[Smash Pages contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman continue their end-of-year tradition, looking back at the year in Big Two superhero comics and looking forward to 2016.]
Carla Hoffman: Time to get off the couch, put down the Ben and Jerry’s and stop listening to Moonlight Sonata on repeat, it’s the end of the year! Marvel and DC have cast their nets wide through event books, new titles, TV shows and movies to reel in new readers, viewers and mass market appeal and somebody’s has to sort through it all, sir! For somebody, read: us.
Last year we predicted that this Grumpy Color would have to be handled by the 515-Carla and the Tom from Earth-Five; now that we’ve secretly warred and converged, how much of the Big Two have really changed? Heck, was Convergence even that big a deal for DC? What’s been the big event of the year for DC?
Tom Bondurant: Honestly, right now my choice for DC’s biggest comics event of the year is the last page of Batman #47. That one encounter is a bridge between where DC’s been for the past six months, and where it’s probably headed in 2016. Otherwise, you’re right — DC’s Big Events turned out to be not so big in hindsight. DC spent the first half of 2015 wrapping up the New 52 with Futures End, took two months off for Convergence, and directed the rest of its efforts towards massive across-the-board upheavals and obscure revivals. I’m always up for new takes on old characters, and fresh efforts on forgotten characters, so seeing them fall flat — or at least not set the comics world afire — was especially frustrating. I feel like it confirmed the worst aspects of Direct Market conservatism, with really original books like Prez and Omega Men struggling for sales, while Dark Knight III (which I guess is the real frontrunner for DC’s biggest event of 2015) coming in at the end to take on Marvel’s Star Wars books.
CH: Oh man, thank you for bringing it up because I had nothing to go by besides “Well, DCYou happened.” Then an awkward pause and probably a change of subject. There’s a big disconnect between what is popular in idea and what can be handled practically by a retail market. ‚ I’m going to say something a little blasphemous to my retail soul, but perhaps these titles could have done better in a digital market? ‚ I feel like a younger crowd could really champion these books and perhaps making a bigger effort online to promote them and offer ways to interact more could have built up a better grassroots following. It was a new idea by a company really set in some old ways. No offense.
TB: Yeah, DCYou really seems like Exhibit A for more transparency in sales numbers, especially digital sales numbers. I think we saw a little of that with the Omega Men cancellation backlash, and maybe with Prez switching from a 12-issue miniseries to two 6-issue ones. However, I suspect DC’s digital-first books are part of a different department than the main superhero line, so it’s possible there are more levels of office politics and other hurdles the less-established books need to overcome.
I mean, you know how I felt about Convergence’s potential. DC always has an escape hatch — which, again, is a double-edged sword, because people hate DC rebooting, and they also hate DC going deep into continuity to try and sort out continuity tangles — but this time I thought there was a real opportunity to start fresh. Instead, they started these radical Superman and Batman mega-arcs which weren’t exactly back-to-basics. Although they’re not bad arcs, the Superman stories always have this undercurrent of what’s missing, and the Batman stories are also like that to a certain extent. (The Batman book itself is still a delight, because Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are just so good together.) I’d even say the replacement-Supermen and Azrael-Batman periods of twenty-odd years ago were easier to take, because they were commenting directly on classic tropes. According to the solicits (spoilers!) they’re both set to end in a few months, so maybe we will look back on them fondly before too long.
CH: Weird, isn’t it? Maybe there is no starting fresh in popular culture anymore. A new idea needs a foundation from something familiar for audiences to really take a chance on it. It’s like insurance, or Chris Evans wearing a new hat. If you don’t like the hat, we can just take it off and Chris Evans is still underneath, right?
TB: So yeah, bring on 2016; and everybody, buy Prez (when/if it reappears) and Omega Men!
CH: Just for you, sir! =)
I have prided myself in the past for years on reading so many comics and knowing the ins and outs of what’s in those monthly pages as to better sell Marvel to the greater public. You are a veritable library of DC lore that stretches back for years and grand attention to detail! Isn’t it weird how much we have to know about other media now? People come in looking for a new comic, I really have to ask “Which of the movies did you like?” or “Are you watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?” to gauge want they could be looking for. On the other hand… it’s a lot to follow. How are you holding up?
