There are two things you’d hear me say if you’re in the comic shop when I’m there. I use more often than I’d like, but I’ll share them with you anyway. The first is, “I’ll wait for the trade,” and I’ll probably talk about that next week. The other is, “I love this book – they’ll probably announce its cancellation any day now.” It’s seems to be the case more often than not. Let me explain my dilemma and my solution.
A few years ago DC presented a slew of new titles and I greatly enjoyed most of them. Young Heroes In Love was a fun “funny” book, and I don’t usually like the lighter comedic fare, but there was something there that caught my whimsy. I don’t know if the Powers That Be ever really decided if The Young Heroes were in continuity or not, and that is usually a major factor for me in the purchase decision-making process, but what the hell, it looked fun. And it was. The art was cartoony, a bit like the animated Batman and Superman series, if even more exaggerated, but it fit. It was almost like MTV’s Real World without the forced drama some asshole thinks makes good television. Have I ever mentioned how much I LOATHE reality television? Isn’t the whole point of television to ESCAPE from reality (except for the news and sports, of course)? So now the more I think about it, there’s no way I should have been entertained by Young Heroes In Love. And yet here I am years after their cancellation thinking that if they don’t show up in ’52’ at some point I’m going to pick on the writers of that series with a fervor I usually reserve for Fabian Nicieza (who has been doing a bang-up job on Thunderbolts as of late, which makes me work harder to have something to talk about every week – thanks Fabe, keep it up)! Young Heroes In Love ran a scant 18 issues. I liked it. It got axed. Pay attention, I think you’ll spot a trend.
Remember School House Rock? No? God I feel old. Well, I’m not going into it today but it was essentially a series of short cartoons that taught a variety of school subjects through song. I still remember my conjunctions from the episode called “Conjunction Junction.” And there was one called “My Hero Zero” that explained the importance of the non-number in mathematics. DC put out an all-too-brief series that often had me humming that old song as I browsed the racks. Xero was the tale of an assassin who was also the Allen Iverson/Terrell Owens bad-boy of a fictional pro basketball league. His team was based in East St. Louis, which is only about 40 minutes away from me. No offense to New Yorkers, but there ARE other cities in the country. I applaud creators who have the stones to base a character somewhere other than the Big Apple. Chicago’s a great city for superheroes – there are cocaine and crack dealers to deal with, for example. What about Pittsburgh or Philadelphia? Detroit? Lots of blue collar types who’d cheer for a hero. Heck, they cheer for a bartender who can play football in Philly, imagine what they’d do for a guy in a cape (probably boo him, they booed Mike Schmidt). But East St. Louis? Let me demonstrate the distinction. East St. Louis is NOT like the Chicago South Side or even East L.A. It’s not even in Missouri. It’s directly across the river from St. Louis, Missouri and it’s no stretch to call it “rough”. It’s a low-income community rife with crime and corrupt city officials who aren’t doing much to clean things up. It’s the PERFECT place for a black man doing black ops for the government to blend in unnoticed. In fact, maybe it was too perfect, because the creative team of misunderstood genius Christopher Priest and underutilized ChrissCross only managed to get 12 issues out before the Powers That Be swung their axe like Cryptic Studios swings their Nerf Bat.
One of the most important characters in the DC Universe, the man who will still be around to save s from various threats 1,000,000 years from now, was neglected by readers in the late 1990s. I’m talking about Mitch Shelley, the Resurrection Man. It’s one of the most fantastic series I’ve ever read, period. I recommend it to everyone, but it’s admittedly hard to track down the 28 or so issues. Let me tell you that if there’s a book on the rack with the names Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning on it together, I buy it. It doesn’t mater what it actually IS, I just know it will rock. They could a Strawberry Shortcake series with art by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz and I’d be all over it. But Resurrection Man, it was drawn by Jackson “Butch” Guice! His Dr. Strange run was astounding! His Deathlok miniseries was dynamic! His current Aquaman run is…his Dr. Strange run was astounding! So why in the world would you people neglect an Abnett and Lanning book with Guice art?!? Are you all completely mad? Apparently! Especially as it was apparent that many more of you caught on to the joy of murder and mayhem with Tommy Monaghan and Natt the Hatt in the pages of Hitman, brought to you by Garth Ennis and John McCrea. If you need further convincing of the merits of Resurrection Man look no further than the two issue Resurrection Man/Hitman crossover. Mitch explains to Tommy that his power changes every time he dies. They needed him to have a particularly useful power if they were going to defeat the particular bad guy of this crossover. So Tommy starts popping caps into Shelley, one at a time, for several pages until they arrive at a useful power. It was the most disturbing and utterly hilarious first adventure of two “heroes” (because it’s hard to apply that term to a hitman) you’ll ever see. And they cancelled it. Hitman, fortunately, lasted about 60 issues before its demise.
All right, enough already, you say. (Go ahead, say it, that was your queue.) So Jeff liked these little books that nobody else ever read much less remember even hearing of, what’s the point? Simple. The point is Jim Lee.
