Robot 6

DC Digital: best-kept secret or worst-covered gem?

adventuresofsupes1

Panel from “Adventures of Superman” #1 by artist Chris Samnee and writer Jeff Parker

It’s always a great feeling when you find good comics in a place you weren’t suspecting. But as a reader, fan and journalist, I was surprised at how good the DC Comics digital titles are. But why? DC has put out great books, and continues to do so now with some of its New 52 line-up; I was also a big fan of the publisher’s previous digital-first endeavors with Zuda. Why then is it so surprising that the current crop of DC Digital is good? Then I figured it out.

First, a primer: Launched in early 2012, the DC Digital titles premiere online with weekly installments and are later collected in print. Originally consisting of just two series, Batman Beyond Unlimited and Smallville: Season 11 (both coincidentally continuations of canceled television shows), the line expanded in the fall with the anthology-style Legends of the Dark Knight, companions to the TV drama Arrow and the video game Injustice: Gods Amongst Us, and Batman: Li’l Gotham. The imprint’s most recent addition is an anthology called Adventures of Superman.

Content-wise, the DC Digital comics feature the same superhero characters as the core New 52 titles, but when reading the stories — and seeing the creators involved — it feels entirely different. It reminds me of how the then-fledgling Marvel Knights line felt within the auspices of Marvel in the late ’90s. Sure, digital imprints has DC stalwarts like Jimmy Palmoitti, Justin Gray, Jeff Lemire and Nicola Scott, but it also has Chris Samnee , Ben Templesmith, Riley Rossmo, Gabriel Hardman, Michael Avon Oeming, Jeff Parker, Chris Sprouse and others. Those are names who would be a surprising change to see on the cover of the primary DC books, but here they’re working for DC and doing great work. Sounds like a great talent pool for DC Comics to pull from, but why are they in DC Digital and not also in the main DC line?

Then I thought about why I was so surprised when I found out how good the books are. I received the press releases and read the interviews when the line launched last year, so it was floating in my head yet drowned out by the litany of books being released by DC, Marvel, Image and others. You might say I have a blind spot for reading these, but after talking with others in my field I found those journalists, bloggers and reviewers having similar feelings about the DC Digital books.

So what if it’s not a near-universal blind spot among comics news-gatherers to highlight this but something in the delivery? I’m not talking about the method to obtain these — digitally or in their latter print editions — but rather about the promotion of these by DC to a similar level as the print-specific titles. Marvel is in the middle of promoting its Infinite Comics format with the Guardians of the Galaxy Infinite Comics title, but that publisher too has been guilty of over-delivering on great digital comics while under-promoting those same efforts. In 2008, Marvel did a series of digital-first one-off stories including a great tale by Jason Aaron and Richard Isanove covering the Native American hero American Eagle, but those came and went with little fanfare and little promotion past the initial launch.

So turning back to look at DC Digital, I have to say that these stories are some of the best coming out of the company right now. Although produced and distributed relatively under the radar, they’re ideal books for comics fans who are looking for something different than what DC is currently offering as a line, or just for someone who wants great comics. Now if only the DC print line would learn some lessons from what’s going on at DC Digital.

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19 Comments

I hope they stay hidden gems! Maybe DC’s top brass doesn’t realize they’re being published and telling good stories. Maybe they’ll leave those titles alone! The three chapters of Adventures of Superman so far have been better than any New 52 Superman published in the past two years.

“DC has put out great books before, and are have some no now with their New 52 line-up; ”

What.

It could be that DC isn’t promoting the digital-only titles as much since those titles aren’t directly related to the New 52 initiative. Digital is the only place to see non-’tech lines’ Batman and underpants-on-the-outside classic Superman, after all.

Stupid question from a digital newbie, but I finally downloaded Comixology last week and the first thing I noticed was no DC titles. Are they exclusively available at DC’s site?

SJNeal – What are you downloading on? A Kindle Fire by chance?

@SJNeal: are you a Kindle Fire user by any chance? I recall that for some reason the Kindle version of Comixology doesn’t sell DC books (possibly related to DC’s other deal with Amazon). You can still buy them on Comixology’s site and then download them on the Kindle though.

Comixology, Amazon and DC have not commented on it publicly except to say you can buy them in any other platform and then download them to your Fire. It’s annoying but I typically will just buy them on the Comixology app on my phone and then download them later on my Fire to read.

