So lotsa funnybooks happened while I was on blog vacation. So many that I’ll play catch-up with some capsule reviews here in a bit. But first, I wanted to talk about a bit of news that’s broken this past week: the “DCYou” publishing initiative, known internally as the “Batgirling” of the line, has evidently been a dismal failure. DC Comics posted a two million dollar shortfall in expected profits for the last quarter, anyway, and that would seem to indicate a fairly negative reaction to the books.
If you’re not familiar with what they were doing, I discussed it a couple of months back. But if you don’t want to take the time to click that link… The idea was that they’d remake the whole line in the style of Cam Stewart, Brendan Fletcher, and Babs Tarr’s Batgirl revamp, which saw the character moved out of the Batman Family’s grim-n-gritty morass, and into a far more contemporary, far more female-friendly, set-up and tone.
That book’s success surprised DC higher-ups, so they asked for similar paradigm-shifting, thinking-outside-the-spandex-box proposals across the line. But that approach didn’t translate to line-wide success, it seems, leading to this two million dollar shortfall, and an apparent editorial dictate to return to meat and potatoes super hero storytelling, sooner rather than later.
This makes me kinda sad. I was happy to see a major publisher taking chances the way they did here. The freedom the creative teams were reportedly being given was also good news, the sort of thing that generally leads to better funnybooks for everyone. And you know, even on books whose execution left me cold, I found the concepts really interesting. Dick Grayson: Super-Spy? Cool! Omega Men: Heroic Terrorists? Bold! Red Hood and Arsenal: Heroes for Hire? Derivative as all hell, but Power Man and Iron Fist ain’t using the gimmick right now, so why not?
Lots of good ideas there. So the question then becomes, why did it fail? What lessons do we learn? Well, the most obvious lesson, the one that shouldn’t greatly surprise anybody, is that fanboys are some conservative bastards when it comes to their spandex hero fiction. They’re only going to deviate so far from the same old thing, unless the level of quality is so very high that it compels them to try something new. And they’re especially not going to go for something new when that new thing is so obviously aimed at a new/young/female/mainstream audience.
Which brings us to another obvious lesson: there are not yet enough new/young/female/mainstream readers to support an entire line of more esoteric approaches designed to appeal to those audiences.
Put these first two lessons together, and you might come to the conclusion that this DCYou thing might have worked better if they’d done it in stages. Started out with a few core books, letting the buzz for them build while they continued on with more traditional fare elsewhere, to ease the transition. Or you might come to the conclusion that they just shouldn’t go whole-hog with anything, ever. Do some traditional spandex books with tight continuity for the people who like that. Do some books with strong individual creative vision for the people who like that. And do some books for that elusive mainstream audience comics have been chasing and not catching since the days of Lee and Kirby. Because hope springs eternal, and all that.
Another lesson, I think, is not to lead in to your massive new shockingly different publishing initiative with the worst crossover event since… Well, I was going to say Secret Wars II, but honestly? Convergence might ultimately have been even worse than that tale of Jheri-Curl Jesus on Earth Painfully Eighties.
Now, I hate to dump on a book I didn’t actually read, but reports on Convergence were not good. I know the whole thing was intended as a “band aid,” a bunch of comics farmed out to freelance editors and creative teams while DC moved their offices to the West Coast. And I’m given to understand that some of the comics released outside the bounds of the core mini-series were kind of fun. But, man… I don’t think they could have handled the marketing of it any worse than they did. Those Chip Kidd covers, for instance…
Kinda cool, when there’s just one of them, and it’s graced with some classic Silver Age artwork. If that was all they did, that thing would really pop on the stands. But a whole line of them just becomes this long smear of primary colors. I mean, just check out this page of search results:
What were they thinking?! For that matter, what was Kidd himself thinking? His design work, while often repetitive, is usually at least well-conceived. But these things… Holy crap. It’s hard to tell which book is which, and they give you no clue as to what’s inside. And did I mention that the mini-series these books were ostensibly connected to was also bad? I did? So, yeah. Top to bottom, Convergence was just terrible. It attracted no new readers, and gave a lot of existing readers a really good excuse to stop spending money on DC Comics and never look back.
Not that the DCYou marketing gave them much reason to reconsider that position. While it did a nice job showcasing the smaller, lesser-known characters and creative teams, that was kind of overshadowed by the one image that got more press than any other: Bat Bunny.
So there’s another lesson for you: Don’t let the advertising for your new publishing relaunch make your most popular character, whose appeal is that he’s a dark, mysterious creature of the night, look like a rabbit.
Now, I’m sure those ads, as widely ridiculed as they were, didn’t impact Batman sales that badly. But what they did do was make the DCYou relaunch look like a joke. And that’s never good. Once readers have dismissed you on that level, it’s going to take some damn good comics to win them back. And, unfortunately… DCYou hasn’t delivered on that front.
Don’t misunderstand me here. It’s not that the books are bad. They’re not. All the ones I sampled seemed like sincere good efforts, and most of them, even the ones I didn’t like, are of at least average quality. Some (like Omega Men or Midnighter) are ambitious, but flawed. Others (like Bizarro) are quite good, but not to my taste. And even the books I did like weren’t things that set my world on fire. I’m digging Brendan Fletcher and Annie Wu’s “rock star” take on Black Canary, for instance, but it’s a B- read at best. Prez is better (and, god help us all, prophetic in the face of the Trump candidacy). But it’s still no more than a solid B/B+.
I’m even enjoying Gene Luen Yang and John Romita’s powered-down, t-shirt-wearing, identity-exposed Superman…
…but almost from a clinical distance. I mean, I like the very journalistic reasons his identity’s become public. And it really is interesting that, over in Greg Pak & Aaron Kuder’s Action Comics, they’re tackling issues like police brutality in such an up-front manner with this particular character. It’s a nice pay-off on Grant Morrison’s idea of a more socially-conscious, socially-active young Superman, and it makes the character feel genuinely contemporary for maybe the first time in my life. But in spite of all that, I think I’m more fascinated that they’re doing this at all than I am riveted by the storytelling. It’s solid, workmanlike funnybooks. But it’s no more than that.
And therein lies the problem: none of these books are actively bad, but none of them are actively GOOD, either. And they needed something good here, a book of exceptional quality to generate some excitement. Something flashy, something splashy, a critical darling capable of winning over the hearts and minds of the Funnybook Nation. Something so good it made people forget Bat Bunny and start taking DC Comics seriously. One book might have been enough. Two would have been even better. But they didn’t go for that. They went for pretty good. Across the line, pretty good. And much as my heart’s with those pretty good books with big new ideas… They just weren’t enough.
Aaaaaannnnndddd… I’ve run off at the mouth for so long about the failure of DCYou that I’ve left myself no time for catching up on actual funnybook reviews. Ah, well. Maybe next time…