Sunday, July 01, 2018

Because this appears to be a topic people in the comics industry are rather interested in

Every single Saturday, my sister goes to breakfast with our 93-year-old grandfather, our last surviving grandparent, and then takes him grocery shopping at the Walmart just across the city limits of my hometown of Ashtabula, Ohio. About every other week, I join them. So despite my reservations about Walmart and its overall negative impact on society*, I spend an awful lot of time in at least this one particular Walmart (What can I say? I love my family more than I hate Walmart). This weekend, when I was looking for one of the small half-carts my grandfather likes to push around because they also serve as naturally-occurring walkers, I passed the above display of those Walmart-exclusive DC Comics anthologies that were so recently the topic of so much online conversation.

I was frankly rather surprised to see them in the wild, as it were, so soon, but then I guess I've become trained to not expect to see comics until about three months after they are first announced. I didn't linger too long, just long enough to pick them all up and flip-through them rather thoroughly (and, of course, to snap this picture).

The few things I noticed most immediately?

They were placed in the little section of "collectibles" and impulse-buy toys near the front of the store, along with various Pokemon-related merchandise and card games. That would make more sense if Walmart didn't have a decent-sized magazine and book section, which is currently located in the back of this particular store, somewhere between the toy section and the electronics and media sections. In their latest remodel, they also put up a rather substantial section devoted to Scholastic books. At any rate, whoever was in charge of figuring out where this little case of $5 DC comics should go decided it belongs near the Pokemon games, rather than in the back, by the books and magazines. (For what it's worth, I did fairly scour the book and magazine shelves later, and I didn't see any true comic books among them, but I did see some kids books and activity books starring Star Wars characters and various Marvel heroes.)

Secondly, there aren't very many of them. When I was there, I think there were maybe two copies each of the Superman and Batman books, and one copy each of the Teen Titans and Justice League books. I have no idea how often the stock there will be checked and/or replenished, but it certainly didn't look like Walmart was expecting to be selling these things hand-over-fist or anything.

What Is Inside Them?

I didn't spend enough time with them to take note of the contents, but then, that has all been published online already. Each book has a brand-new story in it: Batman Giant has a Jimmy Palmiotti and Patrick Zircher story, Superman Giant has a Palmiotti and Tom Derenick story, Justice League Giant has a Wonder Woman story by Tim Seeley and Rick Leonardi and the Teen Titans Giant has a story by Dan Jurgens, Scott Kolins and Wayne Faucher. I didn't read any of them, just glanced at the credits and the imagery, but they all seemed to be about what one would have found in a sub-par issue of one of the digital-first anthology issues DC put out a while back, each featuring one of the members of the trinity. You know, Legends of the Dark Knight, Adventures of Superman and Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman.

Each was then filled with a weird grab-bag of reprints, loosely--sometimes very loosely--organized around the franchise.

So Batman Giant contained the first chapter of the "Hush" storyline and the first issues of the New 52 Nightwing and a Harley Quinn reboot (Why not of the current, "Rebirth" Nightwing, in which Dick is wearing the more familiar black-and-blue costume than the short-lived black-and-red one? I don't know).

Superman Giant has the first chapter of the first Superman/Batman arc "Public Enemies," plus the first issues of Green Lantern (The 2005, Geoff Johns-written series) and The Terrifics. (Why aren't there two more Superman comics, or issues of Supergirl or New Superman? Who knows?)

Justice League Giant has the first issue of the Johns-written, New 52 reboot of Justice League (The brand-new, Snyder-written one woulda been a better bet if the idea was to lure new readers into the current DCU), plus the first issues of the New 52 Flash and Aquaman series.

Teen Titans Giant has the first issues of Super Sons, the first issue of Geoff Johns' 2003 reboot of Teen Titans and, randomly, Sideways. I guess because the lead character in that book is young-ish...?

What I was most surprised to see was that the stories all ended with page-length next issue boxes, and the plan, at least as far as I understood it, was that the random make-up of the issues wouldn't continue with a new grab bag of rando comics each issue, but that these series would continue serially within each title. So in Superman Giant #2, for example, you would get the second issues of Superman/Batman, Green Lantern and The Terrifics. That...is a lot more appealing, I think, then what I originally thought these would contain. I still think there's something incredibly weird about the curation of these books, as they feature characters and continuities from both sides of the Flashpoint/New 52 split, and I don't understand what, from DC's standpoint, the value is of having the Green Lantern Hal Jordan of the early aughts (and that version of the Teen Titans, and that  Batman and Superman of the "Hush" and "Public Enemies") running alongside the New 52 versions of The Flash, Aquaman and Justice League of a decade later.

