Wednesday, September 30, 2009


This blog is on haitus for the time being.

I'm hoping to find time to come back to it and actually give it the sort of attention I had originally intended.  If I determine that isn't possible however, then I will likely discontinue it entirely.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Winners and Losers - Disney buys Marvel

With the news that Disney is going to be purchasing Marvel Entertainment we find the landscape of the comic industry undergoing a potential major change. Marvel has already seen changes in recent years as the publishing arm of the company has shifted focus to maximizing profits by inundating the market with more and more material (a case of quantity over quality if you will) in order to meet the return expectations of their stockholders. This focus will likely become even more magnified as they will need to further increase returns in order to maintain the value of Disney’s investment and meet the expectations of Disney shareholders. While DC is part of a larger corporation (Time Warner), they haven’t been under great pressure to squeeze every possible penny out of their publication division to the degree that Marvel likely will be expected to perform. Easily the largest part of Disney’s return on their investment will be in utilizing Marvel’s properties for other media, but make no mistake that the publishing division will have to carry their weight in increasing Disney’s revenues and maintaining their stock value.

There is a lot to be excited about in this purchase, not the least of which is the potential for seeing Pixar’s handling of some of Marvel’s characters in animated projects. However, there are also a lot of questions generated by this purchase – a lot of things that can be good and a lot of things that may be bad. With Disney being such a family-oriented brand, will there be forced changed to Marvel’s presentation of their characters? Or will they treat their Marvel branch the way they do some of their movie production arms (Touchstone Pictures, Miramax Films, etc.) with the idea being the general public doesn’t directly associate those divisions with the Disney entity. Will Disney’s movie honchos have a negative impact on the portrayal of Marvel’s characters on-screen (think X-Men black leather outfits, Dr. Doom, Galactus)? Will we see a lot more animated projects (direct-to-DVD and theatrical releases) because of Disney’s deeper pockets?

The biggest loser in this merging of assets is likely to be BOOM! Studios. With their recent licensing of some of Disney’s library (The Incredibles; Cars; Monsters, Inc; Finding Nemo; Mickey Mouse and Co.), the publisher stood to make great gains in the younger reader’s demographic. As it stands now, BOOM! Studios will probably be expending a lot of resources to build a sustainable market for these projects only to have Disney move them to Marvel’s publishing division when the license has run its course. While you can’t really blame Disney for making that move (if they do) simply because they will have the means through Marvel to produce those books, it is really a shame that they (and the Marvel arm) will be reaping all the benefits of BOOM! Studio’s efforts to fully develop that market with those characters. BOOM! Studios will certainly see some short term financial gains through those publications, but then will watch all that future money go through Marvel when the licenses are not renewed. That really has to be frustrating to Ross Ritchie and Mark Waid.

It will be very interesting to see the full ramifications of this deal over the next several years. What will Marvel’s publications look like in 2015? How will movies based on Marvel characters be received with Disney making the major decisions? How much better might the animated projects be with Pixar’s involvement (or will there be a ‘dumbing down’ of the scripts to appeal to a younger audience)? In the end, who will be the biggest winners and losers? Will fans be better served when it is all said and done or will they be wishing for the days when Marvel was its own company.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Back-up features in comics

The recent jump to the $3.99 price point for some titles has been implemented in different ways. Marvel Comics bumped up the price on their top level monthly titles and mini-series and left their mid-level and lower selling titles at the $2.99 price. DC initially bumped up seven monthly titles and select mini-series (plus two more recently premiering titles) and left the rest of their line at the $2.99 price. However, whereas Marvel Comics made no changes to the content of the more expensive monthly titles (same page counts), DC has added 8 page back-up features to the higher priced monthly books. This begs the question – do the back-up features actually accomplish anything?

A normal comic is 22 pages. Coming in at $2.99, that boils down to somewhere close to $1 per 8 pages ($1.09 if you want to get technical). So by raising the price of select titles by $1 to $3.99 and adding 8 extra pages of material, effectively the cost per page hasn’t really changed. And I would assume the cost to produce the additional material remains the same (on a per page basis), so the end result is that one wouldn’t expect DC to be seeing any additional profits on their $3.99 comics (certainly not compared to Marvel Comics who is getting $1 more per book without additional costs).

Here is the list of DC’s (monthly) $3.99 titles: 
Detective Comics – Batwoman / The Question 
Batman: Streets of Gotham – Batman / Manhunter 
Action Comics – Flamebird & Nightwing (Kryptonian versions) / Captain Atom 
Adventure Comics – Superboy / Legion of Superheroes 
Booster Gold – Booster Gold / Blue Beetle 
Doom Patrol – Doom Patrol / Metal Men 
Green Arrow & Black Canary – Green Arrow & Black Canary (back-up alternates between them) 
The Shield – The Shield / Inferno (premieres in Sept) 
The Web – The Web / Hangman (premieres in Sept)

So what is the benefit to DC? First, adding the backup feature enables them to raise prices without making their readers feel like they are being completely taken advantage of. Second, it allows them to test the waters of a price increase without alienating those same fans. We all know eventually the back-up features are going to disappear and the $3.99 price will remain. By that point they have already gotten their readers used to paying that price each month for the titles in question so it won’t be a sudden shock to the wallet. A third benefit is that it allows them to put into print stories about characters who otherwise wouldn’t have a title and enables them to build interest in said characters and perhaps generate enough of a fan base to merit giving those characters their own title.
But does it really work that way?

The way I see it, there are three principle audiences for these DC titles. The first is fans of the main feature character(s). They were buying the title before the back-up feature was added. They likely don’t appreciate having to pay an extra $1 for back-up material they care little for. The second is fans of the main feature character(s) and the back-up feature character(s). These fans are the ones who would have the least number of complaints about paying an extra $1 for the title because they are happy to be getting stories with the back-up feature character(s). The third is fans of the back-up feature character(s). These fans are the most unappreciative of the new price point because they care little about the main feature and are paying a premium for the back-up stories (I expect these fans are few and far between). There is a fourth category, but those are comic fans who don’t like the main feature character(s) and back-up feature character(s), and as they were not buying the book to begin with, we don’t really care about them.

Of the three (principle) audiences, two of them are less welcoming of the higher price point because they are paying ‘extra’ for characters/material they have little interest in. While they may have added a few new readers to the title through the addition of the back-up features (those being fans who care little for the main feature characters but are buying for the back-up feature), they’ve likely lost more readers who were chased away by the higher price. And the new readers are temporary at best because once the back-up feature is dropped, those readers will leave the title as well.

Those who are fans of the back-up feature (whether they were original readers of the title who also happen to like the addition of the back-up feature or if they started reading strictly because of the back-up feature) still can’t be overly happy about the progression of the stories. With 8 pages per issue, it takes 3 months before it matches the equivalent of a regular comic issue. With that in mind, while the main feature sees 12 full issues per year, the back-up feature only manages about 4 full issues worth per year.
Here is a likely 3 month scenario: 
22 page main feature + 8 page back-up feature 
22 page main feature + 8 page back-up feature (perhaps 1 recap page and 7 pages of story) 
22 page main feature + 8 page back-up feature (perhaps 1 recap page and 7 pages of story) 
Supposing a story-arc runs 4 issues, the main feature has 3 story arcs per year and the back-up feature takes a year to complete a single story-arc*. A year is a long time to ‘wait’ for a full (88 page) story arc (unless you are an Ultimate Wolverine vs. Ultimate Hulk reader, in which case a year seems like a quick turnaround). 

