The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 52 | The More Things Change…

Leaving Proof 52 | The More Things Change…
Published on Sunday, October 16, 2011 by

Before anything else, I want to direct readers of today’s column to this excellent Grantland piece (“What the Joker Was Doing Naked”) by Alex Pappademas on the current state of DC Comics. Go on, read it, the Kitty’s Pryde staff won’t mind, I think. Just make sure you come back here to read the rest of this week’s Leaving Proof installment.

Done?

By and large, I agree with Pappademas, particularly about The Myth of the New Reader (as an aside, how weird is it that one of the better popular analyses of the DC Comics relaunch is from an ESPN spin-off site?). And even if I’ve mostly skipped the new DC books, what I’ve seen from various reviews and message board discussions seems to line up with his assessment of the line:

very little of it actually feels like it’s aimed at New Readers. There’s a lot here for readers who already know they like superhero comics but need a cleavage shot or a disembowelment on every other page to reassure them that they’re not wasting their time with children’s literature.

Still, I don’t think anyone who has been reading superhero comics for the past couple of decades, on and off, like me (and like I assume Pappademas has), should really be surprised at the fact that the “new” DC is really more of the same DC, except with more T&A and so-overdone-I-don’t-even-know-if-they’re-doing-it-as-parody first-person narration. We’ve seen this all before in one form or another over the years, perhaps with not as much marketing hype or mainstream media promotion, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading the funnybooks, when a publisher says that “things are never going to be the same,” more often than not, the opposite ends up being the case.

 

I’ve touched on many of the points Pappademas tackles in his article in an earlier column where I mused on the implications of the then-just announced re-launch, and I’d be lying if I said that I’m not at least a little chuffed that my expectations as expressed in that four-month old column seem to have been born out in reality. He does bring up one extremely salient point that I think bears further discussion: the idea that superhero comics no longer hold the monopoly on superhero stories. I might be mis-reading Pappademas when he talks about it, but it seems like he thinks this is a bad thing, as far as the bottom line for publishers like DC and Marvel are concerned. And it’s easy to see why he would think this is so. You would think that DC and Marvel are still in the business of selling comics. But, at least in Marvel’s case, this hasn’t been entirely true for the past several years now. They’re not even “Marvel Comics” anymore, their current official corporate name is Marvel Worldwide, and before that, for several years, they were Marvel Publishing. You’d have to go all the way back to 1983, I think, to find a comic book that was actually published by a “Marvel Comics” entity (when Marvel Worldwide  went by the name Marvel Comics Group). The various name changes “Marvel Comics” has undergone over the years reflects the change in its focus, from selling superhero comics to being—for all intents and purposes—a development studio for superhero properties that parent company Marvel Entertainment can license out at a greater profit than they could ever see from just selling comic books.

As I’d mentioned in previously, the bulk of the net sales earned by Marvel Entertainment (Marvel Worldwide’s parent company) come from licensing and film production (43.3% and 35.3%, respectively, for a nine-month fiscal period in 2009), with comic book sales contributing a relatively small 21.3%. And while I haven’t come across net sales numbers from DC Entertainment (DC Comics’ parent company, itself a subsidiary of Time Warner), I imagine the proportion of their net sales that come from licensing, film production, and comics publishing probably mirror those of Marvel’s, more or less.

My point (and I swear I have one!) is that DC Entertainment and Marvel Entertainment don’t really need the mythical New Reader to buoy up their business, and really, they probably haven’t needed him to for quite some time now. There’s a reduced economic necessity for their box-office and video game sales successes to translate into comic book sales because the money actually is in the box-office, DVD, Blu-Ray, syndication, and licensed video game market. Does this mean comics have been superseded by film, television, and video games as the primary medium through which people get their regular dose of superheroes? I think so. Despite costing 2,000% more than a comic book, I’m willing to bet my nerd goatee that more people will buy Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham City over the next four weeks than will actually buy a Batman comic book, and I’m sure DC Entertainment will be just fine with that. The comic book medium, as currently formatted by the major superhero publishers, is just so entrenched in 20th century publishing and distribution methods that this was an inevitable development. Yes, both Marvel and DC, and even smaller publishers like Dark Horse, are now getting into the same-day digital game, but they’re still playing catch-up with other competitive New Media-based entertainment as far as distribution and pricing goes. Rovio doesn’t have to worry about Marvel and DC’s perfunctory digital comics offerings competing with the popularity of Angry Birds anytime soon, is what I’m saying.

So are the “new” DC Comics really just more of the same? By most accounts, yes they are (heck, judging from Pappademas’ article and many of the comments I’ve read online, they’re pretty much throwbacks to the superhero comics of the 1990s). But DC Entertainment doesn’t really need them to be anything else, so long as people keep buying tickets to the newest Batman movie and playing the latest Batman video games.

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