27
Oct
2011
The Watchtower
Reviewing the DC Relaunch Part 3 of 3
Chris and Jordan
Here in the comics section of Review to Be Named, we felt that the DC September Relaunch was a big enough event, that it monopolized our coverage for the month of September. After looking at the individual books, it's time to examine the success of the initiative as a whole. This is the second of a three part feature (part three will be published tomorrow and part one can be found here: http://reviewtobenamed.com/posts/595 and part two can be found here: http://reviewtobenamed.com/posts/596 ) in which Chris and Jordan will discuss what worked, what didn't, offer up some possible explanations as to why things turned out the way they did, and muse about where the comics industry goes from here.JORDAN:
How did you feel about Batman and Green Lantern? Do you agree that everybody else seemed to suffer due to DC's intense focus on those lines?

CHRIS:
I think we agree that the Green Lantern line was definitely the strongest of the two, if not the strongest line of the relaunch. The bat titles, while consistently being DC's strongest selling grouping of titles, definitely lacked the same focus, level of quality, and diversity boasted by the lantern titles. I think the key to Green Lantern's success as a franchise has been a small group of titles expanded slowly over time, in the hands of a tight knit group of writers in close contact with each other, following the lead of one writer with a clear vision. The bat books operated in much the same fashion when Grant Morrison was helming the franchise. And while certain titles feel like they are following new flagship writer Scott Snyder's lead (Nightwing most notably), many others are off doing there own thing with little or no justification of why we need so many similar titles (I'm looking right at you Batman: The Dark Knight).

I can't readily point out any specific creator on a bat or lantern book whose talents I feel would have been beneficial to a different book in a different franchise (maybe Peter Tomasi who is doing a bat title and a lantern title), so I don't know that I would say that other books suffered specifically at the expense of a Bat or Lantern's title success. What I would have liked to see, and knowing you I think you'll agree with me, is less titles overall across all 7 groupings (Justice, Super, Bat, GL, Young Justice, Edge, and Dark), with clear, "show runners" driving those first 4 specific lines. Yes, less books means less revenue, but I think it would be beneficial in the long run. There are very few fans that can afford to pick up 52 titles, and amidst all that noise it's easy for gems to get lost, or for individual writers to get confused or contradict each other at a time when it seems like editorial isn't even sure what DC continuity is anymore (A panel at NYCC stated that this incarnation of the Teen Titans is the first Teen Titans in this universe which is different from the word we've been hearing earlier that a version of the Wolfman/Perez Titans did indeed exist in the new continuity).

Singling out the Justice line for a minute, I think this is a group of titles that could have really benefitted from a smaller launch, that expanded over time. In my perfect world, Johns would be writing his Justice League origin story as a miniseries that runs concurrently with the ongoing title that would be set in the present starting with the first issue. Accompany that with a few of the other strongest titles from that line, in my mind Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, and maybe JLI. Johns and Lee's Justice League is the obvious flagship title of the line and can introduce and establish some of the less popular characters like Hawkman and Green Arrow, under Johns' vision before spinning them out into their own books once fan interest is piqued, and the right creative team can be found. But alas I feel like the Justice, Super, Young Justice, and Bat lines are all suffering from a lack of focus for the line, and as we have said time and time again, the justification for the existence of individual titles alongside similar titles.

Ok, how do we feel about the potential for longterm success? Do you think the popularity of the new 52 and fan interest will hold in the months to come? Or do you think that around this time next year, the market will have realigned itself, and Marvel will once again be dominating DC in the sales charts?

JORDAN:
I think the answer to that question depends on one thing: quality. If DC's books are really great over the next year, they may ride the publicity and renewed fan interest (along with new reader interest) into long term sales dominance. Yet if they fall prey to delays, creative switch-ups, and the kind of silly (or worse, sexist, like we saw with Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws) storytelling that some of their books are already displaying, I imagine their reign atop the comics market will be short-lived.

