• I Vampire #19 Cover Longform 

    Multiversity 101: The Day Evil Won (Sort Of)

    By David Harper | January 15th, 2013
    Posted in Longform

    Note: these thoughts represent one Multiversity writer’s thoughts, not Multiversity as a whole.

    Monday, January 14, 2013. For all intents and purposes, this should have been a pretty innocuous day for comics. It’s pre-con season, so announcements are traditionally pretty light. It’s not a new comic day, so we’d hardly expect anything offensive to come out of this world. Hell, you could argue that comics are on their greatest upswing since the early 90’s, as sales have increased dramatically – and over a prolonged period of time – leading us to believe that there is some semblance of sustainable success behind it.

    Things were pretty damn rosy, all things considered. Even recent bad news turned around a bit, as Peter David, stroke be damned, managed to write a script using Dragon Dictate.

    Then, the skies turned red and the hits started coming from DC Comics.

    In one day, word hit that:

    • Original New 52’ers “I, Vampire” and “DC Universe Presents” were canceled
    • Beloved all-ages series “Superman Family Adventures” from Franco and Art Baltazar was canceled

    • “Saucer Country,” one of the few remaining Vertigo titles, was canceled much to the chagrin of writer Paul Cornell and artist Ryan Kelly
    • Before their runs even started, Jim Zubkavich and Robert Vendetti were removed as writers of “Birds of Prey” and “Constantine” respectively, to be replaced by Christy Mark and Jeff Lemire/Ray Fawkes

    What was a normal day became a very busy, very surprising (in a bad way) one for comic fans/creators/pundits. But for those that have been paying attention, it’s par for the course for DC Comics, and has underlined the theme of disposable, interchangeable creators DC has been running with recently.

    When you think about it, this day was easy to predict, as it was preceded with all kinds of overtly negative actions (most high profile, of course, being the unceremonious disposal – and eventual rehiring – of Gail Simone as writer of Batgirl) and increasing murmurs amongst industry types about the struggles and bottoming out morale of the once riding high DC over the past few months.

    It seems to me that every day brings out a different anecdote about just how broken DC is, and I’ll get down to exactly how bad that is in a minute, but first, I want to share a quick thought from someone who has worked with both Marvel and DC. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of the idea is this: both Marvel and DC fails, but when Marvel does it’s tied to their desire to do something exciting tied to their love of comics, while DC fails because they are trying to feed their bottom line.

    It’s easy to see that when you look at the two highly comparable relaunches the two underwent over the past couple years. Let’s look at the tale of the tape.

    DC’s New 52: over one month, DC launched 52 new comics with some A-list teams but far more head scratching ones, while generally approaching their populace with a surly disposition and a mocking tongue. This wasn’t just new #1’s – this was continuity clean-up in the least clean way.

    Marvel Now!: Marvel kept some titles, but they also relaunched many of them with a perfect blend of A-list talent and exciting up-and-coming names like Sam Humphries and Dennis Hopeless involved. They approached it with genuine excitement and infectious passion, and their aim was to approach these stories in a way that genuinely worked for long time fans and newcomers.

    When both launched, I was excited. Actually, to be fair, I was way more excited about the New 52. Really, nothing like that had ever been done before. But my excitement waned with each passing month, and by the 8th month, I was out on every DC book. Interestingly, the last books I kept around – I, Vampire, The Flash and Wonder Woman – were arguably the three books that most had their creators stamps on them and amongst the rare few that didn’t face creative changes aplenty.

    On the other hand, Marvel Now! has me buying – and being excited to buy – books that I never expected I’d want or love. Not only that, but the books we knew we’d be all about – Hickman’s Avengers work, Aaron’s Thor – look like they’re on paths to be on legendary runs, and ones that stand entirely on their own as original comic book storytelling. Sure, Marvel Now! has already faced a number of art changes – Cassaday being off Uncanny Avengers, for example – but that’s to be expected when you put some of the heavyweights of the industry on books. People have responded overall withe excitement, and that’s resulted in increased sales.

    Back to the point though, but the beginning of the New 52 led us to where we are. While the New 52 bumped DC – and the industry – up to heights long thought unreachable in this modern era, Marvel quickly reestablished dominance of the industry by December of 2011, just three short months after the full launch of the New 52. By February of 2012, DC had slipped back below 30% market share in dollars and the industry, to lack a better term and to steal one from sports analytics, regressed to the mean (while still maintaining the higher overall sales that were previously established).

    As you can see above, the New 52 has more or less steadily declined since its early months. Save for temporary spikes based around new title launches or their vaunted “Zero Month,” It’s been a progression that has clearly raised panic in their offices and triggered…well, a lot of bad decision making.

