It’s no secret that I believed that DC comics relaunch, called the Nu52, was a complete misfire from day one. I’ve called it the Heroes Reborn of DC, referring to the ill-advised Marvel Heroes Reborn series back in the day, done by some Image Comics guys. This one, spearheaded by Jim lee (and Image founder) and Geoff Johns (who has lost his mind) has the same awfulness. Characters done so poorly, attempted modernization that fails to capture any of the basic essence, a whole universe that just feels wrong. I can’t remember another time as awful creatively at DC, than this one. So one of my friends on an infamous comics message board asked me what I would do if I were in charge of DC comics. For posterity, I’ve reprinted it below.
First from March 7, 2012:
Believe it or not, my criticisms are based on business, and business only. Maybe not in the 80s when I was a hard-core comics fan and hated JB’s Superman (which was an understandable business decision). That’s the way my mind works now. It’s why I admired Jobs so much, despite all the legitimate complaints about Apple. It’s not about “I don’t like how comics are being done creatively because I personally don’t like it” it’s about bad business decisions. If they came out with a comic line based on the movies, or changed the Ultimate Universe to resemble the movies, I’d be fine with it, even though I’m not a fan of the characterizations. My tastes have nothing to do with it. It would be a smart business decision since many do love it.
Here’s an example. I hated Joe Q’s creative reign at Marvel. For the most part (pre Civil War) I left it alone because it was working, it just wasn’t my tastes. When I did complain, it was stuff that they did that I felt took out the appeal of superheroes, hurting it with new and younger readers, like the abolishing of secret identities, something kids find cool but older numb fans might want. When Cap died, or Superman turned blue, I didn’t say a word, those were not harmful, just temporary gimmicks. Stupid maybe but pretty much harmless.
So as someone who wants comics to survive, and maybe thrive, I have concerns about what is happening. Comics are a hard enough thing for someone who never read comics to get into. So the strategy, to me, is a follows.
1) Keep the existing fans. Make it easier financially to keep reading the monthlies AND easier for them to pick up a different title.
2) Try to bring back fans that left for whatever reason, the quickest and easiest way to increase readership. They are already familiar with the trappings etc. of comic books.
3) Try to bring in new readers who have a similar bent as comic fans, i.e. fans who may like manga, sci-fi etc.
4) Get the new generation, kids, to get hooked.
For me, businesses that don’t nurture and care about their existing customer base are stupid. So for numbers 1 and 2, DON’T piss them off. Sometimes it’s a simple change and it hurts nothing, except the temporary shock buzz you may get. Like renaming Earth 2 to Earth G or whatever. A simple creative decision like that satisfies what you supposedly want (a new earth to play in), yet lets the old time fans have hope for the return of THEIR earth 2 someday. The only thing you lose is some buzz from PISSING off old timers. Other things you can do is chose creative teams that understand this and artists who fit the character. For example, some things DC did do right is the artists they chose for some of the books, Nightwing’s art is very good for that character, same with WW, JLA and Birds of Prey. Someone like Mahfood should not be on a mainstream superhero title; it is a bad business decision. Now maybe on a new title that might appeal to number 3 on the list but not on the big books. I don’t care how much you value them as a friend or whatever. Focus on the MAJORITY of your fan base, not the few.
And now my solution from March 7, 2012:
As for being EIC, after this Nu52, it would be very tough to undo all of this. But there are standard things I’d do, such as trimming the line, really push digital in creative ways and cutting the price of the monthlies or going the manga sized books for $4.99.
It’s also tough as I’d be part of a much larger company so my choices are different than if I owned DC.
Creatively, I’d work out some deal with Alex Ross for covers and a yearly mini-series that perhaps, would be digital only. Not sure yet on that. I’d fully separate the universes again but keep it small, no more than 5. Not saying there wouldn’t be an unlimited variety of universes for cool “what if” type stories (I’d never limit the possibilities) but 5 universes and 5 lines to reflect them. Make the DC universe feel less crowded. Superman is less special when you have Captain marvel etc. roaming around.
Get good karma by fixing the Alan Moore issue with no demands from him.
So I’d do the following:
Earth 1 (or Prime or whatever). The main DC universe, Superman was the first, no time references such as started in the 90s etc. The titles would be as follows:
Superman (the manga sized book) with the old numbering, for history sake. Covers by Ross. A main Superman story, told in the classic sense and 3 other arcs of supporting characters, such as Supergirl, Superboy whatever. Allow slow artists, like Hughes to do an arc then insert them in and out when ready. One or two reprints related to one of the main stories, then text and sketches from one of the creatives involved. Make it a thick full read, something that could be sold in multiple outlets and a cover to attract new readers. Each arc would be available digitally separately so the digital product is different than the print. No long ongoing arcs in the manga books, let them be suited to stay on the shelves longer. The most popular arcs get reprinted into trades, again different than the books. Maybe even a creator spotlight.
Same for Batman and JLA. These three books would get you a full universe of reading by themselves.
Monthlies (for now) as follows (day and date):
Wonder Woman, drawn by someone who can draw gorgeous women, but nothing overtly sexual (see Alan Moore’s Glory notes)
GL (another possibility for a manga sized book because of the other Lanterns, would wait on this first).
Teen Titans (year two launch)
And another 5 + books I’d need to think about.
Other 100 page plus manga sized books.
Fawcett Comics, sent on their own earth, another manga sized book, cover by Ross or the equivalent, with a main CAPTAIN MARVEL book, and arcs with Mary, Jr, Spy Smasher etc.
Same with Charlton Comics.
Earth 2 – The Golden Earth. This would be set in real time and the main book would be the JSA. There would be one ongoing backup arc that goes over various points in that history so on could be the birth of Batman’s daughter or the 60s or whatever. On this earth, things change and every generation can have their own heroes. Maybe Superman’s son is the main Superman now and he has a different costume(s). Different supporting cast etc. Make it feel full of history.
DC (no name for it yet) that is a big fun comic, based on the cartoons, sold at the grocery stores, full of 4-5 stories, games, puzzles, upcoming cartoon and movie news and a little history. Heavily discounted, a safe book for parents to buy for their kids. Each book would have a secret code that gets them 3 free digital comics of their choice.
Vertigo, same thing. This would be also reprinted in actual manga dimensions sized books too.
A creator owned big book. Make it easy for creators to launch and distribute their creations, the physical book would allow their first three issues to be spotlight in an arc before moving to a digital ongoing. Very generous royalties. A good will loss leader.
Crossovers between the universes would be rare, and all in one. A Superman / Captain Marvel battle would mean something again.
Multiple ways to sell the same story and make money.
Find ways to transition the stores to the new realities, i.e. more trades, toys, becoming a hangout, affiliate online stores, bigger discounts and free digital copies of every monthly they buy (not the manga sized ones). Allow the bigger ones to be distributors, enabling pooling purchases.
Completely revamp the DC website to be a glorious geek filled treasure of online goodness. True Wiki’s, creator blogs (not political, just about what they are doing or fun stuff) galleries, free full comics, games, fan board. Retailer (online or offline) spotlights, FAN spotlights. A place you can hang out for hours.
Finally, tease this for months and have a huge announcement for the press at Comic-Con or another separate event. Think like the Apple announcements. Build up a buzz.
This is just a start.