We interrupt this program with an important bulletin.

§ March 26th, 2021 § Filed under publishing, retailing § 3 Comments

Well, hoo boy, more big news for the comics business as Marvel signs an exclusive deal with Penguin Random House to distribute their comics and books an’ stuff, beginning in October.

Diamond Comics, the distributor that’s had the exclusive distribution rights for nearly three decades, has announced that they’ll still be carrying Marvel product as before, if retailers prefer continuing to buy from them. However, Diamond would be essentially just be a large customer of Penguin Random House and reselling to stores, likely meaning an adjustment in discounts, and I’ve no idea what the timing will be like. Would Diamond get them early enough to redistribute the books to retailers in time for New Comics Day? Or will that point be moot if Marvel follows DC’s lead and picks another day of the week to be NCBD?

From what I’ve read, PRH, which I’m condensing it to because I’m already tired of typing it out, will offer a standard 50% discount to retailers on new product, which is less than what I’m getting from Diamond. However, PRH will also be offering free shipping, and no reorder fees, so that more or less balances out.

In addition, the ugly truth is that I expect shortages and damages to be reduced as well, which I’d gladly give up a percentage point or two in wholesale discount terms in exchange for product showing up on time and in sellable condition. My DC shipments from their new distributor, Lunar, have been virtually error-free…if I’ve reported more than a half-dozen problems total since receiving shipments from them last year, I’d be shocked. And it’s almost always “you sent me 49 instead of 50 copies,” that sort of thing. Only once did I have a significant issue (all my standard cover copies of Future State: Harley Quinn #1 got missed, but replaced right away).

By comparison, I’ve had problems with my Diamond shipments nearly every week. There are the minor mess-ups, like a book or two getting damaged in packing or in transit, which happens. But there are the times when books get missed entirely and I have to wait a week (usually) or two to three weeks (ugh, sometimes) for replacements. And more than once in the last few weeks, sometimes replacements can’t be found and I just get credit, meaning I’m off to eBay or other stores to beg for copies. Or buying directly from the publisher (like I had to with a recent issue of Taarna), which makes me wonder why I can do that and my distributor can’t. And God help you if that book you’re trying to replace on your own is The Random Hot Book of the Week As Decided by Speculators, like that Daredevil #26 I never got that was going for $20 a pop on eBay.

Now, I can only imagine the stress caused by the combination of massive amounts of product and whatever effects COVID has had on the processing/packing end of things. I need to be more understanding, but at the same time it’s a real pain to be invoiced for things you can’t sell. Maybe fewer Marvels passing through the system will ease the load and improve fulfillment? Or will the loss of that income keep us exactly where we’re at? I don’t know.

I know I can gripe about Diamond a bit, especially when something inexplicable (uh, just a single Comic Shop News instead of the full bundle?) or gross (is that a piece of chewed-up gum in this box?) happens. But honestly most of the time I’ve had a good relationship with them and they’ve treated me well, and on occasions when I’ve been especially screwed (like that time half my boxes disappeared in transit) they got replacements out to me within a couple of days.

Basically, I don’t want them to go away. But I am okay with having more competition in the distribution side of things, which, with any luck, will improve everyone’s service. Yes, that means more bills to keep track of, and more order forms to fill out, but it beats digging ditches (apologies to any ditch-diggers reading this who love their jobs). It also means learning a new online ordering portal, I’m sure (Lunar’s took a bit to get whipped into shape, and even still has a bit to go).

The competitive stakes are especially high on Diamond’s part, as some of their biggest remaining clients (like Dark Horse, IDW, and Archie) also have preexisting relationships with PRH. It probably wouldn’t take much for them to slide their product lines over from one company to another.

So we shall see what results from all this brouhaha. It’d be nice if PRH could somehow get Marvel to tamp down the #1 relaunches and variant covers. That’d get everyone celebrating.

“Let me expound on that for a moment” — the worst words you can ever hear from me.

§ March 24th, 2021 § Filed under dc comics § 8 Comments

So once again your pal Mike has an early morning meeting awaiting him, so I’m going to most just respond to Daniel’s comment from way-back-when today, as it is a very good commentary on continual rebootery vs. consistency’s hobgoblins.

Daniel thus spake

“Not sure if I’m in the minority or not, but I loved Crisis and (more importantly) the post-Crisis rebooted universe. I generally really liked a lot of the early New 52 reboot (until it became clear about six to eight months in that there really wasn’t much of a central plan to the reboot and that they hadn’t really learned anything from the mistakes of the post-Crisis universe). I like new beginnings. I like when things start over from ground zero.”

I honestly don’t think you’re in the minority at all in loving Crisis and the shenanigans that followed. I know there’s been a lot of knocking of Crisis in these here parts over the last week or so, but I started off saying that I unabashedly love the series, even as I’m aware of the storytelling shortcomings and the very much “ya hadda be there” requirement for the proper impact. I do love the series, I treasure that fancy slipcase edition from when it was first collected. Unlike most “important” event series, it actually Was Important, restructuring not only a publisher’s entire storytelling strategy but still influencing the industry in various ways several decades later.

And the New 52 was exciting, and maybe even a little frightening in a way…”what the hell is DC thinking,” that sort of thing. As you note, the excitement gave way to…what’s the right word? Dismay? Chagrin? Confusion, maybe? The apparently rushed nature of this restructuring became evident, and as the cancellations and the relaunches-of-the-relaunches started to hit and the flopsweat starting pouring from DC’s publishing plans, what was an immense hit became an progressing series of special events and an increasing reliance on variant covers to shore up sales.