Given all of these factors, the likely outcome is that sales on the title take a significant drop and are replaced by sales of the trade. Fans of both features continue to buy the monthly issues. A number of fans of just the main feature decide to wait for the trade so they don’t have to pay for a back-up feature they have little interest in. And fans of the back-up feature wait for the trade collection of the back-up feature so they don’t have to pay a premium price to read those stories. In the end, does anybody really win? Does DC end up making more money? Do fans end up with the material they want? The only real winners might be fans of the back-up features. Assuming they are actually collected and printed in trade format, those fans will be able to buy stories featuring some of their favorite characters that otherwise wouldn’t be available. And perhaps that translates into sales for DC that not only offset the loss of sales caused by the price increase of the monthly title, but also allows them to bring new monthly titles to the market if those back-up features generate enough fan interest. 

* I’m personally intrigued by the idea of rotating the main and back-up features to increase the number of story arcs (Green Arrow & Black Canary already do something similar – the back-up feature rotates between the two stars of the series while the main feature may focus on one or both of the characters in any given issue). 
Again, supposing a 4 issue story-arc, here is how the two plans would compare: 
Current plan 
Main feature – [12 + 12 + 12 + 12] + [12 + 12 + 12 + 12] + [12 + 12 + 12 + 12] = 3 story arcs per year 
Back-up feature – [ (8 + 8 + 8 ) + (8 + 8 + 8 ) +(8 + 8 + 8 ) +(8 + 8 + 8 ) ] = 1 story arc per year 
Rotation plan 
Main feature – [12 + 8 + 12 + 8 + 12 + 8] + [12 + 8 + 12 + 8 + 12 + 8] = 2 story arcs per year 
Back-up feature – [8 + 12 + 8 + 12 + 8 + 12] + [8 + 12 + 8 + 12 + 8 + 12] = 2 story arcs per year 
The rotation plan would better satisfy fans of the back-up feature but would also take away a full story arc each year from fans of the main feature and likely decrease their satisfaction in the title (perhaps even leading to their dropping it -- not to mention the creative team on the main feature also wouldn’t be happy about having their output cut).

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mouse Guard: Winter 1152

Now that the final issue of the second mini-series has finally hit the stands, I sat down and read the entirety of Mouse Guard: Winter 1152. Written and illustrated by the very talented David Petersen and published by Archaia Studios Press, Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 follows the travails of Guard members Saxon, Kenzie, Lieam, Sadie as they travel with the legendary Celanawe on a mission to deliver an important invitation and gather needed supplies.

As it has been almost two years since I read Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, I had nearly forgotten just how good Petersen’s art is. Every page of this series is a visual treat. The level of detail in each panel is fantastic. And while I’m singing his praises as a graphic storyteller, I certainly don’t want to shortchange his work as a writer. The story is well paced and entertaining throughout.

This series is far and away better than anything the Big Two publishers are putting on the stands in recent years. It is a book that could easily sell in significantly higher numbers if there were more retailers whose ordering habits end when they hit the Marvel portion of Previews and don’t want to venture into the smaller publishers section. Those types of retailers are missing a great opportunity to open their doors to a wider demographic of readers, not only through Mouse Guard and other offerings from Archaia Studio Press but also from some of the great kid-friendly titles now being produced by Boom! Studios such as The Muppets, The Incredibles, and their recent acquisition of the license for Mickey Mouse and crew. In these tighter economic times, it won’t be surprising to see retailers of that mind go the way of the Dodo before long while their smarter minded competitors reap the benefits of offering a wider selection of quality titles.

In the meantime, if your local retailer is one of the unenlightened, you can always get the forthcoming collected hardcover of Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 through an on-line retailer. Once you get a look at it, believe me, you’ll be glad you did.
Sample pages of the series are available on the official Mouse Guard web-site.
Check them out and then order your copy as soon as possible.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Thoughts on the Justice League

Bristol: DC Nation
The UK’s first DC Nation panel was rounded off with news about the Marvel family, and the place of the Justice League of America within the DCU. For the Marvels, their current storyline was finished with “Justice Society of America” #25, and following this they will be reset to become an important part of the post-“Blackest Night” DCU, with Freddy Freeman in the role of Shazam and Captain Marvel Jr. playing a part in “Justice League: Cry for Justice.” Expanding on this, DiDio explained that the role of the Justice League within the DCU is a difficult balance. “The book should feel epic and should feel grounded. It should move with the universe, stand apart form the universe. It should highlight all the greatest characters and showcase brand new characters.” DiDio said that everyone seems to have a different idea of what the Justice League should be, but that essentially he felt that they should be the hub of the DCU. James Robinson and Mauro Cascioli’s forthcoming “Cry for Justice” miniseries will “basically be a reset for the superteam,” establishing a new set of storylines to continue into 2010.

So Didio claims the book should feel epic, highlight all the greatest characters, and should be the hub of the DCU. Yet during McDuffie’s run they restricted him from using the ‘greatest characters’, hamstrung him by forcing him to feed off other events, all of which essentially limited the title from establishing its own epic feel. And then they fire him for what amounts to answering fans’ questions about why the book was written as it was.
Len Wein is writing the next story arc or two and then it is rumored that Geoff Johns will be taking over as writer of the title. And what do you bet they open the entirety of the toy box for him. Most of the big guns will likely be made available. I know the ‘new’ Batman (Dick Grayson) is going to be a part of it. Sure it isn’t Bruce, but it still gives the appearance of having one of the iconic characters in the mix. I’m going to guess that Wonder Woman will have a role. Superman will probably be absent in the early going, but I’m sure there will be an adequate stand-in for him (Supergirl seems the likeliest choice there).
Much as I dislike much of the core of what they’ve been doing at Cup O’ Joe comics over the last several years, I still have to admit they at least get it right in terms of making their big guns book the central driving force of their major epics. Their core storylines (basically the ‘event’ mini-series and subsequent fall-out) have all generated out of the goings-on in the adjective-leading Avengers titles. Those books are not stringing along off storylines from other series, they are directly feeding most of their other titles in one form or another.
Dwayne McDuffie really got a raw deal in this whole thing. I’m not sure if Didio really gets it or not. He seems to be giving the right lip service now, and if Johns is indeed the next writer of the series that would certainly give the appearances of Didio finally putting his money where his mouth is … but until we actually see it I’m going to remain skeptical.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Who needs characters when you've got costumes?

Comic publishers have put a lot of effort into building a strong fan base for their comics. With team books, they rotate the cast until they can find the combination of characters the largest number of fans want to see. With single title characters, they ramp up the challenges to tell more compelling stories and they also do crossovers with more popular titles to try and entice the readers into becoming fans of other characters beyond the books they usually read. The one constant in all of these ventures is the characters. If they don’t have the right characters in a team book, it loses readers. If they don’t tell compelling stories that make the reader care about the characters, those readers drift away. They use more popular characters (via crossovers) to get readers to buy titles of less popular characters in hopes of increasing the readership. It revolves around the characters.

