[Editorial] What’s Good For Sales Is Not Good For Comics

I have been a DC Comics fangirl for thirty years, and I’ve never been embarrassed by that until now.

Last Saturday was Free Comic Book Day across the U.S. FCBD is traditionally when comics companies, large and small, offer free issues which are designed to entice the reader into buying more of their product (thus benefiting the comic book store) and drawing in new readers. Usually a lot of the offerings are tuned into the latest successes of the properties in other media – there were plenty of Avengers stories for the taking last year, for example.

That’s where DC dropped the ball.

There are a ton of DC properties enjoying financial success right now. Man Of Steel, god help me, raked in over $650 million worldwide at the box office. Arrow pulled in 2.25 million viewers on April 30th. DC Entertainment has already signed Zac Snyder on to make a Justice League movie, and the shows Gotham and The Flash are already in development for the CW.

Now lemme throw out some comic book sales figures for you.

The #1 selling book for March 2014 was Batman, with roughly 116,000 sales. At the very bottom was something called Zombie Tramp, with 940. Okay, clearly Batman is DC’s bread and butter. The success of the Christopher Nolan movies corroborates this, at any rate, as does the CW picking up Gotham. So, let’s say you’re DC’s Marketing Department. You’d think you’d want to strike while the iron is hot and offer something designed to pull in those millions of people who ordinarily don’t read comics, but love Batman. Or Superman. Or Green Arrow. Or, hell, do something with the Flash. Start the hype machine rolling for the TV show. The point is you want something accessible to new readers that builds on the success of the licensed properties.

Instead, we got Future’s End.

 photo futuresendcov_zpsc2beb969.jpg

Looks promising, doesn’t it? You’ve got Terry McGinnis, star of Batman Beyond, dominating the cover. You remember Batman Beyond. Fun show set in the future, aimed at kids. Okay, so we’ve got Terry annnnnnnnnd DEAR GOD WHAT ARE THOSE THINGS.

Did I say promising? I meant the other thing.

The new or casual reader, the target audience on FCBD, looks at that cover and at best goes “Whoa, why are they all machines? Lemme read this thing.” So New Reader opens the book to see “CENTRAL CITY, 35 YEARS FROM NOW” so already we’ve got Dystopian Future, which only has emotional resonance if one is familiar with the state of the DCU at present. We also see an older Flash working with one of his rogues, Captain Cold, WHICH AGAIN HAS NO EMOTIONAL RESONANCE WITHOUT A FAMILIARITY WITH CURRENT CONTINUITY I’m okay, I’m breathing – and after that, who’s the first superhero we see?

 photo futuresendww_zpsc1c59188.jpg

Hey, it’s Wonder Woman, who’s too damn “tricky” for a movie despite being really easy to pitch, with half her body gone and replaced with a cyber-spider-monster. She has SWORDS FOR HANDS, YOU GUYS, WHOAAAAnnnnnd immediately swords one guy to death and then lops off Captain Cold’s hands before the Flash beats her to death at super-speed. Charming.

But hey, wait! We’re not done doing grotesque things to our superheroines! And yes, do note, that in the first four pages of this things, it’s the heroines we’re seeing subjected to body horror first. Flash then runs into Frankenstein’s Monster, who gives him a “join or die” ultimatum. Upon the expected response, the Monster opens his shirt to reveal WHAT THE ACTUAL LIVING BLUE FUCK IT’S BLACK CANARY’S FACE SEWN INTO HIS CHEST.

 photo futuresendbc_zps87857f5e.jpg

This is the first four pages. This was available online to preview to hype the book. Later on, every iconic DC hero is either brutally slaughtered or assimilated, including – oh, and let me tell you how tasteful this was – Barbara Gordon as Batgirl with her legs cut off and her torso welded into the Bat-Signal. Wow. Wow, DC.

Oh, and they kill Batman. After Batman orders Terry McGinnis to go back in time to straight-up murder the dude who put the DCU on the path to this future. They cut off Batman’s arm, too. Good times.