Given that all of the contents are of extremely popular storylines that are readily available in collected form, and that they will apparently be continuing in future installments, the sense I got from the Giants were that they were basically the equivalents of the English-language Shonen Jumps of the early aughts. You can read the comics that way, or you could just buy them in tankobon form.

All of the ads were DC Comics house ads for graphic novels and collects, and they seemed to be mostly organized around families of characters.

Who Are They For?

So much of the--let's be honest, extremely hyperbolic--dialogue about the book I've seen online has revolved around who the target audience for the books are. For example, will they be an effective tool for reaching new comic book readers, who will then flock to the nearest comic book shops? (If so, they're going to be surprised when they find out a five-dollar bill will go only one-fifth as far in a comic shop then it does at Walmart!) Or is this a way of cannibalizing the existing audience, drawing regular DC readers away from the comic shop and into Walmart, where they can get brand-new, exclusive DC content, as long as they don't mind paying $5 for a single new story, and getting a bunch of reprints of stuff they almost certainly have either already read, and/or decided not to buy in the past...?

I think the answer is probably both...or neither...or who cares?

Are there people who would love to shop at a local comic book shop, but don't really have one, and, um, don't have access to the Internet and/or a credit card, and will now be able to read these four DC Comics anthologies from Walmart, and never, ever buy any comics from anywhere else? I mean, I guess that's possible. Will regular comic shop customers go to Walmart and buy these things? Probably, but it's not like that means they will forsake their comic shops...and/or buying comics online...forever because, well, because that's fucking insane.

I think the most obvious target audience for these would be kids, since kids don't have cars and credit cards, but then, the content doesn't exactly seem geared toward kids. Just flipping through these, I saw an awful lot of stabbing and blood in them, and I know without double-checking that the majority of these comics with ratings are either T or T+; I guess DC is therefore hoping to attract 12-15-year-olds with these...? And then, as the kids grow older and gain the ability to drive and/or buy trade paperbacks of the material they like from Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Midtown or wherever, they will take their business elsewhere...?

(Or, more likely, this is just DC Comics throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks under the theory that this is, like exclusive comics tucked insider cereal boxes or given away at Subway restaurants, this is just one more way to get comics in the hands of "civilians," and it's not like that's ever a bad thing.)

The point where I can see regular comic shop customers heading to Walmart to snap these up for any reason other than the sheer novelty is the point at which Brian Michael Bendis starts writing a Batman series and Tom King starts writing a Superman series, because those are two of DC's most popular writers on two of DC's more popular characters.

I do wonder how that came about, as the only people who know/care who Bendis and King are and are likely to make purchasing decisions based on those names are the people who shop at comic shops already.

(I wondered if Bendis and King's involvement came about because of skeptical Walmart executives in a meeting. Like, I could see them scoffing about selling old comics, and DC countering that it will include, all-new, exclusive material, and one of the Walmart people saying, "And this Jimmy Palmiotti, he's your top guy?" And eventually DC saying they will get their top writers on their top characters by the third issue or so.)

But, again, who on earth is going to stop buying comics in general just for a few pages of new content...? It's possible that Generic Local Comics Shop will sell one less issue of Detective Comics a month when a customer decides to not spend the $3.99 that costs because they spent $5 on a Batman Giant at Walmart, but that's not a lot of money lost (On the other hand, comic shops operate on such razor thing profit margins, maybe if seven of your customers shave one-to-two DC comics from their pull-lists every month to make room in their budgets for Walmart-exclusive Giants that it will hurt; I would think you would be just as likely to make up the money you lose on those sales when you sell the Bendis and King Batman and Superman trade collections six months later but it's not like I actually know what I'm talking about whenever it comes to economics of any kind, even comic book economics).

I don't know; these just appeared to be impulse buys for teenage boys to me. Like, what you might grab your kid if he were home sick from school for a few days or something. They seem not much different than the Showcase comics DC was selling at Walmart that no one ever talked about a few months ago, or those weird bundled comics one used to find in stores now and then, where you'd find, like three-to-five random issues of Marvel comics in a plastic bag or net of some kind for a few bucks. So something between those, and the DC Comics equivalent of a Shonen Jump or a grocery store checkout line Archie Comics digest.


