, right? Anyway, this isn’t a “comics industry is doomed” thing, since people have been saying for decades that the business’s death is “five years away.” I’m just curious about what’s coming next, and hopefully whatever’s coming will appeal to new customers rather than try to block them out.
• • •
I wanted to post a brief note regarding pal Dave’s decision to end his blog
, at least for the time being. He’s one of my favorite writers…smart, funny, and very
insightful, with plenty of interesting things to say on a wide variety of topics which as I type it sounds like a remarkably generic thing to say about someone, but it’s really true in his case. I’ve never been much of a gamer, but his posts on the various games he’s played were just as fun to read as his occasional comics or movie post, which fell more within my specific wheelhouse.
I’m sorry he’s taking down his virtual shingle, but I’m glad he shared as much with us as he did. Plus, I still get to bother him on Twitter, at least until he blocks or mutes me. Thanks for all the good work, Dave, and hopefully we’ll see more from you in the future.
…but I just couldn’t do it. I got, I don’t know, about 40 minutes or so in, over a couple of attempts on consecutive nights, and decided it just wasn’t worth the effort. It did have 1) Helen Slater as a charming Supergirl despite everything, 2) Peter Cook being as Peter Cook-ish as the movie would allow, and 3) Matt Frewer in a brief role as a street creep, but that just wasn’t enough, I’m afraid. There is a fine line between the filmmakers allowing the viewer to fill in narrative gaps and filmmakers just not giving half a darn, and I’m afraid Supergirl veered more closely to the latter. It’s the kind of thing that brought us “Phantom Zone Villain Levitation-Ray Finger” and “Restore-Great-Wall-of-China-Vision” in the Superman films, the “who cares/it’s good enough” method of storytelling that tells anyone even vaguely familiar with the source material that they, and said source material, don’t matter enough to be treated with even the slightest respect.
I tried to be more charitable…even the venerated Superman: The Movie isn’t without its flaws, but even trying to view Supergirl as a near-dreamlike fairy tale, which one suspects was at least partially the intent, it’s just not very well done. Or it’s just that what passed for cutting-edge superhero movie-making in the mid-1980s just hasn’t aged well into the early 21st century. Or maybe I just plain wasn’t in the mood for it. Whatever the reason, it was more than I could bear, so back in the ol’ Netflix envelope it goes. Sorry, #1 Fan of the 1984 Supergirl Movie That I’m Sure I’ll Be Hearing from Soon.
• • •
In other news: I’ve been trying to come up with a follow-up to my last post, in particular the response from blogging brother Tim, but I’ve been having a hard time of it. It’s a complicated issue, regarding how best to return an old series to the stands after years of absence, and there’s no good answer. You can just ignore what came before and start afresh (like Valiant), you can reissue everything previously published prior to starting new material, either in individual issues (Miracleman) or in book collections (Beanworld).
Or, in the case of the Badger, which, as I’d said before, is pretty continuity-light, just bring him back in new adventures and reintroduce old characters/situations as needed. Old fans will be satisfied, and new fans won’t feel like they’re out of their depth with missed backstory.
I don’t know…it’s tough, and anyone, from new creators to long-established ones, trying to claim a little space on retailers’ shelves among the multiple Batman and Deadpool comics has my sympathies and understanding. It’s a small, tough marketplace and you’ve got your work cut out for you.
• • •
In other, other news, pal Andrew will be featuring Shrinking Violet from the Legion of Super-Heroes all this month. Why, you may ask? Why not, I reply.
So Roel asked, regarding my link to last week’s Question over at Trouble with Comics, just why that particular Alan Brennert Christmas story with Supergirl and Deadman was referred to as “infamous.”
To be honest, I didn’t think much about that particular description…I just figured it had something to do with the pre-Crisis Supergirl appearing in the post-Crisis universe and someone somewhere, either a pro or a fan, got bent out of shape over it or something. And, it appears, after being pointed in the direction of this article by my fellow Troublemakers, that there more hoohar swirling about this particular comic than I realized.
The article itself focuses on the (basically confirmed) idea that folks in charge of the Superman comics weren’t terribly enthused about the pre-Crisis, totally-wiped-from-continuity Supergirl all of the sudden being brought back for a Very Special Story that was not under the purview of the Super-editorial offices. And if one were to look to the comments on said article, rumors aplenty are to be had about what may or may not have happened in regards to the release of this particular story…rumors that I’ll thank my kind readers not to reproduce in my comments section here, please. But anyway, there’s the “infamous” bit of business about it, I suppose.