I always feel like I have to note “but there were still good comics coming out from them” and there were, but the desperation of the gimmicky marketing was obvious.

“I like hard reboots. I like Elseworlds. I like the Burton-verse and the Nolan-verse and the Snyder-verse. I like getting into stories from the very beginning. I like variations on retelling the beginnings of these characters and seeing those retellings play out differently each time.

“The lesson of Crisis and the post-Crisis reboot is that these characters have finite potential. To my mind, attempting to perpetuate an ongoing, unending mega-continuity is doomed to fail. You can only have Joker escape from Arkham so many times before it becomes banal and loses narrative credibility.”

Different interpretations of your favorite characters by a wide range of creators is part of the charm of superhero comics and their spinoff media. There’s an appeal to getting in on the ground floor of things and trying to follow along and keep up with this fictional milieu as it builds up around you (though disappoint threatens when the publisher seems less devoted to the concept than you are — see again the New 52). I often get kids who pull a #3 of something off the shelf and immediately ask for #1 and #2, which…yes, of course, that’s a natural impulse. But let me expound on that for a moment.

When I was a kid, back in Ye Olden Tymes when dragons roamed the land, I didn’t think anything about getting issue number, what, 170 of the Fantastic Four. I might not have even been aware there was an issue number. I just knew that this was a thing (er, so to speak) that had been going on for a while, and the comic was clearly in the middle of a story so I obviously missed stuff that had happened previously…but I read and enjoyed it anyway. I had no access to back issues. And even if I did, it wasn’t like I was going to go buy issues 1 through 169, that’s too many. At most I would have gone one or two back.

Nowadays, a number one of anything isn’t too far away from the current issue. Even as Batman enters the early 100s, that still feels attainable, even if one has to resort to the paperback collections. It’s a combination of the perceived availability combined with the fact that many modern comics aren’t standalone enjoyable experiences in a way that even the serialized issues of decades past were, that the need to be there “at the beginning” has increasing among comics readership.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Short term is probably good, as first issues tend to get higher orders by retailers, though as more and more number ones flash by I imagine those orders are becoming increasingly conservative. But I know as a kid I liked the idea that I was dipping into a title with a long history, that was around long before I was born and would (theoretically) be around after I was gone. When Marvel did their “Legacy” numbering, when they returned numbers of various titles to where they would be if no relaunches had happened (generally in the hundreds), my sales on those actually went up. Probably not a universal happening, given that Marvel relaunched everything with new #1s anyway, but there may have been some people out there who liked seeing them big ol’ numbers.

But to your following point, Daniel, the need for companies (well, mostly DC, Marvel, despite the constant relaunches, hasn’t really rebooted their universe as such) to tie everything together stems from the difference in which comic books are consumed. Back again in Ye Olden Tymes, to my youth and decades earlier, the turnover in comics readership appeared to be reasonably high. Little Billy read Superman until he became Teen Billy and discovered girls or cars or both, giving up his readership spot to Little Johnny, coming up right behind him. There’s a reason why there’s only about a five year gap between DC retiring the Jay Garrick Flash and reintroducing the slick, new, For The Space Age Barry Allen Flash: enough time had passed that a new audience may cotton to an old concept with a fresh coat of paint.

That’s not true of every reader, of course…there were plenty who kept reading for years and years. But the common wisdom was that the turnover existed, and the need to maintain a consistent history and continuity was minimal. They were just kinda throwing stuff out there to entertain the kids…so long as the stories and characters remained relatively consistent within themselves, that was good enough, and nobody worried that (to use a popular example) the Atlantis Aquaman was from appeared to be different from the one Lori Lemaris lived in.

But as the average readership started sticking around longer and longer, and that turnover slowly dropped away, there was more demand for consistency. Plus, as the readers who didn’t give up on comics became creators themselves, a la Roy Thomas, additional emphasis was placed on remembering the older comics and having them influence, or directly impact, the new. Marvel’s advent in the ’60s and their attempts at actual world-building and crosscontinuity among their titles, not to mention their direct courting of older teen and collegiate readers, helped this transition along as well.

This is what fuels the need for DC to kitbash a consistent history for their superhero shared universe…reader expectations have grown to want this consistency. With DC’s incessant focus on undoing, redoing, or relitigating Crisis on Infinite Earths, the fans are encouraged to not stop worrying about whether this story fits with that story. They are kept constantly aware that DC’s shared universe is by its very nature a shambles, and that there is a never-ending need to fix it. That’s what Death Metal was about. So was Zero Hour. And Doomsday Clock. Some of the most successful comics DC has ever published have been on the topic of why DC Comics needs to be fixed.

When you say

“…DC should focus not on trying to stitch everything together, but rather on giving creators the freedom to tell as many variations on the basic mythology of each character as possible.”

…I 100% agree, and in fact I think DC tends to do…okay with that. But every year or three another Big Event Comic comes along to apply more patches to the DC Universe and all it really manages to do is remind us that supposedly It’s All One Big Thing and they’re gonna make it so by hook or by crook. If DC would stop doing that, maybe readers would stop worrying so much if events in the new Harley Quinn mesh up perfectly well with what’s going on in Teen Titans Academy.

You’ve got more comment to cover, Daniel, but I’ve got bedtime so it’ll have to continue another day, hopefully one without a morning appointment waiting for me the next day. Thanks for the comment, David, and thanks for reading, everyone else. See you Friday.

May the M.O.D.O.K. of Positivity brighten your outlook.

