Retailer Q | #9: DC’s New 52 Six Months In

Welcome to Retailer Q, spinning 52Q’s format at top Canadian comic retailers. Comic Book Daily asks the question and our retail friends give their perspective. DC's New 52 is six months old, titles have been cancelled and new titles announced; all in all a resounding success. As retailers are you seeing sales of DC's titles sinking back to pre-relaunch numbers? Are you selling more DC titles than you were before the relaunch? How does DC's future look from this point on?

Welcome to Retailer Q, spinning 52Q’s format at top Canadian comic retailers.  Comic Book Daily asks the question and our retail friends give their perspective.

[box type=question]DC’s New 52 is six months old, titles have been cancelled and new titles announced; all in all a resounding success. As retailers are you seeing sales of DC’s titles sinking back to pre-relaunch numbers? Are you selling more DC titles than you were before the relaunch? How does DC’s future look from this point on?[/box]

[box type=shadow]Calum Johnston, owner of Strange Adventures Comix & Curiosities, Canada’s oddest comic bookstores. Trying to share the comic book goodness.[/box]

We’re selling more comics overall than prior to the relaunch. The big ad push brought in many new people to sample the new 52 and they also tried Daredevil, Spidey, Luther Strode, Mudman, etc.

DC may have the top ten spots in comic issue sales, but in our case it’s largely thanks to new readers. marvels are selling as well or better than before. More traffic, though this past month has been horrible thanks to a transit strike in Halifax, has meant more people checking out comics.

The cancelled titles from DC will be more than outsold by just having Batman Inc. and with the other new series, it’s getting more attention from consumers.

[box type=shadow]John Tinkess, Master of the Managerial Arts at Another Dimension.[/box]

After the initial hype died down, we saw sales level off of most of the titles but the big books like Batman, JLA, Detective, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, and Wonder Woman are still selling multiples of their previous incarnations. Most of the rest are holding steady although the cancelled titles took a big nosedive after it was announced that they were ending. The replacement titles look like they will all be middle to upper tier sellers so it will be an overall improvement for the line.

I think the biggest impact of the whole relaunch was the number of new customers it brought in to the store, many of whom have become regular ongoing customers. All these new readers have had an impact on sales across all publishers, not just DC. We’ve been seeing stronger sales across the board and have had record sales every month since September. And almost every day, we’re still seeing new people coming in and buying runs of the new 52 books to get caught up.

I don’t know if DC can catch lightning in a bottle twice but this summer’s Before Watchmen project definitely has the potential for outside media attention to hopefully drive another batch of new readers into stores.

[box type=shadow]Jay Bardyla, owner of Happy Harbor Comics and one-time Junior Woodchuck.[/box]

As people are getting a feel for the new titles, their creators and stories, we’re seeing nothing but higher sales for everything. The lowest level selling books of the New 52 are still way better than the lowest level books pre-relaunch. And, as John mentioned, people are excited about the new 6 titles as well so things will continue to improve.

The future looks good as people are happy with their comics. The biggest compliment I’ve heard is the increased diversity in the themes and art styles in the titles. My only fear is the next batch lacks that to a degree and we may be headed back down a road of same old, same old.

Now if only DC would be really daring and force creators to do nothing but done-in-one stories with the occasional 2-parter so new readers wouldn’t be so intimidated to jump in, we might a healthy industry again 😉

[box type=shadow]Paul Stock, Librairie Astro.[/box]

Well, the bloom is definitely off the rose for us, but nonetheless, the “replacement” New52 titles are doing appreciably better than the pre-launch equivalents, typically 2-3x across the board, with JLA leading the way at a bit over 3x.

We’re selling more DC now than just before the relaunch, but about 25% down from 2005-2008. DC was my top line, but now they’re 12-15% below Marvel, which has itself hit painful numbers in the X-group. Mind you, AVX, while it won’t even come close to an event like “Civil War”, looks like a comer, and should end up showing respectable numbers.

DC’s future? Unless there’s some sort of editorial epiphany that brings some interest to the storylines themselves, I don’t see it as being particularly bright. They’ll probably stay pretty much where they are relative to Marvel, but the market continues to dwindle, for the big two, at least. On the bright side, Dark Horse and Image are getting attention. Image more than DH, especially thanks to imaginative titles like “Green Wake” and “Luther Strode”.

[box type=shadow]Christopher Butcher, The Beguiling and Little Island Comics.[/box]

The DC 52 relaunch, 6 months in, is probably the single best sustained promotion from a publisher that I’ve seen in my time as a retailer. It’s sent more readers–not speculators but readers–into our store than any event in memory, and while I may never sell that many single issues of Animal Man again as I did Animal Man #1, I’m more than happy with our monthly numbers on that title.

