The Changing Face of DC and the New 52

A few months ago, Bleeding Cool ran a rumor regarding DC’s upcoming 2013 plans. While part of this rumor dealt with the now virtually confirmed “Villains Month” due in September. The other half dealt with a proposed plan to cancel several lower performing books, up to 16, and replace them with up to four weekly books. These proposed series would include the Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and Justice League franchises. While there’s been no further word on the rumor, I believe that there are several signs that this is in fact the direction that DC will be taking in the near future. Today I’ll be discussing these signs, the merits of such a course of action, and how something like this might look if implemented.

Assuming DC were to create four weekly series based on their strongest pillars (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, and Justice League), there best option would be to condense existing titles and creative teams into a single title. For example:

Batman

Let’s face it, Snyder shares with no one. His Batman title forms the backbone of every major New 52 Batman crossover, and is the only one necessary for getting the “full story.” As such, DC should leave his book alone. Instead, I suggest condensing four secondary Batman books, such as Detective Comics, Batman: The Dark Knight, Batman and Robin, and Batman Incorporated (or Batwing), into a singular “Detective Comics Weekly.”

Superman

Again, don’t mess with Snyder’s book. His upcoming “Superman Unchained” should be the flagship of the Superman family. Rather, condense Action Comics, Superman, Superboy, and Supergirl into relaunched “Action Comics Weekly,” which will surely draw the attention of the nostalgic crowd.

Green Lantern

Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, New Guardians, Red Lanterns combine to form “Green Lantern Weekly.” Duh.

Justice League

This one is a bit trickier to nail down. Geoff Johns’ Justice League and Justice League of America are a sure fit, but sister title Justice League Dark seems a little too entrenched in the “Dark” group to fit well in a Justice League-centric weekly. Perhaps Legion of Super-Heroes and/or Earth 2 could be consolidated. Other possibilities include the expansion of the Shazam and Martian Manhunter features currently running in the back of Johns’ League books, or a DC Universe Presents-styled look at various second string members like The Atom or Element Woman.

From here, the current creators could tell anthology-esque stories week to week, or trade off months at a time, similar to the ‘Brand New Day’ era of Amazing Spider-Man. This would solve several of DC’s currently perceived problems, such as…

Exhibit 1: Crossover Craze

If you haven’t already noticed, DC is crazy about crossovers these days. It’s easy to see why, with line wide Batman stories like ‘Court of Owls’ and ‘Death of the Family’ selling gangbusters. Add in the steady stream of Green Lantern and Superman family crossovers and the line between individual series is growing thinner by the month.

Considering the secondary Bat-titles sell significantly better under the umbrella of a Batman-related crossover, it would make sense for DC to release only one Batman title weekly. At that point, crossover becomes the norm. Theoretically, using my proposed model, rather than having four Batman titles that each sell anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 units a month, you could have one bat-title that sells 80,000 units a week. You can bet DC has considered that possibility, especially in light of the (short-term) success of Marvel’s double shipping policy.

Sales data for all titles involved in "Batman" crossovers. Note the small sales increase in May 2012 (Night of the Owls) and the large increase during November 2012 and January 2013 (Death of the Family).

Sales data for all titles involved in “Batman” crossovers. Note the small sales increase in May 2012 (Night of the Owls) and the large increase during November 2012 and January 2013 (Death of the Family).

Exhibit 2: Collected Edition Confusion

Obviously, crossovers work wonders for DC when it comes to monthly ongoings. However, when you take a look at DC’s upcoming collected editions, things get a bit hairy.

First, let’s look at the recent Batman crossovers. In both cases, DC collected Snyder’s Batman, the backbone of the Bat-family, as its own individual collection. It then collected all the various tie-ins, Nightwing, Batgirl, Detective Comics, etc.,  in a single companion collection. Those issues were also collected in each series’ own collections, I.E. Nightwing Vol. 2. This allowed readers to A.) Read-only Snyder’s Batman, B.) Read only the “Court of the Owls” or “Death of the Family” specific issues of secondary series, or C.) Continue following a secondary Bat-family book without interruption. This variety of options manages to allow readers to buy efficiently, and allows minimal fragmentation of readership