§ March 22nd, 2021 § Filed under low content mode § 5 Comments

So your pal Mike has an early Monday appointment (not health-related for once, so don’t worry if you were inclined to do so!), and thus I won’t being staying up late Sunday to type another wall of words at you. Therefore, I present to you this image of M.O.D.O.K. giving us the approval we all need in this fallen world, from Sub-Mariner #48 (April 1972) by Gerry Conway, Gene Colan and Mike Esposito.

May it bring you the joy you require, and I’ll see you again in a couple of days.

This is post #5200…

§ March 19th, 2021 § Filed under dc comics § 4 Comments

…and you have no idea how much I kicked myself when I realized my birthday/New 52 post was #5197. Man, how perfect would that have been if I had that total convergence of 52s for that. Well, crud.

Anyway, I’ll likely continue the New 52/rebootery theme next week, but I did want to drop in one point I was sort of thinking about regarding Crisis on Infinite Earths. As can be inferred from some of your reactions, and my reaction, to DC’s continuity-sweeping series, it’s pretty clear the series loses much of its impact removed from context.

I wrote about how startling it was for Earth-3 to be wiped out in the opening pages of the series. It immediately raised the stakes and there was a sense of permanence. “Worlds will live, worlds will die, and nothing will ever be the same!” shouted the ads, and we had no reason to disbelieve them. We’d never seen anything quite like this, on this scale, knowing that big changes were coming. If you were a DC fan at all, you had to read it because this is where All The Shit Was Going Down. It was literally An Event that we, fans reading comics in the mid-1980s, were experiencing in real time.

Going back to look at it, years, decades, later, the immediacy of this story’s content is no longer a factor. The importance of the changes are no longer noteworthy, except maybe in a strictly historical/academic view. The shocking deaths are no longer so shocking…Barry Allen and Superman’s cousin both seem to be alive and well, nowadays. And like I said, the main conceit of the series, that the idea of a “multiverse” would be going away, has been undone with DC dragging the concept back into existence.

“Thou shalt not read Crisis for the prose,” as today it exists primarily as an artifact of publishing strategy, not as a standalone story with a coherent plot. (Though the George Perez art still is beautiful, of course.) None of that is Marv Wolfman’s fault…well, okay, maybe some of the weird plot holes are, but the series succeeded in what it was meant to do…grab the attention of fans and slap a new coat of paint on things. It doesn’t stand the test of time because it wasn’t meant to.

Again, not to say there isn’t good stuff in there…there are fun interactions here and there, exciting action sequences, tiny one-panel showcases for characters both major and forgotten. And as noted, it’s all wonderfully illustrated. But a big part of what made Crisis work was how vital it was to stuff going on in the now of the 1980s, diminished with the repetition of character “death” fakeouts and universal rejiggerings and generational transitions of super identities in succeeding event series. Plus, of course, with the subsequent undoing of everything that was “never the same.”

A commenter noted that these sort of events create reader excitement and interest in related and forthcoming books, and that’s definitely right. It’s good to shake things up and/or get all your properties together for a big super-party once in a while. It doesn’t always make for a tale to stand the test of time, and frankly, it doesn’t always need to. A lot of what drives my own love for the story of Crisis is pure nostalgia, a remembrance of how I felt encountering these events for the first time. That’s a tough feeling to translate over time to new readers to the book.

TL;DR “back in the olden days we had to walk miles uphill in the snow both ways to see Lady Quark fight the Anti-Monitor”

Okay, like I said, more on this stuff next week. In the meantime, a reminder that I’m putting up short audio posts on my Patreon, on a variety of comics-related subjects. Most are about 2 to 4 minutes long or so, and…well, I think I’m slowly getting better at it. I’m not…a natural public speaker, and thank goodness for editing tools to cut out the “uhs” and “aaaaand” and whatever else. Oh, and my issue-by-issue cover of Swamp Thing comics will be returning, too.

Thanks for reading, pals, and I’ll see you Monday.

Only eight issues of O.M.A.C. was a crime.

§ March 17th, 2021 § Filed under dc comics § 11 Comments

So the problem with saying “LEMME TELL YA WHAT COMICS I LIKED READING, OH, A DECADE AGO” is that now I have to depend on my dumb brain to dredge up specific memories from those books. What’s getting in the way is that most of these books I read once, as they came out, and only very rarely did I go back and read a whole run of issues in succession to more firmly lodge events in the ol’ mental file cabinet.

Thankfully, nearly-decade-younger-me, when I was sprightlier and full of hope, I did a three-part overview of the New 52 launch titles (one an’ a two an’ a three). Looking over these posts, they do seem to bolster some of my partially-retained thoughts on the titles, though I seemed to have been more faintly-positive about the Superman title than I thought I would have.

Interestingly, I noted in my discussion of the Green Lantern books that “four were too many, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they added a fifth” and, well, hello solo Sinestro series (which I kinda pushed for in those older posts of mine). In retrospect, I did enjoy the GL books from this period, which (coincidentally I’m sure) were among the least-affected by the New 52/Flashpoint changes of the Big Name DC titles. Plus, I’m in the bag for Green Lantern stuff already, and somehow too many GL titles didn’t burn me out. …Reading my old recaps did remind me 1) Red Lanterns was a far better series than it had any reason to be, and 2) I miss Larfleeze. He had a later-wave short-run New 52 title that I liked quite a bit.

Okay, to the Super-books…I thought then, and still do now, that the main Superman book by George Perez was cluttered and confused, though as we’ve learned in the years since Perez faced some editorial issues on that book so it’s not entirely on his shoulders. Plus, as I’ve said before, if Perez can’t make your costume look good, then the problem is with the costume. Anyway, remember when Lois had another love interest? That blonde guy? Whathsiname? That was weird.

