Over the course of New Year's weekend, by way of dissecting the past year in DC and Marvel superhero comics, Robot 6 columnists Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman traded e-mail messages. This was the result.
Yeah, that's right, e-mail. Why do things the easy way?
Tom: Okay, Carla -- it’s the end of 2009, Blackest Night is in the home stretch, Siege is ready to start, and it’s our job to make sense of the past year.
First question: should Marvel be worried about the “Blackest Night surge” of the past two months?
Carla: Direct answer: no.
Longer, more thoughtful answer: Heck no.
“Okay, take this seriously Carla” answer: Last year, at this time, Marvel was hip deep in Secret Invasion tie-ins. The fact that DC has learned that slapping a banner on your books sells more copies is just proof we’re finally down to business. Whether that business is being bought by a multi-billion dollar entertainment corporation or learning that telling fans that one book is going to have catastrophic consequences throughout the entire universe catapults that book to superstar status, it all comes down to promoting the industry. Marvel’s been heralding big tent events for the past how many years with banner books and aftermath tie-ins, so for DC, it looks like they finally got the formula right.
TB: Well, DC has been doing “bannered books” since Crisis On Infinite Earths, but yeah -- it seems like Blackest Night has hit some kind of fan sweet spot. Generally, though, I think that comes from a relatively simple premise plus the “power of Geoff Johns.” It seems to be enough, because previous DC crossovers sure haven’t had the coattails BN has.
CH: Oh yeah, tale as old as time and all on those banner books. But it seems if you give one guy control of the dog and pony show who’s known for being a more relatable writer (as opposed to, say, giving Grant Morrison the keys) and then, regardless of skill or interest, tell everybody that this guy is going to be in charge of a major plotline in your book, like it or no-- wait, no, that’s Bendis for the past few years. OR IS IT? *dramatic music sting*
And really, I have to ask: is “green lighting” a Green Lantern movie before a Wonder Woman movie just a little hopping on a bandwagon? Yeah, Hal’s getting a lot of press now but isn’t it just putting all your eggs in one basket, hoping that the power of Geoff Johns will compel people to theaters?
TB: I don’t think the GL movie has anything to do with Johns’ popularity. Again, I think it’s a simple concept (more simple than Wonder Woman, evidently) which Warners apparently thought could be made more quickly. Remember, a Ryan Reynolds Flash movie was being talked up not too long ago. If the dominoes had fallen a different way, we might now be waiting for Flash 2: Speed Force Boogaloo.
CH: Uhm, really? A simpler concept than an American icon. A simpler concept than the first (and in some cases ONLY) female superhero that comes to anyone’s mind. A green energy imagination ring from space is easier than an Amazon. I, sir, am truly stunned. Good luck with all that.
TB: Not to get too far off track, but in terms of movie-marketing, I think a green space-energy ring is easier to sell than an Amazon. Not better, just easier.
CH: Embarrassingly, yes; it IS easier to market but Marvel’s done very well with taking some chances (the Daredevil movie aside) and Wonder Woman should have been a done deal this year. Just sayin.’
And yes, a Ryan Reynolds Flash movie, a Ryan Reynolds Deadpool movie, it’s all been talked of but seems a little convenient that the popularity of the GL books took off and now he’s Hal Jordan.
TB: But we digress. Do you think Siege will really be Marvel’s last line-wide event for a while? 2009 included all or part of Final Crisis, Blackest Night, Secret Invasion, and Dark Reign -- but was it the last full year for Big Events?
CH: Hey now, that’s also War of Kings, Reign of Kings, the X-Men/Dark Avengers “Utopia,” Captain America: Reborn (technically showing up in other books now) and, er... Assault on Mount Olympus! Sure, they’re not line-wide per se by they are crossovers and this is where I think the fine print lies.
Joe Quesada has said that death would be permanent in the Marvel Universe. He also said there would be no more mutants. Point is, Joe Quesada says a lot of things that are totally what we want to hear at the time, then he tests our hearing later to make sure the words still sound good. If they don’t, well, we were obviously misquoting him!
