Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Nuts and the Bolts

Sometimes, I despair of DC Comics.

J. Michael Straczynski is a writer best-known for his five-year television epic Babylon 5, which he created, saw through from start to finish and frequently wrote and directed along the way. For the past eight years, Straczynski has written numerous comic books for Marvel, most prominently Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. Last year, he relaunched their Thor series and has been knocking it out of the park commercially. He also wrote the screenplay for Changeling, a film directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich that's set to debut at Cannes next week.

You could say, in other words, that Straczynski's career has just reached a new high point. For Marvel, now, that's tragic, in some ways: A contract exclusively securing them the writer's comics-related activities ran out without being renewed in 2007, and there was a bit of a fall-out between Straczynski and Marvel over creative differences concerning "One More Day," the controversially received storyline ending Spider-Man's 20-year marriage that concluded his work on the character. While Straczynski will apparently continue writing for Marvel - notably Thor and a limited series called The Twelve - it's quite clear that he's become a bit disenchanted with the publisher over the last couple of years.

So J. Michael Straczynski, cult TV creator, best-selling comics author and high-profile Hollywood screenwriter, wants to work at DC Comics now. Hey, looks like DC just hit the jackpot, right?

Well, not so fast. People at DC Comics are busy, you understand. They've got their ways of doing things. They've got countdowns and crises of their own, and they're not going to drop everything just because some cult TV creator, best-selling comics author and high-profile Hollywood screenwriter wants to lend his services to their properties. They've got their priorities, you see, and all the Superman and Batman and Justice League projects for the coming ten years are set and shan't be meddled with, anyway.

And so they give Straczynski The Brave and the Bold.

Estimates have it that The Brave and the Bold, a book launched by prominent creators Mark Waid and George Pérez back in 2006 that is set on the fringes of the DC Universe, currently sells around 40,000 units, falling rapidly. Pérez recently left, and once Waid and his successor Marv Wolfman are done with it, DC can be ecstatic if it still moves 30,000 units. The artist Straczynski will be paired with is Jesús Saiz, who does good work but - like many artists who have been working at DC for the last five years - hasn't really been built up by them commercially. If Straczynski's name gives The Brave and the Bold a really good boost, perhaps it goes up to 50,000 - which still wouldn't quite place it in the Top 30.

Decisions like this one are, of course, precisely why DC is being thrashed by the competition month in, month out. Have they totally lost the plot? It certainly looks like the people in charge are unsure how to properly maximize and market their existing resources to an audience younger than 40. If they were Marvel, rest assured that the hell would be marketed out of this. Straczynski would probably be doing the same thing, mind you. But it would be relaunched and called Ultimate Batman Team-Up, drawn by Steve McNiven and set up during Secret Invasion. And anything less than 100,000 units sold of issue #1 would be considered a disappointment.

At DC, though, it's called The Brave and the Bold #20-something, and we're shooting for the Top 50. The announcement is emblematic of the publisher's woes over the last couple of years, really, and, to be frank, it doesn't inspire great confidence in their post-Final Crisis plans.

5 comments:

matches said...

I'm kind of happy they're putting him on something unconnected to all the Crisises and whatnot - I kind of agree with you that it's probably not the most commercially successful thing they could do, but the notion of JMS doing one and two-part stories unencumbered by all the meta-planning going on over there is appealing to me. I expect sales of B&B to get a boost - maybe not to the top 10 but probably more than 10K.

As far as the art goes, DC is kind of between a rock and a hard place. Saiz isn't big name but does good work, and will get the book out reasonably on time. There are other names DC has who would move more units, but they have proven they can't hit deadlines.

Lisa said...

I followed this link from The Beat's September 2009 DC Comics sales column, and I've been watching you talk about this over there for months now, and I think it's a case where you made the conclusion eighteen months beforehand and then interpreted the results to fit that conclusion. JMS has stated clearly in interviews that he wants to work on books that are unencumbered by crossovers (hence why he left Thor prematurely) so I think it's a likely conclusion that JMS requested to work on Brave and the Bold instead of DC "putting" him on it. And while clearly the book did not set the sales chart on fire, the fact that the book had a 33% increase in this era where a book's sales rarely increase, especially not without an event tie-in, means that it probably wasn't as big a failure as you are trying to make it out to be. Which I guess is fair enough, I suppose, since you've made a point to predict the book's failure every month for a year and a half.

Marc-Oliver said...

Lisa,

"[...] I think it's a case where you made the conclusion eighteen months beforehand and then interpreted the results to fit that conclusion."

I disagree. If anything, my expectations in the article above turned out to be unduly optimistic compared to the sales they ended up with.

A 33-percent increase on a book that sells 20,000 units is not impressive by any stretch of the imagination, particularly with a heavy-weight like Straczynski involved.

He didn't even manage to get the sales back to the level they were at a year ago -- Straczynski's first issue sold fewer units than Waid's final issue on the series!

"[...] I think it's a likely conclusion that JMS requested to work on Brave and the Bold instead of DC 'putting' him on it."

No. Straczynski is on the record, in the article linked to above, saying that THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD "was one of the very first things Dan [DiDio] mentioned."

To me, this strongly implies that the initial idea came from DC, not Straczynski.

Which is what I'm criticizing.

Lisa said...

I think I take issue with your inference that JMS saying that Didio mentioning Brave & The Bold is evidence that DC somehow "forced" him to take over that book. I don't think you honestly think that it never occurred to higher-ups at DC to offer JMS a higher profile book. But given JMS's on the record distaste for in continuity, events-driven books, is it too much to maybe give Didio credit for suggesting a book that would give JMS what he was looking for i.e. would accept?
I obviously agree with you that JMS would've made more of an impact on a book like Superman or JLA, but I disagree with your leap that DC put this big name writer on books like Brave & Bold or the Red Circle because they're stupid/don't know how to manage talent, and not because JMS wanted to do books where he was given carte blanche.

Marc-Oliver said...

Lisa,

I don't think I'm inferring -- or suggesting, as it were -- that DC "forced" Straczynski to do anything. But when he says that one of the first things he was offered was THE BRAVE AND THE BOLT, that seems worth pointing out to me.

And, yes, I do sincerely wonder whether it ever occurred to DC to offer him one of their major books. Straczynski's written several comics for DC now, and all of them -- predictably! -- sold significantly below 30,000 units.

That's just incredibly bad management.