Okay, I’m supposed to be focusing on the titles I liked here, but reminding myself how crummy Superman was makes me appreciate Action, with Grant Morrison writing “Young Superman,” all the more. I’m sure he faced as much editorial finagling as Perez did, but somehow Morrison managed to make it work, mostly, as I recall. After Morrison left, both books kinda fell into the doldrums ’til we got the “Superman’s Identity Revealed!” storyline, which was actually compelling and then eventually undone, of course, which I’m sure isn’t a precursor for anything happening in the Superman books now.

Also of note in my original analyses, I said that reading these Superman books was like reading an “Elseworlds” or parallel-Earth Superman book. Given how this version of the character was eventually replaced by the post-Crisis/pre-Flashpoint Superman, I guess the DC Continuity Gods agreed.

Some of the oddball books were fun as well…that O.M.A.C. series was definitely Kirby-Ahoy, as it should have been. It was too beautiful for this world, alas, and was amongst the first wave of cannings. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. was also a blast of welcome weirdness, one that didn’t depend on any of the New 52 nonsense to just do what it did. In fact, neither did OMAC, really. It’s almost like the farther removed from the “event,” the better the books are.

The obvious one you’re probably expecting me to mention is Swamp Thing, which, yes, I liked well enough. The main issue with these is a fanboy-ish one, that arbitrary changes were made to the character’s history and supporting characters (especially Arcane) that don’t really add anything except “it’s different now.” I’ve gone on about this before, and my own realization that they’re not writing these for people who’ve read every single comic with Swamp Thing in it, but for new-ish readers who may be vaguely familiar with ol’ Moss-Head. But overall I think I enjoyed the comic, once they got past the set-up and Swamp Thing was actually in the book.

It’s funny but Justice League Dark was a title I was lukewarm on at first, but it became a comic I enjoyed quite a bit and still follow now, even if it’s been relegated to a back-up in the main Justice League title. And no, not just because Swamp Thing is in it…I like seeing all the horror characters just sort of crammed in here together, plus Detective Chimp. What kind of soulless monster doesn’t like Detective Chimp?

All-Star Western I didn’t pick up ’til the time-travel stuff kicked in, because I do love Jonah Hex travellin’ through time. I know, I know, recent Jonah Hex comics were good the whole time, but it took the gimmick to get me in there. I’m shallow, what can I say. (Remember that time travel stuff started as part of DC’s planned “WTF?” cover stunt ’til someone realized “maybe having an implied ‘fuck’ on the cover isn’t the image we want to sell?” Oh, for those pre-Titans TV show days….)

A couple later-wave New 52 books I really enjoyed, like Justice League 3000 (then 3001). I got a real “anythiing could happen/L.E.G.I.O.N. ’89 vibe from it, which 1) was helped along by being new characters removed from regular DC Universe happenings, and 2) L.E.G.I.O.N. writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis wrote this too. I really kept hoping they’d bring this back someday, but given DC’s current publishing strategies, seems unlikely.

In addition: Constantine (fun seeing Johnny playing in a superhero universe again), Batwoman (stunning art), Animal Man (can’t think of a specific reason why I liked it, but I always like Animal Man), Secret Six (writer Gail Simone being evil, always a positive in my book), Batman Incorporated (continued over from pre-Flashpoint, which remained good but felt undermined by the relaunch).

So as you can see, I did like quite a few of the New 52 books. I mean, I couldn’t read everything, but what I kept up with I enjoyed (except maybe most of the Superman comics, which I sorta hung in there on out of inertia, which is a terrible way to read a comic but a lot of us have one of those in our reading lists). There were a couple of books I mentioned back then as ones that I liked, but afterward I’d drop (like Aquaman) or I just can’t remember anything about (like Firestorm). Maybe I’d still like them now? Once I find an eighth day in the week, I’ll do some rereading.

ADDENDUM: I am reading your comments, and thank you for them. Just wanted to let you know I’m not ignoring them just because I’m not addressing them in these posts yet. I’ll get to responding eventually!

Crisis of Mike’s Infinite Typing.

§ March 15th, 2021 § Filed under dc comics, does mike ever shut up § 15 Comments

To clarify somewhat regarding my Saturday birthday post…I do find things to enjoy in the various reboots/relaunches/house cleanings that DC (and Marvel too) regularly employ. For example, the big one, Crisis on Infinite Earths…while that’s arguably Patient Zero for all the shenanigans at the Big Two today, it remains a beautifully fascinating comic.

Is it a good comic? I mean, look, if this was the first comic you ever read, well, God bless ya and God help ya too, as this clearly was a funnybook for those with regular admission to the clubhouse. As I said, in retrospect, it was very much solving a problem that perhaps didn’t need a solution (i.e. DC’s supposedly convoluted continuity) by trying to establish the groundwork for a consistency for which comic books, especially superhero comic books, have defiance built into their very DNA. Crisis hadn’t been done for months before creators started finding ways to push back against it, through in-jokes and knowing nods then eventually outright reestablishing what had been specifically done away with by the series. Supergirl and the Barry Allen Flash, done away with absolutely for sure, until they returned. And the ultimate expression of this was the recently -concluded Dark Nights: Death Metal, giving DC its limitless multiverse once again after Crisis had winnowed it down.

