Robot 6

The Grumpy Color: Tom & Carla dismantle 2011, Part 1

Batman & Spider-Man

[Continuing their yearly tradition, Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman have joined forces to compare notes on the the relative fortunes of DC Comics and Marvel Comics.  Here is Part 1 of 2.]

Tom: Okay, old chum, if it’s late December it must be time to wrap up 2011 and usher in 2012. It’s the New 52 versus dozens of Avengers and Spider-Man titles! Christopher Nolan, David Goyer, and Christian Bale versus Joss Whedon, Andrew Garfield, and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! High collars versus Point Ones! Judd Winick and Guillem March’s Catwoman versus … who, exactly?

Carla: I read Catwoman #1 and stopped there so this analogy is lost on me. Don’t go where I can’t follow, Frodo.

Tom: That was a dig at Marvel’s lack of female-lead titles….

Carla: Oh! I thought it was about our underwear-clad heroines. She-Hulk and Emma Frost have been flashing their bras at people since the 80’s! And don’t get me started on the Black Cat, how many female creative people we have, etc. etc. =D

Tom: Anyway, until September the Big Two were pretty much same-old, same-old. I suspect we’ll remember DC’s 2011 only for its 4th quarter, but in fairness we shouldn’t gloss over what led up to it. Therefore, I have to ask — from your retail perspective, how was DC doing in the before-time? Has the new stuff really made that much of a difference? And how do you, as a merry Marvelite, see the House of Ideas responding?

Carla: Say a couple gals go out for a night on the town and one of them dresses for attention. Hair done up, make up on a little thicker than normally, high heels, short skirt, the works. She’s out to catch herself a man and the other friend sort of looks her over in that “wow, laying it on a little thick there, eh?” way while wondering how she herself got so frumpy all of a sudden.

It’s a little like that.

As for the before-time, I gotta tell you: Green Lantern was selling WAY better. Blackest Night was a huge hit and that mythology was really pushing local reading buttons, so we sold it well. Off the top of my head, we also sold more Wonder Woman and Flash (when we got an issue), but less Justice League… it was kind of all over the place. No. 1s and the idea that one could be there at the very-first-something-or-other has pulled attention to the right books for market capitalization. But now that people have figured out our game of having to buy a comic once every month, the idea of following a title is starting to lose its luster for the novice collector. Now pulls are lowering, lists are sorting themselves out and aside from the tried and true Batman and Action Comics, numbers are receding like the tide. Are people buying more Action Comics at my store? Yes. Are they buying more of everything? Not really. So it’s great for the long term marketability, probably needs more time for other characters to get in on all the fame and fortune.

On a fun personal note, all the titles that I’m totally into are books I would have read pre-52 if they’d just released them: Batwing, Batwoman, Animal Man and The Shade could easily have been around without the big tarty reboot, so seriously, DC! Put on a sweater! You’re making Marvel look sensible.

As for how Marvel’s going to respond to the Big Reboot and freshening up on DC’s characters that got them major media coverage, a renewed interest in their franchise and a boost in sales unseen since Blackest Night? Oh, don’t worry: we’re going Hollywood. Marvel put out THREE MOVIES this year, all of which got an amazing 75% or above approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

So … Green Lantern. Yeah. How’s that working out for ya?

Tom: In fact, I have yet to watch Green Lantern on Blu-Ray, but I hear it’s much better with some made-for-home-video editing. Still, that’s the same kind of thing which got me more interested in Zack Snyder’s four-hour version of Watchmen. Now Warners have entrusted the Superman movies to Mr. Snyder, and even with Christopher Nolan looking over his shoulder, I have to say I’m a little concerned. That’s for 2013, though — next year I suppose Warners will have to settle for another billion-dollar Batman flick. Maybe they can put that money in a nice savings account and live off the interest while they look for the next ideal pairing of filmmaker and superhero.

I am seriously conflicted about Avengers’ prospects. Doesn’t it need to be hugely successful — like, three-movies-in-one successful — to justify itself? I am not seeing much middle ground in terms of quality, either. If it’s not tremendously entertaining, something in me keeps saying it’ll be a colossal 3-D trainwreck. These are purely irrational thoughts, but I simply cannot shake them.

Carla: Or could The Avengers be, at this point, too big to fail? Remember, Hollywood has been very very good to Marvel and even if Avengers turns out to be a Daredevil, there is so much involved in the production (big name actors, fan favorite director, a history of awesome movies catching the viewers up to the storyline) that it’s going to put butts in seats. It’s going to make people remember the names of the characters and if they want more, well, let me show you to the shelves! Here’s hoping.

