Posted by: Brian Hibbs on April 13, 2011
It is April, and we’re starting this year’s cycle of event storytelling. I’m fairly unconvinced this is what the audience actually and truly wants — at best I tend to think that the market supports them because its been sooooo long since we sold comics purely on the strength of the comics that we’ve forgotten anything BUT events, but I guess we’ll see what shakes out.
Clearly the market is reeling right now — January and February were abysmal, and March not really that much better — and there’s a sense to me, at least, that this year’s are “make or break” for the Marvel and DC universes in some fashion or another.
Not like comics will go away, of course, my big happy thought from WonderCon was that Larry Marder is still doing Beanworld, and getting paid to do so, and as long as THAT still happens, comics are just fine, thanks very much!
But that’s something more to develop in a TILTING (which, huh, I should get to writing, shouldn’t I?) — this is to talk about the comics themselves.
FEAR ITSELF #1: In many many many ways, I think that the success of failure of an event can often be determined by looking at its “log line” or “elevator pitch” — the one sentence summation of what the book is about. I’m not all that terrific at perfectly encapsulating them, for example I’m sure someone can come up with something more precise or sexy for CIVIL WAR than “Superheroes fight among themselves over liberty versus security”, but that was pretty much what I used in ’06, and it worked a charm, selling a bucketload of comics for me.
In the same way, DC’s biggest recent hit, BLACKEST NIGHT, can be reduced to “Dead superheroes come back from the grave as murderous zombies” — that the kind of thing people often say “Wow, cool!” to. The CLEARER the pitch, the more direct and large the sales.
FEAR ITSELF is a weird “event” comic — I’ll say straight up that I liked it pretty well. I have problems with bits of it (when don’t I?): I thought the Avengers pro-Stark shilling was a bit…. strange, given the libertarian nature of some of the characters; I thought that the interactions between Thor and Odin were kind of heavy-handed; and I thought the lettering was oddly large, but all in all I liked the issue as I was reading it, and I’ll even skip to the chase and say I thought it was pretty GOOD.
But I still can’t log line it! Even after reading it! That’s not a great situation.
I mean, I could say “An older pantheon of gods returns to kick the Asgardian’s asses”, I guess? But I don’t think that’s all there is to it, and, anyway, that sounds way too insider baseball for fan-off-the-street. Very very few people ACTUALLY care about “the Asgardians” as an abstract group, we have decades of sales information to clearly show that. And, clearly, Marvel is struggling with it as well, because THEY’VE yet to log line it themselves — their marketing is all over the map, and not defining things in terms of story really. Even the title doesn’t suggest what the story might be about.
Our first week sales were “fine” — just a smidge above AVENGERS… but I have a hard time considering an event book a hit unless it does, say, twice, three times that. That’s kind of the problem with Direct Market 2011 in a nutshell, in fact — the bottom- and middle- sellers are no worse than flat, and even substantially up in a lot of cases, but the top-selling books have cratered to less than half of what they were 2-3 years ago. That’s an ugly prospect.
I’m cool with the stock I have on hand — worst case we’ll sell out sometime right around the last issue shipping, but I *want* to have to go back for more, say, before issue #3 arrives in store.
Anyway, log-lines, yeah. That’s the problem here. The comic is pretty GOOD, but I can’t find the words to SELL it.
JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #622: Kieron Gillen’s first issue, and also the first crossover tie-in to FEAR ITSELF, and I really REALLY liked it. If you had said “Neil Gaiman wrote this” I might have believed you. Gillen’s always been strong on plotting, but this brings his prose up to a new level, and I’m anxious to see how long he can sustain this questing story with Loki as a lead. I hope it’s a real long time. VERY GOOD.
FLASH #10: This is the second “prelude” issue to the upcoming Big DC event FLASHPOINT, and every problem I have with FEAR ITSELF is magnified widely for FLASHPOINT — what the hell is it about? Well, I’ve figured out that the best thing to say is maybe “It’s ‘Age of Apocalypse’ for the DC Universe”, but if you don’t already read comics (and lots of them), then I have to explain what AoA is, right? I guess you could also say “It’s an ‘Elseworlds’ as an event”, but same problem, right?
