Sunday, December 27, 2009

Have I ever mentioned that sometimes I just don't get DC?

Last week,’s Kiel Phegley spoke with DC Executive Editor Dan DiDio about the current state of the publisher’s “co-feature” program (That’s “back-ups” to you and I).

He was happy with “the fact that everything didn't crash and burn when we added the extra pages in and put them out with a higher price point” (Not that that’s a low bar for success or anything), and that readers seemed to regard them as extra value for their extra dollar (DC’s main rival, Marvel, has simply been adding a $1 to the price of many comics, sometimes having reprint back-ups or cardstock covers and, more recently, back-ups of their own, in attempts to add value for that extra buck).

I was kind of excited about the prospect of the co-features when they were first announced, and remembered hearing that one of the selling points from DiDio’s perspective was that they would allow DC to snag a very busy artist or writer who might not have the time (or interest) to work on 22 pages of a Metal Men or Blue Beetle comic every month, but could work in eight pages a month no problem.

There are a lot of what seem like virtues to the program too, including keeping characters in the public’s eye, testing them out for possible future exploitation perhaps chief among them.

Given the fact that one of the first characters to get a co-feature strip was Blue Beetle, I assumed that a large part of the idea was that the back-ups would allow DC to continue to generate new material for trade paperback collections, without having to take the same amount of risk on a monthly. Blue Beetle, for example, didn’t do so hot as a serial monthly comic in the direct market, but did much better as a trade, at least as one being sold to libraries.

Manhunter was another book that DC seemed to really want to keep publishing, even though the direct market couldn’t support it, so I assumed maybe Manhunter trades did better than other trades, and the back-up was a way to build up material for future volumes.

But among the changes DiDio announced were that both Blue Beetle and Manhunter would be leaving their home books.

Since trades collecting the strips from their brief time as co-features haven’t been solicited yet, DC can’t have data on whether or not their remains interest in the Blue Beetle and Manhunter trades, so that apparently wasn’t the thinking after all.

See? I don’t know what DC’s thinking…in this case, it’s certainly not what I thought they were thinking.

According to Phegley’s article, Green Arrow, Booster Gold and Doom Patrol would lose their co-features and become $2.99 books (or, in the case of DP, would become canceled…although DiDio didn’t say that. I’m just guessing).

Action, Adventure Comics and Streets of Gotham would remain $3.99, 30-page books, although they’d get new back-ups (So Captain Atom, The Legion of Super-Heroes and Manhunter were ending…although Legion was getting promoted to lead feature in Adventure).

And team books JLoA, Teen Titans and JSA All-Stars would all be $3.99, 30-page books—some months having back-ups featuring characters from those teams, sometimes simply having a 30-page lead feature and no back-up.

The only “evidence” I can offer on how well any of the co-features actually worked is, of course, anecdotal, and the only anecdotal evidence I can offer with any authority is my own.

I know they certainly got me to try new books that I otherwise might not have (Doom Patrol, Streets of Gotham) and to pick up a book I had previously dropped (Booster Gold). On the other hand, at least one caused me to drop a book (Detective Comics), as paying an extra buck for content I didn’t like made a pretty convincing Hey, why not just start waiting for the trade? argument.

I’m not currently reading any books with co-features, assuming the co-feature I liked the best (Metal Men) would eventually get a trade of its own and, again, that would be cheaper than paying $4 a month just to read eight pages of a comic.

I wonder about the somewhat chaotic nature of the changes though, with the page-counts and price points of some comics fluctuating so much. It certainly seems to be one more instance of DC not knowing what it’s doing, or at least giving the impression that the publisher is flailing and making its decisions by the seat of its collective pants (whether it actually is or not).

For example, Green Arrow was canceled and re-launched as Green Arrow/Black Canary after the two superheroes were married. Then its price was increased by $1 and it’s title changed back to Green Arrow, with a Black Canary back-up. Now it’s price is going to be decreased $1, and it will be back to being Green Arrow with no-co feature. In other words, the title is right where it was a few years ago after a rapid succession of format, title and price changes.