Dark Reign, by the by, doesn’t count as a big event in my book because there was no beginning, middle or end to this story (ok, no end as of yet). Norman just got a job, people complained, ignored or moved secretly in the shadows against him and no discernible damage was done to the status quo. Dark Reign is more like an “Aftermath” book where we all take a break from starting something new and deal with the the ending of the last Big Event. The Siege is coming and will end probably by introducing us to a streamlined set of Avengers for a new Heroic Age(tm). Those guys will of course, do a tour-de-force through everyone’s book just to remind you that hey! Iron Man, Thor and Captain America are Earth’s Mightiest Heroes now! So of course it’ll be line-wide, Bendis wants to change the status quo again. But I don’t think we’ll be calling it a “line-wide Big Event.”
TB: Thanks for the clarification on Dark Reign. I love how we make these kinds of distinctions -- Aftermath books, “red sky” crossovers, etc. Is the new Marvel thing officially going to be called The Heroic Age?
CH: Ehn. Who knows? It’s what they’re pitching it as, and I’m assuming it’s their official “new way of branding” particular Marvel characters, but by the time Siege is over they could have another scheme cooked up. I think it’s got a good ring to it, sounds pretty straightforward and I’m a sucker for heroes doing heroic things in my comics.
Oh! With this Earth One business, what’s going to happen to the All Star line? Did that ship just sink or what?
TB: From what I understand, the All Star line is all but kaput in favor of the Earth One books. If Dan DiDio could get away with the adult Dick Grayson waking up and declaring he’ll never again eat week-old pizza before bed, I think we’d see the last issue of All Star Batman scheduled so fast it’d leave those little lightning trails.
CH: I heard Ryan Reynolds wants to play one of those lighting trails! I’ll call his agent.
TB: So do you, Ms. Comics Retailer, think DC is on the right track with Earth One? Should Marvel do something similar? And because you’re probably thinking the Ultimate line is already in place, why couldn’t Marvel use original graphic novels for the Ultimate relaunches?
CH: Original graphic novels are expensive. The end.
... more? If Earth One comes out at a comfy price point ($10 and under), it could do well. If they try and make me sell this thing at $14.99, I’m going to have to start suggesting something else. Good idea, great job with the risk-taking (though putting JMS on a book schedule he could possibly pull off within this new decade isn’t that risky), it’s the price of thing that going to kill me as someone who has to sell it at the counter. I mean, how many would you order? How do you know DC s going to keep these things in print considering their shoddy TP schedule? ASBAR (heh, ass-bar...) can be terrifically bad, and at the end of the day, you lost a few dollars. If an OGN just doesn’t catch on, turns out to be dull or long-winded or just loses something in the translation, why would you want a volume two?
Personally, I sell a lot of Ultimate Spider-Man trades. I sell a lot of Ultimates trades. Some people have started with Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 1 and have moved on through the series. Marvel’s... kind of already been doing this, just in a more traditional and “lab tested” format. No matter how many digital comics come out, no matter how many trades I sell, people like floppy 28 page $3 books. Easy, cheap and simple entertainment that’s not going to be going away as predicted by what feels like everyone and their mom some days.
TB: Well, Superman: Earth One will be a 128-page hardcover for $19.99, but it’ll be out in September, so you have plenty of time to figure out how to sell it.
CH: "Kids, remember: Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends can be yours every month for just $3.99!"
Yeah, that’ll do.
TB: Oh, is that what’s replacing Marvel Adventures Spider-Man? And since you mentioned the $3.99 price point, has it made your job any harder? Do you think extra pages and/or backup stories helped DC sell their $3.99 books?
CH: No, it’s just a bad joke; Ultimate Spider-Man should in fact be retitled Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, as Bendis has realized his dream cast and storyline.
And as far as the $3.99 price point goes, yeah. Yeah it has. A lot of people have been tipped towards putting an issue back on the shelf once the price fluctuates. Asking around at the store, yeah, the added content and backup stories easily tip the scales back to a purchase, but sometimes it can be a detriment too. For personal experience, I’ve had customers who love Manhunter, they just don’t want to pay for the main Streets of Gotham story and so their pull list gets a new subtraction. It’s tricky.
* * *
Come back tomorrow for Part 2, including Dick Grayson, collected editions, and something called "the BCS!"