We get it DC, Batman is popular.
So, here I am reading through a new comic I was super excited about: Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1. Written by Matt Fraction, this book is a fun and very self-aware romp of cheesy dialogue and wacky scenarios. Overall it was a fun read. Then the book closes with Jimmy moving/being kicked out of Metropolis. Where does he end up? Well, Gotham City of course. Yes that’s right, Gotham: The home to such well-known superheroes like Flamebird, the Creeper and Freight Train. Also, there’s a dude dressed like a bat who has a severely hard time dealing with grief.
Anywho, as I read the end of this book, I thought back to something I recently heard at a symposium (twitter rant) by the enlightened sage of the comics industry and hobby podiatrist, Rob Liefeld,
DC Comics gonna drive off a cliff here real soon…..gotta get my popcorn…
I ain’t never seen a company in as much disarray as DC Comics. Thank God they have Batman to act as their Tylenol, Asprin, laughing gas… ‘more Batman will fix it!
~ Rob “Notice Me” Liefeld
Now, I don’t agree with Rob’s general message: That DC is somehow in the shitter and desperately grabbing any Batman themed rope they can to keep from tipping over the edge.
But there has been an AWFUL lot of Batman lately…
So, this week we had Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 get set up for a continuing story in Batman’s hometown. It’s entirely possible the man in the cowl won’t even make an appearance, but Gotham itself is so steeped in Bat lore and Bat people, that it still feels like a direct connection to Master Wayne’s ongoing tales. This week also saw Batman #75 and Justice League #28, which had Batman featured on both the A and B covers despite being mainly a book focused around Hawkgirl and Martian Manhunter. Nightwing #62 also came out this week, and we’ll talk more about that in a sec. First, covers:
Now, as I said Nighting #62 also came out this week, and I was tempted to give it some leeway here, since Dick’s hard-hitting stories have long been developed as solo and separate from the Bat. In fact, a big part of his recent narrative has seen Dick rising from Bat’s shadow. Thus, is it appropriate to suck Dick back down into Batness? Well, yes. Despite the deep Dick vs Bats narrative, the fact that this narrative DOES feature so consistently in Nightwing’s titles does make his book a response to Batman stories, to the extent where his grandfather (?) was recently revealed to be a part of the Court of Owls, one of Batman’s most deadly nemesis groups. On a more superficial side…. well. Look. There’s a bat symbol on the title.
And you’re welcome for that previous paragraph.
Now, this was a light week for DC, having only 12 titles hit the shelf, but 3 of those 12 featured Batman to some degree, either as a hook to entice people into issue 2 or on the cover, which is a reader’s first impression of an individual issue. That’s 25% of the books hitting the shelves from DC this week that are tied to Batman’s utility belt. However, maybe this is an isolated incident. Let’s look to the future and see what’s coming from the comics giant next week.
Next week, DC has 13 titles coming (not including 2nd prints or things like Looney Tunes). Of those, we have Detective Comics #1008, Batman Beyond #34, Batman Curse of the White Knight #1 (HYPE), and Batgirl #37. Now, what makes Nightwing different from Batgirl, you might ask. Why does Nightwing have almost leeway but Batgirl is just out and out a Bat title? Well for sake of this investigation, it’s mainly that while Nightwing still holds many ties and similarities to Batman, he is not explicitly or exclusively a bat person, and a lot of his story has been separating himself from that. He’s still BRANDED as such, but a decent argument could separate him entirely. While Batgirl has had plenty of stories about her breaking out on her own and she no longer requires constant aid from the man of Battitude, she retains a directly linked Batman aesthetic and name. I wouldn’t consider a Spoiler or Orphan book to be a bat book, especially if those books directly avoided those characters interacting with Batman. However, a Robin book (since his life is so tied to the bat) or a Batwoman or a Batgirl all fit the bill of Batman saturation, which is what we’re hoping to find here (heretofore referred to as “Baturation” – not to be confused with “Batsturbation”). That’s my justification for Barbara’s inclusion. Favorite bat character, by the way. Love Babs.
So again we touch toward the 25% area with Batman reliance. This is without physically having the ability to open the books and see if bats is prominently featured in the story, highlighted in the beginning, or used toward the end as a hook for future issues. It could potentially EXCEED that percentage.
So what about the past?
The week of 7/10 was heftier with a total of 17 books being released to stores by DC. Of these titles a whopping EIGHT fit our bat-bill. See below:
Now, an argument can be made for Naomi and Red Hood. For the former, Batman is presented as part of the DC universe as a WHOLE, being prominently featured at the top of the cheerleader-eque pyramid because of his role as part of the trinity. For the latter, he has a similar story to Nightwing, in that he is trying to make a name for himself. However, the tough part of Red Hood is that he is still very much BRANDED as a bat character. Just look at the Bat RIGHT THERE in his freakin’ title. And not to be too superficial here, but his chest emblem looks a LOT more like a bat….
Event Leviathan is a particularly upsetting one for me. This event started in the pages of Superman, and was set to be a Lois Lane saves the world story. However, we are now two issues deep and it has been yet another Batman title, true and true. Don’t believe me? Check out the B cover for issue 2:
And how about the A cover for issue 1:
There are less visible Lanes on these covers than the road outside my neighborhood during a heavy rain (it floods every time, is the joke there). Yep, not a Lois as far as the eye can see, but plenty and plenty more of Batman.
So last week, DC’s Baturation levels were right at that 50% mark (47% to be closer to precise). For sake of study let’s take ONE more step back and see about the first week in July.
The week of America’s birthday saw DC dropping 14 titles. Of these, 4 were directly Batman tied while one gives me a small amount of pause.