If you follow me on Twitter, I’ve been pissed off about this for a little over three days straight. Because this is insulting. It’s insulting to me as a long-term reader who enjoys superheroes doing heroic things, and it’s insulting to me as someone who was raised by a salesman and has even the slightest grasp of marketing and target audiences. DC, you have a built-in audience of millions. Every single person watching your movies or your TV shows is a potential reader.

Who the fuck are you aiming Future’s End at?

The kicker for me came last night when the official DC Comics twitter linked a review of Future’s End by Complex Magazine. They did this without accreditation in the tweet, so initially I thought it came from DC themselves (which, way to read a URL, Dayna). Although it wasn’t an internal DC review, it was still presented in such a way that denoted full support of the views contained therein, so I’m not letting them off the hook entirely.

The sentence that galled me was “If you like your heroes to be snarky, smiling do-gooders, Futures End probably isn’t for you.” Oh, you mean the “smiling do-gooders” that are raking in billions upon billions of dollars for Marvel Entertainment? Those guys? I’m sorry, it doesn’t look like my taste in superhero is antiquated. Remember, no one at DC wrote this, but they sure as shit endorsed it. So what does that say to me?

“You’re old. You’re out of date. Our comics aren’t for you anymore.” Well, I’m a woman, so I expected that attitude already, what with you making all the Amazons of Themiscyra rapists and not doing a Wonder Woman movie and ripping off Black Canary’s face and all. But I didn’t expect it to be in stark black-and-white like that. I didn’t expect that DC would forget the word “hero” in “superhero.” It’s not just that they forgot it, but that they are actively decrying it. Superheroics are a thing of the past. This is for mature readers who are into blood and guts and rape and death and mutilation, WOOOOOO!

Fuck that attitude.

I’ve gotten into discussions about DC vs. Marvel with friends, and I’ve always said I like the DC heroes more because they are someone you can aspire to be like. Role models as heroes. Marvel heroes are generally those you can relate to as a person like yourself and identify with their struggles. These are generalizations, of course, but I have to say, Marvel’s getting it right lately. They’re certainly accepting of a diverse audience, and expanding their titles to bring in that audience. The new Ms. Marvel is Muslim. Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales is half-black, half-Hispanic. The adjectiveless X-Men title at the moment is comprised of only women. And all these titles are hits. People, by and large, in all fiction and not just comics, want representation. They want heroes they can see themselves in. That’s working on Marvel’s end, really really well.

DC’s taking their heroes and ripping them apart. Literally. There’s no attempt to connect with the reader on an emotional level and that’s what pisses me off. What’s worse, it sells like hotcakes. People buy this shit. They see that dark sells (see also: Man Of Steel), so they push dark. The Joker cuts off his face, so mutilation sells. You’ve got the game Injustice: Gods Among Us, so violence sells. It’s fucking making them tons of money, but it’s taking away the heart of DC. The inspiration, the heroism. The part of the universe that hooked me as a child of four and kept me reading my entire life. Their target audience is the teenaged/young adult male who loves gore and mutilation and murder, the same audience who somehow thinks it’s okay to send rape threats to someone who criticized a fucking comic book cover for being shitty. They are actively targeting the audience who are acting like total fucking assholes. And it’s selling.

That’s the worst part. It’s selling. And all it cost was their soul.

35 thoughts on “[Editorial] What’s Good For Sales Is Not Good For Comics

  1. Good god, DC. What the hell?

    I am not a comics reader, and shit like this pretty much guarantees that I’ll never be a DC reader. Ever.

    I support your glorious, righteous rage.

  2. This isn’t going to entice NEW comic book readers, they’re going after current comic book readers to try to get them to pay attention to their latest crossover. DC doesn’t care about attracting new readers. They claimed they were doing that with the New 52 by simplifying their continuity, but now it’s more muddled than ever.