I also saw elsewhere (in a post on a comic news site that has since been deleted, it seems) some commentary inspired by the Trouble with Comics Question column, wondering just why this specific Supergirl/Deadman story is held in such high regard. I personally think it’s a good, strong story (in a comic filled with some top-notch funnybookin’), in which Deadman learns a Very Important Lesson that just because no one knows about the effort and sacrifice one makes to do the right thing, doesn’t mean that doing the right thing isn’t important or unappreciated. For Deadman, who is literally an invisible spirit that the living world can’t know about, it’s an idea he needs to learn to accept, that he isn’t any less a hero just because his heroism is unrecognized.
For the reader, who is presumably aware that this is the Supergirl who was written out of the DC Universe due to the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, we are reminded that just because the characters don’t “exist” in “current continuity” anymore doesn’t mean those stories suddenly stopped meaning anything to us, now. It’s hard not to read a sort of implied criticism in this story about how stories and characters “count” or “don’t count” in terms of where they fall vis-à-vis universe-wide continuity-changing events. This comic is copyrighted 1988 (with a cover date of 1989), so this was only a year or two past DC’s kinda/sorta linewide reboot in Crisis, which would make Supergirl’s appearance here one of, if not the, earliest return of a pre-Crisis character that specifically references the pre-Crisis universe. Kind of a surprise kick in the pants to folks still getting used to the New DC of the “there’s-no-stopping-us-now” variety.
I don’t know that really explains why this is as highly regarded as it is, beyond it being a well-written comic with great art by Dick Giordano. It could be seen the sort of fan-targeted deeply-referenced insular story that isn’t good for the long-term health of the medium, with a punchline that only makes sense if you were there for Crisis and can understand just who that blond gal is talking to Deadman. But it is a nice Christmas gift to those fans, a quiet metatextual reminder after the bombast of the crossover event, that those characters and stories may be in the past, but they’re not forgotten.
Plus, who doesn’t love a good Deadman story? C’mon, let’s get serious here.
In response to my having noted the inclusion of the previously-unpublished conclusion in the Puma Blues hardcover, reader bad wolf wrote
“[It] makes me wonder how many other series/runs could be completed with only an issue or two’s worth of material, that would add immeasurably to their interest/resale value?”
In particular, he (I’m assuming “he,” apologies if I’m wrong) specifies the Silver Age Marvel pastiche 1963 by Alan Moore and pals, and Rick Veitch’s run on Swamp Thing. Now, Veitch’s truncated Swamp Thing run, for better or worse, was picked up, continued, and wrapped up kinda/sorta by other hands, so likely as far as DC Comics is concerned, that specific period is packagable and marketable as a completed product, should they decide to release trades of that material. Not that it seems likely…they’ve only reprinted Veitch’s run up to issue #81, and that was in a trade paperback that was released in 2006. DC has since skipped ahead to reprinting the Mark Millar (with Grant Morrison on the earlier installments) that start at #140, skipping right over the end of the Veitch run and the conclusion by the replacement creative team. I would love to have a paperback with Veitch’s “alternate” (i.e. original) ending, but unless there’s a sudden explosion of Swamp Thing-mania, I’d be surprised if anyone would go through the trouble to make that happen.
Ultimately, in retrospect it seems so silly. DC objected to, and killed, a story in which a time-traveling Swamp Thing encounters Jesus in what, as far as I can tell, seemed a relatively reverent manner (well, as far as you can go with the Messiah hangin’ with a swamp monster, I guess), and then later publishes Preacher in which God is just straight-up the bad guy. Just goes to show you…well, something, I guess.
Now, the 1963 series was planned to run six regular issues, and then it would be wrapped up in the 1963 Annual, where the retro-styled heroes introduced in the main series would encounter the “Image Universe.” This Wiki entry pretty much sums up why it will probably never happen, even though being able to publish “THE COMPLETE 1963” in a fancy hardcover would probably sell…well, slightly more copies than the series is currently selling now out of quarter boxes in comic shops across the world. Not having that final annual doesn’t hurt the entertainment value of the other six issues, but once you reach that last issue with the cliffhanger ending, you can’t help but wonder what could have been.
Bad wolf wonders about other stories cut down before their conclusions, and other reader Touch-and-go Bullethead suggests a few good ones, especially that Sergio Aragones “T.C. Mars” serial from Sojourn. I’ve actually come across copies of Sojourn over the years, which was a tabloid-sized comics newspaper, so I have seen T.C. Mars (who’s also appeared on a cover, or back cover, of my favorite fanzine Comics Reader). I wouldn’t mind seeing Sergio returning to that.