Now it remains to be seen what exactly is going to be done with that, after decades of DC releasing event comic after event comic trying to undo, or at least plaster over the cracks, what Crisis had done. But that’s hardly the fault of Marv Wolfman and George Perez, who tried to put out a comic with the nearly impossible task of telling a story while restructuring a fictional milieu pieced together by disparate hands for fifty years. It is, needless to say, beautiful to behold, with Perez absolutely in his element drawing everything and everyone in panels crammed with detail. Every character is essentially the Platonic ideal of itself in this comic.

But I don’t think anyone’s complaining about the art…it’s the story, and the editorial decisions evident therein, that’s the culprit for many. And I can’t blame anyone for thinking so…looking back, it seems wasteful to, say, open up the series by destroying Earth-3, the parallel Earth where the Justice League was an evil crime gang, a fun Silver Age-y idea that was so good that DC kept trying to reinvent it multiple ways over the following years until finally just saying “fine, okay, they’re from a parallel Earth again.”

That destruction had the intended effect at the time, however. It told everyone that nothing was safe, this Crisis series meant business. And boy, as this series was coming out you were on tenterhooks wondering what was going to happen next. The one-two punch of the deaths of Supergirl, immediately followed by the Flash, were appropriately shocking (even though Flash’s demise had been foreshadowed throughout the previous installments).

It is easy to let nostalgia color the memories of the series, admittedly, but there’s no real reason why it shouldn’t. In the context of the time, as the series was released, the perceived staggering importance of what was happening made each issue a must-read, to be absorbed if not outright studied. For someone who read it in real time back then, I can still look at the pages (in my slipcased hardcover edition, in which it was initially collected, natch) and recall that excitement I felt reading the series. I don’t think that’s a thing one should deny, but it should also be recognized as a problem when trying to approach the series critically.

Yes, I very much, emphatically and non-ironically, love Crisis on Infinite Earths. But it’s also very dense to the point of being cluttered, characters are given short shrift with that stilted dialogue in the Wild Wolfman Way, there are some editorial inconsistencies and shoehorning in tie-ins to other titles, and an ending that doesn’t quite stick the landing. Though in that latter case, the decision to allow characters to remember the DC Universe as it was, was generally ignored anyway so no big whoop, but it still felt like a cheat, a denial at least in part to the sweeping changes promised by the story.

There’s a lot of cover in this series, far more than can be really broached in a single blog post written by a later-middle age guy late at night who hasn’t been getting enough sleep lately in the first place. I did just want to let you know…I loved Crisis, still love Crisis, but yeah, it ain’t perfect. And despite knowing in my heart that the ripples it spread across DC, and Marvel too, that persist even today, weren’t intended consequences, it’s difficult to consider the series removed from its position as that epicenter.

Next time: to prove I’m not 100% a crankypants, I’m going to talk about the New 52 books that I liked. SPOILER: not Justice League so much.

Thanks for reading, pals, and for your thoughtful comments.

The Old 52.

§ March 13th, 2021 § Filed under dc comics, old § 24 Comments

I realize it’s a bit early to be commemorating the 10th anniversary of the launching of DC’s “The New 52” publishing strategy (which began with Justice League #1 in August 2011). However, with today being my 52nd birthday, it seemed, at least to me, like an opportune time to briefly gaze back upon this event and its eventual ignoble end.

Aside from the online news sources and whatever we were getting in Comic Shop News, I think the main source of into on this particular initiative to which our customers were exposed was that little preview comic DC released listing all the new first issues planned for release in late 2011. It was quite the tantalizing assortment, actually, with the old standbys relaunching with #1s (shockingly including Action Comics and Detective Comics, DC’s two longest-running, highest-numbered books, as well as Batman, also way up there in consecutive numbering) and a variety of other titles attempting to expand the line outside the Supes/Bats/Wondy-related franchises (like O.M.A.C. and Blackhawks).

As I recall, there was some grumbling about knocking Action etc. back to 1, but otherwise people seemed pretty excited about all this. I mean, it was fairly unprecedented (though reminiscent of what Marv Wolfman wanted to do after the conclusion of Crisis on Infinite Earths)…taking an entire existing superhero universe and starting it all from scratch with all-new series.

Not that we had a lot of extant or well-established/defined superhero universes with which to do this. Realistically, the only alternative one is Marvel, which followed suit seemingly with relaunching their titles with new #1s at the drop of a hat, after seeing how well DC with with this whole New 52 hoohar.

And well DC did..as I reported shortly after the launch of Justice League, the premiere New 52 release, response from our customers was very enthusiastic, and we sold out of that comic in short order. A restock of first printings for that #1, which we placed but didn’t expect to be filled, was indeed filled and we blew through those as well.

Now whether it was hot because fans were excited about how DC was going to rebuild their universe, or whether they thought it “would be worth something someday” — well, speculation wasn’t quite as rampant then as now, but it wasn’t nonexistent and I’m certain more than a few folks were intrigued by the idea of getting their hands on something in relatively short supply and high demand.

So yes, sales were strong at first, but quickly settled down once the novelty of what DC was doing began to fade. I think of all the titles that passed through this New 52 gauntlet, it was Batman that may have benefited the most, maintaining good numbers throughout the New 52’s run and continuing on through Rebirth and beyond, mostly due to a mix of excellent creative work on the stories combined with the occasional misleading promotion and reasons to get the investors salivating. And plus just the fact that it’s Batman.

