Not that Marvel’s been all that much better.

§ June 4th, 2014 § Filed under publishing, retailing § 13 Comments

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.

13 Responses to “Not that Marvel’s been all that much better.”

  • Walaka says:

    I gave up on pamphlets some time ago, but isn’t all this stuff the end of a slide down a slippery slope?

    I mean, when I was a kid™, comics just kept going up in numbers and it was easy to figure out what was what – even if characters were in a more than one book, they seemed easy to keep track of: Batman was in Batman and in Detective (with other backup stories) and in B&B (with guest stars).

    Then they started with the number-oneing over and over, and then with the extended event stuff and then with the chapters of the extended event stuff… all of it geared not toward new readers but toward continuity/completist obsessives already in the fandom. Just another step toward the eventual solipsism of the comics community.

    I can’t imagine what it’s like for a retailer.

  • I miss intentional miniseries.

    — MrJM

  • Ray Cornwall says:

    I got a great idea for the Superman books- TRIANGLES!

    I expect the New 52 tagline to go away after the Burbank move. I suspect there will be a new marketing device at that time.

  • Yranigami says:

    I’ve been saying this for a long time. Crossovers are the most confusing and least accessible types of stories for welcoming new readers, assuming that, like DC claims, interesting new readers in their fiction, is the goal. I admit when I began to seriously collect and read comics I was very confused about the numbers on the covers. Fortunately I have comic book stores near where I live, and I could go back-and-forth to request past issues of an arc I didn’t understand because I began reading it halfway through. Not everybody has that advantage & therefore reading and understanding serialized stories is somewhat difficult.
    The reboot was completely unnecessary from a consumer perspective. All that was needed was to take a few steps back and isolate each character in their own title for a while until such time a crossover, due to an actual threat built up over several issues in ONE character’s timeline, was necessary.

  • Adam Farrar says:

    Issue numbers and multiple titles for a character can be confusing.

    Back in the summer of 1991, the not-yet-ten-year-old me picked up Marvel Comics Presents #85 off the rack at my local gas station. But what I thought I was getting was Wolverine #85, that the “Marvel Comics Presents” across the top was just a preface to the title (

    A little while later I was at an actual comic shop and noticed Wolverine #28-30 in the back issue bins. These didn’t have the “Marvel Comics Presents” banner but instead said “The Lazarus Project” and I figured the storyline took precedence. I assumed these were all the same series and that I had somehow found really old Wolverine comics since there had to be 55 issues between the ones I had just bought and the ones coming out regularly on the stands. In reality there was a little less than a year between Wolverine #28 and MCP #85.

  • Old Bull Lee says:

    I remember a lot of miniseries that were tests for series. If it sold well, there would be a new ongoing and if not you at least had a decent 3-to-8-issue story starring the character.

  • Jer says:

    With the “big reveal” at the end of Forever Evil the other week, I am now actually expecting that sometime in the next two years or so it will be revealed that this whole “new 52” raft of titles has been published about Earth-52 and that another reboot is coming down the road.

    Because why the hell not? If you’re trading on nostalgia the biggest piece of nostalgia that 40-or-so-year-old DC fans have is the giant reboot that DC did when we were kids/young teens in the 80s. So hey, let’s do a reboot every 5 years or so to boost sales! And let’s drag in the 30-somethings by writing the books in the most 90s fashion available because NOSTALGIA SELLS! It’s not like they’re even pretending that they write these books for teenagers anymore, let alone kids.

    (Marvel gets off a lot better in this respect because their big nostalgia generator for 40-somethings at this point is probably either Secret Wars or Infinity Gauntlet. I think last year’s “Infinity” owed a substantial debt to both of those, and I suspect that wasn’t accidental…)

  • Snark Shark says:

    “the majority of the original 52 titles DC launched in September 2011 have since been cancelled”

    Big shocker!

    “New 52, but instead moving the DC Universe forward to…the Great 38!”

    The Terrific 12!

  • Dave says:

    There’s a schizophrenia at DC that I just don’t understand.

    All the merchandising and non-published products have one set of characters (such as Superman in red trunks) that are aimed at an all-ages audience. All the comics that (theoretically) the people who buy the toys and videos and other products might seemingly want to sample are dark, dismal, “adult” things trying to replicate what Marvel and Image did 25 years ago. (That those were terrible, too, goes without saying.)

    Warners needs to throw everyone at DC overboard, bring on Bruce Timm and Brad Bird to run things, and let the creators tell stories that aren’t mired in teen angst.

  • Ahtisham says:

    Did i miss Walking dead ?

  • Old Bull Lee says:

    ^^^ What Dave said.

  • David alexander McDonald says:

    Well, way back a the start I predicted that the majority of the original New 52 titles would meet a sad end; it just took a little more time than I thought.

    I’ll also reiterate what I’ve said before: there’s about twenty more months left, and this whole thing will come to an end with Justice League #52. At which point the new DC approach will come into play — most likely eliminating 32 page pamphlets.

    I’ll be glad to be right if it ends this cycle of miserable product.

  • At the ComicsPro meeting last year, Dan DiDio said casually during lunch that without the “New 52!” on the cover they were told that (at least early on) people felt the books weren’t part of the big picture connected universe and thus didn’t matter and the orders were lower. That’s why its still there. To them, they feel that it designates basically “In Continuity” books.
    How much that matters now I couldn’t begin to say.