January 19, 2013

Seriously: why 52 in the New 52?

I've been watching the progress of DC's New 52 over the past 18 months, and one of the elements that is striking me as particularly stupid is their insistence on always publishing 52 monthly comics. I get it: it's in the name, there's brand awareness, and it harks back to the classic weekly series 52 (that, ironically, DC publisher Dan Didio loathed). What it means though is that every time DC cancel a poor-selling series, they immediately replace it with something else. Most of those replacements have failure written all over them.

Seriously, what was the logic of replacing the low-selling Men of War with the near-identical G.I. Combat? Is Team 7 and Phantom Stranger seriously going to shift more units that Static Shock or Mr Terrific? More often than not when a new DC book is announced, it's as good as visible from space how few months that book is going to last before poor sales take it off the market.

I really think a smaller DCU, with less editorial interference, would only help the company in the long run. New titles shouldn't be launched because there's a desire to have 52 monthly books, but rather they should be introduced when there's a demand for a particular character or set-up. Talon is a good example, spinning a new hero out of the popular "Court of Owls" storyline in Batman. DC should be doing more of this - allowing the range to develop organically. Randomly launching Sword of Sorcery or Threshold helps no one. It's a wild stab in the dark, and nine times out of ten it's not going to result in a viable title.

As an experiment, let's imagine a DCU where the only books published are the ones selling 25,000 copies or more. Based on December 2012 sales estimates, that immediately cuts the range down from 52 titles to 27. Essentially half of DC's monthly range is, to be blunt, not worth the company publishing. It leave us with:

  • 10 Batman titles. This seems like quite a lot. Personally I'd axe Batman: The Dark Knight, the lowest-selling of the core Bat-books, and replace it with a Robin solo title. Damian Wayne certainly has a big enough fanbase to manage more than 25,000 readers a month. I'd also boost the popularity of Batgirl significantly by giving Barbara Gordon two sidekicks named Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, and then stand back and watch it's sales improve a good 20-40%.
  • Four Superman books, which seems fair enough. Superboy and Supergirl can run along independently, while they need to maintain a good division between Action Comics and Superman: how does each title handle the character of Superman? Personally I'd base one in Metropolis and make the other more of an 'out there' space adventure.
  • Three Green Lantern books: Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps and Red Lanterns. I'm not personally a fan of Red Lanterns, but it's selling so we keep it. Three books seems enough - the low-selling New Guardians gets axed.
  • Let's lump the other Justice League members together: that gives us Justice League, Aquaman and Wonder Woman. Is it ridiculous to add Animal Man, Huntress and Power Girl to the Justice League? It would boost their own books and bring this line up to a healthy five monthlies.
  • This leaves us with five books: Earth 2, which could potentially lead to a few monthly spin-offs of its own as it develops, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Suicide Squad, Swamp Thing and Teen Titans.
It's clear that there are some things that aren't selling for DC. Wildstorm spin-offs aren't gaining any traction, whether it's Stormwatch, Team 7 or Grifter. Books that admirably attempt to broaden the DC range into westerns (All-Star Western), horror (I, Vampire), fantasy (Sword of Sorcery) and war (G.I. Combat) simply don't sell. While it may be unadventurous for DC to narrow its focus back to purely superhero titles, I can't help but feel it might strengthen the company as a whole.

(As a final note, under my 'anything under 25,000 copies gets axed' plan, we lose: All-Star Western, Batwing, Birds of Prey, Blue Beetle, DC Universe Presents, Deathstroke, Demon Knights, Dial H, Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE, Fury of Firestorm, G.I. Combat, Green Arrow, Grifter, I Vampire, Legion of Super-Heroes, Legion Lost, Phantom Stranger, Ravagers, Savage Hawkman, Stormwatch, Sword of Sorcery and Team 7.)


  1. Interesting theory, and I can't say that there are many books that you've culled that I'd miss at all. I think you could make a case to keep Legion of Superheroes as a long-term investment.

    I wonder if some of the non-superhero books wouldn't do better if there was a clear branding of a line for them. Which is probably the exact opposite of what DC is trying to do.

  2. It has to be said, the vast majority of titles you'd cull here wouldn't be missed, either from a fan or a canon basis-- perhaps only Green Arrow, Hawkman and Legion have any historical importance to the publisher, and of those, Hawkman's always been a novelty title that barely survives short runs and Green Arrow really is better suited to ongoing, collectible mini-series.

    Certainly, as a long-time fan, I'd love to see a new Animal Man series, particularly if it took him back to the weirder Vertigo style than the time-travelling hot-chick sidekick stuff of recent days. Maybe it's my ridiculously fannish nature over these things, but would it not be the funnest fun to see him teamed up with Swamp Thing, Green Arrow/Green Lantern style?

    I'll get me coat...

  3. The Legion's biggest strength is also its biggest weakness: a near-impenetrable mess of continuity and backstory and a ridiculously large cast. To be honest it was the title that would have benefitted the most from a 100% reset with the New 52, but instead it got a soft reboot at best.

    I am a massive Hawkman fan, and Geoff Johns proved you can write a long-running and popular Hawkman book. He's just a slightly tricky character to get right.


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