So anyway, the New 52 promised a fresh start, kinda sorta, with their entire line. Some books essentially restarted from the beginning (like the Superman books), others just kinda kept on keeping on (like Green Lantern) barely acknowledging that there even was a reboot. DC’s shared universe, which had hit a 20-year timespan for its “modern age” of superheroes, as of around Identity Crisis, had now been knocked back down to about five years. Older veteran heroes were now younger rookies, or at least closer to their beginnings than they had been.

And it quickly became apparent that the New 52 had been rushed into existence. I expressed some reservations early on about how the conclusion of Brightest Day (the event just before the New 52-introcuing Flashpoint) offered up some epilogues setting up future events…which were all mostly discarded once the DCU was rebooted. Combined with George Perez’s comments about how no one was quite sure was Superman’s deal was in the New 52 (something he needed to know since he was writing the book), and that edits had to be made to Teen Titans stories because their exact history hadn’t been nailed down either. It all smelled of a top-down instruction to DC from the parent company of Warner Bros. to “hurry up and make these funnybooks sell” — reinforced by Perez’s mention that he had to meet demands of folks higher up the food chain than DC’s editor-in-chief Dan DiDio.

While I was certain at the time this was DC’s “last chance” at making the comics thing work before it all got handed over to the toy companies or whatever, once the bloom faded off the New 52 sales, and bumps from various gimmicks and events became less effective, and there was once again a linewide refurbishing of all DC’s titles in 2016. Which put lie to my “last chance for DC” thought from earlier.

Dubbed “Rebirth,” it seemed to learn from The New 52’s mistakes, in that it all felt a little more…planned, this time around, that it wasn’t just DC immediately asking “how high?” when Warner Bros. told it to jump back in 2011. There seemed to be an effort at fixing what didn’t work with various properties during New 52. In particular, with the Superman books, which went through an extensive, and a little complicated, retooling to discard the New 52 version of Superman, bring back the post-Crisis/pre-FlashpointDC Universe Rebirth one-shot that kicked it all off, that somehow the previously-verboten-from-playing-with-others Watchmen was somehow tied to whatever continuity shenanigans were occurring.

Were fans excited? Oh, sure. Sales on “Rebirth” titles never really reached the overall highs of the New 52, but it certainly got people interested and involved. They were certainly curious about the Watchmen involvement, as DC was finally desperate enough to acknowledge that Alan Moore hated their collective guts and that it wasn’t like they were going to piss him off more, so why not use Watchmen in this fashion?

And as it turns out (SPOILERS) we find out in Doomsday Clock that, basically, the New 52 relaunch was due to Dr. Manhattan’s meddling. In essence, that five years of the DC Universe sorta flailing about trying to see what sticks? It was the result of an attack on said DCU by a “bad guy” from outside it. I’ve said in the past that it’s a somewhat clever (and meta) way to deal with the ramifications of a more-or-less defunct publishing initiative, while still being a curious, if not potentially-if-inadvertently insulting, way of recontextualizing the hard work of many creators and editorial staff put in what was almost surely a difficult position.

The New 52, ultimately, was yet another iteration of DC’s attempts at fixing what the decades-old Crisis on Infinite Earths had wrought, where supposedly simplifying and codifying the DC Universe only resulted in more complications and problems. Much of DC’s output and events, like Generations and the Dark Nights: Metal and Death Metal, and the earlier Zero Hour and The Kingdom (with its introduction of “Hypertime”), are tries at reexpanding a fictional world that had been forcibly contracted to meet a demand for consistency that didn’t really need to be met.

DC’s “Infinite Frontier” is the ultimate refutation of Crisis, in which, spinning off from Death Metal, the DC Universe is now again part of an endless multiverse. How long this will last, and whether this solves whatever DC’s been trying to solve for all these years, remains to be seen. I definitely hope I live long enough to see the company find the balance it’s been seeking, as the other possibility, that I outlive DC Comics, is not one I’d want to experience.

As always, a happy shared birthday to my blogging brother Andrew.

Did they stop drawing them prior to this? I’d only been checking sporadically.

§ March 12th, 2021 § Filed under superman, this week's comics § 11 Comments

So let’s celebrate this Friday with the fact that Superman (pictured here)

…doesn’t have those cuff-rings or whatever at the end of his sleeves.

Those little cuffs were the last vestiges of Jim Lee’s awful redesign of the Superman costume for the New 52 relaunch nearly ten years ago, which I presume were held onto stubbornly by DC editorial as they reverted all the other changes wrought upon the superclothes. I wrote about the problems with the costume here, and I hope it gets across the idea that it wasn’t a purely reactionary response to this new outfit in a “we fear change” Garth-from-Wayne’s-World sort of way. There were genuine messaging and conceptual issues with the costume, as well as basic aesthetic ones, as to why the redesign was so roundly rejected.

Anyway, if the cuffs come back next issue (or in Action, ignore this post. …And the comic itself felt like a reverting of tone to the pre-Brian Michael Bendis era. I do have to say every time I see Lois ‘n’ Clark’s super-son Jon Kent, there’s always the tickle in the back of my mind “so when are they going to decide to get rid of him?” Not because I dislike the character, but because his presence feels like a bending of the Superman premise perhaps just a tad too far, and sooner or later someone at DC (or someone in the Warner Bros. organization higher up than anyone at DC) is going to ask that everything in the franchise be changed back to how it was.

Or, you know, just have it all ended entirely and the Superman family of characters are handed over to the toy division for proper exploitation. Either or.

Yes, I put the extra “h” there just to be a jerk.

§ March 10th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 9 Comments

Thom ahsks

“Question: Do you ever revisit your back issue prices in a large-scale way? I assume most prices probably stay relatively stable over time, but there are some that must be dramatically different after a few years.