This is a problem that I think could have been addressed with fewer titles flooding the market (you're right, I do agree with you there). Instead of releasing 52 books a month and hoping some people will buy some of each of them, I think DC should have built its line more slowly. If they had rebooted with something closer to 20 or 25 titles, I imagine they could have made each of them must reads, and nailing down the continuity now, and going forward, would be easier. Plus, like you said, it would keep ancillary characters in books written by DC's superstars, at least until a great pitch could be made for spinning them off. My bet is Geoff Johns would have made me love Hawkman and Green Arrow, and would have made me loyal to the characters to the point that I would check out their new books when they debuted (especially if it wasn't amidst a cacophony of other debuts, or if the new books had better first issues than these relaunched versions did). Why publish any terrible books at all, especially if the goal is to get new readers and lapsed fans hooked again? Money is the obvious answer, and I'm sympathetic to the idea that DC needs enough books out to keep their doors open in a fledgling industry, but I think they would sell just as many books (and maybe more) if there were fewer titles and more must reads. Don't believe me? Check out those sales on Batman #1, which just shipped its third printing recently and has sold nearly 200,000 issues so far.

I don't know much about the comics market. I am not an expert like yourself; hell, I'm not even a long-term fan. But I do know this: people read good stories. If DC puts good books out, I know I'll keep reading them, and I imagine comics fans and new converts will as well. If DC falls off the wagon, though, they may find that they've just handed Marvel all of the new comics readers they just created. What do you think, Chris? Is this the beginning of The Age of DC, or is this just another disaster waiting in the wings?

CHRIS:
Well according to some sources, sales of the new #2s have already taken a dip, but I think that was to be expected, as a big ol' #1 on the cover of a comic book is always gonna drive sales in a way that nothing else can. As I said at the beginning of this feature, the books sold like hotcakes, and I came out on the other side of the relaunch buying more books than I was before, so I would have to say that the event was successful both on the macro and the micro level.

I think I will always be disappointed with the roads not taken by DC at a juncture where they had an unprecedented opportunity to finally free themselves from the tangle of continuity that has been holding their publishing line back for years. I think DC hit upon a really great, bold idea, and I commend them from not shying away from taking a great risk that could have easily backfired. However I think they tried to be too many things to all people, selectively preserving some continuity, wiping some clean, and the end result is business as usual, a fictional history that no one really understands or can explain to a new fan with questions.

But even more troubling than that is the lack of creative shake up accomplished by the relaunch. Fans who were following the publisher before September knew something was wrong. While the creators on various titles were definitely telling solid stories, most of them weren't "must reads" in the way that Marvel books were. Now there is an argument to be made for editorial restraint being the real culprit there. Maybe the higher ups were too afraid of the toys getting broken to really let the writers play. Or maybe DC needed to be more aggressive in recruiting fresh new voices from the Indies. I'd have to say the truth is probably a combination of both of these explanations, but bottom line, I have yet to see a huge change in either the roster of DC writers or in how they ply their craft. That is not to say there are not great writers at DC, there are, however to really sell these relaunch, I think DC needed to bring in a few more fresh voices and heavy hitters, and let them really cut loose.

That being said, a lot of positives did come out of the relaunch. In the long run, I don't think it's going to be quite the silver bullet the company was hoping for, but I don't think the future is going to be bleak either. In the coming year I think we will see a readjustment back towards the sales charts we are used to with maybe a more even distribution of DC and Marvel books across the top 25 or 50. I say this with no evidence to back it up aside from experience and gut feelings so I am perfectly willing to eat my words if I'm wrong.
I think that the comics landscape has definitely changed, albeit not monumentally. I'm looking forward to seeing how this all pans out in the months going forward. Regardless of my disappointments with certain choices made in planning the relaunch, I have to say I can't be too critical of anything that creates this much fan excitement about comics. DC has drawn a line in the sand and is ready to fight Marvel tooth and nail for the top slots on the sales charts. It's a great time to be a fan, and I think it's only going to get better from here.

Well that's it for the first installment of this new feature, and ReviewToBeNamed's intensive coverage of the DC Relaunch, while the Watchtower will keep an eye on the initiative going forward, we will now return to our more evenly distributed comics coverage. Thanks for sticking with us, and as this is the prototype of a feature we are thinking of implementing across the site, if you have any feedback, or suggestions for a title, we'd love to hear them. Email your comments to reviewtobenamed@gmail.com.
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