As Paul mentioned the highest selling books are much higher, while the lowest selling books have all been cancelled to make way for higher selling books. I too would like more stand-alone stories and the ability to sell each issue as someone’s first, but seeing how much of the market has moved to collections I think that’s highly unlikely.

As for the future of DC, I think it is in those collections. I have a very serious problem, as a retailer, being asked to order a Mister Terrific collection when that is a series that failed on a critical and sales level, AND was cancelled. DC has done a lot right with these new trade paperbacks, collecting the series by arc, numbering the collections, skipping HCs when not necessary, but they don’t seem to have learned the very important lesson of not publishing what people have clearly stated they do not want.

[box type=shadow]Brahm Wiseman, sequentially yours, Heroes, London ON. Sometimes a little long-winded…[/box]

I knew this DC 52 relaunch was going to be big, but I had no idea it would be this big. When the relaunch was announced, I would say that the initial buzz from customers was fairly negative. Longtime fans groaned at the forced attempt at another reboot/relaunch and many readers complained about DC not bringing in enough fresh and exciting creators, but rather sticking with their regular crop of artists and writers. I’d have to say that as a retailer, I was underwhelmed by the lack of enthusiasm behind the relaunch and did not expect it to be as successful as it truly was.

Wow! Was I ever wrong. Fans jumped all over these books. New and lapsed readers came to the store in droves looking to try these new books, especially the first issues. I could have sold hundreds more of the first issues if I had the stock, even on the lower tier titles. Demand was huge and, in about half of the titles, has stayed extremely high. I like to call the relaunch the “new DC 25” as the half of the titles have lost steam and are no longer selling that great; however, those 25 great sellers like Batman, Detective Comics, Flash and Wonder Woman are still selling at two to five times what they were pre-relaunch. Heck, even an always solid book like All-Star Western is selling four times what it was when it was still called Jonah Hex seven months ago.

I think the success behind the relaunch has been in bringing in new readers. Many readers never got into comics or left comics because they felt intimidated by the long-going series and years upon years of implied continuity. This relaunch felt like a clean jumping on point and even curious long-time readers got caught up in the excitement. As a retailer, it is my job to keep new customers satisfied introducing them to the many great comics available, turning them into life-long comic book readers not solely DC comics fans. Business has been up in recent months partly thanks to the new DC 52, but also the influx of new readers jumping on the many relaunched Marvel comics and new and exciting series put out by Image and other publishers.

Moving forward, DC can learn from what was truly successful about the relaunch and what was not as the hype has died down. First off, DC has to keep things fresh and creative. This months crop of 52 issue #7s does not have nearly the excitement behind it that September’s issue #1s did. Some intrusive creative shuffles, lack-luster story arcs and diminishing sales on lower tier titles do not help push the line forwards. Comic audiences are always looking for something new, but also with a sustained level of quality. DC has now proceeded with 7 almost identical months of output and while the consistency on the better selling titles is nice, DC’s buzz has worn off and other publisher push forward with new innovative titles. Creative shuffles like Jeff Lemire moving off of Frankenstein and now on to JLA Dark show a lack of planning and commitment on DC for these titles. The prospect of 6 new titles and the Watchmen prequels is nice, but it feels like post relaunch DC has been resting on there laurels a bit.

Also moving forward, I hope DC recognizes that a solid creative team is the best selling factor for a comic. DC cannot depend solely brand recognition and hype to push sales; there has to be substance behind their product. It is no secret that titles featuring lower tier characters like Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and Batwoman remain some of their best selling titles because of the quality of their creative teams. While DC has been poaching characters from there other imprint Vertigo, they do not always seem to recognize the fine breeding ground for creators they have right in their own backyard. Pulling guys like Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire over from Vertigo to help launch titles has worked really well, but for every victory like that, there seems to be three blown opportunities. Marvel has a long history of turning solid mature and independent creators into mainstream superstars. Jason Aaron (Scalped) moved from Vertigo to write some of Marvel’s most successful titles while Brian Wood leaves the imprint for other publishers: I would have loved to see what creators like these could have done with some of DC’s superheroes. DC seems to be content with often using work-for-hire writers and artists who are dependable, but often have never really attempted a creator-owned or original comics, but rather towed the company line.

So DC, let’s learn from this relaunch. Good comics with strong promotion and great creators behind them sell really well. I hope they continue to trim the fat, getting rid of unsuccessful titles. If 52 is too bloated a number, how about 35 really great comics. Let’s also not forget, new series are always another open door for new readers. If all we see a year from now is a comic rack full of DC issue #19s of varied levels of quality, then all DC’s hard work will be for nothing as readers move on to the next big thing.

