Comic Fodder

DC's Problem with Teams

DC is trying to maintain a high presence in the comic publishing world, and they try their hand at various types of comic book fare. The format can be anything from a one-shot, to a twelve-issue maxi-series, to an ongoing monthly title. They have been very successful in breaking the mold these past three years with a weekly title. The two ways to go are with individual characters, or a team book. One area where DC has been losing its way is in its choice for team books. The lack of strategy is reflected in the poor sales, and lends itself to short runs for certain titles.

One series has already been cancelled, its low sales reflecting that it has not been able to capture the historic magic that it once held: the Legion of Super-Heroes. Two series in particular may be in danger, if they continue on their current path. The first is the Secret Six. The origins of this group name date back to the late 60’s, and the team was a covert ops group that received orders from Mockingbird, whose identity was not revealed at the time. The modern reboot under Gail Simone had Alex Luthor’s Society (which was supposed to be, in turn, a modern incarnation of the Secret Society of Super-Villains) impress everyone in to the gang. Those who would not join the (Secret) Society became the Secret Six.


There was no secret about who the six were!!!! Everyone knew the ones who refused to join, and they all had big fat targets on their heads. Mockingbird turns out to be the real Lex Luthor, who had opposed Alex (the one who disguised himself as Lex to organize the Society). There is little stability to their roll call, as some turn traitor and others die. Is there some hidden charter that demands they refill their roster to six? I’m pretty sure this rag-tag group has not written a charter. We are supposed to agree to some unspoken rule that whenever these misfits lose someone, they have to get back to six. When did anyone agree to this? Why would anyone agree to this?

The title might have been something lying around, and nobody else at DC was using it. Throw in the modern “Secret” Society, and you can oppose them with a “Secret” Six. Ooh, that’s such clever wordplay. Well guess what? Words have meaning. There is something implied in the word “secret” that is not being kept. Without keeping true to its meaning, there is a huge disconnect between the group and its title. Is this reflected in its sales? The first mini-series started at 55,000 copies sold, and ended at about 36,000. This new series started at 32,000 copies with #1, and has dropped to about 25,000 as of issue #4. How long can it last?

I know Simone has stated that they are actually planning to address this with their second story arc, that we will finally have some reason for the group name. I suspect it will be too late, and not enough readers will be around to care. We were introduced to these characters in 2005! The series did not start off with an explanation, and the first story arc is at least seven issues long. Something as simple as the team name, and we have to wait almost four years to learn what’s up? These guys are closer in spirit to the Suicide Squad, at least, but they had a (much better) mini-series of their own recently. Sales weren’t as good, but it was easy to get lost in the middle of all of the 52, Salvation Run, and upcoming Final Crisis mess. I didn’t see any push to advertise it well. Will Secret Six last past the second story arc? Time will tell. I can’t tell if it’s too late or not to repair the damage.

The other title is Batman and the Outsiders. Originally Batman left the JLA because he needed/wanted to dish out some justice, but the League had its hands tied by geopolitics. Bats needed a new vehicle to achieve his agenda, so he formed the Outsiders, specifically so they could go outside normal channels, and outside some choice laws. When Batman split, he took his name with him. The modern relaunch under Judd Winick was disgusting, with the worst choice ever, Nightwing, as the leader. They were never “outside” of anything, and the group was compromised by Deathstroke almost from day one.

During the One Year Later storyline, the group got some bad press and pretended to be dirty, but that felt so artificial. Then the title heaved under a multiple change of writers, and landed under Batman again. Like a yo-yo, Batman is now gone, and the title will be relaunched yet again, as, simply, The Outsiders. Let me give DC some good free advice: have them actually be some type of outsiders! Some of the chaos involved was with creative teams, but that might simply be reflective of the schizophrenic nature of the ill-defined title in the first place. You can’t just pick up a name and use it because it was lying around. The lack of tie-in with the name damages the underlying theme of the story itself. And I can’t believe I have to say things like that out loud, to a longtime publishing company. At least when you saw the title, “Snakes on a Plane,” you knew what it was going to be about…

The Legion deserves a full-length novel all its own, but DC will try again, and if they get somebody who understands the group (wink, wink, Geoff Johns), this title might shine again.

The other groups in DC are so self-explanatory that I don’t even need to explain the concepts: Green Lantern Corps. Justice League of America. Justice Society of America. Birds of Prey. Teen Titans. Titans (I’m on the fence about this one a little). Even Trinity is pretty obvious when you look at the cast. The Brave and the Bold even make the cut. Marvel has its own weird naming conventions with their various Avengers teams these days, but it’s not hurting their sales. Both Secret Six and Outsiders are good names. They just need to have a good creative team that can link some meaning between the group and the title, and I bet the sales would be there to maintain a good long run. Anyone at DC game to try?
Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

It's odd to me that DC clings to tightly to some of these brand names for teams that appeal to such a small portion of their audience. One such example was the catasrophic failure of the relaunched Infinity, Inc., a series which had absolutely nothing to do with the original Infinity, Inc., but borrowed the title from a team that was never exactly competing with X-Men for popularity.

The re-hashing of old copyrighted names for teams can and should end. Now that DC has their house a bit more in order, it would behoove them to start trying to imagine what other teams/ ideas they can cook up that aren't going to wind up as pale imitations of their childhood favorites. (I'm thinking of the two most recent attempts at Doom Patrol series.)

I like a good team book. It's why I read JSA and GL Corps. DC could certainly use another one or two really strong team books under their belt right now, maybe even including some fresh characters.

-- Posted by: Ryan at February 11, 2009 11:16 AM