Tom: Since we are talking nominally about comics, in what condition will I find the Avengers line come May? The last time I read an Avengers title regularly, Kurt Busiek and George Pérez were putting out the only one. If the Council of Cross-Time Toms plucked me from 1998 and dropped me into next summer, would I recognize any of the Avengers books?

Carla: Busiek and Pérez. Hee hee, you’re old. =)

No, sir, I can’t say you would recognize the Avengers anymore from the hey-days of yesteryear. Since Bendis disassembled the crew, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are missing an intangible something from the era of the grand super-opera. The team has remained inert, a lot of their peril is personal rather than the saving-the-Earth variety and often times, there’s a lot of sitting around and talking. A lot. Then again, the new Bendis Avengers are popular. The snarky tone used for everything goes over well with chart topping sales and a steady following. When the Avengers movie hits, people won’t look back to the older eras of Avengers, they’ll look for Bendis’ work because Dear Lord he’s been on the book since 2006! That’s like… forever! It may not be my favorite stuff, but I will tip my hat to the man who really worked hard to put his own personal style into the public eye on the now highest profile book Marvel’s got.

And that’s the thing: sure we all love the printed page, but I am totally ready to cop to the fact that comics have to reach other media outlets in order to remain current. There is no way that I’d dump all my eggs in a Marvel Studios basket and leave my monthlies high and dry (I’d be out of a job!) but it does help keep Thor and Iron Man and Captain America and the Hulk and Ghost Rider in the public eye with big budget blockbusters.

If anything, DC should be thankful that Batman: Arkham City keeps us all well aware of Batman’s … Batmanitude. Credit where credit is due: those video games are HUGE. Not to mention the great work done in animation, with Young Justice and Batman: Brave and the Bold being fan potlucks of fun, and the upcoming DC Nation. Man, I wish we had thought of it first!

Tom: I wonder if post-Harry Potter, post-Nolan Batman, Warners considers either the GL movie or the upcoming Man of Steel to be too big to fail.

Carla: Probably. Superman is Superman is Superman and Returns wasn’t so much a mistake that people won’t turn up just to see what happens next (but that’s probably why we haven’t had a Daredevil movie). Superman is a wonderfully safe property to launch a film series with, but Hal Jordan? Well, he’s kind of the least interesting thing about the Green Lanterns. Maybe they thought the genre as a whole could invest into guys they’d never heard of automatically? Maybe they forgot that what made Blackest Night so popular and the Green Lantern books so huge was the vast operatic tale of planets and emotions and everyone united under their own beacons so that no evil would escape their sight … not Van Wilder in a Mo-Cap suit.

P.S.: he should have been Deadpool.

Ooh, here’s something I can ask: with The Dark Knight Rises officially billed as the Final Chapter of the saga that Mr. Nolan laid out for us, do you think a World’s Finest motion picture might be up next? Depending on how the combiner-mecha gestalt of Avengers does as far as big movies leading up to an even bigger movie, will we see the Justice League in our lifetime? And will Wonder Woman wear pants??!?!

Tom: It seems pretty definite that Christian Bale isn’t suiting up again, whether it’s for World’s Finest or JLA. Regardless, though, I don’t see either of those movies getting made. Remember, Warners tried ‘em both a few years back. Superman Vs. Batman got as far as a script (which is kind of dire and fanfic-y — Bruce gets married, but Superman ruins it somehow), and Justice League’s cast was full of young whippersnappers. Avengers would have to make the kind of money Scrooge McDuck swims in, and Man of Steel would have to be at least okay, in order for Justice League to even have a chance.

Carla: Ah, but that was then; this is now! Sure, Warner Brothers is going to have to find the happy median between dire and dark philosophical dramas and silly goofy guys in tights, but they could do it. Avengers could really make the McDuck cash that might force one of the largest motion picture making studios in Hollywood, an institution of classic films, to compete with … well, you know who.

Tom: And as you say, DC may have to be content with its regular Cartoon Network exposure.

Carla: Can I just take a minute and say how exciting that is? Sure, Marvel may have set their sights on Hollywood, but DC is kicking out the jams as far as the small screen animation. They’re unique, fun, surely everyone in production seems to love the characters and the history they came from. When I finally sat down to watch Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Young Justice, I found myself compelled to love them despite preconceived notions. I mean, if there’s not going to be a Justice League movie, we will still have the finest show of all time representing DC’s best and brightest in animated form.

