Sunday, August 30, 2015

Should DC Stop Batgirling Superman?

So, with us not even 3 months into the new DC You initiative, the internet was abuzz with stories that DC wanted a return to more old school, meat and potatoes superhero comics. The rumor was that DC editorial had requested writers stop Batgirling titles (a term inspired by attempts to capture the lightning in a bottle popularity of that title.) Among the titles brandied about as a failure was DC's new take on Superman.

But a week on the internet is a long time, so by Saturday, DC had put out a statement trying to dispel this rumor. And while DC's statement may quash the rumor for now, there's no denying that so far Batgirling Superman has not work. Check out these July 2015 Sales numbers from ComicsBeat:

36 - SUPERMAN ($3.99)
07/2005: Superman #219  -- 71,036 
07/2010: Superman #701  -- 54,506
07/2011: Superman #713  -- 36,646 <-- Last pre-Flashpoint issue
07/2012: Superman #11   -- 56,066 <-- Jurgens DC 52 Run
07/2013: Superman #22   -- 42,961 
07/2014: Superman #33   -- 62,998 (- 39.1%)<-- Start Johns/Romita Run
08/2014: Superman #34   -- 56,568 (- 10.2%)
09/2014: Futures End #1 -- 77,949 (+ 37.8%)
10/2014: Superman #35   -- 53,692 (- 31.1%)
11/2014: Superman #36   -- 52,272 (-  2.6%)
12/2014: Superman #37   -- 50,383 (-  3.6%)
01/2015: --
02/2015: Superman #38   -- 48,987 (-  2.8%)
03/2015: Superman #39   -- 50,260 (+  2.6%)
04/2015: Superman #40   -- 52,666 (+  4.8%) <-- End Johns/Romita Run
05/2015: --
06/2015: Superman #41   -- 53,393 (+  1.4%)<--- First DC You Issue
07/2015: Superman #42   -- 46,691 (- 12.6%)

Looking at the numbers, we may see a return to Superman selling at an all time low again. Which brings up the question: Can Superman Ever Become A Major Seller Again?


I've danced around this question before, but since that post, we've seen quite a number of talented writers work on Superman (Grant Morrison, Dan Jurgens, John K. Snyder, Geoff Johns) but none have them have been major sales successes.

I think part of the problem is that today's writers tend to try to apply modern storytelling techniques to the character using personal crisis or identity searches as the axis of their stories when in truth most Superman fans don't want any of that crap. IE: It's okay if Batman wants to struggle with what it means to be THE BATMAN. Batman's already a headcase to begin with. What's more morbid introspection for that guy?

Superman, on the other hand, is supposed to epitomize humanity. He gives his fans an oasis from their real world pressures with his never ending mantras of self affirmation. Like this classic scene form Superman 397 in the 70's.

So, rather than use the trope of  Hidden Depths characterization that seem to get trotted out with each re-visioning of Superman, why not put him situations that take advantage of his (arguably antiquated) personality traits and focus on how they help him survive some hooky insurmountable circumstance.

Here's how I see the Superman formula should work:
  1. Superman faces some villain/obstacle that overwhelms him on some level
  2. The apparent solution to is one that would make Superman break his moral code -- (this could be things like killing a villain or leaving a planet to be ruled by a tyrant)
  3. Superman uses his brains and/or determination to find a better solution
  4. This story unfolds in 1 or 2 issues, tops, but can play into a larger story overall.

Now imagine 12 issues of a run like that. That's the sort of evergreen graphic novel DC could sell for a long time to a wide range of fans. (You could argue that's what All Star Superman is, but that just proves my point.)

So, will we ever get a return to a top selling Superman title? Maybe. I'm just not convinced so-called Batgirling is the answer.


Trey said...

Or maybe they aren't "batgirling" enough? Batman replaced by comissioner Gordon seems largely a gimmick--one we've seen before with Azrael, and not intended to last. I'm not sure what the deal is with this Superman storyline (I haven't read it) but it can't be any more of a "new direction" than Superman in the "Kryptonite no more" era or "Superman walks across America" or red and blue Superman. Batgirl (in contrast) is more like Ultimate Spider-Man: a more youth-oriented take on the character, perhaps shed of some continuity. It also has the added bonus of being more female-oriented. Before saying "batgirling" doesn't work (and I'm not saying it will), maybe they ought to see if they're actually doing it.

Kid said...

Maybe they should just stop being embarrassed about superhero comics being associated with a younger audience, abandon the grim, gritty, this-is-literature, 'mature' tales aimed at (so-called) adults, and return to wish-fulfillment fantasies that appeal to an all-age friendly readership. That might work. It certainly used to before comics were hijacked by writers who use them to demonstrate what great screenplays they'd be capable of if given the chance.

Jim Shelley said...

@Trey - the thing is, Batgirl was able to _finally_ mobilize a well documented comics-eschewing audience whereas there is no similar untapped audience for Superman. Supergirl would have been a much more logical target for such a revamp (especially in light of the new television show.) And while I agree Marvel had a great deal of success with Ultimate Spider-man (and Ultimates) they were never able to build upon that success with any other Ultimate titles. --- Still, if DC HAD batgirled Superman more in that direction (or taken a more Red Son approach)they might have been more successful. I know that the first 3 or 4 issues of Grant Morrison's run (which had an USM vibe to them) had people pretty excited. It was really only with the fill in issues that people started to drop off.

