Comic Fodder

The New DC Explosion

As we live in the world day to day, it can be hard to recognize meaningful events. There are certain exceptions, such as the day of joy when the Berlin Wall fell, or the day of sorrow on September 11th. Everyone understands that something important has changed. Other changes are more subtle, more gradual, but "experts" emerge months or years later to claim they knew all along it was happening, and many will say it was "obvious."

In the comic world, events are not quite as important, but there is a potential pattern that has emerged, and it represents one of the biggest shifts in a generation, if the pattern will sustain and further strengthen: DC is pulling ahead of Marvel Comics.

The pattern started forming months ago, because these things do not happen overnight, hence those subtle, gradual shifts. However, readers who have been around for the year and a half that I have been doing comics reviews may have spotted a sudden change in my own routine: the Marvel reviews came out before DC this week.

I have always written the reviews of the DC books first, and Marvel second. The simple reason for that is this: I always read my DC books first. One of my very first columns dissected the preferences that people have for the reading order of their comics, and my choice was to pick the "weaker" stories first, and read all of a particular publisher. Then, ordered least likely to impress to the best, I would read my Marvels. My own calculation of which comics were best led me to this reading order, treating certain comics as the dessert for my weekly comics dinner.

For a couple months, there started to be exceptions. I might read a Marvel or two first and then switch to the entire pile of DC. Or I would read through my stack of DCs and get to the last one or two... and then shove them under the stack of Marvels. This week, I sat on the couch at my comic store, went through the Previews catalog, selected all my titles, paid for my comics, and then plopped down to put them in the desired reading order. Once I had all of the DC books together and in order, I did the same for the Marvel stack, putting Powers and Project Superpowers: Meet the Bad Guys, and Archie #603, where he proposes to Betty, at the bottom.

With no pre-planning or foreknowledge, I reversed the piles and put the Marvel stack on top to read them all first.

For regular people, this is like someone deciding to look through the DVR and watch Fringe before they watch V for a change. Who cares? For comic fans, you guys understand what a tectonic shift this is for a person of set habits that have lasted for literally decades.

The Sales Charts

My reading order mimicked the sales charts for the past few decades. Marvel had bust out strong and stayed that way for a very long time. Common wisdom is that the older characters in the DC stable were old and stale, too much of the boy scout mentality in general, where the Marvel heroes were more relatable, less goody-two-shoes, had legitimate problems, and so forth. Once I realized I had been sticking a couple Marvels on top of the stack and then switched the stacks around entirely, I decided to look at the sales figures and see if the marketplace was, in effect, doing the same thing I was doing.

At the end of last year, DC’s Final Crisis was selling well. DC might have two or three titles in the top ten from Diamond’s Previews chart, but Marvel was still the heavy favorite. Within the next few months, DC was making itself noticed in the top ten. In April, Detective Comics 853 took the number one spot, and it was not common for DC to be in first place. It had three other titles in the top ten as well. In June, DC did it again with the new Batman and Robin series, again with a total of four comics in the top ten. Four again in July and August, with Blackest Night #2 in first place for August. I’ve been tracking sales for a while now, and DC usually has between one and three titles in the top ten, so for this many months, to have four titles consistently up there and to take the number one spot so often is worthy of notice.

September continued and improved upon the trend, with six titles in the top ten, Blackest Night #3 in first place. Finally, the October numbers have come out, and DC has six again: the top six best-selling titles this month belong to DC. If this was Marvel, it would be business as usual. For DC to upset the apple cart, this is adding up for a banner year for Marvel’s competition!

What Happens When Blackest Night Is Over?

Aside from Batman and Robin, the other five titles are related to DC’s big event of the year, Blackest Night. It’s safe to say that DC will most likely continue to dominate the charts for the next four months until the end of the event. The big question then is, can DC capitalize on this, or is this a one-time blip? I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that they will continue their winning streak. Both companies have some great titles and some stinkers, but the overall trend has been downhill for Marvel and uphill for DC, and I believe that point has been reached where they have crossed paths.

Not to pick on Marvel too much, but their Dark Reign has been going on a little too long. The editorial shenanigans that upset Spider-Man and Thor upset the fans and interrupted great storylines. The momentum they built under Spidey is wearing off. The Ultimates line did not restart with the freshness it needed to truly break loose, and Ultimate Spidey is worse for the wear.

DC, on the other hand, has reshuffled their entire deck, expanding their line, and taking risks. 52 was a great event, with a year-long weekly comic series. Countdown stumbled, but Trinity showed promise. Wednesday Comics was a wonderful experiment, something you might expect from a younger, more daring company instead of one of the oldest, most established games in town. Long story short, DC seems to be experimenting more with the format, with trying to balance the cost increases, and is doing slightly better at maintaining a timely publishing schedule.

There is a big possibility that Blackest Night is a peak in DC’s creative output, that they have been building to this point, and after the crescendo ends, the status quo will re-establish itself. However, based on my own preference for reading order, I submit that there has been a true shift, and I expect DC to do everything it can to maintain its momentum and keep giving us superior stories. If that holds, then hopefully we will see the results continue to be reflected in the monthly sales figures.

Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.