DC Comics 2016 logo Rebirth Longform 

Should DC Cull its Publishing Line?

By | February 19th, 2019
Posted in Longform | % Comments

Bleeding Cool has been reporting lately that DC is looking to bring its number of comics published each month down. In December, they published just 52 single issues (yes, really – 52), their lowest number since 1991. While this is an anomaly caused by not shipping their standard fourth week titles due to Christmas, DC has seen more cancellations than new series announcements as of late. Bleeding Cool has been talking about a ‘New 22,’ which would [probably] apply to their ‘main’ superhero line, not counting things like Vertigo or all-ages books.

Depending on how you count, in February DC will publish 46 or so books in their main superhero line, not counting Brian Bendis’s Jinxworld titles (though counting his Wonder Comics imprint) nor Vertigo, Wildstorm or all-ages titles. We already have seen a culling since these solicits hit, with all but two ‘New Age of Heroes’ titles, “The Terrifics” and “The Silencer” have been axed, as well as “Green Arrow” ending with March’s #50. These numbers also include the 5 remaining titles that DC is currently double shipping: “Batman,” “Detective Comics,” “The Flash,” “Wonder Woman,” and “Justice League.” So, 41 titles, shipping 46 times.

If 22 really is their target, that would re-make the DC line in some pretty substantial ways, regardless of how they got to that number.

While double shipping helps immensely with their overall sales numbers, especially for a book like “Batman” that regularly hovers around 100,000 copies sold, if DC wants to use its 22 slots to highlight the widest variety of titles, you’d probably have to cut double shipping all together, or not count the double shipping titles as 2 in the 22 (as in, we aren’t counting issues, but rather titles).

If that is the case, let’s leave the bottom 6 spots open for right now for new series, and things that will shuffle in and out. As of April, there will neither be a “Suicide Squad” nor a “Green Arrow” comic, but that’s likely not to last. A second Lantern title seems likely eventually, though having three Justice League books likely won’t last. These 6 spots will account for this style of churn.

So that’s 16 titles. Let’s presume 2 Justice League titles, 2 Bat titles, 2 Superman books. We’re now down to 10. Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, and the Flash will all have monthly books no matter what. Ditto the Teen Titans. 5 left.

Harley Quinn is one of their hottest properties, so she’s getting a spot. I can’t imagine Supergirl not having a book right now, ditto Batgirl. Shazam has a film coming out, and there are talks of a Nightwing movie.

That’s 22, minus those six missing books which, for the purposes of this column, we’ll say will feature the non-teen Titans, Suicide Squad, Green Arrow, another Bat-book (like “Red Hood: Outlaw”), one Super-family book, and an open square.

Even with this relatively wide-open collection of titles, 22 feels a little claustrophobic. This leaves out two Bendis books, “Young Justice” and “Naomi,” drops a Justice League title, and means that either Greg Rucka’s Lois Lane comic or Matt Fraction’s Jimmy Olsen book gets the boot. It totally phases out the ‘New Age of Heroes’ books, drops “Hawkman” and DC’s best title over the past 3 years (“Deathstroke”). It also culls two fringe Batman books, “Batman Beyond” and “Catwoman.”

Over the past few years, 20,000 copies a month seems to be the magic number to avoid cancellation at DC. Not counting miniseries or annuals, in December (the most recent month we have accurate data for), 20 books cleared that threshold (not counting Action Comics, which was missed due to the weirdness of December’s shipping schedule, which would have likely cleared that number easily). That lines up really well with a ‘New 22’ mindset, doesn’t it?

While 22 seems small, think back to the New 52’s debut in the fall of 2011. That number seemed small at the time, but it had an incredible amount of weirdness within it. Remember “Resurrection Man” Vol. 2? That was part of the launch. “Blackhawks,” “Men of War,” “Voodoo,” “Legion Lost,” “Static Shock,” “Batwing,” and “Grifter” were all part of that launch, but are almost completely forgotten today.

Continued below

In contrast, ‘Rebirth’ had 33 titles announced, even if a few didn’t come out in a timely manner (or, like “Earth 2,” at all). While every ‘Rebirth’ title that actually started got to 12 or 18 issues, it became pretty clear which books were destined for longer lifespans than others.

It would seem like the shift to a smaller number of titles would mean less guessing, in terms of what will succeed or fail. It would lock in a core of titles that would be easiest to predict success for. That 22 number is likely a little fluid, and would allow for a few extra, or a few fewer, books a month, depending on how various things shake out over the course of a season.

But it would also mean fewer chances taken, and there’s a real fear that DC’s famously huge library of characters would feel the squeeze in favor of more Bat-titles, as well as a paucity of weird pitches or left-of-center ideas. If the goal is to make the most profitable 22 comics each month, it is hard to imagine “Electric Warriors” or “Superwoman,” two of the most unexpected and great books of the past few years, ever happening. That’s not to say that DC should publish enough books to let every bizarre idea and tertiary character get the spotlight. They are a business, and it’s absurd to think they shouldn’t try to maximize their profits. But for the overall health of their line of comics, 22 seems awfully small, and would likely mean eliminating some really good books.

Is there a perfect number that strikes this balance? The 33 books of ‘Rebirth’ seems like a nice middle ground, but that also had the excitement of returning legacy characters, the introduction of “Watchmen” into the main continuity, and the overall buzz that comes from a line-wide refresh. If DC were to simply prune their line down, sales may not look as good as they would if the whole thing got re-jiggered in a big way. And with creators like Tom King and Scott Snyder talking about long-term plans for their books, it seems like DC wouldn’t likely be rebooting everything just yet.

Of course, this could all be rumor, and we’ve seen both DC and Marvel change their publishing plans so frequently it is hard to really ever get a grasp on what their long-term plans are. But if DC is looking to bring their line to a more concise place, it is important to not prune too much. DC’s strength lies in its literal multiverse of ideas, from street level books to cosmic adventures. By giving readers a taste of what DC can offer in the macro sense, it allows successes on individual books or small, pop-up imprints. Those ideas don’t sing the same way if limited so severely.

Although things, across the whole line, aren’t as positive as they were at the start of ‘Rebirth,’ nor as glum as at any point in the New 52, DC, from a purely storytelling perspective still has a pretty strong line right now. The blockbuster miniseries (“Doomsday Clock,” “Heroes in Crisis,” and “The Batman Who Laughs”) are selling like hotcakes, while Bendis’s revitalization of the Super-line is going splendidly. There’s plenty to be optimistic about at DC right now, even with the clunkers considered. A culling may help focus the line, but let’s not go crazy.

My personal suggestion? Take a page from an old slogan and hold the line at 29.

But I’m not Dan DiDio, even if I occasionally play him on a podcast.

Brian Salvatore

Brian Salvatore is an editor, podcaster, reviewer, writer at large, and general task master at Multiversity. When not writing, he can be found playing music, hanging out with his kids, or playing music with his kids. He also has a dog named Lola, a rowboat, and once met Jimmy Carter. Feel free to email him about good beer, the New York Mets, or the best way to make Chicken Parmagiana (add a thin slice of prosciutto under the cheese).