“I’ve been to a couple of shops that must not ever review their bins because back issues remain at their highest-ever value. Example: A couple of years ago, I thought I’d fill some gaps in my Baxter Legion collection. When I got to the ‘Death of Superboy’ issues (#37-38), I saw prices ranging from reasonable to quite pricy. I assume the higher prices were left over from when those issues were actually relevant. Not so much anymore.”

Former boss Ralph used to talk about how at the shop he had previously co-owned up north before opening his own location in Ventura in 1980, his partner would, whenever the new yearly edition of Overstreet arrived, shut down the back issue section of the store and reprice everything. Which would aggravate Ralph, as it naturally should because that’s completely bonkers.

Realistically, prices don’t change that much on most things from year to year. And the things that do change drastically are likely things you’re selling and (hopefully) restocking and repricing on a regular basis anyway. Like, I’m not going to go through and redo the pricing on Justice League Europe every summer. As Ralph would say, if it didn’t sell for $2 before, it ain’t gonna sell for $2.50 now.

Now, repricing things in the other direction, like with the “Death of Superboy” story you mentioned (which actually still guides for a bit more than your normal Legion of Super-Heroes issues), does perhaps take a little more diligence, though perhaps even that may not be quite the problem it may have been. For shops coming out of the ’90s boom and passing through the doldrums of later that decade and into the 2000s, the occasional “peak priced” item would sometimes rear its ugly head and require some returning for regrooving. For example, this copy of X-Files I featured, hoo boy, seven years ago, clearly would have needed some price guide reconsideration in later years by its retailer if, you know, said retailer had survived long enough to do such a thing. (Or maybe they refused to, which is why they achieved that “former” status.) Despite X-Files having (at least at my shop) a minor funnybook resurgence within the last couple of years, I assure you those Topps #1s didn’t bounce back to those sky-high prices. (Unless it’s a slabbed/graded copy, to which there is very little rhyme and even less reason to where values settle.)

Anyway, point is, as the ’90s recede farther away, chances increase that any pricing anomalies like, oh, say, a $55 X-Files #1 will be caught and corrected, barring its being squirrelled away inside the dustiest comic box oubliette in the darkest corner of the shop. But not always, and it’s not necessarily due to neglect or ignorance. Sometimes it’s just inertia. A while back on the Twitters I noted that the “Death of Colossus” issue of Uncanny X-Men is still inexplicably priced higher than surrounding issues in the guide, despite events of the book having been undone, leaving no impact on the series or character, and I’m betting had been forgotten by at least some of you reading this. It ain’t no “Death of Phoenix,” which is also completely undone at this point but remains a major touchstone in the series in genuine high demand. Ain’t nobody asking after “Death of Colossus.”

Complicating matters is, well, what I’ve been talking about on the site for the last several posts. A significant percentage of the collecting public is trying very, very hard to make things “hot.” Every first appearance, any minor deviation from the norm in any title, is immediately horded in quantity from the shelves on day of release and shoved onto eBay at inflated prices (after the expedited grading/slabbing service, natch). Or grabbed from the back issue bins, as miscellaneous issues get noted as “significant” somewhere online and hunted down in stores who may not have heard yet.

It’s with those that attention must be paid, and repricing the back issues may be required. Tried to find any Byrne-era Avengers West Coast lately? Used to be consigned to the dollar bins, but now cast your eyes to the glass cases, or to the “wall books” now for those double-digitally priced delights. Granted, I let one go for pre-Wandavision value the other day, knowing full well I could get more, but eh, three bucks is fine, not like I was going to change its cost right in front of the customer’s face, and I’m making money on whatever I paid for it, I’ll reprice the next one. If there are any.

Staying ahead of this new collectors’ market is tricky, as I keep saying…plus, trying to balance the fact that 1) you want to realize what money you can on your back issues, and 2) the people interested in buying said “hot” issue usually want them at your pre-“hot” pricing and may pass if you’ve got ’em marked up already. Again on the Twitters, I was reminded of a couple who came into the previous place of employment looking for those issues of Alpha Flight that tied into the then-popular Big Hero 6. Having already been clued into interest on these (think you’re the first person asking about the new hot thing? You’re probably the 14th) we had marked them up a bit. The couple declined, saying “we wanted to buy them for $3.00!” “So we can make money and not you!” was the implied but unspoken follow-up.

However, that’s not always the case. Ralph’s adage of “if they didn’t buy it at $2, they won’t at $2.50” should add “but they will if it’s $20.” A hot book gains hot sales because it’s hot, a cycle that feeds itself. (Look, I know Ralph knows that, he wasn’t talking about “hot” books, I’m just trying to piggyback what he said.) When certain folks see a book that suddenly shoots up in price, that can attract attention and open up wallets.

And so, Thom, looking back at your actual question, no I don’t do large scale repricing. I do on a case by case basis, either if something suddenly popped upward in value, or if I notice something that needed regrading and some reconsideration. By and large I leave the prices alone, if only because I’m still pulling multiple boxes out of the back room to price the first time, much less worry about redoing comics I’ve already priced. Which isn’t to say it may not be necessary someday, but if I do I won’t be shutting down my back issue department to do so. I’ve at least learned lesson from having it told to me. Sheesh.

For comparison, I once bought a copy of that Joker comic for a dime.

§ March 8th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 4 Comments

So let’s cover a couple of questions from last week…first up is Robcat (“Bobbykitten” when he was little) who asks

“Don’t they [Bad Idea Comics] also have a policy like ‘you must order future issues at the same numbers as your first issue?’ How’s that working for you? Maybe I’m asking too early. I would guess you’d know better in a couple months.”

