Why Marvel is Trouncing DC, or How a "Rebirth" Could Kill My Favorite Comics Company

Let's preface all this by saying that Rich could be yanking my chain and we could all be panicking over absolutely nothing.  It's rare--most of the time Bleeding Cool is on point with its biggest rumors--but it's happened before.  To explain: there's a rumor (started by BC) that DC is planning on relaunching their entire line from #1, adding some new titles that focus on more of the television/movie properties they'll be using for the next three years, and double-shipping a lot of their biggest sellers.

The reactions for this are all over the place--confusion, hesitance and trepidation...but there's a very curious reaction that's starting to bug the hell out of me.  People saying that this is "no worse than when Marvel does it".  Now, for those not keeping track, Marvel has relaunched their entire line twice in less than four years.


The first one was back in 2012.  The fallout from the largely well-received crossover Avengers vs. X-Men created the "new era" over at the House of Ideas known as Marvel Now.  This saw important milestones in modern Marvel history such as Brian Bendis leaving the Avengers franchise he'd made into a best-seller for the X-Men.  Jonathan Hickman took over the Avengers in his place, Mark Waid turned Daredevil and Hulk into actually interesting books, and Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel became the two most important female superheroes in comics. 

It was the first time Marvel had pulled entirely free from Civil War and all the consequences it came with (even Heroic Age can best be described as "we're all trying to get over the Civil War") and told stories free from what had happened back in 2005.  For better or worse, Marvel NOW was an enormous success that catapulted them above DC Comics once again, whose then-recent reboot of their universe had given them a sales boost so strong that for two months in a row, Aquaman was outselling every Marvel comic on the stands.





Their second relaunch would occur just three short years later, in October of 2015.  The fallout from Secret Wars, a crossover that hadn't even ended yet, there wasn't quite a name for what they were doing this time.  "Marvel October" was the branding for the month in which the bulk of their new titles came out, but that's not necessarily something they can just continue calling it years from now.   This more recent relaunch would see Brian Bendis leave the X-Men for Iron Man and several other writers take his place on multiple X-titles, while the Inhumans continue to try to climb their way up the charts as Marvel's "new mutants", while Fantastic Four vanished altogether for..."reasons".   Since we're barely four months into this relaunch, I can't call it a complete success...but their sales DID increase so much they got double their primary competitor's marketshare the month they relaunched so, there's that.

What's important to note here is that even though these relaunches happened VERY close together, there's a formula.  Marvel does a [Major Crossover Event] that has [Huge Ramifications] in their world which is represented in our world by [Creative Team Changes] which ultimately lead to a [New Direction] for the characters involved.  Even when the comic that causes it ships late, the formula remains in place.  They even release special comics that give readers a window into these new directions, setting the tone before the ongoings actually hit the shelves.

Marvel's plans are calculated, and make sense from a sales angle.  The people making the decisions absolutely know what they're doing.   Fans are trained to see a major event and think that changes should come from it, so they build their creative re-shuffling periods around these events. And as long as the fallout has the right kind of changes they'll be embraced by a majority of the reading public.  Carol Danvers becoming Captain Marvel and Kamala Khan becoming Ms. Marvel are the kind of changes I'm talking about.  They opened things up to a more diverse audience by creating a POC superhero, but didn't invalidate older fans because the original Ms. Marvel is still around and as important as ever.   Same with Miles Morales and Peter Parker. 

They've relaunched twice--the second time even saying IN-UNIVERSE things have been rebooted--but the histories of the characters and their relationships with one another remain intact.  And at the heart of it all, there are still great stories being told with these characters.  As a result of all this, the Marvel fanbase seems far less fractured and "whiny".


