So I’ve been getting caught up on my comics and so far, I’m really half and half on DC’s new 52 gimmick. For some characters, this has been a fresh of air (Aquaman), for others it’s pretty much the same as before (Batman, Green Lantern), but I think it has had a negative effect on the Superman books. Sure, the current arcs are better than Grounded, which was a terrible arc especially coming off the momentum of the New Krypton Saga. Grant Morrison’s run on Action Comics seems to be the same ground that Geoff Johns’ Secret Origins covered, only without the heart and pacing of Johns’ fantastic telling of Superman’s early career.
Morrison is a fantastic writer, but I think his stuff gets a little too intellectual and complex for it’s own good. His ideas are usually fantastic but his structure can be disjointed at times. The first six issues of Superman were good, but not really spectacular. Superman’s new look is another in the “meh” department. I’m defiantly not positive on it, but I’m also not entirely negative on it. I suppose it’s sufficient if a bit over-designed. The feeling I get from Superman’s new threads is that DC is trying way too hard with the design. There is an element of desperation about it, DC really wants him to be cool and contemporary. But neither the Action Comics and Superman books feels like Superman. This has been something that DC has been struggling with for decades now. Constant attempts to bring Superman in with the times and in most cases, they tend to be failures. Remember in the 90’s when Superman had a mullet? Or Clark Kent as a television reporter instead of a newspaper reporter? They try these things, but they always come back to the more classic staples of the character.
Don’t be surprised if DC goes back to the classic Superman look in two years. It’s the first image people think of when they think of Superman. The spit curl, the red underwear, the symbol stretched across a blue chest and a flowing, red cape. It’s one the most recognizable icons in the world. To be fair, DC perfectly understands this and Jim Lee had these considerations when he redesigned Superman’s look. Truth be told, its probably the best redesign of Superman that we have seen and probably could have gotten. The few pictures from Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel’s Superman looks terrible. Too much blue and not enough red. Jim Lee was smart enough to give the redesigned Superman a prominent red belt to help balance the color, Snyder’s Man of Steel does no such thing.
Of course it’s not just all costumes and aesthetics. Superman is obviously being written younger in both Action Comics and Superman and quite frankly, it bores the shit out of me. All of the changes to the character have been small tweaks but they all add up to something that isn’t very impressive. Comics haven’t been selling well since the great comic book crash. Not the numbers that Marvel and DC want anyway. But I think that DC has misdiagnosed the problem. The problem wasn’t with the designs and the characters, but how comics are put together and marketed. I think its time to come to grips with the idea that publishing monthly issues is out of date. A new business model may be necessary if comics are to thrive in the new digital marketplace.
DC’s digital offering is not exactly palpable. The individual issues cost way too much for a digital copy and the reader is inferior to CDisplay, the preferred pirate app. The pirates have had a ten year jump on digital distribution ahead of DC and their scans and rips are superior to the legal offerings. This is not good for DC or Marvel. Releasing downloadable comics in CDisplay’s format would be a bold move, or simply just straight up make a clone app of it that reads only DC’s official releases. The prices of the digital versions of individual comics has to come down to. $2.99 and $3.99 per title is too much to charge for digital comics. $.99 would be a bit closer to the mark. Better yet, a monthly subscription service with unlimited access to the digital library would be welcome. As for the print versions? Cancel the monthly printings and release trade copies in volumes. Superman Vol. 1 for instance, would have the first six to nine issues.
Another thing DC (and especially Marvel) needs to do is cut the number of titles. Have only one book about Superman, one Batman book and ect. Of course Supergirl, Batgirl, Nightwing and other associated characters would have their own titles. But do we really need a Batman, Detective Comics, Batman Incorporated, Batman: Dark Knight and a Batman and Robin? If you want Detective Comics and Action Comics to continue than place the focus on Commissioner Gordon and the Daily Planet respectively. Or turn them into anthology books, each issue focusing on a different DC b-list character that they want to increase exposure with. The Question would work perfectly in Detective Comics.
52 titles is entirely too many. DC needs to be focusing on quality and not quantity. If they want their comics to sell better, they need to market them better and to increase the quality of their stories and writing. Semi-formed concepts and half-assed conclusions simply won’t cut it. DC editors need to come up with a single vision for the DCU and then let their writers write. The monthly rat race of their release schedule is not producing the quality storytelling that they need. Instead of reboots, redesigns and cheap gimmicks, they need to rethink the entire comic book structure. Maybe two hundred page graphic novels, unconnected with each other is the way to go. Maybe not. We comic book fans love to obsess over continuity. With the rise of tablets and smartphones, there is a new market wide open that can take comics into its next golden age if DC can only find the way to best exploit these new opportunities. The comic industry requires a new business model and better storytelling. They need to be more available and cheaper. Licensing and merchandising are where the real money is anyways. The Avengers and Dark Knight proved that you have America’s attention, now sell us. DC has it all backwards. It’s not Superman who needs to be made relevant in this brave new world, its comics.