On That Comic Shop Locator

So the first few announcements of these comics I personally encountered were from creators involved on Twitter, and much was made of the the fact that these would be used to promote comic shops via ads for the Comicshoplocator.com. One supposes those creators were aware of the anguish the announcement might cause some direct market retailers--justified or not--and wanted to preempt as much of it as possible.

I did see an ad for it, but just the one, which you see above. I wanted to see what good it would do a Walmart customer shopping at the Ashtabula County Walmart.

For context, the city of Ashtabula, where I was born and grew up, currently has an estimated population of around 18,000, and was recently the subject of an extremely depressing Washington Post article regarding President Trump's trade policies.

I really started reading comic books with DC/TSR's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, purchased from a store that specialized in magazines and newspapers...and lotto tickets, candy, alcohol and pornography. During the first decade or so of my comics-buying career, there were comic shops off-and-on in Ashtabula. The first two of them were in the devastated downtown area I previously mentioned, and then there was a kiosk in the since devastated mall next door to the Walmart. And then there was one in a shopping plaza in the township just to the west of the city for a while. There hasn't been one in a long, long while. One recently opened up at the west end of Bridge Street in the city's heavily revitalized harbor--if you ever visit the city, chances are you will be visiting Bridge Street--but its presence so far has seemed sporadic to me. The first time I tried to visit, it was closed with a vague sign in the window regarding how long it will be closed for, something along the lines of "the time being." It has since reopened, and it's a strange little place, selling comics as well as a wide variety of collectibles, DVDs, incense and miscellany.

Aside from that place, if you asked me where the nearest comic shop to Ashtabula was, I would tell you either Comics and Friends in Mentor (the city in which I currently live) or Books Galore in Erie, Pennsylvania (the city where I went to college in the second half of the 1990s). Both are about 45 minutes away from the city of Ashtabula along State Route 90 (39 miles west and 45 miles east, respectively).

But I'm going to imagine I still lived in Asthabula and I had bought Batman Giant #1 at the local Walmart this weekend, took it home, read it, enjoyed the heck of it and wanted to read more about these superheroes. Following the advice of the ad, I'll see where the nearest place to get more DC super-comics is...not counting the Internet, of course...

Oof.

Okay, the only two that came up after I plugged in Ashtabula's zip code were Robot Zero in Geneva, a smallish town 20 minutes east of Ashtabula, and Sports N More, a tiny shop here in Mentor. I have never been to the former, and I've been to the latter two or three times, looking for single issues that were either sold out or unavailable at Comics and Friends or Comic Heaven, the two shops I've frequented since relocating to where I currently live, and never had any luck--they are a very small shop, and I would guess that the comics falls into the "N More" part of their focus.

Of course, this doesn't mean comicshoplocator.com sucks or anything just because it didn't mention the Ashtabula shop; there is a little disclaimer there saying "If your favorite store is not on this list, ask your retailer to contact their Diamond Customer Service Representative about joining the Comic Shop Locator Service!"

But if I were a kid and unable to drive and wanted to buy paper comics in Ashtabula and I went to my local Walmart and purchased some DC giants, well, Walmart's the only place I could get 'em, really. Maybe that new-ish shop, if it were open at the time.

If I had my license, then Geneva is a reasonable distance to drive for comics,  and Mentor and Erie much, much less so...although the latter wasn't suggested to me by the locator anyway. (There was a time in the not-so-distant past, circa 2010, when I quit doing "Weekly Haul" posts on EDILW and changed them to "Comic Shop Comics" posts, that I had a pull-list at Books Galore, and would just drive up to Erie a few times a month to pick up comics).

Anyway, using my Walmart as an example, it seems like DC's giants offer more "competition" to digital comics purchased online, or Amazon.com, more than any local (or "local") comics retailers...




*The Walmart in Ashtabula County had a deleterious effect on the Ashtabula mall, which it was erected right next door to and eventually all but killed. It took quite a few years, and the mall is technically still open, but Walmart gradually ate up the customer base of the mall's many anchor stores, none of which are still around. I suppose the mall had it coming, though. When it was erected in the early 1990s, it similarly devastated Ashtabula's downtown, putting out of business most of its anchor stores...as well as several plazas from throughout the city and neighboring townships. The result? Plenty of abandoned or semi-abandoned retail plazas and, in the case of downtown, at least one crumbling, derelict building that used to be a department store.

1 comment:

Bram said...

My understanding is that the same folks who distribute those other collectibles are handling the comics, so they wind up there.

Thanks for the look. Shonen Jump analogy's interesting, that's a model we talk about a lot at the shop.