Only the variant is good enough.

§ December 20th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 6 Comments

I’ve touched upon this topic before (not long after opening my own store, in fact), where putting a cover on a book that does not reflect the contents is misleading, and frustrating, to potential buyers.

The regular comic fans have mostly caught on to the whole “don’t judge a comic book by its variant cover” thing, but I still get some consumer confusion when it comes to more casual buyers scanning the racks. “Oh look, Deadpool is teaming up with Miles Morales!” “Um, sorry, hate to tell you this….”

Most of the time it feels like it should be fairly apparent that the cover isn’t what’s inside, especially with gag covers like the MAD or Robot Chicken variants. But even those had more than one puzzled person perusing the rack, cracking the covers and wondering why the funny stuff on the outside wasn’t going on in the insides.

The LEGO covers were particularly egregious in this respect. Created as a crosspromotion with the then-releasing LEGO Batman 3 videogame, each cover featured actual models of playable characters from that game. It was as much a way to get players interested in the game to pick up the comics for the previews. Or, if they’re a big LEGO franchise fan (whether of the games or not), to grab all the covers for their collections.

But the ultimate result was lots of kids coming into the shop, seeing the LEGO covers, and grabbing the books thinking they were going to be LEGO-style comics inside. I had a lot of disappointed faces when I told them that wasn’t the case.

To date DC hasn’t released a straight-up DC Super Hero LEGO-style comic book, and neither has Marvel (which has their own extensive LEGO game history). There have certainly been several LEGO superhero squarebound books — activity books, guide books, very young reader books — and some of them even include comics in their content. I’ve had a little success selling some of those, but they’re often accepted as an “okay” second choice, when what the buyer really wanted was a traditional comic book in that style.

Given the seeming popularity of the LEGO super hero videogames and non-comic book published narratives, it seems like maybe actual comic books would be an unnecessary afterthought, a not as lucrative revenue stream as those other ventures. However, it would be nice to have them on the shelves, another vector via which new young readers can try out the medium. Not that the other formats aren’t fine, and it’s good that kids are reading anything, but I am still biased toward the plain ol’ comic book and encourage anything that would get people to continue reading them. Especially kids.

6 Responses to “Only the variant is good enough.”

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    This has become a pet peeve of mine, and I should probably make a New Year’s resolution to stay off the Internet lest I find myself making weekly posts like this, but…

    Once again we have someone wondering what it will take to get kids reading comics, while ignoring the fact that kids actually are reading comics. This is because what everyone who writes on this means is “what will take to get kids reading SUPER-HERO comics.” Raina Telgemeier, Dav Pilkey, Dana Simpson–they are selling in the hundreds of thousands, but they are invisible to people who discuss comics on-line, because they are not the right kinds of comics, i.e., super-hero comics.

    Mind, these people are no happier when the kids do read super-hero comics, because they do not read the right kind. The kids read DC’s “Super-Hero Girls” series, and the company’s line of YA graphic novels–books that commit the cardinal sin of being OUT OF CONTINUITY. I have seen people get incandescent with rage over that.

    A couple of additional points on DC’s efforts to reach out to younger readers: I came upon one person arguing that these books were actually bad for the comics business, because they gave new readers a mistaken impression of what comics are actually like. Complete stories, emphasis on female characters–they weren’t going to be given that in regular DC comics, and the kids needed to learn this as soon as possible.

    I also once read someone denouncing these books for being out of continuity, and then explaining that he did not read ANYthing that was out of continuity–What If?, Elseworlds, Almalgam, none of that. He abhorred even graphic novels and mini-series that were not officially out of continuity but that told complete stories without reference to anything going on in the regular comics. Things such as these, he stated, were just stories, and he did not read comics to just read stories. He read them to get the latest news on what was going on in the Marvel and DC universes. I have not seen anyone put this so bluntly, but I suspect that he is not alone in this attitude.

  • D says:

    Sinestro had his own on-going series? Really? How bizarre.

  • Mikester says:

    Turan – to whom, exactly, do you think you’re talking? I am fully aware that kids read comics, and have championed that reality on my site and elsewhere for literally decades. Provide kids the comics they want, they buy and read them. I’ve sold more Raina books than I can count. I’ve always found it amusing when other retailers were all “oh, kids don’t read comics,” whereas at the stores I worked at, we were selling plenty of comics to kids.

    I’m talking specifically of DC’s failure here, where kids were suddenly interested in many comics they were publishing, only to find they were confused by the LEGO variants. As I say in my post, I have an admitted bias toward these monthly comics and would have loved an actual monthly LEGO comic, in the traditional comic book form, to sell to kids. That is not the same as “if only we can get kids reading comics.”

    In the future, be a little more mindful before you decide to use me as some object lesson in what’s wrong with comics.

  • Thom H. says:

    While I haven’t had this particular Lego-related disappointment, I have thought to myself, “why would I buy an issue of the Legion of Super-heroes with Batman on the cover?” or whatever the “anniversary variant” was that month.

    Is “anniversary variant” DC or Marvel? In any case, you get the idea. At least these Lego variants have the right characters on the covers.

    I suppose “anniversary variants” are one way to get someone to try a book they’ve never bought before, but I prefer my comic to be a cohesive experience that maybe starts telling the story before I even open it. Not some completely different story with a different character.

    See also: get off my lawn, etc.

  • LouReedRichards says:


    I’ve been a regular reader of this site for years and Mike has always been an ambassador of COMICS, not super hero comics, or any specific genre, but COMICS as a whole.

    I know Mike can defend himself (as he has already), but ill considered rants at probably the most genial comics blogger ever is a sure fire way to piss off the other readers of this site.

    You might want to really consider your first sentence…

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