However, the Superman and Green Lantern books don’t come out so clean. Recent crossovers like ‘H’el on Earth,’ ‘Rise of the Third Army,’ and it’s follow-up ‘Wrath of the Third Lantern,’ are collected in several perplexing iterations. The Green Lantern books will see individual collections for the ‘Rise’ and ‘Wrath,’ consisting of issues #13-16 and #17-20, respectively, of Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians, Red Lanterns, and annual issues. These collections are a seemingly thorough way for fans of the Green Lantern franchise to continue their collections. However, fans who picked up volumes 1 and 2 of Green Lantern may be disappointed to find that Green Lantern #0, a prelude to ‘Rise’ and introduction of Lantern Simon Baz, is only collected in Green Lantern Vol. 3, along with Green Lantern #13-20 and the Annual #1. Likewise, the #0 issues are only to be collected in the respective third volumes of the secondary Lantern books. Now, the ‘Rise’ and ‘Wrath’ collections don’t look quite as appealing. The various Superman books run into the same problem as well.

Now, one may make the case that the “crossover collections” are geared towards more casual fans, who won’t mind the absence of a single issue, withe the “series collections” aimed at the more regular, serious collector. There’s no real need for anyone to buy both collections. However, let’s take a look at how DC is handling the collection of the recent Justice League/Aquaman crossover, ‘Throne of Atlantis.’ Justice League Vol. 3 collects Justice League #13-17 and Aquaman #14-16, the full crossover (sans the Aquaman epilogue issue, #17). Aquaman Vol. 3 collects Aquaman #14-16, along with issues #0 and #17, as well as Justice League #15-17. Now, suppose someone is collecting both Justice League and Aquaman in trades. In order to have a complete collection of both series, readers must buy both trades, which means purchasing Justice League #15-17 and Aquaman #14-16 twice. Essentially, the ready will pay full hardcover price for 4 extra issues of content. You can begin to see where this would be a problem.

Now, imagine a situation where ‘Throne of Atlantis’ took place in the pages of one weekly series, rather than several monthly series. This would eliminate the need for separate collections. Likewise, a weekly Green Lantern book containing the ‘Rise’ and ‘Wrath’ story-arcs would have the same effect. By ditching inter-title crossovers in favor of weekly series, DC eliminates the need for a fragmented trade system.

Exhibit 3: The Declining Emphasis on Writers

With the constant shuffling of creative teams, it seems that DC doesn’t quite like the idea of certain creators becoming synonymous with their properties. Take the recent Gail Simone fiasco, where she was unceremoniously sacked from writing Batgirl, a character she has shepherded for years, only to be reinstated after severe fan backlash against DC. Likewise, severe editorial interference in all stories not written by those named Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, and Scott Snyder, hints towards a more “written by committee” style of story-telling. Of course, this is exactly what a weekly series would afford. If DC wants Scott Lobdell to run the Superman books, why not just put him in charge of a Superman weekly? If Green Lantern is too synonymous with Geoff Johns, wait for him to leave and publish a monthly book written by a team of relatively unknown writers.

Of course, I’m playing Devil’s advocate here. While the other evidences I’ve given for weekly series could lead to a positive change for DC’s universe, taking away creator presence and influence is a terrible idea. The last thing I want is Scott Lobdell running Superman into the ground or my favorite characters being tackled, with little accountability, by a faceless committee. This is a definite case of following characters instead of creators, which is in direct opposition with the direction creator owned publishers like Image and Monkeybrain are pushing the comics industry. However, these aren’t creator owned characters, they’re licensed properties, and the only thing the higher ups at DC and parent company Warner Bros. care about is the bottom line, not telling fresh and innovative stories with beloved characters.

So there you have it, a long, mostly unnecessary commentary on something that may or may not happen. Would I buy any of the series I proposed above? Outside of the Justice League Weekly, probably not. I hate the direction Superman has taken under Lobdell, a man with wonderful ideas and dreadful execution. The non-Snyder/Morrison Batman books are fun, but not enough to warrant following month to month. I don’t even know what to expect from the upcoming team of Lantern writers. That said, by consolidating these titles in to four books, DC opens up space for twelve new titles, allowing them to test the waters with lesser known creators and concepts while upholding their bottom-line. If a move to weekly shipping for their big pillar titles means I can get books like Doom Patrol, New Gods, or a good Legion of Super Heroes, then I’d say that’s a win-win, win, situation.

P.S. Sorry for never posting weeks 3 and 4 of the WTF cover series. They all sucked anyway.

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