[box type=shadow]Bruno Andreacchi, B.A.’s Comics in London Ontario. Before Watchmen, but not before 11:00 am, please.[/box]

I’ve been very happy with the whole DC initiative. It’s been a big success here, as well. In the beginning, the huge gamble was mitigated by some returnability (Thank you, DC and Bob Wayne!) and numbers have stabilized now at very comfortable levels. Yes, there are a few lame dogs in the pack, but they’ll soon be gone, replaced by some promising newcomers. Already, some of the new batch (Worlds Finest and Earth Two), not to mention Before Watchmen, have more pre-orders than are down for Uncanny X-Men or Amazing Spider-Man. Our Justice League numbers are triple what they were a year ago. Numbers for Batman, Detective, and Green Lantern are double. And Aquaman outsells half of the Marvel line. Who’dathunkit?

Couple that with the growing resistance, and resentment, that Marvel’s double-shipping-with-musical-artists plan is being met with, at higher-than-DC prices, and I think that DC’s success is going to continue, if not increase. Traditionally, Marvel and DC were neck and neck here for years, but now, we sell about 50% more DC units on a regular basis. It seems to me that Marvel’s current reaction to DC’s success is ill-conceived and will not work in the long run.

[box type=shadow]Lloyd Chesley co-owns Legends Comics & Books with Gareth Gaudin in Victoria BC.  They speak for each other although they say different things, except they both love comics.[/box]

To put it simply, it always helps to change the old things up, especially if you keep it in the hands of strong creators.Even the sticks in the mud have to admit that the whole line is fresh now.

The current malaise of disparaging the new Watchmen titles is the whiny voice of nincompoopery. Sorry, Alan Moore. You are the best. We have a giant sign that says “Watchmen is the best book in the store.” But the world and characters are fascinating to readers and the creative teams have some of the best names in comics.

The New 52 has done wonders for all our sales apparently. We tell customers we are excited about the new Watchmen titles.

To clarify, regarding the new Watchmen series forthcoming I apply the term “nincompoopery” to the pundits, critics and fans too stuck in the mud to be optimistic about new work by great creators. Too often fans prevent innovation by their unwillingness to relinquish what is, after all, comic book continuity. New writers. New artists. New possibilities. It worked for the New 52. Sales show readers like it.

On the other hand, Alan Moore is certainly entitled and no doubt correct in his position regarding contract skullduggery and creator exploitation. It remains that the real super villains in comics are often the “suits” in the front office. This does not affect the literary merit of the situation but, as a retailer, I hate being embarrassed by corporations that make my customers angry learning that icons like Watchmen and even (recently) Ghost Rider are used to bludgeon the people who made them up. I can defend a reboot, but not a ripoff.

I trust the new creators of Watchmen stories are getting fair treatment (by which I mean they have good lawyers). I only wish Clayton Moore was still alive to benefit from the Lone Ranger revival.

Is this a new Q? As retailers to whom are responsible? Creators? Publishers? Characters? Customers? Our own pretentious preferences?

Jay: I love how everyone blames and hates on DC for the Watchmen thing when every creator out there could have said “No” and the project would have died and all this “artistic integrity” would have remained intact.

Scott VanderPloeg
Scott VanderPloeg

Scott works in I.T. but lives to eat and read. His other ramblings can be found at AE Index and eBabble. Art collection at Comic Art Fans.

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Kent Wesley Bowker
Kent Wesley Bowker
12 years ago

As a DC reader I am a bit mixed emotions. I was really digging Flash and Green Arrow prior to the new 52 and I feel they both r now fairly crappy comics which I won’t pick up. However, Swamp thing and Animal man rock hard and the whole relaunch is worth it just based on those two comics alone.

I tried other comics but stopped buying red lanterns and green lantern. Just not holding me. I am buying Aquaman thou and the trench story rocked but I feel it lacking substance lately. Also got into Action comics but again the story is also getting lame and I keep thinking about dropping it. Justice league is good I guess and I am going to start on Justice League Dark from issue 9.

My main issue with the new 52 is that the characters are all back at square one. There’s no tension and emotion felt between characters yet and it makes past events seem worthless. Going to stick with their dark line I think there is great work there, the characters have tensions and more backstory like Flashpoint didnt effect them as much and it seems to be where my interests are.

I would love to see a new big event for the new line. One which helps explain Flashpiont and the relaunch better and puts stress on the characters of the DCU.

I also picked up a marvel comic for the first time in years. The new Age of Apocalypse I loved that story in the 90s and its the only xmen story I loved.

Scott M
12 years ago

I’m glad comics retailers are seeing a benefit from DC’s gimmick after 20+ years of gimmicks that did little more than ensnare those same books in bewildering continuity. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll get back to a point where you can simply walk into a comic shop and buy any issue of any comic book and it won’t matter if you have read the ones beforehand, because each issue is a worthwhile, self-contained, well-executed story.