    Some of the decisions are inarguable, of course. Over the span of the past year and a quarter, DC has canceled nearly 29% (15) of the original New 52, with many of the remaining titles featuring a rotating cast of creators behind them. This is understandable. It’s a business, and it’s hard to support books that struggle like “I, Vampire” even if they are critically acclaimed and beloved by a passionate audience (although it is strange when the lower selling Firestorm lives to see another day).

    For that reason, it makes it entirely defensible, sadly, that universally loved books like Franco and Art Baltazar’s “Superman Family Adventures” can be canceled as it was. It’s selling a little more than half of what “I, Vampire” was at this point, and even though it’s aimed at an entirely different audience, it’s still coming in the red for DC, more than likely. You can float books like that for a while, but at a certain point it becomes apparent that the market for a book like that – sadly – is too small. Which is a shame, as it’s a perfect book for someone like MC writer Brandon Burpee to share with his 4-year old son Dex.

    I can keep going – “Saucer Country” also arguably could not continue on, as its sales were lower again on top of “Superman Family Adventures” – but there’s no real point. Cancelations are part of the industry, and unless books establish a profitable baseline for their publisher, they’re going to get canceled.

    The issue with all this, it seems to me, is they screwed themselves from the get go. Instead of rolling these books out in waves, they simultaneously rebooted and launched everything, and it continuously forced hard economic decisions on readers and that naturally favored those books who had pre-established audiences. It was pretty easy to figure out which books would get axed early on, as sales rarely have anything to do with who is making them (except for “Saga”) and whether they’re good, rather who are the characters within the book’s pages (except for “Superman Family Adventures” which fits into the inexplicable rule of “fun all-ages books don’t sell”).

    Perhaps if DC rolled everything out in a different way, it would have made decisions easier for audience’s and books of quality like “I, Vampire” might have survived longer, but that’s not DC’s deal. What they’re doing right now seems more akin to mad science based around the idea of “let’s throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks.”

    Tying back into that, when the New 52 launched it seemed like they were kind of leaning on titans of yesteryear like Scott Lobdell, and surprisingly, what came out were flat stories with uninspiring sales. Excitingly enough, this led DC to a new experiment – trying out more writers/artists who had profiles like “I, Vampire’s” Josh Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino. Up and comers who might have exciting things to say about the characters.

    So, the new waves featured creators like James Tynion IV, Justin Jordan, Ray Fawkes, Charles Soule, Jim Zubkavich and Robert Vendetti. The internet rejoiced – DC is actually using newer talent for their New 52, what an astounding concept?

    But then, before Zubkavich and Vendetti ever were able to release one issue, they were removed from their books only to be replaced by Christy Marx (currently writing the fastest declining book in all of the New 52!!! Get excited!) and Jeff Lemire/Ray Fawkes (note: Vendetti chose to leave Constantine).

    To me, this was akin to Simone-gate. Unceremoniously cutting writers before they even had a chance to release one issue when they were just announced as the writers what…a month or two ago? I think the only thing that could explain the rash actions of DC at this point is that, secretly, they’re filming a challenge based reality show with their creative staff in which you lose a push up contest and get kicked off “Birds of Prey.”

    That’s the strange thing that about all of this. From day one, with the way they rebooted everything to how they rolled it out to how they chose their creative teams to how they handled those to how they micromanaged them and to how they effectively trolled their entire fan base, DC seems like they have no idea what they’re doing. There is no overriding logic behind these decisions. There’s just ready, fire, aim all over the place, and what we’re left with is a publisher that really only draws attention for its angry fans and foolish decisions and not much else.

    What is happening to them in front of them is they are being left behind.

    DC’s sales are dropping precipitously save for artificially boosted crossover titles (thanks Batman!) and the critical response is dropping even faster. When you scour the comic book best of 2012 lists, besides the occasional appearance by Snyder and Capullo’s Batman and Azzarello and Chiang’s Wonder Woman (and I, Vampire, but that’s neither here nor there), DC’s presence is hardly even felt. Their new waves of books besides, really, “Earth 2,” have been met poorly by fans or ignored entirely, and it feels like we’re on track for what they said would never happen to avoid a nosedive into irrelevance: a reversal to the old continuity.

    Would that really be so surprising? To steal a line from sportswriter Bill Simmons, DC has completely entered the “Tyson Zone,” meaning they have so established themselves as insane that nothing will surprise us at this point.

    I think that’s the most shocking thing about yesterday, and the way it was handled.

    It wasn’t surprising at all.

    David Harper

    David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).


    • Patrick

      David, this was a wonderfully written article and I feel like you share a lot of the pain, thoughts, and sentiments towards DC that a lot of their fans do. I was curious if you think bringing back some of the characters that have been in demand by fans (Albeit a small number of fans.) like Stephanie Brown and Wally West to get them excited?