A couple story endings I wouldn’t mind seeing, though these ships have sailed, sank, and been covered with silt long ago: the Andrew Helfer/Kyle Baker Shadow, which over Conde Nast’s dead body would that be allowed to happen, I’d suspect; and Sonic Distruptors, though after reading Andrew’s review, perhaps I’m better off leaving that in the past.
Oh, and I’d like to see the ending to Eye of Mongombo too, so long as I’m wishing.
So I was asked in the comments yesterday regarding the complete Puma Blues book if the “new” Alan Moore story in this collection was in fact the story from issue #20, published back in 1988. And the answer is, yes, the four-page story “Acts of Faith” written by Moore, and illustrated by Steve Bissette and Michael Zulli, is the one included. In fact, in the hardcover’s copyright information, it is specifically stated that only pages 44 through 47 of issue #20 are included in this volume (though see below).
I had forgotten that issue #20 of Puma Blues was an anthology issue, with multiple shorts (some only a page long) by a wide variety of creators, taking place in, or inspired by, the Puma Blues milieu. Creators include Peter Laird, Kevin Eastman, Rick Veitch, Dave Sim, Dan Day, Tom Sutton, and a whole lot more. From what I can tell, only the Moore/Bissette/Zulli story appears in the hardcover, along with Sim’s one-pager which is included with the hardcover’s introduction, and a page from the story “Pause” by Stephen Murphy, Zulli, and Bissette, included with Bissette’s afterword. As I recall, #20 was a benefit/tribute/something-or-other issue resulting from the Aardvark-Vanaheim/Diamond Comics brouhaha, which seems likely as the comic includes a timeline of events surrounding the incident.
Anyway, many of the contributions were pin-ups, and most of the actual stories were outside the main narrative, so you’re not missing any pieces of the plot if you only have the hardcover. But still, it’s something to look for after you’ve finished this Codex Gigas of a graphic novel.
I was also asked in the comments if I had any quality issues with the binding, and I have to say, no, not that I’ve noticed. Seems pretty solidly put together. It may be a different story as I enter, say, month ten of reading the thing, but it looks okay for now.
And in case you’re wondering, I did sell my shelf copy of the book in-store, after a handful of people picked it up and gave it a glance-through. More people than I expected actually remembered the series, after being gone well over a couple of decades, which honestly surprised me. Ultimately it went to someone who’d never seen the series before, and bought it on my recommendation after he spent some time paging through it. Hopefully he’ll like it and not come back and throw it at me in anger and disgust…that book could concuss a blue whale.
• • •
In other news: the latest Question Time
is up over there at Trouble with Comics, and the question o’the week is “which work of Alan Moore’s is the most neglected?” Sadly, I cheated a bit and used a rewritten version of this post
(which I do own up to in my contribution there). If I had time to actually write
a brand-new entry, I might have picked Moore’s back-up serial from American Flagg!
but it had already been covered in good detail here
. Or maybe that pin-up he drew for that first Dark Horse Comics Godzilla
black and white one-shot…that was pretty amazing.
But please go forth and take a look at my contribution there…it was based on a five-year-old post here, so maybe if you’d read it before you’ve forgotten it by now. Everything old is new again!
So the other day I bought a handful of comics (from someone surprised I wanted these over the ubiquitous Web of Spider-Man issues also in his possession) that included these two mini-series: Disney’s Pocahontas:
…and Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame:
These two minis are reprints of the one-shot adaptations also released in the mid-1990s. The Overstreet guide lists the one-shots, but not these minis, as far as I can tell. I had actually started typing a long-ish paragraph speculating as to the origins of these minis, but the process of doing so awakened some ancient memories in this cobwebbed brain of mine. A little Googling confirmed those dusty recollections, that these two-issue minis were sold in two-packs in toy stores and such, as shown in this image “borrowed” from this eBay auction
Why the one-shots were split into two comics for sale this way? I’m assuming so that the customer feels like s/he’s getting more bang for that two or two-and-a-half bucks, over paying the same amount for just one single comic that’s basically the same thing.
It does solve the mystery of why no cover prices are present, though the indicias in the comics do have suggested retail prices.
Mostly the reason I wanted to present these here are the Comics Code Authority stamps on the covers. Pocahontas has the traditional stamp we all know and love:
…but apparently when they were slapping together the Hunchback covers someone misplaced the photostats (or whatever) and someone was all like “c’mon, nobody cares, just type it in there” –
…and there you go. Not quite “Cosmic Code Authority
” level, but an interesting variation on that familiar cover element nonetheless.
