DC Comics? Hot

In an article that literally starts with a Jim Croce quotation (which is bold in a way), Advertising Age has decreed DC Comics one of “America’s Hottest Brands”. They go on to explain the how the relaunch worked to the layperson, mostly going over the company line, praising DC’s fresh coat of paint, and explaining that they have digital comics, and that sales were pretty good.

Those of us who are knee deep in comics know that those things are mostly true, even though we also know that they didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. But where DC succeeded isn’t so much in the comics, but rather that the rest of the business world is now taking another look at them, which is good for partnerships and revenue, but it also takes some of the heat away from their crosstown rivals who, since releasing the first Iron Man movie, through the acquisition by Disney, and all of their apparent dominance, have seen the lion’s share of the limelight. What does it mean long term? I think we can look back on DC’s gambit as a success, but not really as much of a risk as it was portrayed to be. People bought the comics, and in much greater numbers than I would have guessed, but I think we overestimated the possible negative reactions from their readers. They weren’t going to quit DC in great numbers, because where else are they going to get the comics?

Overall, in terms of mass media, the sales numbers on comic books are still infinitesimal, but as indicators of the power of the properties, and the value to the parent company, things are looking very good for DC Comics. You, the comic book readers, are the scouts, the early arbiters of taste, and you made this happen. A year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that DC Comics would be considered “hot” by anyone. So they’ve got that going for them.


  1. There was a big risk factor in all of this. Even though I completely forgot about the SDCC ‘strike’, you really could have alienated the fanbase here. Hell most of these new directions could have went sour if not written properly. Just imagine how much we would have hated Action Comics or Batman if, by some nightmarish chance, Morrison and Snyder didn’t do that great of a job.

    I think this relaunch showed, even if it is a small number, that comics can still be a cultural phenomenon even if it’s turning into a dying art.

    • The point is that they didn’t change the characters, just sent them off in the slightest difference of direction and set back the clock.

      Definately agree with Josh in that I don’t think it was risky at all, at least to the extent that Wolverine’s claws being retconed to a mutant power as opposed to surgical enhancement was risky. Or Kevin Smith relaunching Daredevil. How do the new Batman titles alienate fans of the Morrison run exactly?

  2. Remember months ago saying how we didn’t have a clue how any of this would pan out? There was a general uneasiness hanging over the community. It could have been A LOT worse.

    I think it also made a good number of the Marvel line’s flaws shine pretty intensely. We were really questioning Marvel’s direction there for a minute, even though they’re putting out Daredevil, JIM, and Uncanny X-Force. I can’t help but feel like the re-launch had a hand in that. The swing voters definitely swung.

  3. dunno how I feel about them using one that particular book as their picture, but otherwise I think it was a good piece

  4. Meh. Everything these days is considered a “hot brand” at one point or another.

  5. The way that i read the article, it positioned building the comics line as the first building block to strengthening the movie and merchandising line and thats what made it hot.

    DC (and Marvel) are unique Brand studies..on their own they have value, but they their individual sub-brands like Superman and Batman are incredibly strong as well. Superman has his own Brand Guidelines book (its pretty cool btw). I can’t think of any other industry that works that way. Maybe automotive?

    • Brand value is super important in automotive, and in kind of a similar way. For example, the General Motors brand has taken some hits due to the bankrupcy and government bailout, but certain segments of people still really like the sub-brands like Chevrolet or Cadillac. Automotive even has certain sub-sub-brands, like Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang, or Dodge Challenger (maybe similar to Wolverine as a brand within the X-Men brand within the Marvel brand?).

    • DC’s strategy has been very similar to the American automotive industries attempts over the past few years also. Slim down your total line to better focus resources, boost individual already strong brands by innovation and enhancing core concepts (Mustang, Camaro, Batman, Supes), and enhance marketing strategies and PR machine.

    • @Muad’Dib: Exactly. Even though I get why fans will be upset when their favorite book gets cancelled, canceling books that underperform is the prudent business move.

      Another similarity between comics and certain areas of automotive: dealing with high levels of consumer nostalgia.

      Related aside: My Dad (30+ years with GM) recently made the point that the current state of the comic industry (increasingly pricey product specifically designed for and increasingly sold to a shrinking and aging market) has a lot of similarities with the Corvette. It used to be the premiere American sports car, but now caters to Corvette enthusiasts almost exclusively. As a result, Corvettes cost a lot of money because so few are sold.