      I’m curious on your thoughts and what you think could help DC get back on top, or at least in a competing edge with Marvel.

      • David Harper

        I don’t believe bringing Stephanie Brown or Wally West would necessarily improve things for DC. Sure, it would give them a temporary boost in sales, and their books would likely sell better than things like Sword and Sorcery or Firestorm, but they’d hardly be long-term solutions.

        For me, I think the thing DC would have been better off doing is limiting their publishing list and focusing on making them as good – and as consistently released – as possible. Look at the biggest hit for DC right now – Batman, from Snyder/Capullo. It’s a damn good book from two great creators, and it is consistently the highest selling comic. Then you have something like Deathstroke, a B-list character worked on by a mish mash of mid level creators, and what you have is creatively and commercially suspect.

        A good example of what they should have done with those books is Animal Man. Instead of playing it safe with creators you know will do pretty safe, generic stories like Scott Lobdell, more creators in the vein of Lemire or even Fialkov who push the envelope and make their books interesting are important. Sure, I, Vampire was canceled, but EVERYONE thought that would be the first book to go. That it lasted as long as it did was a testament to the work of Fialkov and Sorrentino.

        So, in short, I’d whittle the publishing list down and hire better, more exciting creators to work on them. Like, wouldn’t the Danger Club team of Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones do a wicked Teen Titans book?

    • William

      It’s pretty easy to get mad at DC, as they are making many ridiculous decisions, but to cast Marvel as the shining paragon of mainstream comics is unfair. There’s a fair share of clunkers in Marvel NOW (Thunderbolts, Deadpool, Iron Man, Cable) and sales on Marvel books are ALREADY showing a drastic decline in issue to issue sales, some as much as 50% decrease.

      Also, it seems silly to complain that Venditti was taken off Constantine, as the writer chose to leave the title due to work overload. Still, it’s clear that DC needs to get their act together, especially if they are going to exist in a market that requires solicitations 3-months in advance.

      • David Harper

        I would hardly say I cast them as a shining paragon of mainstream comics – I just said they handled things far better than DC did. I pointed out that Marvel’s books showed huge issue-to-issue declines within the same month in my sales analysis article last month, so I agree entirely. That said, I believe their method based off standard business practices is far more sound than DC’s.

        On top of that, I contest that Thunderbolts is hyper entertaining.

        Valid point about Vendetti – I misread his reason for departure, so I cleared that up in the article.

        I do think some of the struggle in the industry is set to the 3-month paradigm you are referring to, and until that changes or is fixed, it will be a struggle for everyone. But DC, in my mind, is just struggling right now.

        • William

          That’s a pretty fair assessment. Sometimes as fans it seems we just know too much about the behind the scenes of comics for our own good. Not sure if you’d agree, but the amount of half information and speculation tends to breed ill will and negativity in the community.

          • David Harper

            Oh of course. I for one try to be positive as often as I can about comics, and try to portray them in a positive light at all times. That said, DC’s going a bit far with their actions lately. I’m fine not reading their books and keeping my mouth shut about what my opinion of their quality is, but man, they just seem to handle human resources decisions with the care and tact of a wrecking ball.

      • http://www.facebook.com/alex.evans.397 Alex Evans

        none of what you list are real knocks on Marvel though. Steep declines after the first few issues are the norm. Also, it’s pretty unfair to suggest that something isn’t a success unless EVERY book is excellent. That’s basically impossible. And apparently, there are a good number of people out there who’ve been enjoying Deadpool, even critics. You or I may not be among them, but I’m not sure it’s a clear “clunker”.

    • http://twitter.com/VJ_Ostrowski Vince Ostrowski

      While I totally agree with the intent and conceit of your article, I’m surprised to hear that you’re “out” of DC across the board.

      The point of my Friday Recommendation last week was to show that, despite all kinds of problems at the heart of the ‘New 52′ (and they are relatively serious), there is still a handful of books well worth reading.

      You don’t think that “Wonder Woman” or “Batman” are as exciting as most of Marvel’s fare? Not trying to be accusatory. I’m just honestly curious. And I agree with you about Marvel right now. They show more passion and reverence for their properties.

      But I still get really excited about reading 10-15 of those DC books every month, despite all the fluff and nonsense.

      • David Harper

        You know, as I said in the article, there were some books that I was still reading up into issues 7 and 8. Wonder Woman, I, Vampire and The Flash were the last cuts, but Swamp Thing, Batwoman and Batman lasted quite a while too. The problem for me was, and this is of course totally subjective, with each passing month these comics got pushed further and further down on my reading pile.