TB: Again, I do appreciate DC expanding its scope into more eclectic takes on superheroes. Besides Prez and Omega Men, I’m reading (among others) Batgirl, Gotham Academy, Black Canary, and Doctor Fate. I thought the Bizarro miniseries was very charming, and I am sad to see Justice League United ending, because I really liked Jeff Parker and Paul Pelletier’s arc. However, DC has also managed to create these two little niches for the main Justice League book (by Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok) and Bryan Hitch’s JLA. Neither of them seem to be paying much attention to what’s going on in the rest of the superhero line, including with each other. It’s very strange. I like that they’re each telling epic Justice League-style stories — fighting Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor in one, and the Kryptonian God in the other — so it’s too bad they’re not linking up with the rest of the books. Meanwhile, I’m not reading as much Marvel U, partly because Mark Waid has left Daredevil and is getting ready to leave Agents of SHIELD, and partly because there’s no Fantastic Four title. I think it’s down to Ms. Marvel, Howard the Duck, Waid and Asrar’s Avengers, and Amazing Spider-Man — plus an assortment of Star Wars books, naturally. It’s a good time to read what you want, and that variety makes it easier to make recommendations.
CH: It’s really changing the way people think about comics and that change is hopefully part of a big growth spurt for the industry. The idea that you’re spending money to sample a comic and see if it’s something you want to continue with is hard for some new readers to get. Heck, some old readers too, which is why I have to par down my pull list every September or so. You’re right that when a comic gets really good in terms of theme and characterization, you wish it connected more to the rest of the universe. Ms. Marvel is so good in her own title, it’d be nice to see some sort of connection to her new place in All New All Different Avengers. But there doesn’t have to be and that, in itself, is a blessing. If you like one comic, that one comic is all you have to read. It’s a commitment of $3.99 a month to follow a brand new story with fresh artwork, something that can be shared with friends and saved for posterity. It’s cheaper than your Netflix account, doesn’t require a whole chuck of your day set aside to follow and takes no internet service charge. If you want more, there are options to follow characters or creative teams, but if you just want to see Captain Marvel, you read her book and you’re not missing out on anything.
In the same way you don’t have to see Thor: The Dark World to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron, you can read one comic and enjoy the ride.
On a similar note, I saw an Ant-Man movie this year. ANT. MAN. It even had Hank Pym in it! Even more so, it was good. That’s right, I’m going on record to say that Ant-Man was an awesome movie and has introduced a slick ‘60s heist movie/father-daughter drama genre to an already wide set of Marvel movie stylings. What an amazing world we live in, right? A long time ago, when Teen Titans Go! was first on Cartoon Network, I had a chance to talk to Geoff Johns at Metro and I asked him what he thought of the show. He said that thousands of kids now knew who Cyborg was and that alone was incredible. Do you think DC is missing the boat in reaching out to those obscure characters and putting them front and center of their media marketing or are the TV shows bringing in a new audience for Supergirl and the Flash that the comics aren’t reaching?
TB: Do I think DC is missing out on obscure characters reaching a mass audience? I’ll see you Hank Pym and raise you GORILLA CITY.
CH: … Point taken.
TB: Just this year DC’s three pure-superhero shows (Arrow, Flash, Supergirl) have given us an Atom who shrinks, plus Jay Garrick, Red Tornado, Vartox, Hawkgirl, new versions of Speedy and Doctor Light, and are getting ready to introduce Kid Flash and Jesse Quick. I haven’t even mentioned the big reveal of Hank Henshaw’s red-eyed alter ego or the fact that the newest DC-TV show will feature Rip freakin’ Hunter, Time Master. At this rate I expect casting news for Animal Man by Easter. As for new audiences, my parents are now watching Supergirl. They were CBS loyalists anyway — you have to be once you hit 65, I think — but still.
CH: And you know, there’s something to be said for that. It’s easy to get all hipster about TV (*cough* I don’t even have cable anymore), but the best part of getting DC on the small screen is that it’s going to broaden the audience base and get more eyeballs on these great characters. Maybe people who enjoy a show like Supergirl might react more favorably to a Superman vs. Batman movie… or perhaps seeing Superman vs. Batman with the mindset of a more lighthearted and fun show like Supergirl may scar them for life. Maybe they should skip that movie and go see Ant-Man.
TB: The real missed opportunity is probably the lack of Supergirl and Flash comics which truly capitalize on the appeal of the shows. It’s taken DC months to get a new Supergirl TV-show spinoff book going; and while there’s a digital-first Flash tie-in, I feel like the main series is playing catch-up.
CH: I’m just saying the comic based on Smallville sold like gangbusters to new readers, especially after the show went off the air. People want new, but just couched comfortably in the familiar.
[Join us tomorrow for Part 2, featuring more big- and small-screen talk, the aftermath of Secret Wars, and whether we have reached Peak Marvel!]