Yes indeed, that is the policy of Bad Idea, which admittedly did have me a tad concerned, and did in fact guide my initial orders on Eniac #1. I would have been happier with a policy that required, say, a percentage of orders of the first issue rather than a flat matching order (like “order #2 at 90% of #1, #3 at 75%” and so on) to more closely hew to actual sales performance of comic books. Okay, in actual practice those percentages would be a lot lower, generally, but I’m trying to cut Bad Idea some slack here.

I’m sure the plan was to keep retailers from overordering on the first issue for speculation purposes, forcing them to think about actual future sales on any given title. Now as it turned out (and as you probably already heard) initial orders of Eniac #1 were only about half-filled with first printings, and the balance was filled with second prints (or what Bad Idea is calling “Not First Printings” since all future reprints of the issue will be identical). As such, retailers are only bound to match orders on future issues to the amount of first printings they received, so technically we can cut orders down on later issues if we feel sales are going to drop.

And of course they likely will. People buying Eniac #1 right now only because they’ve heard it’s rare and hot aren’t coming back to invest in, say, #3. Then again, maybe they will, who the hell can tell anymore. The comic market is in such disarray with random books getting random speculator attention for random reasons there’s almost no point in trying to predict sales patterns any more. What used to be dependable guidelines get thrown out the window the second someone with a YouTube channel…well, you’ve heard me gripe before, you know where I’m going with this.

Anyway, ideally everyone who reads (note: reads) Eniac #1 will be back for the rest of them, and as I said in my last post about this, most of my pulls for this title have been for the full run, not just the first issue. So I’m not expecting 100% buyer retention…that almost never happens in comics from the first issue to the second…but I think there’s enough there to continue maintaining similar order levels. But it is nice, at least in this case, to be able to drop the numbers if sales require it.

For future Bad Idea books, who knows? We’ll see what happens.

• • •

Eric wants guidance on the following

“All of this talk of online auctions and slabbing and whatnot brings to mind a question I’ve pondered for awhile now. How releavant or even useful is Overstreet at this point? Do you still use it in the store? Do you have to back it up with a glance at eBay? I remember finding the thing a bit silly years ago when the wisdom seemed to be that it was already a fools game trying to sell a book for full guide price even in a brick and mortar.”

Well, selling for full guide depends on the book, really. I’ve talked in the past about how, with all the reboots and relaunches, back issue movement on any series that isn’t the current iteration of the title tends to come to a dead halt. Been a while since I’ve sold a whole lotta back issues of even, say, the Amazing Spider-Man series just prior to the current Amazing Spider-Man series.

Which is of course the main reason why retailers like me are trying to order fairly close to the bone on everything*, as the sales window for unsold issues will likely slam shut as soon as Marvel and DC roll back the title to another #1. I’m exaggerating only slightly…sales on back issues of those previous series can move, but not nearly at the pace they did when they were “new” back issues.

I mean, I guess that’s always been true for the back issue market in general, but these short run titles that vanish as soon as they arrive don’t gain any kind of traction in collectors’ minds. As opposed to, for example, the Wally West Flash series, which still sells on a fairly regular basis despite DC’s continuing attempts at destroying the character. But for recent-ish back issues…yeah, I can still sell them sometimes for regular backlist prices, but it doesn’t take much for me to decide to toss any excess copies into the bargain bins.

Once we get away from the volatile nature of recent comics, and into things from, say, before 2000, we sell a little more stability in pricing, and price guides like Overstreet become more relevant. But even then, the randomness of sudden demand for sometimes, not always, spurious or half-baked reasons can jump prices up to wild levels. For example, this comic, handed to me by pal Nat with the counsel that “this may be going for a bit of money now,” turned to be, upon doing some research, going for easily three times guide in online sales. And that’s not even counting the slabbed/graded copies. But it’s apparently an early (first?) mention of “The Mandalorians,” something that has a little more cultural cachet than it used to.

So yes, research, particularly on the eBays, does need to be done on certain titles. Sometimes you can just look at a book and think “I bet this is probably going for more than what the guide says.” But a lot of times there’s no clue…I mean, did you know an issue of dollar-bin favorite Earth 2 is suddenly going for, like, $20 to $40 or so? Why? “First appearance of Val-Zod” — you know Val-Zod, of course. “Movie?” hopefully adds one seller to the title of his listing.

But the guide has always been that…just a guide. I regularly price things under or over guide depending on how I think local market conditions will handle it. And thus it has always been, going back to when guides were even first introduced. It’s just there’s more information coming from more sources at increasing rates and it can be difficult to keep up with it all. But it’s not like I didn’t personally experience someone pulling a copy of the ’70s Joker #1 out of our 50-cent bins in ’89, after the Batman movie had come out and anything Bat-related was suddenly red hot and shooting up in price…even that dumb Joker series which nobody had wanted to buy almost since the day it came out.

The Overstreet is a useful tool, but not the be-all, end-all of how one should price their back issues. Gotta use some common sense, some awareness of what’s happening in the market both local and worldwide, know what to price up, or down, or toss in the dollar bins. And mistakes will get made and things will get past me, but that’s just how things go sometimes.

For more discussion of the back issue market, may I direct you to the me of 2013, when I was still at the previous place of employment.

* Also previously noted: it’s the current trend of conservative ordering that’s feeding the speculator market, where it doesn’t take much for available supply on any given title to dry up and become a “rare” collectible.

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