The weariness is in regards to Adventures of Super Sons #12. However, by my guidelines already laid out, Robin is 100% tied to Batman, and in many ways Damian is the most “Batman” Robin ever, so I’m sticking to it. The humorous one on this list is actually DCeased #3 which has Bats fighting zombies front and center on the cover, but practically opens with his lifeless corpse after getting murderized at the end of issue #2. DCeased is mainly a Superman story, with a heavy focus on the Super Sons, Green Arrow, and Black/Green Canary. We’ve also seen Harley and Alfred a bit, with the latter having recently shotgunned a portion of the Bat-family with extreme prejudice. Anywho, that puts this week at roughly 36% Baturation.
So what does this mean for DC? Over the past for weeks, they have averaged a 33% Baturation level, with Batman making up a SIGNIFICANT portion of what they choose to release any given week. Are they desperately clinging to their last and best marketable character in hopes of staying afloat? Are the DC offices only populated by real people in the areas that concern Bruce’s Wacky Hijinks, while all other offices are populated by androids programmed with the personalities of people like Sam Humphries, Christopher Priest, Grant Morrison and the rest? Is it possible that Rob Liefeld is the blind squirrel who finally stumbled across a nut of truth in his twitter lambasting of the comics industry behemoth?
The answer to all of the above questions is a confident “Nah, fam.”
While DC doesn’t make up much of recent market share, that’s mainly due to them producing on average close to HALF the titles Marvel does. To put it in perspective, this past week, Marvel released 20 new titles, as well as 16 reprints. Marvel also regularly does incentive variants, monthly themed variants, and various other variant covers to satisfy speculator and collector markets. Thus the amount of things ordered by comic shops that have the Marvel logo attached is definitely CONSIDERABLY higher, but that doesn’t inherently represent a problem. If a vegetarian goes to a restaurant and they have about 20% the amount of vegetarian options as carnivorous options, that doesn’t make that joint any less vegetarian friendly. Granted, this does effect how much money the actual companies get, since the publishers don’t actually see any of the money from readers except in a very transitive way, but you can’t expect a) DC to open up tons of new titles merely to compete with Marvel’s flood of the market (which is a surefire way to bankrupt the industry, just fyi) or b) comic shops to say “Well, I need to raise my DC numbers since marvel has double/triple the books this month.”
As far as in store sales, DC is doing extraordinarily well. Sure it’s different region by region, but DC has some big selling titles outside of the Batman ones. The things with Batman obviously do sell well, but Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and others have seen their fair share of critical and reader praise over the past few years since rebirth. SO it’s not so much that DC is relying on Batman to save their careening bus from going over a cliff. Instead, it’s probably just a simple case of people knowing Batman being an incredibly prolific character. For the writers and artists, it’s probably easy to just default to some Batman involvement because he is generally a character that people (which the writers are) find fun and/or cool. On a narrative standpoint, Batman is also considerably more versatile than Superman or Wonder Woman, and can be involved with smaller, street-level stories without seeming mildly out of place. On DC’s end, Bat people are just incredibly abundant. The Bat family is huge, and few other characters in the DC universe really have a squad to that caliber (Shazam has his family of other Shazams, Flash has his rogues, etc.), so filling the shelves with Bat-related titles is just kind of reflexive more than anything. For the readership, Batman again is just recognizable and an approachable character for a lot of new readers. The amount of new readers who saw and loved Man of Steel versus the amount who saw and loved the Dark Knight trilogy is hardly a contest. Not saying Man of Steel was necessarily bad, because that’s a conversation for a different day, but the Dark Knight trilogy was a masterpiece in it’s own right. In addition, Batman had the absolutely astounding Batman Animated Series back in the 90s, and while Justice League, Superman, Justice League United and Young Justice all have a huge following, it is the Batman Animated Series that resonates as a classic for many, many people.
The worry here is that if DC continues to build their line centered around one main character, they set themselves to take a serious blow if character fatigue sets in. It is entirely possible that one day people will tire of Batman and want to see more from other characters. Whether it be due to a movie or show receiving tons of praise or just a general shifting of interests, readership can often be pretty fickle. Hell, just ask Marvel, he had been absolutely milking Wolverine’s beer-soaked teet for a solid decade before finally killing him off in 2014. Around that time, they had done a ton of things to try and reinvigorate one of their star characters: they made him fill more of a mentor role, put him at odds with Cyclops, drove Cyclops and some of the other X-Men into the fringes and even eliminated Wolverine’s healing factor. Eventually, they chose to kill him, a decision that a) let them do a massive, money-making event and b) didn’t stick. If DC continues to have 33% on average dedicated Batman, they could potentially see that 33% dragging them down as comic shops order less and less for a dwindling readership. Would it destroy the company? Probably not, but it would definitely force them into a time of upheaval as they scramble to find their next Batman.
At the end of the day, the publishers are companies. Every publisher is guilty of relying heavily on their best selling stuff, whether it be Marvel’s myriad of Spider-titles or Dark Horses plethora of Black Hammer spinoffs, the goal is to make money and when something sells it’s only natural to double down. Realistically, averaging 33% Baturation ain’t all that bad, since it still provides for a variety of characters and themes that are brought to the table by the different books and writers. Thus, it’s very possible that Batman is just DC’s natural state in a way, being a world-renown and enjoyable character with a massive family of other recognizable and likable characters. Time will tell if Batman fatigue ever comes about.
The takeaway from all this is twofold:
- Try and diversify from time to time. Don’t be afraid to pick up a book for a character you aren’t inherently familiar with. Expand your horizons.
- Rob Liefeld is an ass