Suffice to say, DC's having some problems selling their books. While some have pointed out that DC's been trailing Marvel for the past 20 years, they've never been trailing by this much, for so long, before and with the amount of talent and the quality of many of their titles, there's no reason for it.
As such, I posted the question, What Do You Think DC Is Doing Wrong?, to readers last week in hopes of sparking some open discussion and to see what other people think DC's major problems are. The sheer number of responses was overwhelming and I want to thank everyone again for the time and effort they put into their comments.
Today's follow up post is a summary of my thoughts on the subject and I've tried to incorporate some choice quotes from many of the commenters' on the original post using a new pull quote system I whipped up that I'm quite proud of and hope to use more of in the future.
Hit the jump to find out what I think DC is doing wrong.
Of all the things DC Comics is currently doing wrong, I believe public relations, or lack thereof, has to be at the top of the list.
This all stems from the company's lack of public relations. Look at the recent, and very public, string of PR blunders from the company for proof of this claim, specifically Chuck Dixon's departure and subsequent DiDio bashing followed up by Grant Morrison throwing the editor's under the bus in response to Final Crisis criticisms.
Quesada makes the same mistakes as Didio but people forgive him and Marvel for it simply because of better damage control and marketing.In regards to Grant Morrison, I can't believe DC allowed their top creator, the man responsible for writing their biggest event in years, Final Crisis, to go online, lambast DC's editors and management and then proceed to place all the blame for any problems fans or critics had with Final Crisis, real or imagined, at the feet of DiDio and DC's editors.- Eric
Even if everything Morrison said was true, he is a professional employed by DC and being paid to write their comics. To allow him to publically berate and blame them for any problems people are having with his story without any reprecussions or public statements or any damage control whatsoever is ridiculous.
By saying nothing in these types of situations, all DC accomplished was making themselves look foolish and incompetent and allowed the entire company to be painted with the negative criticism that they don't care what people or fans think and that they don't care about the quality of the books as long as they are making money.
DC needs to get out there and market their books. I know what’s going on in almost every marvel book [...]. Marvel makes every issue feel like the whole freaking universe hangs on this next story arc.- Skafactor
You may not buy Marvel's books, but you know about every single project they are doing because of Joe Quesada's, and other creator's, constant stream of interviews, press releases, guest appearances on TV shows, like The Colbert Report, articles in high profile newspapers and magazines, his weekly Cup O' Joe column at MySpace, his and other's blogs at Marvel.com, online videos and the dozens of other methods Marvel uses to promote and foster fan interest.
Justice League basically became an ad for other books...- Anonymous
Take a look at the recent success of Green Lantern from the Sinestro Corps War storyline. While lauded as one of DC's few true successes of the past few years, the only way you would have heard about it was from fan word of mouth or the occasional interview with Geoff Johns at Newsarama or CBR.
What should have been a perennial best seller from the company ended up with the Green Lantern title only managing to enjoy a short sales boost, which never saw the title break 100k in sales, and a quick return to its mid-range sales levels.
Even after seeing how well the fans were reacting to the title, the most DC could do was scramble together some tie-in books which were hastily solicited as soon as the news of the story's success was hitting and only served to act as a negative for the company by making it appear as if they were only just now recognizing it as a worthwhile story because of sales and the tie-ins were largely viewed as cash-in attempts, regardless of the quality of them. Add in the spoiling of Kyle Rayner / Parallax and the event's Superman Prime ending and what should have been a feather in DC's cap became a black eye for the company, despite the fans and critics loving the book and the strong sales of the title during that period.
There's no excuse for something like Sinestro Corps War "sneaking up" on DC's editorial and marketing staff and the fact the Green Lantern title is still treated like a second class citizen compared to the Batman, Superman and the weeklies at DC, in terms of marketing and promotion, just shows how out of touch they are with their own products.
Being owned by a major corporation that does not care or need DC's miniscule, relative to the multi-billion dollar company, revenue means they probably care more about their ability to license DC characters for clothing, video games, toys and other lucrative ventures than they do about the actual comics these characters come from. This leads to what I feel is the stagnant and "timeless" feel of major characters, like Superman and Batman, who rarely see any drastic changes wrought upon them.