Historically, publishers have tried to increase interest in their properties by updating them, presumably for a newer (and probably younger) audience. DC is probably more known for this than other publishers, but it stands to reason that a company that has one of the lengthiest histories would have more opportunity and need to makeover those properties. DC has at various times changed the characters wearing the costumes of a number of their properties, but generally those changes have been short lived. Batman was replaced by Jean-Paul Valley for a period time after his back was broken by Bane. Superman was briefly replaced by four characters after ‘dying’ following a battle against Doomsday. Wally West replaced Barry Allen as the Flash following Barry’s death in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Kyle Rayner replaced Hal Jordan as Green Lantern. Of course, the most notable character changes came about when DC launched the Silver Age versions of established characters. Hal Jordan replaced Alan Scott as Green Lantern. Katar Hol replaced Carter Hall as Hawkman. Barry Allen replaced Jay Garrick as the Flash. Of course, DC was able to have their cake and eat it too by introducing Earth-Two, a parallel world in the DC multiverse that was home to the Golden Age versions of their heroes. DC’s chief rival has had their own share of character changes. At least four different characters have operated in the guise of Captain America. Ben Reilly briefly took up the mantle of Spider-Man.

In a majority of these cases involving a replacement hero, the original character eventually returns to reclaim their name and position (it could even be said this is true of the Golden Age DC heroes as they retained their name and standing through the introduction of Earth-Two). There are a number of reasons surrounding the return of those characters, some of which involve marketing and keeping trademarks active, but the primary reason is the popularity of the characters. Fans like them. Fans want to read adventures involving those characters.

Yet even as history has proven (outside of the Silver Age revamps) that replacement heroes seldom achieve and maintain the same level of success as the original characters, publishers continue to play that card. Just within the past few years there have been a number of characters who have been removed from the equation and replaced by new versions. Ted Kord was killed during Countdown to Infinite Crisis and replaced as the Blue Bettle by a younger, hipper character. Steve Rogers was killed following the events of Civil War and replaced by his original partner, recently returned from the ‘dead’, Bucky Barnes. Vic Sage died of lung cancer in 52 and was replaced by ex-Gotham police officer Renee Montoya. Bruce Wayne appeared to die during Final Crisis and is being replaced by an as yet not revealed character (it seems Bruce Wayne isn’t necessarily dead, but he isn’t present in the current timeline and thus has been presumed dead by most). And the most recent addition to the corps of replaced characters is Carol Danvers. Carol apparently died in the most recent issue of Ms. Marvel (issue 37) and will be replaced by Moonstone.

It is the death of the original Ms. Marvel that inspired this piece. I read Ms. Marvel starting with issue 9 (of the current series) through issue 18 (or perhaps it was 19, I forget which of the two I ended with). I actually stopped reading the title a number of months before I quit reading everything from that publisher. My reason for stepping away from Ms. Marvel is I didn’t care for the direction being taken. The writer, Brian Reed, explained his focus with the character was defining her as trying to be the very best hero she could be. Yet, during Civil War, she sided with Tony Stark against Steve Rogers, someone she had a longer working relationship (and friendship) with and whose ideals I always thought she respected. It just seemed very out of character for someone supposedly trying to be the best hero she could be. I couldn’t buy into Brian Reed’s vision at that point (whether he had any say in terms of which side Ms. Marvel took in that conflict didn’t really matter – the point is the so-called brain-trust put her on that side so what was done was done).

Regardless of my reasons for quitting the title, I know Brian Reed put a lot of work into the character trying to make her someone fans would really care about and to improve the standing of the character. Which is why I can’t understand why the decision was made to kill Carol Danvers. After putting in all the effort to craft compelling stories to strengthen readers’ connections to the character and elevating her status as a key player in that universe, it just doesn’t make any sense to kill Carol and replace her with a character nobody really gives a damn about. It makes even less sense in terms of marketability. You always hear companies tout certain issues as great jumping on points for new readers. And the next issue of Ms. Marvel (issue 38) could certainly fit that bill as a new character is stepping in to take over the role and the overall direction of the title is likely changing. More importantly however, issue 37 provides a perfect stepping off point for current readers. And I would have to imagine there is a higher likelihood of more readers jumping ship than new readers coming onboard.
I really can’t understand the logic. Brian Reed has done a good job of building the readership of this title and establishing sales numbers that are consistently in the high 20K to low 30K range. You can throw all of that out the window now. There is no way they can rely on the consistency of those numbers in coming months. After spending thirty-seven issues convincing comic fans that Carol Danvers is a compelling character, they just did an about face and said it isn’t the character that matters, only the costume. So as long as SOMEONE is wearing the costume, the rest is academic. It isn’t the person inside that matters, only the outfit they are sporting.

Is that really all that matters to you as a comic fan? Are they to convince us that it is the costume that makes the hero and not the other way around? Anyone who puts on Captain America’s colors is Captain America? Anyone who hides their face beneath the mask of the Question is the Question? They are the very spirit of the hero?

I say no. I don’t show up every month to read about a green and black spandex outfit with a lantern on the front of it. I don’t read for the blond wig, leather jacket, and fishnets. I’m there for characters who just happen to have worn them. Whether they are wearing those particular costumes or some every day outfit like a blouse and skirt or a t-shirt and jeans doesn’t matter. I want to read about the characters that actually made the costumes stand for something. Because it isn’t the costumes that are the heroes. It is the CHARACTERS!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Wonder Woman - a review of the animated feature

Wonder Woman (2009)
Directed by Lauren Montgomery
Story by Gail Simone and Michael Jelenic
Screenplay by Michael Jelenic
Featuring the voice talents of Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Virginia Madsen, Alfred Molina, Rosario Dawson, and Vicki Lewis
Synopsis: On the mystical island of Themyscira, a proud, strong warrior race of Amazon women lives in a utopian civilization shielded from the corrupt world of man. After Army fighter pilot, Steve Trevor, crash-lands on the island, a betrayal within the Amazon sisterhood leads to the escape of Ares, God of War, and Amazon Princess Diana must capture him before he unleashes global chaos and destruction. With Steve Trevor’s aid, Diana tracks down Ares for a battle unlike any humankind has ever faced.

The more distance I put between myself and when I first watched this film, the better I feel about it. I must admit to not liking it as much as I had hoped on first impression. There were a number of things (which I will get into) that aggravated me as I watched the film. The more I think about the film as a whole, the less bothersome I find those things, and I think it has allowed my appreciation for the final product to grow beyond them.

This wouldn’t be much of a review if I didn’t talk about those things that lessened my viewing pleasure at the onset however. So I will discuss those items as well as things that I particularly liked about the film.

