It was DC that planted the seeds.
It was Marvel that grew the trees.
It was Image that scorched the lands.
And DC blasts the ruins with sand.
As of this writing, the DCnU has just started with the release of Justice League #1. And as I enter a comic shop with slight interest, I gaze upon piles of unsold issues covering the shelves like a tumor on the mind. Whatever customers there simply look at these new comics before going for what Marvel or an indie publisher has in-store. Even when checking a day later, these issues remain unsold and cluttered like maggots. DC may have wanted their rebirth to start with a bang, but it seems to have ended up being a murmur at best.
Of course, this isn’t some unexplained circumstance that Didio or Johns can claim it to be. When hearing about the DCnU, how many people who haven’t bought comics before would be enticed by collared superheroes, Superman no longer hitched with Lois, Cyborg being in the Justice League, and whatnot? Hell, how many would have actually cared? These aren’t the changes that signal a renaissance. And with the creators and writers being mostly unchanged, these end up being superficial at best. And when you decided to keep the mythologies of those like Batman relatively unchanged, you basically confirmed that this new world simply has old gods controlling it. This is like giving Malibu Stacy a new hat, casting Scott Bakula as captain of the Enterprise, or having the Scoobies graduate Sunnydale High, in that this “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” routine does little to change the game. And therefore, it does little to interest the public.
We need new blood to go with these new heroes. Not to sully Geoff Johns, but it has become more of a bore now to see his name on the cover. His, Morrison’s, Bendis’s, Millar’s, and many other’s runs have gone on for so long that it’s hard to gain that same thrill when knowing that their hands are crafting our entertainment. Instead of banking on veterans to write the books, why not just try to recruit up-and-coming writers with only a bit of an interest in graphic novels? You’re already rebooting the mythos, so it’s not like they have to know everything there is to know about the DC Universe. But no, you round up the old batch, and only make a few cosmetic changes to your characters while still being a bugger when it comes to continuity.
And in such a supposed overhaul, we also have to think about the prices. To a normal person with little spending money, paying $3.99 for something that takes 10 minutes to read at the least is ridiculous. Compare it to how a ticket for a 90-minute to 2-hour film costs $10, how a 50-minute album costs $12, or how buying a DVD set that can last for 15 hours can be paid with only $20. Unless it’s the best comic book around, with prestige writing and penciling, it is absolutely unreasonable to believe that legions of people will be willing to spend such an large amount on such meager material.
Trade paperbacks, on the other hand, have been a great method to avert this dilemma by having 4-to-6 issues that can be as cheap as $10, or entire omnibuses of series that would technically only cost less than a dollar per issue. And it’s to DC’s credit that they have started releasing comics solely as graphic novels, such as Superman: Earth One, Joker, and the Vertigo Crime sub-series. But this has been the exception instead of the rule for some time now, and DC has yet to bring this into full force, rather staying onboard the steadily sinking ship of monthly issues.
However, there is one element that we have left untouched: the use of digital comics. As print newspapers are fighting a losing war against the likes of Reuters or Associated Press, the industry has likewise been overcome by a rise in webcomics, and for good reason. You don’t have to buy several issues to understand why Tycho and Gabe are making fun of a video game. You don’t need to pay to see Agatha Heterodyne go face-to-face against the forces of Wulfenbach. And it certainly isn’t required to go to a rare comic book shop in order to find David Willis make a random Transformers joke. Already, heavy-hitters in comics like Greg Rucka1 and Warren Ellis2 have gone into webcomic territory, so what’s to stop internet-friendly writers like Gail Simone or Dan Slott from going this route?
Yes, I know that DC and Marvel are trying to get in touch with the internet by selling comics there, but many cost as much as actual print issues. Frankly, there are more people who would rather just pirate comics than have to pay a single cent for them. And to stop that, you have to give your readers the prime meat (with the obligatory ads here and there) before they scavenge their way through the more unseemly methods. While it initially may prove to be less lucrative, it will steadily improve through word-of-mouth. Plus, there’s something appeasing about one being able to go through the entire archives of certain superheroes without having to buy hundreds upon hundreds of collected paperbacks. It would be definitely interesting for one to simply read a Kane-era issue of Batman only to switch to a Morrison-era one with a single click.
And before you say that mainstream comics wouldn’t be able to succeed through free press on the internet, look at how many people read manga (illegally, mind you, but still). If something like Naruto can get 14 million monthly views, or harem schlock like The World God Only Knows can acquire 10 million, then surely a webcomic version of something like Batman or Superman can attain hordes of readers.
Obviously, the idea of converting the comics industry into what I’m proposing would prove impossible to please those such as Diamond or the comic book shop owners, but if publishers wish to go back to the old days when readers would go towards the millions, they have to do it so the books can be in a format that the public can easily find. But if they stick to their old ways, the age of print comics may go down the path of show tunes, variety shows, or disco. Should such a fate happen for an influential medium?
~ Dr. Insomniac (or Mr. Wednesday, or Marquis De Carabas, or that tall man in a black suit that keeps staring out your window)