Trade Perspectives: DC Comics Parties Like It's ... 1994?

Monday, August 06, 2007

[Contains spoilers for Flash #13]

Imagine this: it's a new era for DC Comics. A big event has just ended, DC continuity has been revamped, and in its wake, DC's launched a bevy of new series featuring new characters and takes on old franchises.

Except the year isn't 2007 ... it's 1994.

Yes, in the wake of the universe-shaking Zero Hour, DC Comics launched a brand new continuity, that involved among other things the killer of Bruce Wayne's parents going free and Hawkman becoming a Hawk-God-Avatar-thing. OK, it wasn't a drastically new continuity. But what it did involve was 1994's version of One Year Later, "Zero Month," which launched Fate, Manhunter, Primal Force, and Starman, joining other new series like Anima and Damage.

These titles largely failed, short of Starman. Fate and Manhunter in particular were supernatural series with edgy bents. Each was a "legacy" title, taking their names from former series, but with little ties to their predecessors. The protagonists were anti- or reluctant heroes. They never caught on possibly because of their sharp deviance from traditional DC Comics titles, and their lack of tie with the mainstream DC Universe. The initial shine bestowed on them by Zero Hour faded within a few years.

In comparison, the Infinite Crisis spin-off titles, including Blue Beetle, Aquaman, Firestorm, Flash, and All-New Atom seem to benefit from the shortfalls of these previous series. All are legacy titles, and all are tied very strongly to the heroes that came before. Each offers standard superhero fare, and all titles had elements featured in Infinite Crisis, to the extent that each title begins with a ready-made place in the DCU. It would seem the One Year Later titles would be set to succeed where the Zero Month titles failed.

Except, I do tend to wonder if the sins of the past aren't upon us again. Blue Beetle is very popular, but did we really need another Blue Beetle series, or could the DCU have survived without it? I can't stop raving about Aquaman, but didn't the era of Kyle Rayner and Connor Hawke teach us what the fans really want is the original heroes returned to greatness? Doesn't the death of Bart Allen smack of mid-1990s event-ery?

There's a lot I like about DC's New Earth--the returned comraderie between the Justice League is just one of them. But I also wonder about the stable foundation of the rest of the DCU--are these new series built to last, or just new series? By the time Final Crisis rolls around, I wonder which of the series sparked by Infinite Crisis will still be standing.

Collected Edition's One Year Later reviews continue this week. Thanks for reading!

PS If you haven't checked out the fantasic discussion that's evolved after the last Trade Perspective post on Dan Didio's tenure at DC and the role of violence in comics, you're missing some fantastic perspectives from our Collected Editions readers. Check it out!
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4 comments:

  1. Blue Beetle, Aquaman, Firestorm, Flash, and All-New Atom

    Firestorm, the Nuclear Man Vol. 2 was canceled a few months ago, Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis has its last issue coming up in a few months, and you already accounted for The Flash: Fastest Man Alive. It's safe to say that, aside perhaps from Flash, they won't be publishing any more trades of these series for you.

    As for Blue Beetle Vol. 7 (that's right, seven, but I guess that's mostly because Charlton played weird games with the postal office) and The All-New Atom are currently the lowest selling DCU titles that haven't yet been canceled. I never really gave the above series a chance, but I recently picked up the first trade of Beetle and of Atom, and I now count myself a big fan of Jamie and Ryan.

    Now some people will say that these series are flailing because DC committed blasphemy against Ted Kord (I agree, he did deserve a better end) and Ray Palmer (whose story apparently isn't over, though). Personally, I call bullshit on that. I don't think there's a chance in hell that a new series for Ted and/or Ray would have been anymore successful.

    To me, it just seems like a direct market thing, which is to say that, as much as superhero-bashers complain that one genre dominates, it's actually worse than that, it's really just a small handful of characters, and what's worse, it seems like Marvel somehow managed to generate a larger portion of that handful (I may be wrong). DC, of course, hoped that they could introduce good new heroes by grandfathering them in through the old names, but people are really just sticking to Justice League and the Bat-books, as far as I can tell; maybe we can add to that the so-called big five.

    I guess, though, the real question is, why did it work for Starman? And the other question, one that I now wish I had actually asked Gail Simone at ComicCon, is, do either of these series do well enough in trade to warrant continued publication? Trade sales is, of course, the number missing from all this sales speculation, which is a big omission (but it's apparently quite difficult to measure).

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  2. "A larger portion of that handful ..." I think you're absolutely right. Thing is, both DC and Marvel know they can strike gold with established character names every once in a while (see Starman) so they keep doing it ... it's, unfortunately, a throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks mentality. And even Starman, I think, never sold gangbusters; DC just believed in it enough to keep it around.

    I continue to think that the answer lies, somehow, in direct-to-trade series. For a cult classic like Manhunter, for instance, Andreyko just needs to write twelve issues, and then DC puts them out all at once in trade. How it'll work continuity-wise, I don't know, but it seems like the only viable financial option (industry-wise) for these kinds of titles.

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  3. Comics as we know them are changing.
    In my lifetime I have seen comics go from multiple stories per issue, to single story issues, two issue stories, and now written for the trade.
    I originally got hooked on Bat-books, I love them all but my young wallet did not. If it wasn't for the trade of Dixon and McDaniel's first couple NightWing issues I would have missed out on a lot of Dick Grayson fun.
    I like what DC is doing with these new characters, they have ongoing series but the trades hook readers.

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  4. I was just thinking this morning how much the trade paperback "industry" has changed, even just in the past two years since this blog started. My feeling is the next big change is just around the corner; I'll be curious to see what the field looks like come December of next year.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective; interesting stuff.

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