So I had a couple of comic collections come into the shop over the weekend. One was a big ol’ pile of Dark Horse Star Wars comics, which, as it turned out, was about 99% different from the Dark Horse Star Wars comics I already had in the shop for sale (i.e. the ones I had bought for myself but gave up to the shop when I opened). The other was a big ol’ pile of comics from the late ’40s/early ’50s, mostly Disney (including lots of classic Carl Barks), Little Lulu, and other various humor books, all offered up by the original owner.
In the middle of that second pile was one of these, a repackaged comic with a new cover advertising the Blue Bird brand of shoes, offered by the Gallenkamp’s shoe store (who also may be the manufacturer of the shoes, I’m unclear on that).
The comic inside is this issue
of Kid Colt, Outlaw
Looking up some info on this on the Grand Comics Database, it appears that some years later the Blue Bird repackaging
moved on to printing new covers
that reflected the contents (just Charlton comics at that point, apparently) and more prominently featuring the shoe store name. The Blue Bird logo from the back cover above is still present on the newer front covers.
Anyway, just an interesting artifact from the days of long ago. I think, maybe, when I was but a young Mikester, I vaguely remember getting a free comic book from the shoe store we frequented. This would have been the mid-1970s. It may have been branded with the store’s name, or a shoe manufacturer’s name, or both…it’s just on the edge of awareness, but I can’t say for sure, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t. I wonder how long shoe stores gave out free comics…or any stores. (I mean, beyond Free Comic Book Day, wise guys.) Radio Shack had their comics (apparently into the 1990s!), I remember grabbing one of these in a video store in the late 1980s. And, apparently, Big Boy made it into the 2000s? More as a magazine-with-comics than as a comic book, but close enough!
I’m sure there’s still the occasional funnybook promotion from stores or restaurants here and there, but I feel like it’s not quite the same, or as prevalent, or as amazing, as it had been.
So it sounds like, based on reports of order numbers, the forthcoming Rocket Raccoon series has achieved that perfect storm of movie tie-in combined with variant cover availability based on exceeding certain percentages of orders of previously-published strong-selling comics, resulting in what sounds like an enormous amount of copies about to flood the market in just a few months. Oh, those variants should sell out just fine, they usually do, assuming their prices aren’t hiked up to ridiculous heights. But the regular cover editions…well, you know how hard it is to find a copy of the regular cover for Superman Unchained #1? There you go.
Of course, it feels like those percentages we have to beat are creeping up ever so slowly, but that may just be my innate paranoia from being in this business for too long. To get those “Deadpool Dressed As Princess Leia” variants on Ultimate Slapstick #1, you have order numbers on the regular cover that either meet or exceed 125% of your orders on Man-Thing Team-Up #17, and of course that was the issue you ordered extra on because, go figure, Man-Thing was teaming up with Deadpool in that issue. So, you have to order lots of Ultimate Slapstick because if you don’t get those “Deadpool Dressed As Princess Leia” variants, the store in the next town over will, and people will go there to get their comics if they think you can’t get them, and you can’t have that.
And then, a couple of months down the road, the debut issue of This Will Be A New Marvel Movie Soon, We Hope #1 will pop up in the order forms, and to get the “Wolverine in Various States of Undress” variant cover, you’ll have to exceed 125% of your numbers on Ultimate Slapstick #1. And so on, and so on, until all the trees are gone and the Lorax departs the Earth in disgust.
Now, it’s not necessarily chained like that, with one book you need to inflate your orders on tied to a previous order-inflated book…I’ll need to go back and do some of that “research” I’ve heard so much about. However, every time I see that “exceed X%” instruction, I feel like I’m being taken for a ride. Of course, nobody’s forcing me to do it, but like I said, if I don’t, another shop will, and in the current comics marketplace, you don’t want to give your customers a reason to not come to your shop.
The only way to fight back is for no shops to order any of these types of variants, but that’s not likely to happen. Or maybe to wean the direct market off dependence on Marvel and DC [imagine hysterical laughter here].
I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the publishers. The whole variants scheme is to keep numbers up in a marketplace where retailers would prefer to keep their overhead low, by encouraging orders to maintain at certain levels. Sure, you could order just 20 copies of this, but there’s a special 1 in 25 variant cover you can probably sell for a premium, so why not just bump up the order just a bit, why don’t you? Thanks, you’re a pal!