Lured by the promise of some inexpensive, primarily stand-alone Superman stories I could share with my kids, I started picking up “Adventures of Superman” on my Nook. Only 3 stories so far, and we’re hooked. I’m one of those old-timers who longs for classic-style, all-ages super hero comics (at a reasonable price), and I hope AoS continues to provide that.

Oh wow, Chris Samnee on Superman. With the red underpants. How am I only hearing of this now?

I do have a main quibble about DC Digital, though. I do have a problem with the pricing. The issues say that they’re 22 pages, right? It sounds like a bargain… only plenty of those pages only consist of 1 or 2 panels. And I’ve also downloaded comics where one page is a close up, and the next page is just the same panel, but zoomed out to reveal the entire picture. In reality, three issues is about equal to 1 story. (At least, that’s been my experience with Smallville, Season 11.) I’m not sure that the price point on the DC Digital is comparable to the New 52, expecially since they go on $1 discount a month after the title is out.

That said, I’m downloading Adventures of Superman when I get home.

The Superman, Batman, and Lil’ Gotham books are nearly all I can stand from DC these days. They’re showing the kind of artistic creativity and breadth that is keeping Marvel well ahead in market share these days, but without the constraint of needing to be overly serious or tied to umpteen other things. I hope there’s a chance for other anthology titles, focusing on other characters — a sort of weekly Wednesday Comics.

@El Santo,
My “Digital-First” comic experience is limited to Thrillbent and now “Adventures of Superman,” so I don’t know about how “Smallville” does it. I know these comics are formatted for viewing on mobile devices, so a panel or two at a time is about right. I believe with AoS one digital page = 1/2 print page, so each digital chapter will be about 10 pages in the print version. Four $0.99 chapters should make up one $3.99 issue, so I think – at least in the case of AoS – digital pricing is on par with print. It’s less of a psychological sting paying $0.99 for 22 “pages” than $3.99 for 40 pages, though – at least for me.

@Steve & Erik Scott: Yep, I’m on a Kindle Fire. Thanks for the responses, I’ll look into it!

You might like them so much because they are anthology series with quick creative changes.

You can’t do that in print ongoing series, you guys whine when creative gets changed after 6 issues, imagines if people only had one issue to tell their story.

These digital one shots are like candy bars, it’s great as a treat but if it was the only thing being served you’d all be sick of it in a month.

MadMikeyD, El Santo:

MMD, you’re right about each chapter being about 10 print pages (usually 8-10, give or take). The good news is you still save money digitally because the print editions of these books only collect 3 chapters for $3.99

@MadMikeyD – The sore point for me is that you can get older issues (and by that, I mean older than a month) of Flash and Green Lantern for $1.99, which is more affordable. (They’re fairly decent titles, too.)

It’s possible that this could be only an issue with the Smallville and Arrow titles, though. Those are the two titles I’ve downloaded through DC Digital, and they’re more geared toward a TV watching audience. Hence why they tend to go widescreen more often.

Smallville Season 11 is the most consistent, enjoyable Superman title going right now. It’s a breath of fresh air.

Hmmm… I’ve come to a split decision on Adventures of Superman.

#1, illustrated by Chris Samnee, was fantastic as expected. #2 was delightful (two kids playing Superman), but the art was really, really bad. #3 was fine — a Bizarro story — and the art was better than #2. Overall, well worth the money, but if I could I would’ve dropped #2. Also, the pacing is better than Arrow, at least, which is often a lot of hot air and huge splash pages. For the complaints I had on #2, at least it told a complete self contained story. It sorta reminds me of how comics used to be done in the Silver Age.

Samnee, Lemire, Oeming and all those others don’t fit into DC’s Lee and Capullo-based house style, therefore you won’t see it in the new 52. A shame really, that a company is still trying to enforce a house style in the 21st century.

But by all means, sell me on another comic with art chores split by two Brazilian newcomers, DC. That seems to be working.

Hey, we even got THREE pencillers on this week’s Batgirl, all big names: Vicente Cifuentes, Carlos Rodriguez, Daniel Sampere. Yup.

Greg Capullo doesn’t draw anything like Jim Lee. Capullo is actually a much better artist.

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