Honesty time: was the majority of 2011 just a waste for DC? Did Brightest Day really matter? Why was Flashpoint? Like, at all? I want to ask about how Geoff Johns’ great space opera that started in Green Lantern: Rebirth and continued all the way through the Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night and this year’s Brightest Day might have continuing momentum through the DC universe; or how seeing a different side to Aquaman and Wonder Woman in Flashpoint might affect their characters in the regular Earth-Whatever and play into future stories — but man. Brightest Day feels like it happened in another time, another place. An Age of Geoff-ocalypse, if you will.

Tom: Phrases like “Age of Geoff-ocalypse” are exactly the reason I look forward to our team-ups. Who says this isn’t the Marvel Age of clever inter-company wordplay?

Brightest Day seems to be the latest example that DC’s high sheriffs really don’t have much in the way of long-term plans for the superhero line. It’s like you’re driving southbound I-75 on the way to Disneyworld — you’ve been there a dozen times before and it’s always fun, but maybe it’s still getting a little old — and just after you get through Atlanta you decide to chuck the whole thing and go bar-crawling in New Orleans. If Blackest Night capped off a lot of big-event subplots (mostly involving untimely deaths), Brightest Day was a decent transitional series, helping fine-tune the status quo. Along with the JMS-driven Superman and Wonder Woman storylines, the Batman Incorporated makeover, the James Robinson JLA, Justice League: Generation Lost, and whatever Geoff Johns had planned for the Flash, it looked like DC was settling into a comfortable (if not entirely innovative) post-event atmosphere. I mean, when Flashpoint came along my whole take on it was “great, an event which can stand on its own and not have to worry about long-term continuity effects.” And sure, that makes me look like a chump — but really, I think I can be forgiven for supposing that, having spent at least the past year on the aforementioned tweaks and relaunches, DC wouldn’t want to restart its superhero books with a completely different basis.

Carla: It’s okay. Sometimes love makes us look like chumps. That’s why Peter Parker is single. Wait– what?

Tom: And yeah, Flashpoint itself now looks pretty irrelevant to the New-52 — except for the hooded woman from all the #1 issues who is probably the harbinger of next summer’s Big Event. I may be deep in denial over the loss of my precious pre-September continuity, but I still don’t think DC has let go of it either. Since you brought up “too big to fail,” that sure seems to apply to the New-52, especially since it has made such an initial splash.

Carla: Ehnnnnnnnn, maybe. All I can say is that from my side of the counter, there are books being put back. Customers are looking for a payoff and some of the issues drag on just a little too long and have sparse content from a world essentially having to detach itself from the years of foundation it had before. Four issues in and it seems like some books are concentrating far too hard to flesh out what should be a simple yellow text box at the start of every issue. The new 52 could fail, life happens, peoples’ tastes change, what is super-popular right now could be next week’s quarter bin. Remember the ‘90s and beware.

Tom: Duly noted, but I do think DC will try to leverage its current success into a new focus on the pre-September stuff. Make no mistake — while that might not be the smartest thing to do, I can totally see DC trying it, in part because they did pour so much into 2011’s pre-relaunch books.

Now, in light of the New 52, do I think the bulk of 2011 was a waste for DC? No, because it still yielded some fine comics, including the still-relevant GL and Batman books. Even Superman and Wonder Woman perked up once JMS left. (Just sayin’.) I like continuity and the joys of a coherent shared universe, but I can’t unread those pre-September stories, you know?

And speaking of line-wide relaunches, I’m skeptical that Marvel will pull a New-52 of its own, but I was spectacularly wrong about DC. Are these “Season One” and Point-One projects (along with the movies) enough to simplify things for new readers, or could Marvel actually feel the need to do something big and drastic?

[The answer -- tomorrow!]

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11 Comments

Just from this old fan’s standpoint, I’d have to say DC has been doing a better job story-wise. the majority of Marvel’s last six years were made into over-hyped game-changing stuff that didn’t work out to well as I see it. After Civil War, it was easy to criticize Marvel. I read Fear Itself and a cyncial fan in me wanted to say ‘What? They don’t have some new empty shocking thing at the end of every issue? Sentry doesn’t show up and it turns out to not be Sentry? Spider-man can turn out to not be Spider-man, but a clone again. That woudl be shocking.’ Marvel pulled the rug from under itself with that Civil War. All the characters were different and then tried to go back to being themselves afterwards. What was the point if you’ve changed everything, including the characters, but can’t seem to go anywhere with any of your ideas? It still affects the books they do today. I didn’t even bring up the fact that Iron Man and Cap are working together as if nothing every happened.