    Apart from the horrid violence, gore, and mutilation in this issue, DC has committed another sin: DYSTOPIAN FUTURES HAVE BEEN DONE TO DEATH. DC themselves have done this same theme numerous times. Oh, but this time is different – it’s a robot/cyborg apocalypse where someone goes back into the past to prevent that future…it’s so much faster to say “Terminator”, isn’t it? Sorry, I should cut them some slack. This is different. An artificial intelligence has taken over the world and killed most if not all of the heroes, so one hero goes back in time to kill the man who created the artificial intelligence before he has the chance to create it….or “Age of Ultron” for short.

    • The worst part is that the current Batman Beyond comics (which has been mostly family-appropriate and selling pretty damn well) is having an alternate universe story coming up connecting Terry with the evil Justice Lords from the JL tv show. Similar theme, but at least not body mutilation, right? So I pick this free comic up THINKING it was part of the Batman Beyond comic that looked good. Boy, was I surprised.

  3. honestly i have to wonder if its not partially aimed at the popularity of game of thrones, where everything is gritty and dark and everyone dies.

    • As both a comic book reader and a Game of Thrones fan: there is plenty of politics, character development, and strong female characters in GoT. That’s more than I can say of current DC. It’s not gratuitously gritty and even though there’s a lot of people dying in GoT, there’s a point to those deaths: whether it is to advance plot, or to put a finger on the mindless brutality of war.

  4. DC has lost touch with what they were really all about. They need to go back and take a good hard look at what they use to be. I’ll take Marvel over DC any day.

  5. I haven’t really been paying attention to comics for years, and I was always more of a Marvel fangirl besides. But I was also raised with Superman and Batman and I have to say that hearing about this is the most disheartening thing I have heard coming out of comics in a long long time.

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  7. I’ve been reading both companies since the early 70s and have always preferred DC to Marvel. Growing up with those old stories were an amazing part of my childhood and I was a bit apprehensive about switching over to “the New 52”.

    That said, I gave some titles a chance. Animal Man and Swamp Thing were really well done (if a little too dark in nature), Snyder’s “Court of Owls” storyline was an interesting take on the Batman legend, and even Aquaman was effective for a character that was largely a joke. However, I abandoned all DC titles with the retelling of the Batman origin. Do we really need the 100th origin tale of a character that’s been around 80 years? I don’t care how good it was, I was finished.

    To be honest, DC took a dark turn beginning with Identity Crisis and hasn’t looked back. I appreciate trying new things but not at the expense of alienating longtime readers. I’ll go reread the stuff I grew up with. If I wanted murder, mutilation, and massacres I’ll read the news.

    Great article, by the way!

  8. I got a $5 gift certificate from Comixology for FCBD and spent it on Ms. Marvel and Holmes and Watson which are both really excellent, feature heroes of color, and feature actual human beings trying to do right instead of grimdark assholes. I grew up on DC but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone nowadays.

  9. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: love DC characters, LOATHE DC. Between the jackasses running things and Big Brother Warner being the epitome of corporate douchery, DC is one of the worst entertainment companies out there right now. If they were consistently engaging in absorbing smaller companies only to squeeze them into oblivion for a quick short-term profit, they’d be the comic book equivalent of Electronic Arts.

    Bottom line: buy DC books if you want, but never support their events. Never ever ever ever ever. No matter who the creative team is, it won’t matter, the event will blow. I guarantee: Futures End = Countdown 52.0

  10. DC has been doing this bullshit for years and I have been openly against it tons of times. When the shitstorm over an executive’s statement to Paul pope that ‘we make comic books for 45-year-olds now’ happened, it verified my fears that DC has lost the ball.

    The problem with Future’s End (hell, with every recent DC major event) is that they are bad, gore-porn stories. They serve no purpose, show no heroic attributes of the characters and nothing, NOTHING hopeful or inspiring takes place in the narrative. They are just crappy little stories that miss the mark but sell.

    Because you know, hurr-durr, blood and guts be bettah than good stories and screw the kiddies that would otherwise make up our hardcore demographic in 20 years from now.

