A couple of weeks ago I ran an editorial about why I had quit monthly comics in 2006. Today DC Comics announced something that made my decision look positively prescient, and makes me wonder what kinds of dopes their reading audience is.
Last year DC Comics had an “Infinite Crisis” – a big crossover miniseries that was sort of a sequel to their seminal Crisis on Infinite Earths. With the first Crisis I could tell you what the point was – to clean up supposedly confusing continuity issues that plagued a comic universe that had been growing for fifty years. I don’t know what the supposed point of Infinite Crisis was, but at the end of the miniseries the entire DC Universe jumped forward one year into the future. There was (sort of) a new status quo, and Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman had been missing for the whole year.
So what happened over that year? DC announced a bold plan to explain it – a weekly real-time comic book series called 52, which would follow some C-list characters like Ralph Dibney (aka The Elongated Man), Gotham City cop Renee Montoya and Booster Gold as they made their way through that year. It’s a huge undertaking, requiring multiple artists and four writers – and lots of cash from the fans, who shell out regular comic book prices every week.
I gave up on 52 as I was giving up on monthly comics in general. I had been following for almost four months and found that the story was going nowhere and the writers didn’t seem to understand how to best use the real-time concept – it would take people seven days to do something that should have taken them hours. I check in with people who read the book, up to its 36th issue or so, and it doesn’t seem like the story has ramped up that much. Which is amazing, as 36 issues of a regular comic is three years (unless Frank Quitely is drawing it, in which case it is roughly six decades), and yet there’s no focused storyline?
DC has been teasing that the events of 52 are leading to a World War III. It recently became known that WWIII would happen… in the last three weeks of 52. This is puzzling because why spend 49 issues going nowhere to just have a war in your last three issues? And why did none of the One Year Later titles – which ostensibly pick up one week after 52 #52 – mention something like a massive global war?
On to the current announcement: When 52 #50 hits the stands, WWIII begins… and the issue will be coming out alongside FOUR tie-in one shot comics. What is happening here is that DC is releasing FIVE comics in one week to tell a story that they didn’t bother getting around to for the previous 49 weeks. If that isn’t annoying enough, the announcement for the WWIII tie-ins suggest that most of the mysteries that remained One Year Later – why some characters have different secret identities, why some characters became evil, why some superhero teams split up – will be answered in the tie-ins! Not in the 52 issues of the comic that was touted to answer all these questions.
This is criminal. And it shows how little regard DC Comics has for their fans, who have been shelling out heroic amounts of money for this series to date (and note that the series will not be collected in trade paperback form until it’s complete, so people have to keep buying monthly if they want to “keep up”). The truth is that 52 sells amazingly well – 100,000 copies per issue! – and the company wants to see if they can turn their usual 400k sales per month into 800k. Or maybe a million, when the other people who weren’t reading 52 find out the answers to the mysteries are actually in THESE comics.
As always, when fans drink the Kool-Aid, they will defend anything. Some people online say that the tie-ins are needed because you can’t do justice to a WWIII in just three comic books. So start the thing earlier! It isn’t like there’s a real history being chronicled here – these people are making it up! They could have started WWIII in week 6! They could have had a whole year to tell the story if they wanted to! But the truth is that what they want is your money. Which is no surprise, but now more than ever it’s getting in the way of good storytelling and fun. The decisionmakers at DC Comics should be ashamed. The readers should be outraged. Sadly, I don’t think either is going to happen.