If Marvel wants to kill Captain America, they sit down, discuss the story implications and then decide whether or not to kill him. If DC wants to kill Batman, they need to seek approval from their parent companies, who in turn need to check with other departments or investors, before they can even start to move forward with their major projects.
While not everything requires a trip up the chain of command, it's obvious that, at the end of the day, DC answers to Time-Warner, who answers to AOL, and this serves to stifle the creative freedom of the company.
When uber hardcore DC fans are having issues following things, [there's] something wrong.- GServo
The Origin Problem
I believe this is due in large part to the way each company handles the use and updating of their continuity. At Marvel, they employ a sliding timeline and rarely, if ever, outright retcon an origin story. Take Iron Man, for an example. His origin has remained the same throughout the years despite numerous updatings to the actual timeframe and location of the war in which it took place.
DC, on the other hand, is about the Legacy. Of course, it's really hard to care about the legacy when the history changes every other issue.- Escapist
Compounding this problem for DC is the fact they have no problem flip flopping back and forth ad nauseum on these origin changes, whether it's their inability to decide if Batman ever caught his parents' killer or whether Superman was a jock in high school or if he had his powers as a boy or if he knew Lex Luthor before becoming Superman or just who the hell survived Krytpon's destruction.
What should be the simplest and most defining aspect of a character currently requires half a dozen bookmarks at Wikipedia to understand when dealing with a character from DC.
The Silver Age
Continuity is a unique and powerful tool which writers can call on and employ in their stories, so long as they do not allow the continuity and past history to dictate the story or alienate newer readers.
I really like Batman and I am a big Grant Morrison fan. But I dont know what the hell is going on and all the Silver Age refernces are lost on me, because I NEVER read them.- Anonymous
Constantly adding and removing these Silver Age elements with each new creative change on a title has only served to confuse readers, muddy the DC brand and add the negative perception that DC's comics are damn near inpenetrable for new readers.
Multiple Personality Disorder
Continuity can also be used to refer to the way a character is portrayed in different comics across the line.
In contrast, over at DC, we have drug using, ninja man-bat fighting insane Batman in Grant Morrison's Batman, Paul Dini's Batman in Detective Comics, the Goddamn Batman in All-Star Batman, father figure Batman in Robin, preptime / world saving Batman in JLA and a dozen other versions of the character depending on how many guest appearances, one-shots or minis we have that month.
Geoff Johns is a great writer, but it seems like some days all he does is patch over holes in the DCU's convoluted continuity just to shut some fans up.Even Robin has several different versions appearing on a monthly basis, whether it's the competent future Batman successor Robin in the self-titled Robin or the emo / whiny Robin in Teen Titans or sidekick / inexperienced Robin in Detective Comics and so on.- Chris
It's almost impossible to find a consistent portrayal of any DC characters across their line of books, giving off the illusion that the editors and writers at DC have no clue what they are doing and making it difficult for fans to warm up to a particular character.
What's That Story About?
Quick question - what was Civil War about? What about World War Hulk? The Illuminati? Secret Invasion? One More Day? Messiah Complex? I bet you managed to summarize each event in a sentence or two.
"Imagine Didio trying the same thing [to explain DC's Infinite Crisis in one or two sentences]. "[...] as you know, Superboy Prime and Kal-L... not Kal-El Superman but just the letter L, from Earth-Two... among others have been trapped in a pocket universe...." 99% of the [listeners'] eyes just glazed over.- Bill
Bill, hit the nail on the head when he said, "Imagine Didio trying the same thing [to explain DC's Infinite Crisis in one or two sentences]. "[...] as you know, Superboy Prime and Kal-L... not Kal-El Superman but just the letter L, from Earth-Two... among others have been trapped in a pocket universe...." 99% of the [listeners'] eyes just glazed over.".
Yes, these stories can be and, in most cases, are great, but these overly complex, continuity dependent stories make it impossible to introduce new people to DC's books. Like Bill said, non-DC faithful's eyes are just going to glaze over after the first sentence or two or the merest mention of the Multiverse or cosmic football tosses or retcon punches.