First, the ‘negatives’. Maybe these aren’t really that big of an issue in the grand scheme, but they were enough to pull me out of being fully immersed and entertained by the film as I was watching it. I’ll try to go in semblance of order (as they occurred in the film), but chances are I won’t adhere to that. I’ll begin with character design. I thought most of the characters actually looked really good. I wasn’t overly enamored with Diana’s design, mostly that was due to her hair (minor nitpick on my part). I thought Artemis looked great. I also liked what they did with Persephone. As far as the voices, I was mostly pleased with those performances. The one voice that really did not work for me however was Keri Russell. I just did not hear her voice and think ‘that is Wonder Woman’ at any point during the film.

Getting to the actual events in the film, there were a lot of places I felt opportunities were missed. When Steve Trevor crashed on Themyscira, there was never at any point sorrow expressed by him for his fallen comrades. I realize he didn’t have a whole lot of time to think because it wasn’t too long before he was running for his life from the Amazons, but there should have been a few moments where he voiced regret over the fate of his fellow pilots. I felt like Michael Jelenic dropped the ball there. A little later, after Steve has been captured, he utters the word ‘crap’ and Hippolyta responds that they don’t recognize that particular term. Then a few moments later (under the influence of the golden lasso) he tells Hippolyta that her daughter has a great rack and all of the Amazons in the room seem to understand that expression without any difficulty. So they don’t know what crap is, but rack is a term they are familiar with? Now, it is possible that they didn’t actually know the word but were crystal clear on his intended meaning, so one could choose to explain it away like that. It was just annoying to me because if you’re going to go to the trouble of establishing a simple word like crap as being outside of the basic jargon, you can’t come in with a term that would be even more unfamiliar and act like it is a part of the regular vernacular.

Another opportunity I felt was missed was with Hipplyta and Ares’ son Thrax. I don’t know if Thrax (as the son of Ares and Hippolyta) is part of the common Wonder Woman mythos or if his origin and appearance was specific to this movie, but it really seemed like they could have used the character more. Hippolyta beheads him at the beginning of the film when the Amazons are fighting against Ares and his army. Ares is greatly angered by this and you would think that would be used as motive for him to target and kill Diana later in the film as revenge. Yet that doesn’t happen at all. He doesn’t go after Diana at any point. Thrax is basically just a throwaway character in this film. He does appear later when Ares goes to Hades for help, and it turns out Thrax is Hades’ slave in the underworld. Again, Ares is clearly not happy about that situation, but he doesn’t take that anger and direct it toward Diana. That was a wasted opportunity to make Thrax’s inclusion in this film meaningful.

My next gripe is about something that is canon, but I felt as though this was the opportunity to actually give a good explanation for its existence. The invisible jet. I haven’t read the original Wonder Woman stories so I don’t know when the invisible jet was first introduced and how it may have been explained. I know the target audience for this movie is essentially existing fans of the character, so there is an expectation of those viewers being aware of the jet. That said, I still felt like this movie could provide the opportunity to explain the how and why behind the invisible jet. Instead, it was suddenly just there, no explanation as to why it exists or where it came from. When Diana had to take Steve back to the United States, the invisible jet was unveiled. One can only assume that was a gift from the gods as well. But why? Why a jet? Why an invisible jet? And how long had they been in possession of it? Given Diana’s earlier comments that she had explored virtually every inch of the island and there was nothing new for her to find there, it seemed to me that she had never been off the island at any point to see what was beyond their shores. To wit, she had never been in the invisible jet before, and if that is indeed the case, how did she know how to fly it? But really … why do the Amazons need an invisible jet? They have flying horses (or at least they did in this movie). I really would have liked for Michael Jelenic to take a few seconds in the movie to explain the wheres and whys of the invisible jet. It was another opportunity lost.

Speaking of the jet, there were a couple of instances around it that could have been better plotted. After Ares entered the underworld, Steve flew an injured Diana in a helicopter to the nearest medical facility. Yet Diana and Steve had taken the invisible jet to the compound where they faced off against Ares. That means that later, when Diana and Steve are again in the invisible jet to go after Ares, they first had to go retrieve the invisible jet from the compound (well, unless there is some sort of auto-flight capability where it could be brought to them). Why didn’t Steve just use it to transport Diana to the hospital in the first place? That actually leads into the second instance. Later in the film, Steve sees a missile launch while the Amazons are fighting Ares’ army and Diana is taking on Ares himself. He jumps in the invisible jet to chase the missile down. We already know he is a fighter pilot (since that is how he was introduced at the beginning of the film when he was shot down over Themyscira), so it is obvious he would know how to fly it. Which again begs the question as to why he didn’t fly Diana in the jet earlier and instead took the helicopter. Getting back to the missile, there were questions surrounding that as well. First, it is launched from Washington D.C. and targets Themyscira. I’m not sure what the location of Themyscira is in relation to Washington D.C., but I have to imagine that there was a more convenient site for a missile launch than Washington D.C. (such as from a submarine somewhere closer by the island for instance). And why did Steve chase it? He had no idea where it was heading when he jumped in the jet. There is no reason for him to have assumed it was targeting Themyscira unless he thought Ares was behind the launch and I don’t why he would be under that impression. Now, one can certainly attempt to explain Steve’s actions away by claiming that regardless where that missile was heading, it wasn’t a good thing for it to have been launched. Clearly it was going to hit someplace and do a lot of damage (possibly taking lives). So one could say he had good reason for chasing it down. But that is only if he honestly believed Ares was behind the launch, because otherwise he would have been flying in the face of the decision made by his government, for which he is a serving member in the military and could probably be court-martialed for interfering with an order given by a commanding officer (that being the commander in chief of the United States military).

My final gripe is with the end of the battle against Ares and his forces. After Ares has been vanquished and his army retreats, Steve comes rushing in (having returned from his adventure with the missile) and kisses Diana. And the rest of the Amazons raise their swords and cheer. Huh? After they just been in a costly battle (many of their sisters died) against their long standing male persecutor, they cheer Diana being kissed by a man who was completely transparent in his base desire of her as an object of lust when last they encountered him on the island (remember his comment about her rack). Really? That’s the reaction they would have? I’m thinking the more likely reaction would be to prod him with a spear to separate him from Diana (I could definitely see Artemis doing that).

So those are the negatives. Now for the praise. The battle scenes were outstanding. The battle between the Amazons and Ares and his forces at the beginning of the movie were really enjoyable. The swordplay between Hippolyta and Ares was great. Diana’s confrontation with the street thugs and then Deimos was very entertaining. Her clash against Ares was equally impressive. Diana’s strength and determination was very much visible. She traded blow for blow against every adversary and never faltered.

I enjoyed when Diana spoke to the little girl in the park who was sad because the boys wouldn’t let her play with them. It was fun to see her tell the little girl how to use a sword and then watch as the little girl put those tactics into play and took down one of the boys.

I liked the way Persephone was handled. It made perfect sense for her to be the one to betray the Amazons. She was the obvious choice to be Ares’ primary jail keeper and one could see how he might twist her over time because of what happened on the battlefield. It was only natural for her to slay Alexa the way she did since it was Alexa’s cowardice that almost cost Persephone her life and left her with a lasting reminder of that day.

I liked how Wonder Woman’s outfit was explained – the colors (and likely even some of the design, such as the stars) were selected to represent the country to which she was going to visit as an emissary. Why couldn’t Michael Jelenic have taken a moment to do the same thing with the invisible jet?

