May 11, 2013

Judging the New 52: Comic Book Deathwatch

One thing that's become pretty clear about DC's publishing strategy in recent years is their criteria for cancelling a monthly book. Generally speaking, if a book drop below 20,000 copies a month it's in danger. If sales drop below 15,000 copies it's pretty much toast. This means we can get an easy idea of which books are likely to be in danger, which are circling the drain, and which ones might be getting a temporary reprieve.

Here's the titles most at risk for the month of March 2013. Titles in black have already been cancelled, and are simply running out their final issues. Titles in red are on deathwatch: they're selling less than 15,000 copies and are mostly relying on new creative teams to turn them around with fresh directions or characters. Titles in orange are selling less than 20,000 copies but more than 15,000, so they're in danger of cancellation over the next year but are probably safe for now. Titles in green are selling less than 25,000 copies but more than 20,000: they're definitely safe, but if I was DC I'd be keeping a very close eye on how their sales progress in the coming months. The graph is a little small: if you click on it you should get a larger version to look at.

Let's ignore the books that are already cancelled, and first check out the five that, by all rights, should be cancelled. They are (in alphabetical order): Batwing, Demon Knights, Dial H, Stormwatch and Threshold. Three of these (Batwing, Demon Knights and Stormwatch) are New 52 launch titles. As of April 2013 each has published 21 issues. The other two, Dial H and Threshold, are more recent. What should DC do with each of them?
  • Batwing has lasted a lot longer than I thought it would, but I think it's demonstrated that there simply isn't enough interest in an African Batman. Time to retire the series and leave the characters available for guest appearances in other books.
  • Demon Knights is in a similar position, however in this case I think the characters are strong enough that you could easily launch a new book out of the ashes of this one. I always found the Demon a bit of a silly character in the present day, but would read the hell out of a Demon book set in, say, Renaissance Italy.
  • Dial H isn't a viable concept, because by its very premise it changes hero every issue, and readers gravitate towards continuity with these things. Surely there's something more commercially viable that DC could be using China Mievelle on?
  • Stormwatch is and should be toast. You could theoretically launch some kind of Apollo and Midnighter book, but I don't see that selling any better.
  • Threshold launched poorly, and hemorrhaged readers from day one. The Larfleeze backup is already getting bumped to its own monthly series.(EDIT: between my writing and posting this entry DC has announced that Threshold will end with its 8th issue in August.
Next up are the five series that, while not absolutely guaranteed to fail within the next few months, are visibly on the way out. They are (again, in alphabetical order): All-Star Western, Katana, Legion of Super-Heroes, Phantom Stranger and Vibe.
  • All-Star Western is a stunning book. Sales over the last few months have settled to around the 16,800 mark. If DC can maintain those numbers, I'd recommend they keep it. They could possibly attract more sales by dumping the backup strip, dropping the price to $2.99 and retitling it Jonah Hex with a new #1.
  • Katana is a well-written book with great art, but it simply hasn't attracted enough readers. It launched with only 27,000 readers, which makes it the second-lowest selling launch of any New 52 monthly (after Sword of Sorcery, which has already been cancelled). Like Batwing, it's time to cancel the series and leave the character around for other books.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes is almost in the same position as All-Star Western, where it looks like sales might bottom out at the 16,000 and then hold steady. DC could certainly keep it in print at that level, but to be honest I think there is Green Lantern level potential for the Legion if DC could just publish a new Legion book that allowed an 'in' for new readers. They had the perfect chance with the New 52 and they still made it relatively impenetrable. I think they need to axe it and replace it with a new version, maybe resurrecting the Legionnaires brand, and finding a really strong writer/artist combination to freshen the concept up.
  • Phantom Stranger is such a bizarrely dated character, whose continuing appearance in his own book appears to be simply to raise his profile so he can star in the upcoming "Trinity War" crossover. Once that's done, I'd cancel the book.
  • Vibe should never have been commissioned in the first place. Cancel it.
That's potentially 10 books cancelled at once. If DC was ballsy enough to do that, I think launching 10 all-new monthlies the following month would give them a real chance at creating another New 52-style boost in sales. Launch two books, and readers will often umm and ahh about whether to try one of them out. Launch ten books, and readers will potentially get caught up in the excitement and try all ten.

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