Comics ABOUT comics are kind of a hard sell.
The problem is compounded by the fact that FLASH has really been a dull book, to date. I *still* don’t know what compelling narrative reason there was to bringing Saint Barry back in the first place, and I *like* DC’s Silver Age.
What I *did* like about this issue was the *idea* of “Hot Pursuit” as being from Earth-47 (or whatever), and I’m intrigued about the rest of the heroes on what could potentially be a “no non-tech superpowers” world, but since I’m sort of expecting HP to *be* the bad-guy here, I suspect that is going to go nowhere? I also hope very very much I’m wrong, because isn’t that more or less the plot of the first FLASH arc anyway?
Bottom line: There’s nothing here that interests me, or, more importantly, creates more interest for FLASHPOINT, and a lot of what DC is doing this year would seem to depend on one or the other of those conditions being met? FLASH #10 was essentially EH.
BRIGHTEST DAY #23: I know that there’s one more to go, and I should probably hold off until then just to see if they tie the loose ends well…. but I can’t see how they can?
I guess I’m just flabbergasted that the POINT of an entire year of a series, not to mention the end of BLACKEST NIGHT seems to have been to return Swamp Thing to the DCU universe? Really? Realllllllly?
Then there’s the “And what the FUCK did that have to do with a WHITE LANTERN?!?!” I mean the whole “lantern” concept seems sort of inherently more than about parochial Terran concerns, no? Or how about how this ties in with some of the other returnees most specifically Max Lord? Or how about, how do you return the Terran Earth elemental with a cat from Mars, and another one from frickin’ thanagar?
Plus, Alec Holland’s body? Meatless.
Plus plus, how are you returning SWAMP Thing to what’s clearly meant to be a Northwestern city (like Portland or Seattle)? Meh.
I also think the cosmology, as already established in the DCU is kind of off — Firestorm ALREADY was the Fire Elemental, and there was mm, whatsname, Niaid is it? as the Water one. I mean, those are DC comics, not Vertigo ones!
I don’t know.
But, at the end of the day, I can’t believe all that was leading to the return of Swamp Thing, because I’m a retailer and I know that no Swamp Thing comic NOT written by Alan Moore is going to be commercially successful within a year. So why waste all of the effort to reintroducing what, at very very very best will be a supporting character?
I thought this was pretty AWFUL.
ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN #157 and ULTIMATE AVENGERS VS NEW ULTIMATES #3: OK, now I *think* I see what they’re going to do here, and it seems like they are going to kill “Spider-Man”, presumably by completely crippling Peter Parker. Maybe they’ll then turn Peter into the new Reed Richards of the Ultimate U, or, like “Professor P.” running a team from his wheelchair or something. I guess there’s some slight story potential there.
The thing is…. the thing is, as a marketing concept, they sold this entirely the wrong way. We had the postcards proclaiming “THE DEATH OF SPIDER-MAN!” on our counter for several weeks, and MANY people asked about it. “Yeah,” says I, “It’s in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN”. “Oh,” says them, “so not the ‘real’ one”. I’d then try to convince them that USM is actually spiffy, indeed, but you can see the eyes glaze over.
So, yeah, by marketing it like this, especially with the 3 “prequel” issues, boldly bannered and all that, they’re setting up some false expectations, at best. I guess that I feel that if they had just DID it, without trying to make it a marketing “event”, that it would have caught everyone by surprise, and sales could have built up from the sheer buzz and audacity of it. But, by doing it “top down” like this, I think you’re not going to get the kind of audience response that the Ultimate line desperately desperately needs right now.
I quite liked the Spidey portion of these two issues (GOOD), but thought the Avengers portion was overblown, and undercooked (EH)
Yeah, that’s enough out of me. What did YOU think?