I’m not a DC guy, but I’ve read Green Lantern sporadically over the past three years and really enjoyed it and realized Marvel should be doing stories that are more of that quality. Batman books are destroying the competition. Look at Spider-man. What did to that series was incredibly insulting and everyone knows what I’m talking about. Look at Flashpoint. Suddenly Superman is single again. DC learned from Marvel’s obvious mistake. No stupid resurrections from magic or stupid new costumes or insultingly bad unmasking stories that they didn’t seem to have the intention or capability of giving to the fans. They just wanted him single. They should of just done that then. Then you’ve got Jim Lee and Geoff Johns doing Justice League and it’s pretty cool. Just like X-men was when Jim Lee was drawing that book. No More Mutants? What was that?

On a positive note, the red Hulk book isn’t bad.

I would never shop in Carla’s store (and i am sure many of my own store’s customers would agree with me ) , too much of a snarky attitude. I can see why the DC sales are slipping somewhat for her , too much attitude , if i was a DC fan i’d take my biz to another store. At our store we do our best to keep all fans: Indy , DC , Marvel , TPB , customers , Back Issue buyers , coming back . I guess that is why our DC sales in the 4th month , are down a trivial 5-10% on average from issue #1. And many books like Animal Man , Aquaman , ‘Tec , Mister T , Demon Knights , (and others ) have actually increased from the 1st issue sales.
Cut the snark , it may help.

Apeman, suffice to say Carla’s writing style does not mirror her customer service approach.

@ Tim O’Shea – are you a customer at Carla’s store? … if your not, dont assume to know what her customer serivce is like.

I’m sorry. Both of these people sound pretty intelligent. But I can’t help being disinterested in 2 folks sitting around talking about a bunch of garbage. The crappy movies, the crappy comics – thoughtful perspective or not, you’re still sitting around talking about dung piles

Faust, I can assume to recognize what one’s writing voice is versus how someone conducts themselves in person.

Let’s be practical here, how many snarky comic book employees last very long (at a successful comic book store), particularly in this day and age?

In her long history at Robot 6, I have taken part in many retail-based conversations with her, where it is clear she recognizes the importance to engage and serve all of her potential customers. While she may not enjoy certain comics does not mean she does not respect her customers. Snark in a fun annual event that she and Tom does is not the same as her approach as a retailer.

JK is probably ripping his hair right now, as I am supposed to be working on content for tomorrow in celebration of our anniversary. :)

So I best bail at this point. It is likely that my comments will be discounted, due to my understandable bias as her associate. So be it.

Ditto everything Faust said, but directed at apeman.

Ditto everything Tim O’Shea said, but counted, due to no relationship with Carla Hoffman.

Ah the Internet. Where people whose opinion we disagree with should not even be allowed to have a job (Carla at the comic shop).

Happy new year

I think this is actually a pretty even-handed roundup.

If anything, TOO even-handed. They seemed to start to touch on ideas about what DC’s and Marvel’s actual problems are, but then back off a bit before putting a pin in it.

(Oh, and to Marvel and DC fanboys who reduce everything to a binary one-is-better-than-the-other argument every time someone criticizes either company….please shut up.)

The bottom line is, DCnU’s relaunch is turning into the failure their more seasoned fans predicted, in front of our very eyes. As was mentioned above, the new books that are doing well could’ve been launched without the reboot and renumbering, and there are significant drops in books that were doing better *before* the reboot. Batman and Action Comics are doing okay because there are a large contingent of readers out there who will buy anything with Batman, Superman, or Grant Morrison on it — but even that isn’t going to last forever, especially once it goes the way of all the other creative teams jumping ship.