Jim Shelley said...

@Kid - I think there are two big problems with trying to return to a kid-oriented market: 1) Comics cost too much (and that's only going to get worse.) 2) Kids have a LOT more options for entertainment now days. (Skylanders, Disney XD, ect...)

Kid said...

I'd agree there are problems - but comics need to expand their market, and aiming them at an 'all-age' readership (not specifically at kids, but kid-friendly, as well as older readers) might be a way of doing it. There are problems inherent in the present approach so something needs to be done. Great looking blog, by the way.

Jim Shelley said...

@Kid - You and me are on the same page - I work hard to find comics my 10 year old daughter would like to read, but a lot of times I ask myself, "Why is it so hard now?" Fortunately, she is a fan of the new Batgirl, Jem, Amulet, and now Zodiac Starforce. Still, I wish it was as easy as when we were kids and you could walk up to a spinner rack and know that every comic in the rack was kid friendly.

Thank you for the compliment on the blog. I'm a fan of yours too!

MattComix said...

I thought about doing an article on this but I just couldn't reach the point with it where I could take any objective stance on the thing for review purposes. It's just so damn dumb and so damn frustrating. I'm so sick and tired of DC wanting to publish Superman but bend over backwards to avoid making Superman comics.

For me DC editorials math (as usual) doesn't even make sense from a pure marketing stand point let alone a character or creative one. How the ever-lovin F**K do you look at the success of Batgirl and decide that having Lois betray Clark to the public, taking away most of his powers and having him run around on a motorcycle while looking like he's hanging out at the LCS is capitalizing on that?! What's the connection even supposed to be? Making life easier for cosplayers?

In addition to be being yet another let's take the hero out of his costume for a few months gimmick, it really just seems like a calculated attempt to trash Lois in favor of WW or some other suitors more than anything else. Which is even more point missing because Lois has a lot of female fans and having her betray Clarks secret has been a huge slap in the face to them!

Leave it to the Didio regime to be completely unable to read the room or to get over being ashamed of anybody on their character roster that isn't Batman. Then again they've turned him into a mecha from the Appleseed manga after having turned the Joker into Freddy Kruger so he's not exactly unscathed either.

Unknown said...

I thought I would hate this new take on Superman. Surprisingly, I am somewhat enjoying it. Like most comic things I think I'm going to hate, I try to give it a chance. It def feels different and seems to have a lot of social and political undertones with some issues.
I've been reading Superman/Wonder Woman which is a tale of Wonder Woman sort of protecting Superman, like they've almost switched roles. This is also the issue that Supes meets the President. I thought the whole encounter was particularly weird because they are talking like Superman's new to the game. He even gets attacked by Parasite because A.R.G.U.S. Had him there as a contingency and broke free. Why do they feel his a threat now just because he's been outed as Clark Kent? Does being ignorant of what his day job is make everything ok? It just seemed off.

I'm also reading Action Comics. It has had a lot of resemblance to the current protests going on recently.

Batman/Superman is pretty much Supes working with the new Jim Gordon Batman and a story about Subteria ? I can't really remember the name but the trust is completely gone. This is interesting just because of the new Batman and his Bunny Mech. (@Mattcomix The first thing I thought of was the first episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and the giant killer robot bunny.) Plus Supes steals Batman's motorcycle from the cave and turns it red and blue. Lol

The main Superman book is about how and why he was outed in the first place along with why he's currently de powered. I haven't read the most recent issue that has the said outing in it but I pretty much get what happens.

Overall it's ok. I'm enjoying it more than I thought. That being said, I thought I was going to HATE it. lol. But do we really need to de power Superman to write an interesting story?

Jim Shelley said...

@MattComix - Your comment got me thinking that this new direction with Superman had nothing to do with Batgirl's change in tone and direction. I think DC (Didio?) came up with the idea to do a DC You launch and tossed the idea out to editorial, who watered it down to, "make some changes in the title" which is how we ended up with this current Superman storyline. The changes for Batgirl were very audience driven (and they succeeded!) but who was the intended audience for the changes made in Superman?

Jim Shelley said...

@StevieB - I remember that killer robot bunny from ATHF! I love that show!
About the depowering of Superman (which is soooo many writers go to strategy) I really think that's because lazy writers just can't see how to use a fully powered Superman in an interesting way. I'll fully admit that during the Silver Age, Superman's powers were scaled up to ridiculous proportions, but that's part of his charm. I think there are a number of interesting story paths you could take with such a character.

For one, imagine a revamped Superman Revenge Squad composed of aliens all across the galaxy who want to try and find a way to stop Superman. How would they do it? You could write a 12 issue mini-series just with that concept, with each issue ending with what looks like a sure fire end for Superman, only to have him perform some incredible escape in the next issue. All the while, he's trying to put together clues about the nature of these attacks so he can stop them at the source.


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