  11. I lost faith in DC when it became clear they had lost sight of who Superman was. Man of Steel, with all it’s flaws, still had more humanity than the new 52. Clark Kent should be, in theory, their barometer as a company and then they work from there. It became extremely clear when the company rebooted that they no longer understood who Clark Kent was. They didn’t respect his humanity, they didn’t respect his history and they didn’t respect the message he sent. They approached Superman with an eye of cynicism and that is your first clue that this leadership was going to be terrible. Superman is always my barometer and from where I’m standing until they figure him out I will never return to DC as a regular reader. They can’t be trusted.

    The treatment of Wonder Woman is appalling as well. They don’t respect her. They don’t like her. They don’t get her. They only like her when they can pair her romantically with Superman and push some kind of gross “gods who are too good for the puny humans” narrative and pretend it’s innovative. Ick. But that’s the crowd they pander to now. The lowest of the low.

    Future’s End is repulsive but it doesn’t shock me at all. DC acts shocked that their male fans threaten women? They created this. They courted these fans. They built this sexism from the ground up.

  12. The big problem is DC is being run by Ex-Image/Ex-Marvel guys. Chris Sims said it best: DC’s problem is they’re trying to out-Marvel Marvel. The bigger problem is they’re trying to out-Marvel 90’s Marvel and all of it’s stupidities.

  13. DC has left their longtime readers on the curb in their constant attempt to appeal to a new audience. They’ve had very successful video game lines and, at least to me, are trying to make their New 52 line look more like that. Writers and artists keep feeling from DC for safer ground because everything seems to be more editorially driven now. The stories they are putting out now are not going to last the test of time like other classics from their history. They seem more concerned about now now now and not a legacy for the characters or company. We saw this with Image Comics in the ’90s and where are those stories now? They flooded the market with books that all mostly looked the same and have now been forgotten. There’s no variety at DC anymore. That’s what I do love about the Batman and Wonder Woman books right now… they’re being allowed to flourish on their own and they really are great. (Also, side note, still completely take issue with calling the Amazons rapists… there’s a huge different between seduction of consensual sex and rape. The men at sea were shown to not being forced or drugged in any way. I can understand people not liking this take on the Amazons, but I think calling it rape is extremely misguided and problematic for what IS actually rape.)

  14. This may be some of the dumbest, sickest shit I’ve ever seen produced. I don’t wanna say THE dumbest and sickest, since let’s face it, Countdown, Ultimatum, and Cry For Justice are harsh competition.

  15. God Dammit. I’ve been a DC fan since I have memory, but after the New 52 they’ve done nothing but destroy all the characters I’ve loved all my life. They’ve turned Superman into a jerk, Wonder Woman into an idiot, Harley Quinn (bless her, she’s only been with us for a couple of decades, but still) into a slut, even the villains have suffered this idiotic de-evolution.

    And now, of course, they’re expanding this nonsense into the world of film. They’ve already shoehorned Cyborg into the MoS sequel, so he can be part of the Justice League (which was already ridiculous in the comics), and they seem to really think darker = better. The worst part is that, as you claim, this crap sells.

    Today I saw an announcement for a new Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie, and some guys in the comments claimed they should make the movie darker and edgier because otherwise no one would take it seriously. What the hell? Darker Power Rangers, are they out of their freaking minds? For all the flaws Amazing Spider-Man 2 had (and believed me, it had A LOT), it was at least colorful and fun.

    I’m… just sick of this overwhelming darkness. It’s happening in videogames, it’s happening in movies, it’s happening in comic books. What’s next? Gritty reboots for the Dr. Seuss books? Maybe the Cat in the Hat will battle zombies and murder the Grinch at the end? I wouldn’t be surprised.

  16. What you have written here in this article is what I have been thinking and feeling about DC for a while now. I like loved DC for the heroes that they had for they did give one something to aspire to and admire but now I just disdain them.
    Your assessment is spot on. Thanks for writing this.