I very much liked the music. I thought it was outstanding (I wish there was some sort of a soundtrack available).

One other minor thing I liked at the end. When Diana leaves to fight the Cheetah, Steve tells her to call if she is going to be late because he doesn’t want dinner to be cold. So obviously he was going to be cooking dinner (though Diana was actually the one carrying the bag of groceries – which makes me wonder if perhaps she was going to be doing the cooking originally). Maybe Steve cooks when they meet at his apartment and Diana cooks if/when they meet at her apartment – that would certainly be the most balanced way to go about it.

Overall, it was a good movie. The animation was good. The performances were all good (though as I mentioned, Keri Russell just didn’t sell me as Diana). I won’t put it on the same level as the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited series because those were really something special (though obviously a much different format), but this film definitely stands up well on its own. I certainly hope there will be future Wonder Woman animated features but I don’t know if that is in Warner Brothers’ plans. If we’re fortunate, this DVD will sell well enough for them to put another one into production.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Does the DC Universe really need Barry Allen

DC is launching a new limited series titled Flash: Rebirth to herald the return of Barry Allen as an active player in the DC Universe. Barry Allen actually returned to the land of living last year in the second issue of the Final Crisis limited series. Flash: Rebirth is intended to re-establish Barry as the primary Flash.
My question in regards to all of this is - Why?
Does the DC Universe really need Barry Allen? Wally West has certainly proven to be a more than capable Flash since he took over the mantle upon Barry’s death in the Crisis on Infinite Earths limited series. Perhaps the better question is does DC Comics really need Barry Allen as the primary Flash? I don’t see why that would be the case.
Some might want to liken Barry’s return to that of Hal Jordan. The situations are quite different however. Barry sacrificed himself to thwart the plans of the Anti-Monitor. Hal Jordan sacrificed himself to reignite the sun in the pages of The Final Night story. While Hal’s sacrifice was considered a heroic act, it was really an act of redemption to make up for his activities following the destruction of Coast City where he went off the deep end, destroyed the Green Lantern Corps, and re-christened himself as the super-villain Parallax. Barry died a hero. Hal died a broken ‘hero’.
The biggest difference is the amount of time that passed between the characters returning to their former posts. This is really the major point of my contention with Barry’s return. Barry Allen died in the pages of Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was published in 1985. He has appeared in a few comics here and there over the succeeding years (typically in stories that are either flashbacks or where he is a version of Barry Allen from the past who is using the speed force to move through time to tackle whatever happened to be the challenge of the day), but has otherwise been out of the picture until his return in the pages of Final Crisis in late 2008. That is a period of twenty-three years that Barry Allen has not been the active Flash in the DC Universe.
Hal Jordan died in the pages of The Final Night, which was published in 1996. However, he stopped being the active Green Lantern two years prior to that (1994) in the story-arc Emerald Twilight (issues 48-50 of the third volume of the Green Lantern series – Kyle Raynor became the new Green Lantern beginning in issue 51). Jordan returned to active status in the DC Universe when he became the new host for the Spectre in the Day of Judgment limited series, published in 1999. And Hal retook the mantle of Green Lantern in the Green Lantern: Rebirth limited series, published in 2004. So depending on how you want to look at things, Hal was only ‘gone’ from the DC Universe between 1996 and 1999, a period of three years. He was not the active Green Lantern between 1994 and 2004, a period of ten years.
Three years (or ten years) versus twenty-three years. That is a significant difference. Hal was never really gone long enough to be missed as a key player. He might have been out of the Green Lantern role for ten years, but his presence was still very much felt in the DC Universe. Barry, on the other hand, has been gone the full twenty-three years. He has not been an active player in the DC Universe at all during that span.
Let’s talk a little bit about time. Generational time to be more to the point. There isn’t a particular consensus on how long a generation actually is. Wikipedia has a decent article on the length of a generation. Based on the amount of time between the creation of the first offspring between a mother and a daughter, a familial generation could be anywhere between two and three decades on average. More interesting is the idea of a cultural generation, which has an even shorter term (between ten and fifteen years).
What is the significance of generations in this discussion? Three years between active appearances for Hal Jordan means no skipped generations. Even ten years between his active status as Green Lantern doesn’t skip a generation (though if you’re using cultural generations, it is right on the cusp of skipping one). Barry Allen’s twenty-three years does constitute at least one skipped generation. And if you’re using the ten year basis of a cultural generation, then it would be two skipped generations. Let’s use some real numbers here though. I was sixteen years old in 1985 (the year Barry Allen was killed off) and had been a regular monthly comic reader since the age of twelve (I had read comics for many years prior to that, but only the sporadic issue here and there that my parents allowed me to pick up on occasion --- at age twelve I discovered a used bookstore where the proprietor also sold comics and thus my monthly habit was born). I was thirty-nine years old at the time Barry Allen returned to active status. Consider for a moment a young reader just starting out on comics at about the age of twelve in 1986. His Flash would have been Wally West. And that would really be the only (primary) Flash he would read between 1986 and 2008. In 2008, that comic reader would be thirty-five years old. So essentially, if we assume the average comic reader became a regular (monthly) reader around the age of twelve (as was my case), that means those (average) readers under the age of thirty-five would have little-to-no familiarity and certainly no connection to Barry Allen. To flip that, it means DC’s primary audience for a Flash series starring Barry Allen is thirty-six and older. Does that really seem like the best demographic to be aiming for? Is that where DC sees a majority of their current sales on titles these days? Is the largest percentage of DC readers in the thirty-six and up demographic? If that is the case, then I suppose there can be a case made for making Barry Allen the primary Flash in the DC Universe. If the largest percentage of their readers are under thirty, then this plan really makes no sense.
Let that sink in for a moment. Comic readers in their late teens, twenties, and early thirties have zero connection with Barry Allen. A good number of them may not even know who Barry Allen is. If they are Flash fans, the greater likelihood is they are fans of Wally West (even looking at other media -- which actually expands the scope of the audience, you’re no longer dealing strictly with just comic fans -- the Flash they know from the Justice League animated series is Wally West). They don’t really have any particular interest in Barry Allen. I wouldn’t imagine they have any particular desire to have Barry Allen as their Flash. So who is this Flash series really for? Why does the DC Universe need Barry Allen back as the active Flash? And why does DC Comics need him?
My contention is they don’t (at least not as the primary Flash). I think DC is rather misguided in bringing Barry back in this particular manner. I don’t believe it is going to be the kick-start to the franchise they may be thinking it will be. The mini-series might sell well enough but it won’t carry over to a monthly title when they re-launch it (I don’t think the actual sell-through of the limited-series will be as impressive as the order numbers that will be announced – in fact, there will likely be a significant decline in orders between the first few issues and the final one because retailers will know what the actual audience size is by that point).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Not so thankful to loyal readers