Some of the smaller publishers, like Boom! and Dynamite, have order percentage incentives as well, but it’s more along the line of “we’ll give you an extra discount if your order on this issue of this series matches or exceeds 90% of the previous issue,” and that seems a little more reasonable to me. Or, in some cases, matching orders on a previous issue would result in returnability, which I’m pretty okay with, too. I’d love if the returnability option was a little more widespread with Big Two releases, but I suspect the discounts we enjoy with them would shrink by a considerable margin once those publishers start shouldering more of the burden of unsold stock. It’s more in the publishers’ interests for the retailer to warehouse their books, whether they sell or not.
In conclusion, I think that Rocket Raccoon comic actually sounds like it’ll be a fun read. I certainly hope everyone will want to read it. I mean, we pretty much need them to.
So one thing that occurred to me recently, and may have been brought up somewhere on the Internet since DC launched its New 52 initiative three years ago and I missed since I can’t read the entire Internet, is how this “The New 52!” slug that’s slapped on all of DC’s covers is like one more barrier to new readers. It’s a very minor
barrier, and one that’s easily explained if someone in the know is around to explain it, but it’s still one more bit of weird information, the meaning of which is not immediately obvious, one more thing that says “this is an indicator for people already in the club, and not for people such as you.” “52 what
?” I’ve heard more than once.*
We’re probably stuck with that “The New 52” logo for the time being, even as others have noticed that the majority of the original 52 titles DC launched in September 2011 have since been cancelled, or at least retooled and restarted. Abandoning the New 52 idea would be tantamount to an admission on DC’s part that the publishing initiative was a failure, and I don’t expect that to happen. More likely is that, assuming Warner Brothers would want to continue publishing comics and not just turn all those properties over to the toy companies and animation departments, there would be a new rebranding of DCs publishing line, and yet another overhaul of their books. It would allow them to save at least some face to some extent, by spinning it as not giving up on the New 52, but instead moving the DC Universe forward to…the Great 38! Or, you know, something like that.
Since DC is stuck with the New 52 concept, I would almost prefer that DC would fill out their line of non-Justice League/Batman/Superman/Green Lantern comics with mini-series. I mean, intentional mini-series, marketed as such, not just planned ongoings that get canned after eight months. There’s no shortage of characters and concepts in DC’s vaults that could stand to be aired out a bit…put ’em in a series for six to twelve months, collect it into a paperback when it’s over, and now DC has something to show as a pitch for a new movie or TV pro…I mean, something they can sell in bookstores. And if it sells really well…what the hell, then make it a new ongoing series. I realize that’s more work, editorially, but if books are getting cancelled left and right anyway, might as well jump up right after falling down and declare “I meant to do that!” (And it would make my job a little easier, since problem I describe here is now comic-ordering status quo.)
Going back to what I was talking about at the beginning: a lot of what we, folks what read the funnybooks on a regular basis, take for granted is confusing to the uninformed. They are confused that there can be more than one ongoing series starring the same character, each with its own storylines and continuity, but they sometimes the series do tie in together, but not all the time. Batman and Detective are two entirely separate series, except when they’re not.
The very idea of issue numbers can be confusing. It’s such an obvious thing to me, and to you, that I don’t know how they can be confusing, but to someone not used to the vagaries of comics publishing, they are. That there are so many different series, several of them at least superficially no different from many others (“all these say ‘Avengers’ on them…they’re all the same, right?”), with so many numbering schemes, with so many restarts and reboots, it’s…well, it can look like bit of a mess.
The alternative is no issue numbers (at least on the cover…one could be present inside with the copyright information), and emphasizing the cover date, maybe. But that would create new problems, with people looking for, I don’t know, the April and May 2014 editions of Hawkeye, for example.
And then there’s the series within the series:
That’s Action Comics
#32, but it’s also “Enemy of the State Chapter 1” and it’s part of the “SUPERMAN: DOOMED” crossover event. But it’s not Chapter 1 of the SUPERMAN: DOOMED event, since we just wrapped up the “Infected” segment of DOOMED that ran through all the Superman books. It helps that DC put the additional visual cue of the border around the edges of the cover to clue people into the idea that all these comics with similar borders are related to each other. But that’s still a lot of information to throw at someone not used to comic book company design and marketing decisions.
I mean, I get it. In this marketplace everyone’s struggling to make their comics stand out, and making each issue part of some crossover event or special storyline is an attempt to make that comic seem like essential reading, like you’re missing out if you’re not grabbing the latest installment of this exciting adventure!
Of course, this assumes that new, uninitiated readers are taking in all this information being shoved into their eyesockets and trying to parse it. Sometimes it’s just enough Batman is on the cover, and that’s all the information they need.
* At least “Marvel NOW!” seems a little more obvious in meaning and intent, if not any less coated in flop-sweat.
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