The Grumpy Color | Carla and Tom dig into the DC relaunch, Part 2

[After three solid weeks of coverage, you’d think we here at Robot 6 would have run out of things to say about September’s all-new, mostly-different DC Universe.

[Okay, maybe we have -- but when fearless leader JK Parkin suggested that DC blogger Tom Bondurant and retailer/Marvel blogger Carla Hoffman could do a back-and-forth about it, we were happy to oblige. The following was conducted via email from June 17 through June 22.]

* * *[When we left off yesterday, the question was whether long-established characters or relative newcomers were easier to sell.]

Carla: I know DC has said there will be new characters, but how do you think that’s going to go? Will these be the next Booster Gold or the latest Chase? (P.S.: I sort of remembered that last name so I just looked that up and I was right! There was a character called Chase! I started selling comics when Chase was on the stands!)

Now, as for what I’m going to emphasize to customers as they look up and shout “Save us!”... and I’m going to have to whisper “no” on this one, Tom. The whole point of this re-something is to let a new reader pick up a book with a fresh start and a feeling of confidence that they are beginning at the beginning. Now, if someone wanted to read a Superman issue before, well... where did one begin? That’s where your LCS should factor in; clerks should be there to help people find the book they’re looking for. Most times, one of us at Metro will have read something that a customer is looking for. In this way, we can ask what they like in general (‘What movies do you like?’, etc.) and then direct from there. Does this make sense?

So if you’re going to start out with a entire line of fresh new books, well. I’ll turn off the light on my way out. There’s almost nothing I can emphasize outside of conjecture and gist. There’s no taste to make. New Coke-- I mean, New Clark shouldn’t taste like Old Clark, that’s the point of this exercise. Long-time fans are going to come in looking for old friends and new fans are going to have to fend for themselves. I can say that “Oh, man, I loved Generation X back at Marvel, so maybe Lobdell is going to do great on the Teen Titans,” but I just can’t know until I see it.

I’m making a long list of all these titles for customers to use as a checklist so they don’t miss out on all the hot #1 action and it’s been a hard decision on whether or not to have pictures by the titles, creative teams, and descriptions. If you’re unfamiliar with comics, the picture is probably the best selling point, because that’s what the cover is there for: to judge the book.

Tom: Well, you’re not entirely starting clean with the Green Lantern and Batman books, but you probably don’t have much trouble selling those anyway....

I have wondered how a relaunch consisting entirely of B- and C-listers, and a mix of new characters, would be received. Again, DC isn’t going to stop publishing Superman, Batman, etc., so why not build up to their return? I know what you’re saying about letting the next generation take over, but I think that’s just too much of a break with the past. Likewise, I’m eager to see what DC does in terms of new characters, but at this point I think they need to establish a certain “footprint” in the marketplace -- see if it’ll handle 52 ongoing series first, and then decide whether there’s room for anything new.

It’s funny, because DC is actually doing some things with this relaunch that I’ve wanted them to do for a while, like increasing their diversity of genre (even if it’s all superhero-flavored), focusing on ongoing series, and (hopefully) getting its schedule in order. However, in all the talk of the relaunch, I haven’t managed to ask, “where are the humor books?” Not necessarily “superhero humor” like Giffen & DeMatteis, but something whose primary purpose is to be funny, like you’d see from Evan Dorkin, Ty Templeton, or Roger Langridge. I don’t have a question there, I just had to get that off my chest.

In any event, I’m sure we’re all going to be hearing more than we ever thought possible about each one of these 52 books over the next two-and-a-half months, so I hope you guys have enough info to help your customers make informed choices. Right now, though, what looks good to you, and what looks like you’ll have a hard time moving?

Carla: Batwing. I know, that’s mean, give it a chance, I’m sure he’s awesome in Batman Inc. but man. I have no idea who to sell this book to. Has there really been a clamor to see a Batman in Africa? Again, who knows, it could be the break out hit of the fall, but based on design and concept I can’t say. Already I’m talking to a lot of regular customers who will be stalwart and follow their favorite heroes into the unknown; no one has completely cancelled their pull and declared they’ll never read comics again after the announcement. Everyone who’s still smarting from hearing the changes will hopefully be healing nicely by the time the comics actually arrive on the shelves, so I don’t know if we’ll be ordering that differently from the norm.

Other than that, there’s just so many books. I think everyone will pick up at least one of everything they’re offering, like when you fill up your plate with just like a tablespoon of the full buffet? The real question is Great Scott, what are we going to do with ordering #2? When they ask for those orders, #1 won’t be out yet, it’s just the nature of the business. I get the chills just thinking about it and I don’t even do the ordering for the store, yikes.

I hear you on the funny books. No offense, but DC takes themselves a little too seriously sometimes.

Speaking of which, I don’t know if you saw but I read a selection of Midnighter issues a few What Are You Readings ago because they are awesome and I really do like the character. I have had a sort of love/hate/adoration relationship with the Authority and have come to treasure that Damn the Man/We are the Man look at superheroes provided under Warren Ellis and others. I especially enjoy the Midnighter because he’s something we’ll never see (or I thought we’d never see) in your reglar superhero genre: a Batman with a strong and consistent personal relationship. Yes, he’s badass and can kill you a dozen different ways and wears black and is angry, but an essential characteristic is that he’s in love with another man. The Wildstorm universe could mix it up some in an HBO kind of way when it wanted because that’s what it was there to do. And then I saw the Martian Manhunter standing on the cover to Stormwatch #1 and I was like whaaaaaaa?

Vertigo is not for superheroes anymore and DC doesn’t have a MAX imprint like Marvel, so how do you think DC is going to handle having Wildstorm characters next mixed in with the regular gang?

Tom: Honestly, I think the WildStorm characters will fit into this particular DC universe pretty well; and yes, I know the implications of that statement.

In fact, the WS books may predict how well a truly new character might do. This is mean to say, but no one seems to have bought the last WS relaunch, so they might as well be new characters. I liked the Ellis/Hitch Authority well enough, and I bought all two of the Morrison/Lee issues, but by and large I haven't been jazzed enough about those characters (even Midnighter) to pick up the book regularly.

That's a great point about ordering #2 when #1 won't be out yet. Isn't there a returnability policy for the first few issues of each title?

As for Batwing, you're the retailer; but I guess I'd base my orders on some percentage of Batman Incorporated. Just substitute Judd Winick for Grant Morrison and a regular Bat-counterpart for Bruce Wayne and assorted guest stars. Simple, right? :-) *

* * *

*[Note:  Tom knows full well it is not that simple.]

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