Legion of Super-Heroes No. 50 (DC)
Writer – Justin Thyme; Penciller – Ramon Bachs; Inker - John Livesay
Written by Jim Shooter; Art and cover by Francis Manapul and Livesay. It's the final issue! The climactic conclusion of the Universal Annihilation War is here and every Legionnaire, every reservist and even the United Planets' Young Heroes battle to save existence. Also featuring the return of Cosmic Boy, the death of a longtime Legionnaire and a gorgeous wraparound cover!
As you may have noticed in the solicitation for this issue, it was supposed to have been written by Jim Shooter (who started writing this incarnation of the series with issue 37) and pencilled by Francis Manapul (who also started working on the series with issue 37). Also noted is the return of Cosmic Boy and the death of a Legionnaire. As evidenced by my identification of the creative team, it was not Jim Shooter who wrote this issue nor was it Francis Manapul who pencilled it. In addition to that, Cosmic Boy was nowhere to be seen in the issue, and a longtime Legionnaire did not die (at least certainly not on panel --- there was a war going on so it is possible some generic Legionnaire may have perished in the skirmish but it wasn’t anyone who was brought to the reader’s attention.
What does match the solicitation is that this issue contains the conclusion of the Universal Annihilation War. Unfortunately, it is a very rushed and uninspired conclusion. That isn’t surprising considering a completely different creative team had to pick up the story started by Shooter and bring it to a close. Yet while the Universal Annihilation War was ‘wrapped up’, there was another significant plot thread that was left completely dangling, and given that this is the final issue of this incarnation of the Legion of Super-Heroes, we’ll never get to see the resolution of the situation. What is even more unfortunate is the fact that it should have never come to this.
According to Rich Johnson in his weekly column Lying in the Gutters, Jim Shooter and Francis Manapul both chose to leave and not complete the final issue, each for their own individual reasons. I can only speculate as to Jim Shooter’s reason, but I would imagine it had a lot to do with his original story arc having been planned to run through issue 54 of the series and then having to completely rework the entire thing when Dan Didio abruptly decided to cancel the series with issue 50. Shooter noted in an interview that he had planned to feature the wedding of Brainiac and Dream Girl in a two part story. With the sudden change in the number of issues remaining for the series, he had to completely abandon the wedding and wrap up what he could of the story in a single issue. In addition, he would have to tie up two different major plots (the Universal Annihilation War and the situation with Princess Projectra betraying the Legion) in four fewer issues. Obviously it became a mission of frustration and impossibility because only the Universal Annihilation War was concluded (the Princess Projectra plot wasn’t even touched on at all in the final issue).
I’m not what you would call a Jim Shooter fan in specific. I don’t have a dislike of his work, but he isn’t someone I would consider to be in my list of favorite comic writers either. Truth be told, I wasn’t very thrilled with the changes that were made in the direction of this title when he came aboard. There were character changes, some more drastic than others, and it was definitely not the same book that had been a big favorite of mine during the Waid and Kitson run. Even so, there were enough interesting plot elements in what Shooter was doing that I was convinced to stick around beyond just his first few issues. Even though it was different, it was entertaining enough to keep me around for the long haul. Of course, had I known at that time the title was in for a turbulent and shortened future, I would have left it along with Waid and Kitson.
On the surface, a reader might want to blame Jim Shooter for the way this final issue was presented, but he was definitely not at fault for the way it all played out. I can’t criticize him at all for walking away from it at the end. He was put in a very unenviable position. His work was severely compromised by Didio’s decision. One might say this sort of thing isn’t exactly uncommon – a creative team is given the news that their title is being cancelled and they have to wrap things up in a quick fashion. That is true, but generally when those things occur, a title is being cancelled because of poor sales. That wasn’t the overriding factor with this series. This particular series was cancelled out of what I consider sheer spite. Didio and Shooter butted heads numerous times over the course of Shooter’s time on the title. In fact, Didio actually fired him at one point. The firing was announced on several comic news web-sites. But then it was announced many days later that Shooter was back on the title. Sales on the title have been declining monthly since Mark Waid and Barry Kitson left the title (though in truth they had dropped off somewhat even prior to their leaving). When the announcement was made in October that Legion of Super-Heroes would be ending with issue 50, sales numbers were still reasonable. Estimated sales for September were just under 25K. October sales were just under 24K (you can find those figures and more here). So yes, the series was clearly shedding readers (though at 24K it was still above the usual cut line and doing better than a number of titles that have hung around for a good while with much lower numbers), but how much of that was due to reader uncertainty about the future of the title? The book had only recently undergone a creative team change (with Shooter and Manapul coming in) and a shift in direction. Then Shooter was announced as having been fired and then almost as quickly it was announced he was back. It wasn’t a secret that Didio and Shooter were fueding at that point, and given that Didio had already pulled the trigger once, readers couldn’t feel too comfortable about the long-term prospects of the book. So yes, it stands to reason that there might be more defections than usual. But again, this wouldn’t have occurred if Didio hadn’t ‘fired’ Shooter in the first place.
The fact is this horrendous final issue and lack of resolution on the Princess Projectra plot is the fault of Dan Didio. He could have allowed the book to continue on through the 54th issue and let Shooter complete the arc he had planned before pulling the plug. Instead, he chose to end the series with the 50th issue and cut the story short without any regard to whether the running plots could be adequately resolved. In essence, he shafted the dedicated readers. On the very final page of this issue (the DC Nation page) it says ‘We greatly appreciate the support of our loyal readers’. Really? I don’t feel appreciated. I feel like Dan Didio didn’t give a crap about the readers. If he did, he wouldn’t have cut the series to begin with. Even with that, he wouldn’t have allowed this issue to go out as it did (with a badly rushed and incomplete resolution and very disappointing art) and with nary an announcement to fans AND retailers about the change in creative teams. It isn’t as though this issue was pulled together in a week. DC knew well in advance of the shipping date that this issue wasn’t what was solicited. Yet they never said a thing about it (the original soliciation with the Shooter and Manapul credits is STILL listed on their web-site). And I’m supposed to believe they appreciate me as a reader? Had I known Shooter and Manapul had no involvement with this issue and that the Princess Projectra plot wasn’t going to be resolved, I would have never bought the issue in the first place. So no, I don’t feel at all appreciated. I don’t feel like a valued reader. I don’t feel like Dan Didio has any respect at all for the people who have been with this title since issue number 1. All I feel right now is ticked off and ripped off.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Price increase in a down economy (part 2)

