Robot 6

Quote of the day | Is DC Comics a two-man operation?

Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns (via Bleeding Cool)

Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns (via Bleeding Cool)

“The 26 best-selling DC single issues were all written or co-written by either Geoff Johns or Grant Morrison.”

Techland’s Douglas Wolk makes a startling observation about Diamond’s 2010 sales charts. I mean, I knew Johns and Morrison were DC’s two bestselling authors by a long shot, and since I enjoy their work a great deal I’m pretty happy about that, but that level of dominance is really stunning to me. Moreover, Wolk goes on to note that “The best-selling DC single issue that was neither a Batman comic nor a tie-in to Blackest Night/Brightest Day was Superman #700, at position #109.” In other words, DC’s dominant writers have made the properties on which they work — predominantly Batman and Green Lantern — DC’s dominant franchises as well. Even superstar writer J. Michael Straczynski’s much-ballyhooed Superman debut failed to gain much traction relative to the Johns/Morrison juggernaut.

I think it’s safe to assume that Johns is being pulled in more and more directions by his Chief Creative Officer duties — the same position, keep in mind, that Joe Quesada recently relinquished his Editor-in-Chief gig to focus on over at Marvel. Meanwhile, Morrison is a writer whose work meets with frequent delays at the best of times, and who has a full slate of creator-owned work and various media projects (Hollywood screenplays and adaptations, the indie flick Sinatoro, My Chemical Romance videos, etc). Finally, there’s no way to tell how the Green Lantern movie will affect fan interest in the franchise. That’s a lot of eggs to have in relatively few baskets.

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14 Comments

yes, I’m ready to be hired as DC’s next reliable writer!

IMHO, if Green Lantern bombs, it’s going to be ugly.

DC has plenty of writers doing plenty of books. It’s not DC’s fault that the fans don’t read them as well.

While I don’t know if this has ever been shown so…starkly before, DC’s had a problem with this for years. Ask yourself: who was the last ‘big’ writer DC has developed or hired? Marvel has brought in Fraction, Aaron, Hickman, Pak & VanLente the last few years and given them significant roles. Who has DC got in that young gun role? Maybe Spencer & Lemire will be those writers, but DC can’t rely so totally on Johns & Morrison going forward.

Mysterious Stranger

January 11, 2011 at 11:45 am

Can’t the same thing be said of Marvel with Bendis? I don’t have the numbers in front of me but it always seems like the Bendis books are at the top of the list for Marvel on a consistent basis.

Bendis is definitely the equivalent figure at Marvel, Mysterious Stranger — in fact if you look at the top of the charts, you could say that the ENTIRE INDUSTRY is a three-man operation between him, Johns, and Morrison. They’re all relatively prolific and they all wrote multiple, simultaneous bestselling series last year. But before you get to the first non-Johns/Morrison-penned DC title, the #74-ranking Green Lantern Corps #44 from Peter J. Tomasi, you hit the following non-Bendis Marvel writers: Victor Gischler at #2 (X-Men #1), Ed Brubaker at #13 (Secret Avengers #1), Jason Aaron at #17 (Wolverine #1), Rick Remender at #26 (Uncanny X-Force #1), Brubaker again at #44 (Captain America Reborn #6), Matt Fraction at #63-64 (Uncanny X-Men #523-524), Brubaker again at #65 (Secret Avengers #2), and Dan Slott at #73 (Amazing Spider-Man #648). Now, is it kind of nuts that 65 of the top 75 bestselling comics of the year from any publisher were written by one of three people? Yes. But Marvel appears to have a bit more luck in placing writers outside its go-to guy (and franchises outside its go-to franchise) high on the charts.

Is 26 really that much? I mean, that’s taken over a year–it’s basically one monthly series each if they’re consistent bestsellers.

Man, reading this correctly would help me not be completely bewildered. I thought this:
“–Techland’s Douglas Wolk makes a startling observation about Diamond’s 2010 sales charts.”
said this:
“–Techland’s Douglas Wolk makes a startling observation about December 2010 sales charts.”
and was about to wonder how in the heck there were 26 books between just two authors in just one month. But yeah, yearly makes much more sense.

Both Johns and Morrison are enormously talented. The problem is that they’re being given way too much free rein. It wasn’t enough for GJ to reinvent the Green Lantern franchise, he’s effectively doing it to the entire DC universe- which wouldn’t be so bad if not for his sadistic streak that made the DC Universe a horrible place to live in, one whose idealistic heroes sound utterly out of touch or ineffective. We couldn’t even get a positive (or even definite) ending to Blackest Night.

Similarly, Morrison is wonderful half of the time -All Star Superman was in fact the last DC series I enjoyed- but the other half even his editors cannot figure what he’s trying to do. That’s not good.

And of course, they rob other good writers (and DC has many) of both the spotlight and the chance to do their visions. DC’s editorial attitude seems to be “just bring in the famous guys and let them loose.” Sorry but that doesn’t always work.

And finally, if these comics are selling because of the “big-names”- what will happen when they leave (which considering their tempers, especially Morrison’s, could happen any day) Wil they all drop in sales at the same time?

Aside from the Vertigo titles, where each is a unique vision of a specific creative team, DC does not have many “name” talents.

There are many talented writers (Simone, JMS, Giffen, DeMatteis) working at DC, and many great artists, all deserving of great recognition and sales. Granted, fans tend to gravitate towards the glitzy and/or the new, which means that solid storytelling tends to get overlooked.

I don’t know how much reading comics shop owners do nowadays, and how much they recommend titles to customers. It’s probably done, but not concentrated on one specific title.

How’s this “superstar” theory work for DC’s trades? JMS holds the crown for books, with Superman: Earth One.

