My thoughts on DC’s ‘Earth One’

Accepting their official announcement at their blog and the unembargoed interviews at AICN at face value, DC Comics today announced that they will be developing:

  • A new Batman series and a new Superman series both called “Earth One”
  • With a new continuity/no backstory
  • Exclusively in ‘graphic novel’ format of 100+ pages, released twice-yearly starting in 2010.
  • By well-regarded comics creators.

Perhaps the most important factor about this announcement is that there is no mention of the business or publishing intent behind this move. In fact the creators go out of their way, in the interviews at AICN, not to tie this to any business/publishing strategy other than “DC Likes To Try Different Stuff!” The only intent mentioned is a creative one, with both writers mentioning that a lack of ‘continuity’ will allow them to focus on the characters and the story. At DC Comics’ blog, it is specifically mentioned that this move is intended to create a “new continuity”.

In the responses to this article at PW’s The Beat and The Comics Reporter, it is mentioned (many times) that this is one of maybe 3 or 4 “new continuities” developed for these characters within the past 5 years, including the top-selling  All-Star Comics line (developed by Bob Schreck, who was fired by DC with the line being all-but-discontinued).

So that’s about as neutral as I can be, let’s start digging deeper than face-value now:

It’s pretty clear to me that DC is attempting to develop a continuity-light series of graphic novels featuring their core characters, to introduce new readers to their IP, and re-capture the attention of lapsed readers. They’re phrasing the move in terms that their existing, painfully hardcore readership can understand, like “new continuities”, in the hopes that the Direct Market-shopping fans of their IP will still support this new format, to give them a large non-returnable sales-base with which to expand their mass market sales. (As a refresher, book sales through comic stores are “non-returnable”, and 10,000 non returnable sales (my prediction) is a great base from which to set your print-run and distribute the work to the larger market, which can return unsold books for a full refund (and which sticks publishers with lots of unsold books).)

Now assuming that what I’m saying is correct (and this is unproven analysis), the success of this endeavour in the book market is going to come down to education, and as The Beat intimated, a lot of hard work on the part of DC’s book distributor Random House. Long story short, DC has got to educate Random House that these two works, above and beyond the 20+ Batman and Superman comics collections being released every season, are the ones that are going to appeal to the broadest possible base. Then Random House needs to educate booksellers (primarily the buyers for the chain bookstores) that above and beyond the 20+ Batman and Superman comics collections they present every season, these two are the ones that will appeal to the broadest possible base. THEN the chain bookstores need to inform their employees, then those employees need to inform customers, who are going to go to the GN section and see 60-70 other BATMAN and SUPERMAN collections on the shelf. That’s a hell of a lot of work, I’d be amazed if they pulled it off.

I’ve touched on the biggest problem with this endeavour: DC releases a LOT of Superman and Batman collections every season. But it’s more than just the quantity (there are dozens). It’s that the vast majority are continuity-heavy, new-reader-unfriendly, confusingly designed and numbered, and thin. And bad. Talk about market confusion. It sounds like these ones are going to be ‘thin’ as well; in his interview at AICN Superman writer JMS talks about how the first book is “well over 100 pages”. A128 page graphic novel, even in hardcover, has a spine that’s not-quite 2/3 of an inch… they’ll disappear on the shelves. Gary Frank and Shane Davis create artwork for their regular line as well, and their styles aren’t particularly unique or noteworthy; these books will look like everything else DC publishes. Their best bet? Significantly changing the size and design of these books… but with them trying to appeal to their hardcore fanbase, they risk alienating the folks who simply cannot deal with books that don’t line up on a shelf, or fit in a longbox.

Actually, it’s worth noting that for the past year DC has begun to release oversized hardcovers of stand-alone books, all featuring Superman or Batman or related characters. Killing Joke, Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?, Red Son. Perhaps that’s a clue.

As I mentioned, this is all speculation and analysis, but looking at the announcement as it stands, it seems like a half-measure at capturing a new audience (at best) with product that’s indistinguishable from their regular releases, or recent initiatives. Possibly worse.  Or, and this would be the worst, perhaps there really is nothing more to this than accepting the announcement at face value. Perhaps this is just about introducing a new continuity of Superman and Batman stories, to sell more Superman and Batman comics. Maybe this move is as deep as a puddle.

I don’t know which answer would be more depressing. Anyway, it’s hard to get too worked up about it though; today’s announcement was fanboy-bait with few details and lots of emotion and hype. Developing, as they say.

– Christopher

11 Replies to “My thoughts on DC’s ‘Earth One’”

  1. One thing that struck me about the interviews (beyond “continuity light”) is the emphasis the creators seem to be placing on character. One of the reasons I dropped superhero books for manga is that manga is more character driven, and has stories and conflicts that actual humans can relate to. Real world stuff, real emotion, real conflict.

    As opposed to purely plot-driven books about cosmic zombie rings or whatever.

    Its possible that these new books may work because they’re not the same tonally as the swamp of S&B trades, and the format may give them the room to connect with readers in a different way.

  2. This seemed so dopey, pointless and… well, so DC really, upon my initial reading of the announcement.

    It is satisfying to know that you, Hibbs, et al. have generally found this proposal equally questionable. 😀

  3. The Ultimate line started off continuity light as well. I couldn’t pick up one of those now off a spinner rack without a whole lot of help and backstory. Unless these are COMPLETELY continuity free, like the elseworlds stories for example, they will soon be no better than any other DC hero book.

    It just sounds like another flavour of Campbells soup to fill up the shelves so there is less room for anything else.

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