How’s THAT for logic? DC is missing the boat completely with how they utilize Mr. Wildstorm. They used him on Batman. They used him on Superman. Sales jumped like a kangaroo on steroids. They flew past Superman and his goofy underwear over his tights faster than 10 fast things. And there was absolutely no reason for it. I’ll clarify: the reason for the sales bump was Jim Lee, there was no reason for Jim Lee to be doing Batman and Superman.
Look at the sales charts…here ya go:
(Note: The line that’s off the chart represents sales of 310,300. Had to cut the image to make it fit.)
Batman sold, on average, around 45,000 issues monthly. Then Jim Lee strolls into town and BOOM! Sales more than doubled. I don’t think the chart is accurate for issues 610 and 611, they HAD to sell similarly to the other issues in his run. Those figures may represent reprint numbers or variants. But when Hush was over, Eduardo Risso comes in for Broken City and sales drop down quite a bit. But not QUITE to the pre-Jim Lee levels. They’re still a bit higher and they STAY a bit higher.
Let’s look at Superman’s figures:
(Note: The lines that are off the chart represent the following sales: #204=244,100, #205=213,400. Had to cut the image to make it fit.)
Eerily similar, eh? Consistent sales in the 30K range…add Jim…sales double and triple…remove Jim…sales stay twice as high as the Pre-Jim level. You’ve got a pretty obvious conclusion to draw here, and anyone who remembers Marvel in the 1990s and the early days of Image and the brilliantly handled Heroes Reborn Marvel/Image partnership probably already knew this: People love Jim Lee like Germans love David Hasselhoff. People will buy Jim Lee penciled comics. They don’t care what it is he draws, so long as he does. I’m like that for certain creators: Abnett and Lanning, Mike Mignola, Walt Simonson, Gail Simone. Give me Scooby Doo versus the Giant Frog and if Mike Mignola draws it I’ll be exclaiming, “Jinkies! I found a clue!” for weeks. Back to Lee now, and your saying to yourself (I know, I can hear you, I bugged your house whilst you were out), “How can DC be missing the boat if Jim Lee helped them sell tons more Batman and Superman comics?” Elementary, my virtual Watson(s), Batman and Superman ALREADY sells tons of issues. Sure, Lee helped to sell MORE but even without Lee’s lovely lines Batman and Superman are perennially DC’s top sellers. It’s like Budweiser putting Jenna Jameson on their labels – they already contribute the cirrhosis of millions of livers around the world and putting a sultry vixen (ok, imagine Jenna about 10 years ago, or better yet let’s just use Jessica Alba, so I can have an excuse to post a pic) on the bottle is just overkill.
No, what DC should do is use Jim Lee to maximum effect, not just to squeeze a thousand more copies of books that already outsell half of the rest of their titles combined. Consider the case of Manhunter.
Need the chart? Of course you do!
(Note: The line that’s off the chart represents sales of 25,500. Had to cut the image to make it fit.)
This is a title that is consistently entertaining and very well produced. It’s consistently well written, nicely illustrated, and neatly entwined into the DC continuity by utilizing a wide range of villains from the pages of JLA, JSA etc. It features a female lead character and also utilizes Cameron Chase, another character with a horribly short-lived solo comic career, though I think that was marred by sloppy promotion as much as poor sales. Manhunter has been on the chopping block due to sluggish sales and the Powers That Be were dutifully grinding the edge of their axe in preparation for the execution. So far, they’re managing to hang on. They could use some Jim Lee, wouldn’t you say? Now don’t misunderstand me, there is NOTHING wrong with Javier Pina’s art, or Jesus Saiz before him. I say bring Jim Lee on for six issues. Watch the sales reach orbit. Meanwhile, get Pina working on the follow up arc. Sales will come back down to earth after Lee is finished, but there will be people who stick around because, underneath his pretty veneer is a pretty engaging story by Marc Andreyko and one of the most well developed (not like Power Girl, I mean she’s got personality…aw forget it) characters, especially female characters, written anywhere that doesn’t say Gail Simone on the cover. In fact, I think it would be nice to see a Manhunter/Birds of Prey crossover…HINT HINT…or at worst have Kate Spencer join the Birds if her title does meet with an unfortunate demise.
If you take anything from all of this, it should be: JIM LEE = $ALE$! Supermarkets take a big hit and sell certain products at or below cost to get you in the store, with the hope that you’ll buy some higher margin products once you’re inside. Comics should be no different. Batman and Superman sell like beer and pretzels at Super Bowl time. Entice new readers to a book that’s not selling as well as the Powers That Be would like by putting a shiny “New! Now with Jim Lee!” sticker on it. Get them hooked, and then wean them off of the Lee. Give them a Jim Lee patch or some Jim Lee gum or something. But like people who quit caffeine, keep them drinking the cola and the coffee. Many of them will keep buying the title long after Jim Lee has moved on to the next series in need of his booster shot. Speaking of that, a Jim Lee Hawkgirl would be something, wouldn’t it?
Welcome to my (cautiously optimistic) nightmare.