DC Digital: best-kept secret or worst-covered gem?

by  in Comic News Comment
DC Digital: best-kept secret or worst-covered gem?

It’s always a great feeling when you find good comics in a place you weren’t suspecting. But as a reader, fan and journalist, I was surprised at how good the DC Comics digital titles are. But why? DC has put out great books, and continues to do so now with some of its New 52 line-up; I was also a big fan of the publisher’s previous digital-first endeavors with Zuda. Why then is it so surprising that the current crop of DC Digital is good? Then I figured it out.

First, a primer: Launched in early 2012, the DC Digital titles premiere online with weekly installments and are later collected in print. Originally consisting of just two series, Batman Beyond Unlimited and Smallville: Season 11 (both coincidentally continuations of canceled television shows), the line expanded in the fall with the anthology-style Legends of the Dark Knight, companions to the TV drama Arrow and the video game Injustice: Gods Amongst Us, and Batman: Li’l Gotham. The imprint’s most recent addition is an anthology called Adventures of Superman.

Content-wise, the DC Digital comics feature the same superhero characters as the core New 52 titles, but when reading the stories — and seeing the creators involved — it feels entirely different. It reminds me of how the then-fledgling Marvel Knights line felt within the auspices of Marvel in the late ’90s. Sure, digital imprints has DC stalwarts like Jimmy Palmoitti, Justin Gray, Jeff Lemire and Nicola Scott, but it also has Chris Samnee , Ben Templesmith, Riley Rossmo, Gabriel Hardman, Michael Avon Oeming, Jeff Parker, Chris Sprouse and others. Those are names who would be a surprising change to see on the cover of the primary DC books, but here they’re working for DC and doing great work. Sounds like a great talent pool for DC Comics to pull from, but why are they in DC Digital and not also in the main DC line?

Then I thought about why I was so surprised when I found out how good the books are. I received the press releases and read the interviews when the line launched last year, so it was floating in my head yet drowned out by the litany of books being released by DC, Marvel, Image and others. You might say I have a blind spot for reading these, but after talking with others in my field I found those journalists, bloggers and reviewers having similar feelings about the DC Digital books.

So what if it’s not a near-universal blind spot among comics news-gatherers to highlight this but something in the delivery? I’m not talking about the method to obtain these — digitally or in their latter print editions — but rather about the promotion of these by DC to a similar level as the print-specific titles. Marvel is in the middle of promoting its Infinite Comics format with the Guardians of the Galaxy Infinite Comics title, but that publisher too has been guilty of over-delivering on great digital comics while under-promoting those same efforts. In 2008, Marvel did a series of digital-first one-off stories including a great tale by Jason Aaron and Richard Isanove covering the Native American hero American Eagle, but those came and went with little fanfare and little promotion past the initial launch.

So turning back to look at DC Digital, I have to say that these stories are some of the best coming out of the company right now. Although produced and distributed relatively under the radar, they’re ideal books for comics fans who are looking for something different than what DC is currently offering as a line, or just for someone who wants great comics. Now if only the DC print line would learn some lessons from what’s going on at DC Digital.