Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

February 21, 2006

DC’s New Status Quo Unfolds

Newsarama will be running previews of DC's line of comic book (first one here) as their storylines and titles are reconfigured after this latest in series of big cosmic event and everything-will-change mini-series stretching back to something called Identity Crisis, which featured the murder of one superhero's wife by another superhero's wife and Superman doing his Iron Eyes Cody impersonation.

I don't generally follow content-driven mainstream comics stories, but I think these are slightly more important than the usual series of previews in that their success or lack thereof will help shape the market for the next few years. My thinking is that DC's line relaunch needs to enjoy some level of increased success from the way things were before the various stunt mini-series, or DC will be compelled by their desire to consistently win -- or at least strongly compete -- in market share and consumer perception battles to launch into another round of these line-wide "events." This hastens market exhaustion through a variety of factors: the diminishing creative returns that come with doing anything a bunch of times in a row, the tendency to overtax the budgets the wallets of comic shop owners, and by making increasingly impenetrable, labyrinthian plotlines that fewer and fewer readers care to dig into.

One thing in their favor is that DC seems to be throwing a lot of top talent at a lot of books -- Grant Morrison! Paul Dini! James Robinson! -- with a general editorial strategy of "give it your best shot and go." My hunch is that some of DC's recent displayed ability to pursue multiple publishing strategies so that the market's natural skepticism fails to gain traction and push back can work for runs on titles the same way it does with multiple series; DC had some success with spotlighting "runs" on titles as gotta-buy-its right before they went to cosmic event party planning mode.

Still, I'm skeptical that DC can infuse a whole line of books with an amount of energy equal to that generated by a focus on a handful of mini-series or runs. The infrastructure's still the same, too. The direct market has been losing coverage in a geographical sense for years now, with mainstream-focused shops still winking out of existence now and then in the face of e-bay and mail order. This and the closed-shop basis of some mainstream storylines makes bringing in a lot of new readers difficult. Comic shop owners have to ride such a prideful avalanche of material that ordering tends to be by necessity conservative and slow-building on "regular" titles even in the best of times. This makes me think there will be a show-me attitude regarding the line recalibration that may deny many titles the market momentum to build bigger audiences. I'm also not convinced a big chunk of the fanbase, primed for years to divide money between their selected favorites among the regular titles while extending their wallets to a few temporary must-haves with industry-wide "buzz," has it in them to suddenly divert that energy and capital to a wider variety of titles, particularly when others are going to play the event card for a while longer now.

My gut feeling says DC will find re-setting the multiverse a lot easier than adjusting the market in its wake; we'll see how it goes.
posted 11:13 pm PST | Permalink

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