If the last 15 years have shown anything, time and again, it’s that DC wouldn’t know a good promotional effort if it bit Paul Levitz in the backside. If his successors are any better at it, they’ve yet to show it. When they’re able to produce a bestseller, it’s more often DESPITE their promotional efforts than because of them.

They’re still frequently announcing creative teams, then exchanging them after the books have already been solicited. They’ve gone out of their way to outright obstruct the success of specific groups of titles (the Man of Action crew is on the record saying that they were told not to draw “too much attention” to the Superman books 10 years back) or entire publishing lines (WildStorm!) or, variably, undercut it with poorly timed schedules or lack of editorial support (52, FINAL CRISIS, the All Star titles, SUPERMAN/BATMAN, McDuffie’s JUSTICE LEAGUE, …). And their biggest signing in years, let’s remember, is J. Michael Straczynski, who just came off a spectacularly successful THOR relaunch and a Hollywood hit movie with Clint Eastwood — and what do they give him? THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, of all things, which they don’t even have the good sense to relaunch in the process. Then Straczynski’s on SUPERMAN and WONDER WOMAN, then Straczynski’s off SUPERMAN and WONDER WOMAN. And last year’s Free Comic Book Day book? Why, the tail end of a long, sprawling, tedious Superman crossover that wasn’t even successful, of course. Greg Rucka returns to DETECTIVE COMICS — no he won’t. Paul Dini is writing STREETS OF GOTHAM — no he isn’t. Marc Guggenheim is on ACTION COMICS — no he isn’t. Nick Spencer is on SUPERGIRL — no he isn’t. The new creative team on BATMAN AND ROBIN takes over with issu #17 — no they won’t. And on and on and on, and on. This is just at the top of my head.

Any success at the company, under the circumstances, is probably more accidental than anything.

It’s not a mystery why they’ve failed so spectacularly to cultivate talent that’s even remotely on par with the Fractions, Aarons, Hickmans, Van Lentes, Parkers, etc. that Marvel has been gobbling up and building into household names with some diligence. On the contrary: DC chased away some of their more promising and consistent puppeteers over the years (Loeb, Brubaker, Kelly, Dixon, Waid, Rucka …) and largely botched it when they were lucky enough to sign people like Bagley, the Kuberts or Straczynski.

All of which is why DC’s “publishing strategy” right now is basically to make sure that Johns and Morrison never ever board the same frigging plane.

Ha, I don’t usually comment, but that last bit by Mr. Frisch was hilarious:

“All of which is why DC’s “publishing strategy” right now is basically to make sure that Johns and Morrison never ever board the same frigging plane.”

It has continued to amaze me how DC likes to not particularly drop the ball following the departure of Johns or Morrison or a similar talent from a book, but chuck it down a crack into Hell. Remember when Loeb left Superman/Batman, when it was a peak seller? DC shifted on rotating teams and instructed them to keep the book totally removed from DC continuity. Even if there has been some awesome work on the book since Loeb’s kinda-mediocre-in-retrospect run, so few people know because DC did its best to make people think the title no longer “mattered.” Or when Morrison, Waid, and Kelly were followed on JLA by… Chris Claremont and Chuck Austen. Or whatever that mess was after Johns left JSA (or, for that matter, the mess he left it in).

And while I have enormous respect for Hester and Roberson, I guarantee that many people will drop these books like mad when they figure out that JMS’s undeserved cover credit is for show. DC is cultivating some awesome talent – Nick Spencer, Scott Snyder, Jeff Lemire, Sterling Gates – but the two-man domination isn’t allowing these guys to get the exposure they need to sustain the books they’re assigned.

It might seem like Bendis dominates Marvel, but all he really dominates is Avengers titles, and even that is a misconception. How many Avengers books are published right now? He writes the adjective-less and New, Brubaker has Secret, and Gage has Academy. He’s sharing the upcoming Ultimate Event with Millar, and he’s not writing the next 616 Event book. Marvel banks on these awesome creators with topflight, continuity-affecting books like Pak on Hulk, Aaron on Wolverine, Remender on X-Force, and Fraction on Uncanny, and people will buy these books for the names alone before being impressed with the talent.

DC assigns guys like Spencer to a reboot of characters few remember. The books is awesome, but it’s not a very flexible market. Or Lemire to Superboy and The Atom, characters that can’t always sustain their own titles regardless of writer. It’s not all missteps — Snyder of Detective Comics is a perfect pairing of a talented up-and-comer on a bankable property — but it’s not ideal either. And while I’m not a huge fan, JT Krul is an example of launching a newer writer through actually assigning him books that connect with the greater DCU, like Teen Titans and Green Arrow. Krul is clawing his way into that cadre of writers that make sense on higher profile books. If writers like Gates and Spencer and Lemire don’t get regular exposure by working on recognizable properties, they’re not going to be able to step up to the plate to move units like Johns and Morrison.

DC has taught its readers that Johns and Morrison steer the ship, so they become impossible to follow. Someday, Johns will (shocker!) not writer Green Lantern anymore. Someday (and this might be sooner than we would all like), Morrison will not write Batman. Especially as Johns continues to reinvent characters into his terrifyingly grim yet oddly Silver Age DCU, he won’t be able to stick on the books forever. And Morrison, as much as I love the man and his work, could be gearing up for another career phase any time now, especially if projects like Multiversity don’t see the light of day. I don’t envy the writers who must follow in their footsteps.

Dont forget Paul Cornell!

This makes sense, as they are the only two writers who are allowed to do their own thing and not be as micromanaged by DC editorial. DC editorial tends to suddenly make good writers write bad stories.

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