    • They were also trading more on the brand value of the Corvette than actually trying to make the product that great. It’s light and it has a big engine, but other than that, it’s got shitty build quality, and can’t hold up against cheaper, more well built European cars. I might just watch too much Top Gear.

      That still feels a lot like putting Greg Land on your premiere book.

    • It’s impossible to watch too much Top Gear, Josh.

    • Oh geez, look what i started. Talking about cars and Top Gear. =) its all bizarre really how the brand value works. VW operates brands like Bugatti at a loss, because it is the crown jewel in their empire to bring attention and prestige to their technology. While it maintains other brands like Bentley, Lamborghini and Audi to really add prestige value to its real cash cow…the common VW.

      And lets not even talk about how racing teams build those brands. =p

    • @jaflanagan Are you watching the Brit Top Gear or US version? Clarkson and the boys across the pond hate everything from the U.S.

    • Clarkson bought a Ford GT he loved it so much, so I wouldn’t say everything. A lot of American cars are crap in certain areas that we as Americans are so used to we don’t notice.

      They made a point of the American plastic used in American dashboards once that was spot on, American dashboards are crap and once you see it you can’t unsee it.

  6. I’ve always leaned DC throughout my comic book reading history and, in fact, it was DC’s New 52 move that brought me back in the fold after 10 years or so.
    I applaud DC’s effort and look forward to seeing how this ‘helps’ the industry.

    I know its probably just me, but the whole ‘digital comics’ thing seems to to create a more disposal approach to the entire craft. Sure you keep people employed and you sell copies, but you never really own them and can’t ‘pass them down’ like a solid piece of product. There is no personal ownership in digital comics, you are merely leasing them. Digital benefits the reader only in the short term, while it benefits the DC/Marvels of the world in the short and long term.

    • I am with you in your first paragraph. Your second paragraph is an interesting take. I am a bit more jaded as I see it as sentimental. Beautiful sentimentality, one that respects and places additional value at each stage of the process, and that is awesome.

      But for a person who has collected his comics to just over 10 long boxes, only to sell them all off for a miniscule fraction of their initial purchase or even their apparent ‘value’… it is irrevelant. Please do not take this as condescending. I am speaking from someone who loved the idea of collecting comics as much as reading the stories. I am now at the place of loving the process more than the items. The content of the story and less the medium.

      Digitial comics to me and its embracing by the industry, is as potentially as game changing as when Jobs introduced the iPad and the book industry immediately saw the Tipping Point tilt. Comic Books and the eco-system that supports it (Stores, Cons, Secondary and Tertiary markets) need to evolve and in some cases evapourate. I am not comfortable going to MidTown comics to geek out on pointless but fun discussions. But I get my fix from the Podcast, Weekly Video Cast, and This Website (and more often than not a visit to Fuzzy Typewriter…which is awesome). And more to the point, I love being able to instantly jump to a collection, page, panel instantly. For Xmas, I am going to get my 9 year old nephew an Amazon Fire or a Nook. In it, I am going to buy him some Diary of A Wimpy Kid, and a whole lot of comics. When I want him to read something, I will just purchase it and add it to his queue. I could never have gotten that instant statisfaction before (in getting him a whole collection at once without hunting through many stores). Stories and appreaciation of Art, the Art of storytelling… that is what I am passing on, and it is great.

    • the world is moving that way. Movies, TV, music, magazines, books….its all in a cloud somewhere, accessible instantly, on demand and across several devices at once. Thats what media and pop culture is becoming. Thats what the next generation views as “normal”.

      Really though how many of your comics are worth “Passing down?” in terms of great stories. I’d much rather have a carefully curated bookshelf of 20-30 must read comic stories, than a half dozen longboxes of stuff that may or may not be any good.

    • “Sure you keep people employed and you sell copies, but you never really own them and can’t ‘pass them down’ like a solid piece of product”

      You never really “own” the music, video games, movies, porn, tv shows, and even books you download these days. Why are comics held to such a different standard?

    • @Blargo I don’t know where you download your entertainment media (paid for), but all the music, movies, etc. that I’ve ever downloaded (paid for) has always been in a format I could control, manipulate and even make physical copies from. That feels like owning it to me.

      I’ve never bought a digital book off the internet, and I’ve heard horror stories of them being ripped from people’s computers, but other than books it seems like there are alternatives where the companies cannot just take the product back from you if they feel like it.