  17. The New52 is a horrible mess, glad to see sales are lower than pre-reboot now despite all the tricks! When is Didio getting fired?

  18. I am always surprised when people tell me they like DC comics given that the company’s been bereft of ideas since the final issue of Watchmen and Sandman Mystery Theater hit the stands. They haven’t put out a single decent comic since the mid 80’s. I’m surprised that anyone stuck with them after the dreck that was the Death Of Superman fiasco, a title that basically represents all that brought the comic book industry to it’s knees in the 90s. I still hear former comic shop owners who went bust cursing DC to this day. I think the fact that, since the release of Superman The Movie(which for me is one of the most perfect films ever made), DC has released less than a dozen Superman issues worth a damn, says something about the company’s inability to take advantage of their films and the audience they bring in. Even their flagship characters, Batman and Superman (no, I don’t include Wonder Woman because she hasn’t been a flagship character since Lynda Carter wore the costume) have become worn out and tattered. The characters only hold interest as film and television properties at this point, with the comics being sold to the lowest common denominators of fandom. And now the films are beginning to mirror the comics with regards to the tone of the films and how they represent what the DC comics reading audience wants to see. I certainly hope those with any shred of moral fiber or self respect can break free of the slime that is DC. Marvel and Image is waiting for you with open arms. Come on, try a little self respect for a change. You might like it. Heh.

  19. Oh, gee, Linkara is going to be busy a couple years from now, won’t he? Maybe sooner, if Bearded Idiot, Twin Hitlers or the Legion make an appearance. It’s all dystopias and something, something End, after all. Not even an original concept.

    Years ago, I had the clear impression DC was being ran by grade schoolers who wanted all girls out of their little club. Now they’ra aaall grown up. Into preteens, who just watched Human Centipede for the first time and won’t shut up about it, and who doesn’t like it is a weenie.
    You know, mature.

  20. I will never regret getting into Comics, I will forever regret not getting into them sooner so that I could have at least known a few years of relatively decent new titles before DC started pushing this shit.

    I’ve been into DC comics for all of two years now and I swear I know these characters better than DC does! This whole thing (Jesus the Barbra Gordon thing made me want to puke, yes let’s make a gross reference to the time she was paralyzed by equating it with body horror, that is totally okay!) makes me glad I swore off the New 52 before I even so much as read a title.
    The thing DC seems to forget is that, dark and gritty can be good if done right; and in order for it to be done right it needs to be counter balanced by ACTUAL GOOD HAPPY STUFF!

    But then they ruined Superman so… I mean clearly they have no idea what they are doing.

  21. Except, here’s the deal; what’s not good for comics is ALSO not good for their sales, because the DCnU’s sales are now actually LOWER than they were pre-Flashpoint, and Dan Slott is bragging about how high his monthly sales rankings are when the actual number of copies sold per issue of ASM/SSM/whatever the heck is in the same mid-70K range that got Bob Harras FIRED as EiC.

  22. “You know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market … down the tubes, slow but sure.”

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  24. Absolutely, fucking AMEN!!!!!!!!!

    Oh, and “assimilation into cyborg form?” Um, can you say ST:TNG – THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the characters says, “Resistance is futile.”

  25. Actually, the Story Mode of Injustice: Gods Among Us is an example of the good old fashioned morality that is lacking everywhere else. See also Batman: Arkham City. The violence is standard Superhero stuff and bloodless.

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  28. About 10 years ago, I was in a discussion about how most super heroines tend to run around in butt floss, and mentioned “the stereotype that
    comics writers and readers are frustrated overgrown adolescents who
    couldn’t get a girl if their lives depended on it”.

    I’d give a lot to go back to those days.

    Didn’t really like, or respect, the overgrown adolescents who couldn’t get a girl if their lives depended on it, but I’ll take them any day over what we seem to have now: a bunch of nasty-minded little boys who haven’t outgrown holding magnifying glasses on ant farms.

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