As for the one title everyone falls back on to tout sales improvement — JLA — have you actually tried to read the dialogue from this book out loud to yourself? It’s ridiculous and embarrassing. They’ve been rebooted as a group of petulant teenagers in v-necked Power Rangers armor! I could’ve dealt with either the childishly written characters OR the Jim-Lee-90s-redesign, but I couldn’t stick around for both. And of course the numbers improved on JLA — the book was handicapped for over a year previous by the horrendous kneecapping DC pulled on Dwayne McDuffie, where they wouldn’t even allow him to use the big seven in the book! This always tanks sales, because that’s what people come to the JLA to read. Instead, he was stuck with writing a book about the adult-Titans, which later got turned into Shade-and-Starman, guest-starring the adult-Titans, when Robinson took over. Anyone who can’t see why sales improved after the reboot put the real JLA back in place isn’t really thinking too hard. (It makes you wonder why the previous two writers weren’t allowed to use them at all in the first place…)

As for Marvel, Fear Itself was the first time in all my years of collecting that I actually felt ripped off, rather than just not interested in a story. What a huge buildup for such a completely empty non-payoff. Can anyone actually describe the major plot points that mattered in Fear Itself, other than Bucky-Cap biting it, which practically happened offscreen? I can’t, and I read the whole thing plus most of the tie-ins. Total waste.

The big two should do themselves a favor and start emulating the comics creativity boom of the 80’s, instead of the brain-dead-speculators’ market of the 90’s, if they are going to still insist on being retro instead of coming up with new directions. At least then we can enjoy the retreads instead of dreading them.

well put MW

MW you are out of your mind
from “The Beat”
comments section I included only 3 retailers , there are more there stating how succesful the relauch is if you care to look. Sorry you lose , you are clearly wrong.

Brian Jacoby from Secret Headquarters Tallahassee, Florida says:
12/30/2011 at 4:17 pm
I’m going to disagree with a few of your premises in the column above the numbers, in a “Your Mileage May Vary” kind of way. I know I’ve posted some of this on the Beat before, but I’m elaborating some, for context.

My regular subscription customer base grew by 20% from August to October. Most of these people were lapsed comics readers (“I haven’t bought a comic since Event X”), but some of them were people who never bought western comics before.

99% of these subscribers are still around, 4 months later. They’ve dropped titles they didn’t like, and tried new things from DC and other publishers. They are enthusiastic about comics in general. Justice League is currently my best-selling title, and the subs for it keep growing. The last time that happened for a new title was for Buffy Season 8, which held my most-subscrived-to record until Justice League, which is beating it by 25%

Now, I ordered heavily for the relaunch. My Sept. orders for DC were 290% of my normal DC orders. I worked hard to suggest titles to regulars and new customers that seemed to fit their interests. I ended up selling out of little over half of the #1s in the first month.

From what I’ve gathered through talking to the other store owners in town and their customers, NONE of them went as heavily into the relaunch as I did. I’m the highest volume shop in town for new comics, and all three others (soon to be only 2 others) sold out of most of their #1s each Wednesday. Two of them openly criticized the relaunch to their customers, and to me, before it happened. One of them continued to complain about it afterwards. I’ve heard (second-hand, unfortunately, but from multiple sources) that most of the “new” business left the other stores by issue #3.

I also pushed the minis (Huntress, Penguin, Shade and The Ray) the same way I pushed the New 52, and got similar results, and needing to reorder all of them multiple times.

What I’m saying in my long-winded way, was that stores got out of the relaunch what they put into it. Those who were positive about it and supported it saw their customer base grow. Those who did nothing, got no more than a temporary and minor boost.

Duncan, Pegasus Books says:
12/31/2011 at 12:14 pm
I have to chime in to agree with the other retailers here.

Almost the same exact experience. I’m not quite sure why reporting success is considered “whining”….

I had about a 25% increase in subscribers, I’ve been able to jump a discount level with DC and it looks like I’ll stay there.

Sure, there isn’t as much talk in the store, and sure there has been the predictable tailing off…but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still successful. These look like “new” customers to me — and it has helped sales throughout the store.

Duncan McGeary
Pegasus Books of Bend
Oregon.

Brian Hibbs says:
12/30/2011 at 9:59 pm
Chris:

Returns aren’t free — they have a restock fee attached to them, in addition to the incoming freight, extra work of stripping covers, etc. There might still be a LITTLE overbuying-on-purpose going on, but it’s going to be a pretty negligible amount — no (sane) retailer is going to bring in goods they know for a fact they can not sell, so they can pay fees to send them back!

Also: JL, BATMAN, ACTION, FLASH, GL — DC’s entire top five — are NOT returnable, whatsoever, even FOR a fee. In point of fact, I’m not seeing any really clear market distinctions in buying patterns between the returnable, non-returnable, and super deep discount titles on the chart at all, which would strongly suggest that returnability is just no factor whatsoever at month 3.

To echo my fellow retailers — this is just a success, there’s no other way to call it, and this is the first month ever I started to think “Marc-Oliver needs to stop writing these, he’s too jaded — and it shows!”

-B

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