Saturday, March 30, 2013

Graphing Out the DC 52 18 Months Later

When the DC 52 launched 18 months ago, it impressed everyone with the huge sales boost it brought to the entire line. 18 months later, how much of that boost has been retained? Using the data from, I've created some graphs to answer that question.

First, here is how the first month sales broke out for the top 20 books. Missing from this chart is Justice League International (with sales around 60K) I excluded it because it didn't make it the the full 18 months.

The first thing that will jump out at you is just how the Batman Family books dominated. Nice showing for the first issue of Flash, aye?

Now look at the change 18 months later. The red circle area is the deadly cancellation zone.

The range between books has diminished in an alarming manner. Also, a lot of books are creeping up on the cancellation zone.

Because of DC's initial policy of making the initial months of books returnable, it's not unexpected that we would see some loss between the first month and now. Unfortunately for some books, that rate of change has been very dramatic. Here are the biggest losers.

It's hard to look at this chart and not think DC just isn't handling the Superman books very well. Also, it's sad to see the Flash loose so much of its initial sales over time.

The overall rate of change for the entire line reveals a surprising fact (to me at least) Nightwing readers are very loyal! Of the top 20 books, Nightwing has had the least amount of change in sales over the last 18 months. Aquaman has held strong too which is not something I would have predicted. The Green Lantern Family of books are definitely losing steam.

Finally, looking at current sales numbers for Feburary 2013, I see a number of books that look to be candidates for a 4th wave of cancellations (I'm using 12K as the point when book will get targetted for cancellation, though in many cases, the number has been higher.)

  • Why is the Superman line in such a dire state? With Man of Steel coming out this Summer, you would think DC might have some grand event to generate interest in the Superman mythos, but they've sort of just squandered the whole brand. Notice that with all the Batman family books in the top 20, there were only 2 Superman family books. Neither Supergirl or Superboy made it into the top twenty.

  • Why the hell is Savage Hawkman still around? DC Universe Presents I can see as it allows DC to use it for copyright renewal or to generate interest in characters that couldn't sustain their own titles. I, Vampire probably does okay in the book market. But Savage Hawkman just confounds me. Why is that book given a lifeline when other books weren't (Frankenstein, OMAC, Justice League International)

  • Is the Legion of Superheroes brand completely dead? Where does DC go with it from here? If it were up to me, I would just give up on trying to modernize or reboot the title. There have been a number of fine writers (including Mark Waid twice) who have tried to ressurect that franchise, but it never sticks.
When I look at these numbers, it's a bit hard not to think we won't see another top down edict that forces DC to make a drastic changes in its publising strategy within the next year. I would look for a major change about 3 months after the Man of Steel movie.
- Jim

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Beezer, Beano And The Lion

Continuing my disheartening trend of being to busy to work up a post with any wit or wisdom, I present today's walk down memory lane with a look back at more classic kids comics from my youth - this time I remember some of the great English Annuals my brother-in-law Vince brought back for me when he would come back from Britain.

Apparently, in England back in the 70's (and later to some extent) it was a common practice among publishers to make hardcover annuals of the regular weekly(!) comics. Here are all the ones I was able to get via way of my sister Carter's first husband.
The 1974 Beano was my first exposure to these annuals. It was a fun mix of comical stories (one featureing a dark haired Dennis the Menace and his dog Gnasher which my American brain found heretical.) I also enjoyed the Bash Street Kids and Biffo The Bear - all featured on the cover above.
The second annual I got in 1974 was The Beezer.

Among the characters featured in this annual were a red haired lad named Ginger (hey, it was a different era, y'know?) and Colonel Blink, a sort of English Mr. Magoo who suffered from poor eyesight and poorer judgement. One of the cooler comics in this annual was a strip called The Numbskulls which showed us exactly how your brain makes the decisions it does. (Click to enlarge and read the full strip)

In 1976 I was introduced to another English Annual, this one with more adventure stories in it that either in the Beezer or Beano: The Lion.