        Generally speaking, the less excited I am, the later a book gets read. When I manage to go three months without reading a book I am still picking up, that’s when I cut something. It’s a simple rule that allows me to say “obviously I’m not excited by this book” and cut it without too much concern. That happened to every DC book, with some – namely, I, Vampire – not being done any favors by crossing over with other books.

        I recently started picking up Batman again and it’s quite good. I didn’t really like the Court of Owls, to be honest, so I dropped it then, but the Death of the Family deal has been excellent. That’s it for me.

        I guess I sort of lost the spark of enjoyment when reading these books, which is equally on me changing as a reader as it is on any perceived lack of quality of the books. I’d never in a million years say The Flash or Swamp Thing or Wonder Woman are bad books. I could make a really good case that Wonder Woman is in fact a great book.

        But it’s just not for me, and I’m definitely someone who needs to feel a connection with that material to keep going.

        Yet I said I am buying Thunderbolts, so what the hell do I know?

    • FVK PMA

      Interesting article, but your perception of marvel now! has me puzzled. marvel doesnt give a rats ass about the readers or the comics, just the bottom line. how you can mix that up is beyond me. on the other hand, your assessment of DC makes much more sense.

      • David Harper

        Oh, my implication isn’t that they genuinely care. It’s that they at least seem to. Perception is reality when it comes to marketing, and Marvel at least cultivates an aura that they care, while DC seems deliberately aggressive to readers.

        Also, in some situations and with some creators, I do think that they kind of care.

      • http://www.facebook.com/alex.evans.397 Alex Evans

        Yes, Marvel is very much motivated by the bottom-line….but they are also giving their creators a LOT more freedom than DC currently is. And most creators, the good ones anyway, care a great deal about their readers.

    • http://www.facebook.com/alex.evans.397 Alex Evans

      I’ve lost a lot of faith in DC over the last year and I’m loathing Harras more and more.

      When the new 52 launched, in the first two-three months, I was grabbing 23 DC books, not counting Vertigo. As of this month’s solicits, I am down to 10. And Batman Inc. is ending and I suspect it’s only a matter of time before Dial H gets canned, between lackluster sales and Karen Berger’s departure.

      And I’m fine with that. Because given how disposable talent is at DC and how chaotic things are, and how editorial seems to, increasingly, be running the show, I’m feeling less and less comfortable trust DC with my money. At this point, I don’t even trust DC with my money, I trust Scott Snyder, Geoff Johns (usually), and Jeff Lemire, assuming they aren’t in some nebulous co-writing arrangement.

      DC is catering to fans that appreciate characters more than creators and, apparently, that’s a lot of fans, maybe even most of them. Unfortunately, I’m not among them.

      The only thing that sucks about Marvel are their $3.99 price tags and double-shipping (which seems to be easing off), but those issues are not the systemic issues that DC seems to be afflicted with.

      • David Harper

        Agreed with everything you said. I had the same start and breakdown of my DC New 52 buying habits, and they just kind of fell apart very quickly. While Marvel is guilty of plenty of sins too, it just seems like DC’s overall experience is a watered down version of what comics should be.

    • http://www.facebook.com/alex.evans.397 Alex Evans

      that said, I thought Saucer Country…wasn’t very good. The pace was absolutely glacial and, frankly, Cornell should know better than to go in writing with the expectation that he’s going to have a massive, gajillion issue run. He sort of had the same thing going on in that seemingly interminable first arc in Demon Knights. That’s a big ask from readers, is begging for declining sales as readers get bored, and acting like you’re going to be around for 60 issues on a Vertigo book despite having no guarantees of that is hopelessly naive.

      Cornell can be sour grapes all he likes, but despite my earlier comments about DC, he really has himself to blame most of all in this one.

      • David Harper

        Saucer Country, on its own, was a book that never really lived up to the Vertigo name. It was a lower tier one that was marked for cancelation from the get go, and it’s a shame because I enjoy Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly, but overall it really never was up to snuff. So I agree with you. Intriguing elements, but the whole never quite got there.

        • http://www.facebook.com/alex.evans.397 Alex Evans

          I dropped it fairly early. I believe my last issue was the one where the main character’s husband was hypnotized and we got some reveals about what actually happened that night to him, with the abduction….

          Then Cornell completely went back on it at the end of the issue and made it clear that none of it was true, essentially making the entire issue a complete waste of time.

          Given the overall pace of the book already, that was the last straw for me.

      • http://twitter.com/chudleycannons David

        Regardless of the quality, Vertigo is now down to three on-going series and one of them is a tie-in and the other two are pretty far in to their runs. Vertigo is known for being edgy and taking risks, but right now they’re not doing that and it worries me (and others) that they might be nearing an end.