Booster Gold similarly went from $2.99 for 22-pages to $3.99 for 30-pages (with a Blue Beetle back-up) and will soon return to a $2.99 for 22-pages all Booster Gold comic.

Will fans and readers accept fluctuating price points like that, given how dramatic they are? Each change in price and format seems like a potential jumping-off point (as does changing co-features, I suppose), so I wonder if DC should go out of its way to provide such natural instances for their readers to re-evaluate their purchasing habits.

Regardless, I’m excited to at least see what the next round of back-ups will include. The last solicitation for Warlord makes it sound like the title would be ending but Warlord stories would continue, and other low-selling, about-to-be-canceled books seem like good candidates for back-ups. Personally, I’m going to keep my fingers crossed for a Kelley Jones illustrated Ragman in the back of Streets of Gotham and a Stephen DeStefano Plastic Man in the back of JLoA


collectededitions said...

At least one problem with the announcement is that it's all the bad news: Blue Beetle co-feature gone, Manhunter co-feature gone. To some extent, we don't know what the good news is yet -- from my personal wishlist, maybe a Greg Rucka-penned Checkmate co-feature, for instance. This announcement is all about the loss (which, I'd suggest, is a poor announcement strategy on DC's part).

You're right on the Green Arrow announcement in that the title's right back where it was. What burns me (based only on speculation) is the possibility that the Green Arrow/Black Canary marriage is ending (though I don't know for sure since I'm avoiding the solicitations). When I finally read the books, I hope that's not the case -- to return the book both to its original title/format and its original status quo makes the wedding seem like so much change for change's sake -- what concerns me in much of the DC Universe is that nothing ever seems to change (our sure knowledge, for instance, that Bruce Wayne will be swinging from the rooftops by the time the next movie rolls around).

No, I don't know what they're thinking either.

Hyle said...

Not only that, but they've canceled plans for the proposed Wally West backup in The Flash, thereby creating more disgruntlement among modern age fans.

Despite some questionable storyline decisions in the buildup towards Infinite Crisis, DC actually felt like it had a concrete plan for their universe. Then, once One Year Later blew up in their face, it's been one aborted direction after another. The Green Arrow/Black Canary fiasco reminds me of The Outsiders mess. They canceled Outsiders to relaunch it as "Batman & The Outsiders," only for storyline necessity to deem Batman unusable a dozen issues or so into the relaunch.

I too think the backups would be best served to feature popular characters who are not quite popular enough to carry their own book (at least by the current DC administration's estimations). Why not a Steel backup in Superman? A Cassandra Cain backup in Batgirl? The Blue Beetle and Manhunter backups seemed like no-brainers, and I don't recall too many Booster Gold or Streets of Gotham readers grousing about them.

Siskoid said...

Of those I read, I'd say Manhunter and Metal Men were better than the title that carried them. Blue Beetle was at least as good as Booster Gold (sometimes more) and Legion a fine addition to Adv. Only Captain Atom and Question were write-offs.

Like you, I'm not sure where the back-up feature is going. Clearly, DC thinks they were a good idea. It's unclear why they don't think some SPECIFIC features should last longer.

Are successful features to be upgraded (back) to monthlies or mini-series?

Lisa said...

The obvious thing to mention here is that it seems that all the books that are losing co-features are among the lowest-selling DC publishes. It seemed like the idea might have been to pair up a character that could only barely sustain a title, sales-wise (Booster Gold) with one that only barely could not (Blue Beetle). It was almost the reverse of the Marvel strategy (raise prices on the lower selling books instead of on the higher selling ones) So it seems like DC is focusing the co-features into books that they feel can handle the price increase that comes along with them (like JLA).

Maddy said...

I can't help but think books like Blue Beetle and Manhunter would work really well if collected into an omni-bus format.

It'll be interesting to see where Black Canary, Blue Beetle and Manhunter land, as the article did they would be appearing in other books after the co-features are dropped. (My crack theory with regards to Manhunter and Canary is that they might be reviving a Birds of Prey-type book, but that's probably just wishful thinking.)