Since the start of the New 52 everything DC has done has been backwards and biased. From a revamp perspective some titles never changed over such as Geoff John’s Green Lantern just didn’t miss a beat from the books that had come beforehand. In the attempts to catch the attention of new readers, DC had gone and alienated its long-term fan base. Over the last five years, we examine whether or not the idea to turn their backs on actual storytelling and concentrate solely on the almighty dollar was a good editorial decision.
First a little history for those of you who are playing catch up…
On August 31, 2011 DC Comics rolled out a new relaunch of their comic book line. An entire revamp of their universe to make it accessible for a younger audience by bringing characters who were almost 60-75 years old into the 21st Century. The idea was to simply drop all of their collective continuity and just begin again. An idea which has had DC fans and the comic book community split down the middle since. At first the sales figures were more than promising but that was for the high profile characters. Sales figures for anyone less than popular or well known were still the same as before. Also new price points had gone up, a complete reversal from a campaign DC had started months earlier about drawing the line at $2.99 for the price of one of their comics. An idea created by the previous Publisher of DC Comics; Paul Levitz who had decided to move on in 2009 and was replaced in 2010 by not one but two individuals: Dan DiDio and Jim Lee.
One could beg to ask what business does an artist have running a multi-billion dollar comic company but looking back in 2000, Joe Quesada had replaced Bob Harras as Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, a position similar to DiDio and Lee’s Publisher position at DC Comics. The idea of the New 52 was an idea of three people: both DiDio and Lee being two and then adding Geoff Johns who joined as Chief Creative Officer. The idea was that Johns and DiDio would write a new universe and stories for the DC characters while Lee would offer new designs for costumes and appearances. A complete overhaul. Also in the mix, Lee was able to pepper into DC continuity his own creations from his once independent Wildstorm line of comics.
In 1992, a bunch of popular artists left Marvel Comics and the mainstream parts of the industry and started their own company, Image Comics, which was an independent comic company. Each artist would have their own creative control free of the would-be controlling yoke of the then-considered evil corporate editors. Jim Lee was one of these artists. Overtime, Jim Lee started his own studio, Homage Studios and then his own imprint of Wildstorm. Both were bought and absorbed by DC Comics in 1999. In the beginning, the New 52 DC Universe was Wildstorm-heavy with some characters having their own titles but quickly these characters fell to the wayside.
Over the last five years DC has struggled. A company which seemed to believe they could take the whole industry by storm. However the company did very little of that. By the sixth month of publication, titles were canceled and replaced by other titles, most of which have not made it past the various cut off points DC has used to cull low-selling titles. If anything, DC keeps a tight fist on their dredge titles attempting to maintain a steady out put of 52 books a month not counting mini-series and one-shots. Every year DC would give their sales figures a steroid shot.
The first was the 2011 culling of lesser titles for new ones and then 2012’s Zero Month when all titles received a zero issue. In 2013 it was Villain’s Month which every series received at least one point issue showcasing a series villain. Some main books received up to 4 point issues all with gimmick lenticular covers which led into Forever Evil, the first real major New 52 crossover event. 2013 saw the beginning of multiple weekly books and what was called ‘The Second Phase’ while 2014 was rounded out by the Multiversity and DC Convergence (which unto itself was not a stellar event). The point is that all these sales gimmicks do indeed help sales and can booster the figures for DC. If done enough and on a regular basis they can even hide their declining numbers. However one can only hide for so long.
The next gimmick which would take us from the end of 2015, and well into 2016, is the New DCYOU campaign. Having carried the New 52 tag for almost five years on the covers of all their mainstream books, DC would drop the New 52 from covers and focus more on story-driven projects, also pushing aside what little coherent continuity they have in favor of a more earlier Pre-Crisis way of handling stories and creative teams. DCYOU was a huge soft relaunch which was advertised heavily coming off the heels of Convergence. It is now August 2015 and well into the third month of DCYOU and it does not look as promising as DC assumed.
Sales data collected up to July 2015 have shown that just one of DC’s 11 titles were in the top 50 sales bracket. Only one… Batman #42 was in the top ten, while only 3 found their way into the top 20; Justice League, Mad Max Fury Road and Justice League of America. Out of these four top performing books, one isn’t a mainstream DC book; Mad Max is published by Vertigo and has no baring on DC’s mainstream revamping . Justice League of America is the only DCYOU book to make the top 20. What became of the other 7 titles? Harley Quinn rounded out 25th, Detective Comics found it’s home at the 31st place while Superman, Cyborg and Harley Quinn & Powergirl fell in 36th, 37th and 38th. Robin Son of Batman came in at a surprinsng 41st place. Two of which were DCYOU titles and one a mini-series. What really is shocking is we have Green Lantern, Action Comics, Wonder Woman, Flash and New Suicide Squad coming in between 50 to 70 rankings. These are a huge chunk of the recognizable characters in the DC Comics line. Surprisingly the main bulk of the DCYOU series; Batman Beyond, Grayson, Starfire, Deathstroke, Batgirl and Black Canary all ranked between 60 to 90.
From just a financial standpoint one could call the DCYOU campaign a failure. Any book can sell well with an issue 1 or an issue 0 or some special hologram-moving cover gimmick. It’s maintaining those sales every month after that shows the strength of a title. Of course some would say 3 months in is not enough to gauge but that is how most publishers and shop owners gauge their sales. Usually by the 6th month with the 6th issue you can see whether something is going to succeed. The data is out there on the internet. Anyone can check sales figures on diamondcomics.com or comixology.com. The numbers aren’t some well kept secret. The numbers show what a flash-in-the-pan this reboot was and now DC is scrambling to not only fix it but to save face in the process.
The move to target New Readers or Female Readers as a main focus is drifting away from the target audience as a whole. All they need to do is just tell good stories and stop changing for the sake of change. By forcing diversity and whatever other topics are trending that month down your readers throats just alienates your fan base even more.The reason why independent sales are up or companies like Archie Comics are finally kicking DC’s ass in sales is simply because those DC readers are now farming outside of the DC Universe for something better to read. DC had best make a new decent move soon or these figures will dwindle most assured.
Where will this leave DC 6 months from now? Probably still publishing comics for sure but I can bet most if not all of the DCYOU titles are either axed or majorly overhauled.