DC could just as easily tell the same quality stories with a greatly reduced dependency on past continuity. Maybe they have stock in Wikipedia or something because I'm sure the number of hits that site would lose from comic fans all over the world would be astonomical if DC did something like this.
Yes, Marvel has more events per year than DC and is just as guilty of the dreaded "event fatigue" as DC, but there's one key difference between the two companies - DC's events never end.
At Marvel, I can read Planet Hulk, Messiah Complex or Annihilation and have a complete, self-contained story. Even Civil War is easily read and understood without the billion tie-ins it had. Also, while Civil War redefined the landscape of the Marvel Universe, I don't need to read it to understand what's going on in Secret Invasion or any other event that came after it.
I thought maybe Final Crisis [would be a good jumping on point to get into DC], but I read a synopsis and had no idea what was going on. Marvel wins because of pure accessibility.- Chris
Every one of those events, save Identity Crisis, is impossible to describe in one or two sentences, relies heavily on what came before and was hyped up with numerous tie-ins and lead-in issues with the promise it would "change everything we know". This has been going on for the last five or more years without any end in sight.
If you quit reading Marvel after House of M, you can come in and read Secret Invasion or Annihilation or anything in between with ease. You can't do that with any DC property save maybe Sinestro Corps War, which still relies heavily on everything Johns has done since Rebirth. And the few others that fit that criteria, like Amazons Attack, were downright horrible and not even worth reading, let alone paying for.
As much as I love it, 52 wreaked havoc with damn near everything. While we all waited around for 52 to fall apart, it's now quite clear that everything BUT 52 completely self-destructed.- Steven Timberman
The fact they dove head first into Countdown without any planning or foresight, while still trying to tie every single book and event in their universe into the weekly comic, should have been an early warning sign for DC, but they still pushed forward with the series, most likely due to the desire to keep the large number of 52 readers hooked on another 52 week long series.
In the end, DC's desire to push the weekly format has only wrought headaches and disenfranchised fans, especially in regards to Final Crisis and the weekly format, as the fan outcry over Countdown having nothing to do with Final Crisis and as Trinity's disappointing debut numbers are evidence to.
Remember last week's Top 10 Tuesdays post about Must Read Creators to Watch Out For? I know you do. Remember how it was dominated by Marvel creators, both new and old? I didn't realize it at the time, but when it came time to write up my thoughts on what DC is doing wrong, it became painfully obvious that that post wasn't just some bias or fluke on my part. DC just plain doesn't have any new talent coming into the company.
With a creative breeding ground as rich in talent and new ideas as DC's Vertigo line is, it's hard to fathom how this scenario has come about. Why is DC letting Marvel walk all over them and outright steal their talent from their Vertigo line? I know DC doesn't own those properties, but they must have some form of working relationship with these creators. Yet, they do nothing and just let the talent go and sign exclusive contracts with Marvel, such as the recent signing of Jason Aaron, who started out writing his creator owned, Scalped, series at Vertigo.
Bring in new up coming writers, give them a book in the Wildstorm Universe, and let them run wild with it.- Hikerman
Open up the Wildstorm universe and let some new creators go wild. Court critically acclaimed indy creators and give them a chance to prove themselves on something more mainstream. I can't speak for any of these indy creators and whether or not they are trying to do more mainstream work, so take these suggestions with a grain of salt, but imagine a Bryan Lee O'Malley (Scott Pilgrim) or Brian Clevinger (Atomic Robo) or Jamie McKelvie (Phonogram, Suburban Glamour) taking over some of the Wildstorm books. For god's sake, at least make use of the Vertigo creators you've already helped cultivate in a similar manner! These new creators' work would read like no other super-hero comic on the market and, once proven, they could migrate to the DCU proper.
When looking over how much diversity is in Marvel’s art, it’s hard not to feel rather disappointed with what DC is doing.- Andrenn
DC does have some great artists working at the company, but the sheer number of new and diverse high quality artists at Marvel, regardless of whether they can produce on a monthly basis or not, is staggering and something DC needs to address quickly.
These are just a few of the major problems DC, as a company, are facing and none of them are related to the quality of the writing or comics DC is putting out on a monthly basis. To be honest, the readers covered more topics and in greater detail than I did and I can't stress how much I recommend taking a gander at the comments in the previous post.
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