With DC, one of the things I want to point out is that it's not just that comic book fans hate change. Like I said, with Marvel they introduce change all the time and the complainers make up a small minority.  It's important to bring this up because one of the defenses people try to use in this era of comics is that its just a bunch of cranky old white guys mad that "they don't make comic books like they used to", with "like they used to" referring to it being majority straight, white, and male characters.  That's something that can kill any valid points real quick, so let's run down a list of just some of the heroes that existed in the old DCU that either can't exist now or have vanished since they first appeared in the New 52 universe:  Jaime Reyes (Blue Beetle), Renee Montoya (The Question), Jason Rusch (Firestorm), Grace Choi, Anissa Pierce (Thunder), Todd Rice (Obsidian), Jennifer Pierce (Lightning), Jakeem Thunder, Maxine Hunkel (Cyclone), Markus Clay (Amazing Man), Jennifer-Lynn Hayden (Jade), Natasha Irons (Steel), Sonia Sato (Judomaster), and Jenni Ognats (XS).  DC was light-years ahead of the curve in terms of creating diverse heroes, doing so long before social media thought to demand it of them, and tossed all that aside back in 2011 in order to be "iconic".

Having dealt with that potential bit of foolishness, the real meat of the issue I'd like to get to is that DC never seems to have a plan.   You can point to several times throughout the past ten years that indicates DC seems to just do things without any prior forethought.  Unlike Marvel, there's no formula in mind.   Flashpoint wasn't originally meant to reboot anything, which is why Geoff Johns was hinting at future storylines to come after it, James Robinson just sort of tossed out all his plans for the Justice League in his final issue, and why Justice League: Generation Lost basically told you there was a new JLI book in the works back then.  It's also why there was so much confusion at the start of the New 52--there clearly weren't any ground rules set.



"DCYou" seemingly happened after they noticed the popularity Batgirl had with a younger, more diverse audience.   They gave half their line a lighter, more "whimsical" feel, even though a whole line is something that should have multiple different focuses behind it rather than one singular, united feel.  One of the things people liked most about The New 52 was all the different lines like "Teen" and "The Edge" in addition to the main DCU, yet that was the first thing to go when DC You began.

Now again, if there's another relaunch actually happening, there appears to be no logic, no formula.  It's happening because they're tired of losing to Marvel and now that the film and TV business are making Warners so much money, it actually matters how well the comics are doing.   So they'll put everything to #1, double-ship a few comics, cross their fingers and hope they can save themselves.

It's depressing, because we're scary close to a point where another failure could have Warner Bros. just close the book on DC altogether, turning them into a farm for reprint TPBs and the occasional webcomic.  Ultimately, superheroes will go out of style ages before they tap all the stories DC's told since 2000 alone, nevermind the classics from the 80's and 90's.

I'm not the type to say fire this or that guy, because there's so much going on behind the scenes that you can't really pin the responsibility down to a single person.  But I will say that ultimately if the next relaunch doesn't have a plan, or a formula, it'll fail the same way DC You seems to have.  There's nothing wrong with emulating at least part of what Marvel does.   They don't need a major event for this "Rebirth" thing to happen, but they do need popular creative teams with exciting new directions on their most famous characters.  (It's cute that Deathstroke has a comic book but ultimately I don't think he's a guy who can carry a book all on his own.)

That said, we're still in uncharted territory here.  This could be fake.  Or DC could have a working plan for once.   Even though I'm trying my hardest not to get my hopes up, I'm absolutely positive I'll be back here whenever we hear more because I just can't help myself. 

Comments

  1. Marvel is a mess right now, changing all their core characters, bringing Uncle Ben back...while Dc on the other hand is launching Rebirth, single-handedly the most well-received revamp in comic history. Please try to leave your biased opinion out of your articles, makes it hard to take you seriously.

    Btw. Deathstroke has carried his comic and it happens to be one of my favorites. Actually try to read something before you critique it.

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  2. You're responding to an article from January. It was written before the comics came out. Before we got that web show revealing the creative teams. Before Geoff explained what they wanted Rebirth to be. This was just a rumor derived by Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool at the time, and I wrote about this with only the information we had at the time.

    Also, slow down with calling it "the most well-received revamp in comics history". We're not done yet, and if it doesn't fully deliver on its promises then it won't be too much better received than the New 52 (which was fairly well-liked at first) when all is said and done.

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