Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why DC gets it right!

So I came to a conclusion the other day, DC is right. As an outsider to the big two, it’s obvious to me that DC is going in a better direction than Marvel these days. That isn’t to say DC doesn’t have it’s own problems, because it surely does. But, DC is handling it's heroes and universe better than Marvel. Specifically, DC isn't crushing itself in continuity like Marvel these days.

When I describe myself as an outsider to the big two that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped reading comic books. I haven’t stopped reading books, if anything, I’m reading more than ever. The difference is I am reading foreign material and smaller publishers. And I’m reading these types of stories because I’ve been forced out of the market. I've been forced out by continuity run amok, primarily by Marvel, and to a lesser extent by DC.

I believe as someone who's no longer consumed by the weekly floppy mania, I can evaluate the situation better than a random semi-rational, likes to complain and vent, fanboy, blog poster who might have bashed DC just last week.

To start, both DC and Marvel have pretty diverse, non superhero offerings. Each possesses strong kids lines, with DC marketing the Cartoon Network material, while Marvel has their Marvel Adventure line. Marvel recently started the Soleil line and has been doing the Classics Illustrated material. DC has Vertigo and Wildstorm. In this aspect, both companies are doing very well.

But, it really comes down to the superhero. As much as I want to believe it otherwise, capes, cowls, and continuity are still king in the marketplace. And, this is where DC wins. The DC core heroes are Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. When I check out DC books related to their core, there are 5 books I need to get purchase to get back into the mainstream. There are two Superman books, two Batman books, and one Wonder Woman book. That’s a nice manageable number of books to return to the primary marketplace.

On the other hand, Marvel's core heroes are Spiderman, X-men, and Avengers. If I were to look at all the books from Marvel's core, Spiderman has 4 books, Avengers have three, and X-men has at least two depending on how you count. Since two of the core heroes are teams, it could be argued that books like Wolverine could be included too. That means, as a minimum investment, I have to buy 9 books just to enter the Marvel Universe. If I want to capture see all the heroes on the team, I'm in the low teens.

And this is why comic books have so many problems attracting new readers. Because continuity has run amok and you can’t just read one comic book to get a story anymore.

Marvel has only aggravated the problem with their crossover “events.” I've complained many, many times about the number of titles tied into Civil War and Secret Invasion. In fact, I’m due for a complaint about Dark Reign. Let’s examine the Avengers. There are now three core Avengers titles every month. That’s Dark Avengers, New Avengers, and Mighty Avengers (or whatever) just to read about the team. And that doesn’t even count any of the spin off titles such as Initiative. It also doesn't count all the titles that are titled "Dark Reign." If I wanted to read that story, I would be purchasing over 20 titles a month. That's an absolutely ridiculous price of admission to get into the core universe.

I’m not saying that DC doesn’t have problems with it’s titles but at least the DCU is accessible. What happens in Superman pretty much stays in Superman. What happens in Batman/Detective pretty much stays there too. Sure there are big events but I can still get a good Batman story with having to read the big event. The new Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman weekly might not be the best book on the stands but at least it's self contained for the most part. I can read that and enjoy it. Enjoy being relative but at least it's a single, self contained, group of heroes.

The trades market isn't any better. I recently read the Iron Man: Five Nightmare trade. It was terrible! There were so many references to Civil War, Secret Invasion, and everything else that anyone not close to the storylines wouldn't have understood it. On the other hand, the Batman Casefiles by Dini was perfect. It was self contained. It was entertaining. I could go back and read that book in five years and still enjoy it. The Iron Man book will most likely suffer because I won't understand, or remember, the subplots in five years.

Again, I’m not saying that DC doesn’t have it’s problems, but based upon ease of entry then I have to give the edge to DC. And, if I wanted to give someone books to read, I would give them DC with it’s less restrictive continuity long before I would give them Marvel books.


  1. See your point is right from an outsider's perspective, but anyone reading the big two right now will tell you Marvel has stronger books in general. That is not to say DC does not have some great books, they do, but Marvel has a stronger line. Your picking two random trades is an invalid argument as you read the Moon Knight books and enjoy those just fine.

    Look at the mid level books and there is no comparison, Marvel is winning hands down and bottom line is Market share and DC has been slipping to under 30% many months.

    Finally I know you (like Thomm and I) are often like to contradict others just for the hell of it.

  2. I conceed that Marvel has better second tier books. In fact, if it weren't for those books, I wouldn't be reading Marvel.

    BUT, if asked which company is more accessable right now... the answer is far and away DC. You can't read Marvel without knowing what's gone on in the past FIVE years. That's great for fanboys. That sucks for anyone not in the thick of it.

  3. I'm not sure if accessability matters with a fanbase then seems to be at best stagnant, but is that the measure of sucess?

  4. Isn't that the problem? That the fanbase is stagnant? Making it more complex, and insular, ala Marvel only drives those that might be interested away.

    What's the objective? Grow the business or milk the shrinking fanbase even harder?

  5. The ojective is to grow the business, but the business model is broken because the direct market has proven to be a stagnant business plan, which leads to milking the fanbase and not growing it.

    Therefore it becomes important on how are companies measuring sucess. If it is market share Marvel wins, accesibility DC wins, growing the fanbase - both appear to be losing.

  6. I'm with Lee, for the most part. I only buy Thor and Ghost Rider from Marvel, both based on my usual criteria of following the writers. On the other hand, since 52 and the one year later bit, I've found Batman and Superman easy to jump on to, which has now led me to Outsiders. I'm still primarily a Vertigo, Image, Boom reader, though, because I'm following authors.

    Where Jim is right is the direct sales model problem. DC's books are better for opening up the market to a wider audience, but the distribution of the books to a wider audience is non-existent. That's problematic. Comics need to be put in front of more eyes as a reading option, both in paper and on line. If you're not already into the medium, you're not going to go to a specialty comic shop, so you're not likely to see the books.