      I’m not really weighing in on comics though, because I’ve never bought a digital comic or book. I guess it’s too hard to sell non-DRM’d books and comics without encouraging file sharing? Doesn’t seem to different from other media. You’d think that eventually there’d be an avenue where you could actually own your digital books and comics.

    • @Kmanifesto: I think the key term is in your last sentence — reader.

      I’m no expert on the history of the comic book industry, but my perception is that the reason Golden Age comics are considered valuable today is because no one thought of them as collectible at the time of release — they were just disposable stories. Comic book buyers were comic book readers. Over time comic book readers morphed into comic book collectors of one stripe or another — from folks who just keep all their back issues up to guys basically playing the market to make money. And the publishers, as smart companies do, have played up to the collector mentality as much as it benefits them.

      Digital gives comic book buyers the option to be readers, not collectors. And I welcome the ability to make that choice.

      I appreciate my comic book collection (2 long boxes and 8 or 9 short boxes) and I don’t plan on getting rid of any of it any time soon – I have the space. I’ll even keep buying print comics when they’re cheaper than digital. But I really don’t want to still be buying print comics in 5 years just to keep up with my favorite characters and creators.

    • @diebenny “You’d think that eventually there’d be an avenue where you could actually own your digital books and comics.”

      We’ll never get there unless people support digital. Admittedly, the services provided now suck, but digital comics are for the most part still in the early stages, and every good business model evolves, learns from its mistakes, and improves and etc and so forth (remember the early days of DLC for games? Horrible). But it can’t do that if fans are so adamantly against the very idea. I read an article recently about Mark Millar’s feelings towards digital; he essentially called it a “threat” to physical comic shops. Really? I think that speaks toward the general failure of comic shops more than anything.

  7. “I’ll even keep buying print comics when they’re cheaper than digital” ya ok a digital download is gonna be more expensive than a tangible comic book? Really?

    • Gah! Edit Button! That line should read “I’ll even keep buying print comes AS LONG AS they’re cheaper than digital.”

      I get something like 15% off from my LCS, so for now print is a better deal than new release digital comics.

      Sorry for the confusion.

    • Oh, I guess w the discount print actually is cheaper. I just could not comprehend @ 1st that digital could be more costly than print bc it has no substance and it cuts out so many middle men you’d think digital would be a fraction of the cost of print. Ya know?

    • @rocknrolla: Digital cuts out some middle men and then replaces them with other middle men.

    • @KenOchalek: “print comes”?!?

      Get it together, dude!

    • @Conor – can you elaborate?

    • @cutty: You might lose the print distributors with digital comics, but you gain the digital distributors. Hardly any of the companies handle digital conversion and distribution themselves. You lose some costs but gain others, both of which are dwarfed by the highest cost of all: getting the comic book made.

    • @Conor It’s those added costs that I think many forget when they demand digital books cost less than a buck. You don’t have print or shipping expenses, but you do still have content creation costs and now overhead in the app creator and Apple. It still costs money. The big benefit is really the widespread access. As someone who works with books, I know that printing is an expensive thing, but there’s a ton of expense before you even get to that point. I’ve been on a project for most of this year and the cost has been huge and I haven’t even factored in printing. Were I to publish strictly as a digital format, like PDF, I would still need to recoup the expense to create the material.
      Also, tangible or not, the product costs money to make. Don’t assume all the expense is in the delivery method.

  8. @Tom – yeah I can’t imagine the cost of producing a floppy vs a digital is even in the same ballpark. Plus while the cost of paper, ink, and gas are guaranteed to go up, it’s safe to assume the cost of tech will go down.

  9. Yeah Tom I suppose you’re right. I guess since the costs for digital are slightly favorable to physical, I guess the publishers are pretty stupid for not lowering their costs since OH WAIT, THERE’S ALSO THE COST FOR THE TALENT INVOLVED.

    You always seem to troll this topic whenever the slightest mention of it is uttered, and you always give the same argument about how the costs for digital production are negligible compared to physical. Even if that was anywhere close to being true, it wouldn’t matter, because the talent involved with comic production has costs that only slightly allow the publishers to offset the price of digital comics from the price of physical ones. Ergo, the only way to drastically reduce the price, which you’ve been bellyaching about for sometime now, is to ask the creators to take a drastic pay cut. Are you going to tell the creators that they deserve less money?