If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you probably can tell how excitied was to see an annual with a Robot on the cover. As it turns out, this robot (Robot Archie) was just the tip of the iceberg of awesomeness awaiting me in this annual. Check out the full contents list:

Lion 1976 Contents

  • Zip Nolan
  • Robot Archie
  • Marty Wayne
  • Tales from the Tracks
  • The Spider
  • It's a Fact! (feature)
  • Dogs of the Snowlands (feature)
  • Puzzle Page (feature)
  • Mowser
  • Steel Commando
  • Great Lion Challenge Quiz (feature)
  • Cities in the Sea (feature)
  • Palace of Villainy
  • Scourge of the White Eyes
  • Jake Page
  • Adam Eterno
  • Mowser
  • The Spellbinder
  • Mowser
  • It's a Fact! (feature)
  • Adam Eterno
  • Robot Archie
  • Power from the Sun
  • Last of the Harkers
  • The Spellbinder
  • Puzzle Page (feature)
  • Carson's Cubs
  • Mowser
  • Paddy Payne
I can't tell you how many of these characters and concepts influenced the Flashback Universe, but it's quite a lot. One of my favorites was the time lost nomad, Adam Eterno:

Adam was the young apprentice to alchemist Erasmus Hemlock. One day he made of drinking the Elixir of Life and becomes immortal, or at least an immortal until he is killed by being struck a killing blow over the head with an object made of solid gold. From then on, he wanders the Earth fighting mystic evil and injustice both normal and extraordinary.
In 1977 I got a second Lion Annual with an even better cover:

I don't have a full list of the stories that appeared in this annual, but all my favorites returned so I was quite pleased.
The last of these Annuals I received was 2000 AD from 1978.

Here I was introduced to Dan Dare, M.A.C.H. 1 (an English Six Million Dollar Man) and of course Judge Dredd. Judge Dredd particularly wowed me and my brother. So much so, that when we started buying our comics from a Comic Shop in Charlotte, NC (Shelton Drum's Heroes Aren't Hard To Find) one of the first things we asked them to order for us was more Judge Dredd (which they were able to get in the form of black and white reprint collections)

I've often wished that the big two comic companies would be more willing to put out collections of comics like the old English annuals with their diverse stories and art styles, but I guess it's just not economically feasible. So instead they focus on what sells (superhero stories). Maybe Image will bring us an anthology like that one day.
Have a greart week!
- Jim

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Top Five Non-Superhero Comic Series From My Youth

This weekend I am dogsitting for my inlaws, which makes posting to the blog a challenge. So, today, I'm just going to quickly list off the top five comic series I enjoyed from my youth that were NOT DC or Marvel related. In later weeks, I will do a more indepth review of each one of these to explain why I liked them so much.

The first is one that many American readers may not be familiar with, but the should definitely check out: Asterix and Obelix!

2. Walt Disney Comics Digest

3: Casper the Friendly Ghost (and most Harvey Comics in general)

4: Little Lulu (and Tubby)

5: Little Archie adventures

 If you read comics as a kid, odds are one or more of these were also in your list of favorites, but I would be interested in hearing if you had a favorite that I didn't mention.

- Jim

Monday, March 11, 2013

Swamp Thing Lost 100 Page Super Spectacular

Today I've got a new cover from my collection of Lost 100 Pagers. This one is another spectacular contribution from Reno, who blessed us with the wonderful Paul Kirk, Manhunter 100 Pager last month. This one features DC's two classic swamp monsters caught in a life and death struggle: Swamp Thing and Solomon Grundy! I've also included some of my other favorite DC Hulks - Blockbuster, The Shaggy Man and The Invulnerable Enemy!

As with the last entry Reno gave us, I'm also including the original artwork so you can see it in all of its glory here below. (Click to see full size.)

Strangely, with their shared environs, you would think that Grundy and Swampy would have battled quite a few times over the years (decades) but the only instance that I can find didn't even occur in Swamp Thing's book, but was instead in DC Presents with Superman.

My memories of this particular story are a bit vague but I remember it being interesting with the Alec Holland Swamp Thing running experiments on Solomon Grundy's biochemistry to determine what kept him alive, only to discover he wasn't really alive - an answer which really only leads to more questions.

I've always had a soft spot for Solomon Grundy as he appeared in one of the first comics I ever bought. Over the years, there have been many different writers takes on the character (as one might imagine for a popular villain from the Golden Age) The writer who did the best job resolving the disparity between all these different takes was James Robinson in the pages of Starman, wherein he showed us that Grundy was sort of a roulette wheel of personality variations and each time he died, he came back with a different personality.

