Comic Fodder

DC's Earth One Initiative: Expanding the Base

Hello, Comic Fodder readers. Ryan here. It's possible some of you remember my DC-infused postings.

Travis is out of town, and I'd volunteered to step in for a guest column. And, lo and behold, DC drops a major bombshell on a Monday, so I get a whack at this topic before Travis gets back from his travels.

This morning DC's Source Blog announced a new initiative from the publisher. The Earth One effort will be a relaunch of DC's primary characters via a series of original graphic novels. The first two characters to be featured will include Superman, written by J. Michael Straczynski and with art by Shane Davis, and Batman, written by Geoff Johns and art by Gary Frank. It seems that DC is stating that these stories take place on "Earth 1" of DC's 52 worlds, but will be continuity-free retellings.

Cranky comic nerds immediately went on the comment-section offensive with obvious comparisons to Marvel's Ultimate line (thanks for the news flash, scoop). But its interesting to note the differences more than the obvious similarities.

It's Not All About the Fanboys

Make no mistake, DC would like to make some money off of the captive audience of guys like myself who will buy whatever comic they'll put out there with Superman's shield on it. But DC also has a certain-sized fanbase, and can easily see the writing on the wall. Comics no longer appear on grocery store shelves or at the drug store, and so the numbers of potential buyers for a DC comic likely maxes out at whatever the numbers have been for Blackest Night. In that, I mean a monthly, floppy, 22 or 32-page comic.

My cousin recently adopted a 12-year-old girl. She came to visit, and while perusing my comics, she latched onto Bone, which she'd somehow picked up the first volume. Being the cool cousin, I handed her my copy of the "One Volume" edition and told her to enjoy. According to my cousin, the girl carries that brick of a book everywhere.

If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on the idea that DC is not launching these comics for the multitude of bloggers and internet trolls who will criticize DC for telling a story we've seen repeated, or in the case of Superman, is currently being told in "Secret Origin." These comics are being released as original graphic novel to find their way onto book order forms, alongside "Bone" and other comics kids are picking up in a reasonably-priced book-form. Again, they'd love the money of the established comic base, but they'd really love to begin selling product to an audience that is never, ever going to make a habit of the weekly trip to the comic shop.

There's Some Evidence For This

DC's sales in the non-Direct Market book stores are actually fairly robust, and often peg high not just in the NYT graphic novel charts (where this week they take 3 of the top 5), but DC often pops up in the general fiction list, too. What's interesting is that DC's original characters appear all over the Graphic Novel best seller lists, while Marvel tends to make a showing with adaptations, such as "Pride and Prejudice" (which is great, but it isn't Cap).

Week of Nov. 26th, the NYT Best-Seller List for hardcover comics included 6 of the 10 top slots with original characters, and Marvel appearing with Wizard of Oz, Pride and Prejudice and Marvel Zombies (Really? Still?). In paperback, DC took 5 slots, 3 of which weren't Watchmen or V. Marvel took none.

Comparisons Don't Really Work

Readers concerned that "Superman: Secret Origin" and "Superman: Earth One" are going to cross wires are completely missing the point. "Superman: Secret Origin" is written for us Superman fans who have been following the actual Superman comics, and need gaps filled regarding how things work between Pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths, Post-Crisis, and Post-Infinite Crisis as editor Matt Idleson has embraced the Silver and Bronze Age concepts (such as the Legion) and attempted to put them back into play.

"Superman: Earth One" will be a cold start, enabling DC to tell an unencumbered origin story that doesn't need to match up to any particular points, such as the marriage of Clark and Lois. It can truly be a NEW Superman origin, not just one that helps out us fanboys. And that's a good thing.

Comparing the effort to the All-Star effort is missing the point of the All-Star series altogether. We had opportunity with the All-Star effort to see both the rewards of unleashing creative talent (see: All Star Superman) and the unfortunate side-effect of being slave to that talent (see: the hilarious, semi-misguided and ultimately unfinished All Star Batman and Robin). The Earth-One effort is not about giving fans their ultimate creative team on a book, it's about giving new readers a shot at meeting and appreciating the DC characters in their original form in comics. DC was just smart enough to assign powerful creative teams to ensure the initiative had a chance.

It would be remiss not to point to Marvel's Ultimate line. There is absolutely some room for comparison here as Ultimate Marvel was also intended to introduce readers to their characters, and I'd suggest it did so for both new and old comic readers. I'm not clear on the current state of the Marvel Ultimate line, but I understand they've followed DC's Wildstorm line into dumping their characters into some post-apocalyptic event in order to shake things up (and which really stinks of desperation, and which had been done when Marvel's New Universe line began to fail).

However, I think by starting as a line of graphic novels and a focus on the long form, its going to see what happens when DC doesn't have the same pressure to keep stories coming out month after month to sustain the effort (I'm betting they don't nuke Earth 1).

The Creative Teams and the Graphic Novel Format

A note on the advantages of the Original Graphic Novel.

You will note that J Michael Straczynski and Geoff Johns have varying levels of experience in the world of film and non-print media. JMS is famous for his work with Babylon 5, while Johns has worked with Richard Donner and various television programs.

At some point, part of the difficulty of bringing Batman or Superman to the screen is that while we're aware of their origins, neither has a complete and definitive origin story told in any one location, and its almost impossible to understand even the better storylines without coming to the story with a bit of foreknowledge. (To like the Brainiac storyline in Superman, you need to know Kandor, Brainiac, etc... And even Batman and Son requires a knowledge of Ra's al Ghul, Talia, etc...).

Earth One gives DC a springboard for telling stories in the installment format with which movie audiences, TV audiences, etc... have become familiar. And it's hard to not believe that DC isn't hoping to define its own future with some of these characters and franchises in multiple mediums by doing the job of telling the Superman origin for the 21st Century themselves. And, no, Smallville is not that origin.

And, I might add, Manga fans also understand the multi-volume graphic novel approach pretty well, and I am told... that is what the kids are reading.

So in conclusion

People love superheroes. We know this. But people don't necessarily want to deal with the byzantine world of monthly comics, comic shops, Previews, etc... and certainly none of that works for a 12-year-old.

The Earth One effort will not be the magic bullet that brings comics back to sales in the millions, but it is a sign that DC is looking to move out of the corner they painted themselves into with the Direct Market and counting on a loyal fanbase to never leave them. There's potential here for a largely untapped market, and it could mean that Superman and Batman find a place in bookstores, in airports, on Amazon, on the shelf at Target, etc... and get out of the comic shop retail ghetto.

Now let's see what they say about selling those comics for eBook readers.

Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.


Ryan is an Op/Ed columnist for Comic Fodder. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas where he manages the long running blog League of Melbotis.

He likes Superman.

You can reach Ryan (aka: The League) at