Diamond has recently raised their purchase order benchmark from $1,500 to $2,500. For those unfamiliar with this benchmark, this means the publisher has to be selling enough copies of their title to merit Diamond paying them at least $2,500 to buy said copies (and Diamond is buying them at a discounted level --- as mentioned in part one of this post, that discount is close to 60% for some publishers, so $2,500 is the equivalent of approximately $6,250 at full cover price). If a title doesn’t receive enough orders to reach the $2,500 benchmark, Diamond will not place the order. And if Diamond believes a title isn’t going to generate enough orders to reach the benchmark, they won’t even list the title in Previews to begin with. This also appears to include relists, so if a title can’t achieve the benchmark when listed a second or third time (or any subsequent times), then no purchase order will be generated and comics shops won’t be receiving additional copies.
What does this mean to you, the end purchaser and reader. Well, first it means there are going to be some publishers who will either be going out of business or will have to find another means to distribute their titles. It means there will be some titles that will no longer be available through the usual channels. It means if you don’t buy a comic the first time it is listed, you may not be able to get it on second or third printings because those print runs may not occur. Obviously this affects the smaller publishers the most, but all publishers are likely to feel some impact when it comes to relisted titles.
Of course, having a higher cover price makes it a little easier to reach the benchmark. A publisher would have to have orders for over 2,090 copies at a $2.99 cover price while they would only need to have orders for over 1,566 copies at a $3.99 cover price. For a number of publishers, there is room for price increases. Marvel is obviously moving to $3.99 very soon. DC will likely follow. I expect Dark Horse will do the same. Image already has some titles at $3.50 so an increase on those wouldn’t be as significant as those from Marvel, DC, etc. But then you have publishers such as Boom! Studios and IDW who already have a $3.99 cover price. Should we expect them to bump to $4.50 so they can meet the benchmark? Or $4.99?
That begs the question – how much is too much? I know I’ve already passed over some Boom! Studios and IDW titles I would have liked to have tried because I didn’t want to pay $3.99 for them. Of course, I have paid $3.99 (begrudgingly) for a couple of titles so I can’t say as an absolute that I would never pay that much for a comic. Even so, I can’t really say I’ve felt like there was four dollars worth of entertainment in those particular comics. When you compare a comic versus a movie or a tv or animated series on DVD, it doesn’t hold up. The average comic probably takes about 20 minutes to read (some even less). That breaks down to about $12 an hour on average. A movie ticket costs less than $12 and that is good for anywhere from 75-120 minutes worth of entertainment. A movie on DVD may run about $25. For a two hour movie that is about the same average cost as a comic. A season of a television series on DVD probably runs in the neighborhood of $50-$90. That is for anywhere from 13 to 22 episodes at about 20 minutes per episode. $50 divided by 13 episodes comes in around $3.84 per episode. $90 divided by 22 episodes comes in just over $4 per episode. An animated series runs between $20-$30 for 4 or 5 episodes. That comes out to somewhere around $6 per episode (some discs have more episodes and some series can be had for a much better price – for example you can buy the most recent edition of the Gunslinger Girls collection, 13 episodes in all, for a suggested retail price of $39.95, which works out to just over $3 per episode). Most DVDs also have extras on them these days, so you’re getting additional value as well.
That isn’t really the key thing I want to touch on in this discussion however. What I really want to introduce is the fact that Diamond is shooting themselves by eliminating publishers. Sure, in the short term it will help them cut costs and be more efficient. In the long term, they are pushing out the very business that is going to help them to remain an ongoing entity once Marvel fully engages with their digital initiative.
Digital initiative? How exactly did we jump from benchmarks and price comparisons to digital initiatives? It really isn’t a great leap. If you haven’t heard, Marvel is investing $10 million in digital media with an expectation of receiving a profit from said investment beginning in 2011. A company doesn’t make that kind of investment unless they are expecting significant returns. Currently they are offering some digital content for a monthly fee (part of their library is online, but they are not making any current issues available there). Marvel is raising the prices of their comics 33% for what I expect to be a couple of reasons. First, costs have certainly gone up. I know paper has become much more expensive in the past few years. Second, they are obviously trying to maximize profits. Third, I believe they are setting the stage for a transition to digital media.
Consider if you will --- if they are selling their comics to Diamond at a 60% discount (or in the neighborhood), that means they are receiving $1.20 for each comic with a $2.99 cover price. That would grow to $1.60 at a $3.99 cover price. I don’t know what the printing/materials costs are per comic. Perhaps $0.20 per comic? $0.25? Less? I just have no idea. If we assume $0.20 per comic, that means Marvel is down to $1.00 per comic at the $2.99 cover price (and this is before they pay the creators and whatever other production expenses they have) or $1.40 at the $3.99 cover price. If Marvel were able to deliver their comics strictly as digital media, that would eliminate the printing expenses. More importantly, it would eliminate the need to use Diamond to distribute their comics. Currently we see (based on my assumption of discounts and printing costs – which obviously are just made up numbers because I don’t know what the actual numbers are --- hopefully the numbers I am using are at least in the neighborhood) Marvel getting $1.00 per comic and likely to get $1.40 per comic once they raise the price. So if that is what they are generating now, then wouldn’t it stand to reason they could offer their comics in a digital format for the same price (or somewhere close to that price)? And now let’s really take a leap. If they are selling 50,000 copies of a given title right now at $2.99 a pop --- imagine how many copies they might sell if they were offering them digitally for only $1.00 per issue? Currently a comic fan can buy 10 comics a month for about $30 (plus tax). If a publisher is delivering their content digitally for $1.00 an issue, a comic fan can get 30 comics for that $30. The comic fan is already spending the $30, now they get more comics out of it. Even if the comics were $1.50 an issue, they are still getting twice as many comics as they were before. And once the price goes to $3.99 an issue (printed), a comic fan will only be getting 7 comics a month (and have $2 left over). So you have 7 comics a month at $28 (plus tax) vs. 20 comics a month for $30 (plus tax). Which do you think is going to appeal to comics fans?
Also consider that with digital delivery, Marvel is going to have the ability to reach an even larger audience. Currently there are only so many comic shops in the direct market. People who do not have a shop locally have to buy their comics from an online retailer, if they buy them at all. Those who do buy from online retailers are likely going to stick with the major known titles and be hesitant to try an unknown title or limited series (unlike fans who can purchase comics from a local shop, they can’t thumb through something new to decide if they might like it or not). If a comic is only going to cost $1.00 or $1.50, a fan will be more willing to try something unknown. But guess what, it won’t exactly be unknown. Since the comic is available digitally, Marvel could easily provide several pages of a title to be ‘thumbed through’ online so a reader wouldn’t have to buy it completely sight unseen. We already see preview pages of comics released online through comics news sites such as Newsarama and Comic Book Resources. Well now Marvel can host those pages themselves for virtually everything they are selling. Guess what else. The title is never really out of print. Since it is digital, it doesn’t have to be printed and sit in a warehouse until someone orders it. It can be ordered and delivered at any time. So when a fan suddenly discovers a title, they can buy all the back issues they want and have them available immediately. Those comics will continue to sell year after year after year (even if it is only 50 or 100 copies in a given year).
Getting back to the larger audience, I’m not just talking about the current comics audience. Marvel already sells to fans who have a local comic shop and to those who buy via online retailers. With digital delivery, they are going to be able to sell to people who don’t currently buy comics. Because they can offer digital comics at such a lower price point, it is going to be easier to get people to try their product. So going back to the numbers, we have a title currently selling 50,000 printed copies. At a price point of $1.00 or $1.50, with readers now able to buy more comics, people who previously may have wanted to read a title but were already spending their comic allocation on other books will now be able to buy it. Toss in non-comics readers who are enticed to try it because of the price point and availability, and is it unreasonable to expect the comic that was moving 50,000 printed copies to more than double or triple that in digital distribution? So now Marvel is making significantly more money on the title even though the book is selling for much cheaper.
What part of this equation isn’t more appealing to a publisher? They cut costs, they don’t have to deal with the middle man (Diamond), they increase distribution, and they sell far more ‘copies’, thus increasing revenue.
This is the future. Marvel is putting down the groundwork. It may not be five years, it may not even be ten years, but I fully expect that sometime in the 2020s (if not before), Marvel will not be printing monthly comics any longer and will be delivering those titles strictly as digital media (I still expect there will be printed trade collections that will move through booksellers and the like). DC won’t be far behind (especially when they see Marvel starting to make major inroads with their digital delivery system) and Dark Horse and Image will certainly follow.
So where does that leave Diamond? In a lot of trouble. Especially since the small publishers who would be the last to make the transition to digital delivery are being forced to find another distributor or actually make the digital transition RIGHT NOW. Hey, how about that. Diamond’s move may actually be benefiting some of these publishers (the ones that survive at least) because it is forcing them to make the leap that is the future of the comics industry right now.
Let’s not forget retailers. They are in the same boat as Diamond. Once Marvel pulls their monthly titles out of the print market, a lot of retailers will be going out of business. And when DC follows, the remaining retailers will be shuttering their doors as well. Unless they find some other stream of income for their shops (beyond gaming merchandise) their businesses will not be sustainable. I hope retailers are either currently seeking other revenue streams for their shops or have a really good plan B in mind.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Price increase in a down economy (part 1)