Recently, James Robinson created another incarnation of Grundy for the New 52 Earth 2 comic. This one has him as a sort of gothy version of Swamp Thing  who talks like a sci-fi channel demon and refers to himself as the Man Of Grey.

This is really Grundy in name only, as outside of the decaying white skin, there's not much else that is recognizable about the character. And while a lot of old school comic fans have written off the character as dead upon seeing this latest version, we all know you can't kill Grundy that easy. He'll be back in old form before you know it.

- Jim

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Robin The Dead

Editor's Note: This guest post by Matt contains commentary which might Spoil Batman Incorporated 8 which came out last week. You have been warned. - Jim

The killing, maiming, or torturing of sidekicks and supporting cast just might be the single cheapest route to drama in superhero fiction, second only to killing the hero's significant other in order to have him/her go into a beserker rage on the villain responsible.

... and of course, it's still happening.

I haven't been keeping up with the Grant Morrison run on Batman, but it's hard for me to imagine any context where this death works, simpy because DC has gone to the "kill Robin" well so many times.

Now there is the age old argument that Batman should not have sidekicks at all, because it is not a logical choice for him. Well, Batman may be the worlds greatest detective and/or the dark avenger of the night, but he's not a Vulcan. Making Dick Grayson Robin is not a logical response, but it makes sense emotionally for the character within the fantasy context of a superhero story. (Just like becoming Batman is not a logical response, but makes sense emotionally within the fantasy context of a superhero story.)

If the death of Bruce Wayne's parents impacted him enough to become the Batman, it's easy to imagine that on the night at the circus when the Flying Graysons fell to their deaths Bruce seeing Dick suddenly alone was like an out of body experience for him. He was watching his parents deaths happen all over again, seeing himself in that moment, and still could do nothing to stop it.

With that in mind, the concept of Robin already begins stretching credibility when it is something that happens more than once (let alone 5 times). Batman should not be turning every troubled teen he encounters into Robin. Especially not after any of them have been killed! However, at least in going from the death of Jason Todd to Tim Drake, they made a solid case for the very existance of Robin with a solid character to replace him for that reason. So much so it made you wish DC had just thought of Tim in the first place, and we had been able to skip the whole Jason Todd debacle all together.

While I was no fan of Jason myself, the 1-800 number campaign was revolting. This is not power that should have ever been handed to the audience, especially not upon the assumption that the fans would definitey want to save the character. The very nature of that promotion brought out the absolute worst instincts of the fandom, the desire to see someone die simply because it's dramatic. The event might not have been aimed at the lowest common denominator, but that's how it ended up hitting. The only saving grace of the entire thing was that we got Tim out of it.

While I'm at it I'm just gonna say that the Neal Adams redesign of the Robin costume for Tim is simply one of the best. Robin still looked like Robin but Neal fixed exactly what needed fixing which was basically the bottom half of the costume. Adding black to the cape was a slick touch that allowed Robin the ability to hide until it was time for the laughing daredevil to spring into action.

... and that's the thing. Robin is supposed to be fun, which I know is a four letter word in modern comics. By fun I don't even mean that I am advocating a return to the Dick Sprang era of Batman. I just mean that fun is an essential part of the point. Robin was jumping around and using wisecracks to infuriate criminals long before Spidey made it hip. If Batman's whole schtick is to strike fear and terror, Robin's thing is to humiliate them. Because let's face it, if you're a tough guy and you get your ass kicked by a mouthy kid in a yellow cape, that's a bad day.

How come it never occurs to any of these writers that if you go the "torture/kill the sidekick " route with Robin or the others, you're just hanging a needlessly huge lampshade on the impracticality of sidekicks ? It honestly makes Batman look stupid for having them. To some extent, it makes Batman look stupid for doing what he does at all. Not because he IS stupid, but because the creators have so carelessly broken the fantasy context of the genre, to such an extreme degree.

In this respect, comics have never been more predictable than they are right now. Just take whatever the crappiest scenario is that you can think of to happen to your favorite character, the sort of thing that really ought to be in the last story ever told about that character, and have it happen in-continuity in the most sensationalistic and stupid way possible. Then make sure you leave a back door open for a convoluted resurrection story down the road (not that it'll matter if you don't).

There ya go. Next year's big event or "evolutionary" step. They're pretty much all the same at this point.
- Matt


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