As most, if not all, of you have probably heard by now, Marvel will be raising the price of their monthly titles to $3.99 in 2009.
In regards to that price increase, Brian Hibbs mentioned this is his most recent column:
‘The reason Marvel is willing to try selling regular monthly comics at $3.99 is because 10 of the top 10 for the year are $3.99.’
Given the current economic climate, one might wonder why Marvel would decide to increase the price of their titles by 33%. With people losing jobs left and right and a significant number cutting back on non-essentials in order to lower their expenses, it might seem on the surface to be an illogical move.
The math tells a different story.
First and foremost, the numbers I am about to use are purely speculated. I don’t know what the exact discounts are through Diamond, but I do have a rough idea of one side of it. According to Dan Vado’s comments in regards to Diamond’s recently announced policy change (more on that later), it appears Slave Labor sells their titles to Diamond for around a 60% discount of the cover price (it is slightly less than 60%, but I’ll round it to sixty to make the math easier). Marvel and DC likely have a better deal but I don’t have any data on those numbers. As far as the retail side goes, I don’t know what percentage of cover price they pay to Diamond. I’m going to take a wild guess and say they pay Diamond somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of cover. It could be less, it could be more, I just don’t know (the only real numbers I have to go on would be the discount that is offered by online retailer Discount Comic Book Service --- they sell Marvel and DC books for 40% off cover and most other publishers for 35% off cover, so clearly they have to be buying Marvel/DC books for at least 50% of cover and at a slightly lower discount for all other books). For the purposes of my calculations, I’m going to use 50% as the basis.
So let’s take a look the numbers based on a $2.99 comic vs. a $3.99 comic, and then we’ll factor in a decline in quantity sales due to the price increase.
We’ll use 50K as the baseline monthly sales for the publisher and 50 as the monthly sales for the retailer. You’ll note in these numbers as presented that the bottom number is what matters for the publisher (sales after discount) while the discount (profit*) amount is what matters for the retailer (because that is the money they are making back before any expenses are factored in).
Copies 50,000.00
Price 2.99
Sales (pre-discount) 149,500.00
 x 0.60
Discount 89,700.00
Sales (after discount) 59,800.00

Copies 50.00
Price 2.99
Cost (pre-discount) 149.50
 x 0.50
Discount (profit*) 74.75
Cost (after discount) 74.75

Copies 50,000.00
Price 3.99
Sales (pre-discount) 199,500.00
 x 0.60
Discount 119,700.00
Sales (after discount) 79,800.00

Copies 50.00
Price 3.99
Cost (pre-discount) 199.50
 x 0.50
Discount (profit*) 99.75
Cost (after discount) 99.75

So in this instance we see the retailer is making an extra $15 and the publisher is making and extra $20K.
Now let’s have a look at things when we factor in a 20% drop in sales.

Copies 40,000.00
Price 3.99
Sales (pre-discount) 159,500.00
 x 0.60
Discount 95,760.00
Sales (after discount) 63,840.00

Copies 40.00
Price 3.99
Cost (pre-discount) 159.60
 x 0.50
Discount (profit*) 79.80
Cost (after discount) 79.80

Both the publisher and retailer are still making more money than they were at the $2.99 price point even though sales have declined by 20%. The publisher is making $4,040 more and the retailer is making $4.95 more.

Now we’ll look at the numbers when we factor a 25% drop in sales.

Copies 37,500.00
Price 3.99
Sales (pre-discount) 149,625.00
 x 0.60
Discount 89,775.00
Sales (after discount) 59,850.00

Copies 38.00
Price 3.99
Cost (pre-discount) 151.62
 x 0.50
Discount (profit*) 75.81
Cost (after discount) 75.81

The publisher and retailer are still making more money than they were at the $2.99 price point. The publisher is making $50 more and the retailer is making $0.06 more.

But here is where things get tricky. The publisher (Marvel in this instance) isn’t going to be hurt by the surface drop in sales (even if it is a 25% drop across the board). However, chances are there will be some cannibalizing of titles going on in addition to the primary drop. By this I mean that people will be dropping some titles they may not want to drop just because they can’t afford to buy as many as they previously did at the lower price point. This is in addition to people who just drop out completely because they decide this ‘hobby’ is getting too expensive for them (that is where the original drop would be coming from – whether that would be as high as 20% - or even 25% - isn’t something we can know at this point). If we assume it is lower (or even if we assume 20%), the publisher (Marvel is this case) would see only minimal decline in overall sales dollars (if there was a decline at all --- chances are there would be an increase in sales dollars overall).
Retailers, on the other hand, won’t be so lucky. Because if people are dropping out completely due to the cost increase, it isn’t just one publisher’s books they will be dropping. It will be every publisher. So the retailer has to contend with a larger scale drop in revenue. Then factor in the cannibalization of books (especially as relates to titles from publishers other than Marvel and DC) the remaining customers will be doing to cut costs (and allow them to continue to be a part of the ‘hobby’), and their sales decline even further. So while the publisher (Marvel in this instance) might see higher sales, the retailer can almost certainly be expected to see less money.

I think this move also makes it much more difficult for a publisher (such as Marvel) to launch new product. There will already be a cannibalization of titles as I mentioned. Readers are going to be less interested in trying out a new limited series or new on-going because it will mean bumping something else off their list. Retailers will order less because their numbers are already down and they are not going to want to get stuck with a bunch of copies of something they can’t move. So that puts the new series (limited or on-going) behind the eight-ball before it ever gets out of the gate. That means fewer opportunities for creators as well. If a publisher isn’t careful about thoroughly testing the waters on a project before they decide to move ahead on it, they are going to end up losing money on it and cutting into whatever gains they realized from their price increase.

That leads me into part two of the discusson (which will be in a separate post that should be available in a day or two).