Tuesday, January 15, 2013

DC Comics Cancels "Superman Family Adventures" and we ponder how 30 years of having books you like cancelled might affect your enthusiasm


Word came down Monday that DC is cancelling Superman Family Adventures with issue 12 in April, just short of the release of Man of Steel to movie theaters.

On a month to month basis, the series - which was aimed at a truly all-ages audience - was some of the best work at DC in the wake of The New 52 and one of the few monthly DC books (and only Superman book) I would have put in the hands of adults or kids alike to get them interested in Superman.  It also was the only book that understood the basic dynamics of Superman, The Daily Planet, Lois, his extended family and the recurring villains of the Super-books.

Cartoony and goofy, yes.  But so were the first fifty years of Superman comics.

I know sales weren't particularly good, but I also don't know what anyone at DC expects years after comics abandoned trying to be available where kids can find and therefore WANT a comic.  The 18-25 year olds who are going to be buying fifteen iterations on Wolverine and Batman are going to want to even think about how Superman Family Adventures falls in with their hobby.

This is the second time DC Entertainment has ended a brilliant product in recent years for reasons I'm guessing boil down to the fact that the product wasn't in line with the 18-25 year old extreme market.  Batman: Brave and the Bold, an absolutely terrific love letter to the DCU and a great intro to all things DC, ended just around the time The new 52 debuted.  We were told we'd get a gritty Batman cartoon at some point with Alfred carrying guns and shooting at people (so, so many things wrong there).

Mostly, there's just been a complete lack of marketing for the book.  DC put it out there with Free Comic Book Day material, but I'm still not sure how FCBD is translating to awareness and sales for new books for anyone.

One of the things that starts to bum you out about comics after 27 years is how often the stuff you like gets cancelled.  Up until 2011, at least we had Detective Comics and Action Comics to count on, but now that there's an "all new Number 1!", there's nothing special about even those brands.  Essentially, at some point, it basically has to mean that, in part, my tastes are drawn to ideas that will fail*, or that the modern industry is terribly incapable of finding and sustaining a working model for a comic in serial form.

Sure, we now have innumerable Avengers series, all with terribly confusing numbering.*  The comic shop buy buys new #1s.

Watching DC, here in month 15 or so of The New 52, now on their 3rd rotation of writers and 5th art team on every title, is it any surprise they're "replacing" (ie: cancelling) a handful of books every few months?  Just because DC replaced a title doesn't mean the buyers will pick up another DC title.

It's no mystery to look at series that ran to an end point or set themselves up to run as a perpetual motion machine and see what they had in common.  They had a single writer on the books (often paired with am artist) and the books just took care of themselves.

Early Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, all kept a single eye on the book.  There weren't new pitches coming in, books just happened.  What people forget about Karen Berger is that she let a single writer run on Sandman, Hellblazer, Transmet, Preacher, you name it... and build those books into worlds.  Hell, Birds of Prey never really recovered after Chuck Dixon left, and that was several volumes and a continuity ago.

I try to imagine any other form of entertainment where the bar for "changing things up", and hiring and firing creative talent is so low, or cancellation of a book seems inevitable from the date of launch because the Direct Market is a small pond in which the four or five large fish will simply consume what little food the pond provides and, eventually, those big fish see the other things living in there as that food.  Ie:  The Market is horribly over-saturated   DC has tried to manage this with a firm number of titles, but let's be honest, it means there are 10 core titles and the rest will just eventually get cancelled or have their creative teams fired every 1-4 issues... why would I pick those up?

It didn't need to be a small pond, and maybe digital is helping.  Certainly digital can't be hurting anyone but print retailers.  Nonetheless, it's almost impossible to understand how DC expects to grow their market when they won't advertise, they rely on press releases about killing flagship characters (which translates to the public as "oh, you can't buy that product anymore"), and seem reluctant to deal with anyone but 19 year old boys as an audience.  Since retreating to the direct market, they seem to have flatly refused to face the public unless selling licensed t-shirts or coffee mugs with 1980's-era licensing imagery.

At the end of the day, cancellation is a small disappointment.  But after reading comics for as long as most of us have, you can't even be surprised.  In fact, it's now a shock when a book lasts more than 30 issues without some renumbering, reboot, etc...

It's not that I don't expect books to end or go away, but with the current formula for cancellation, I don't know why I'd bother to get invested in anything new from The Big 2 anymore as it seems the vast majority of their books are for the chopping block.  It's just a matter of time and switch of creative teams.

I do think Superman Family Adventures was a pretty great little book, and like everything else at DC, it's cancellation is one more sign that my days of buying print comics is drawing to a close.  We can't seem to agree on anything any more.

*I own all of the appearances of The Heckler
**Good luck, new reader, trying to figure out how to follow any Avengers stories if you aren't buying them right now off the shelf.  The trade numberings make absolutely no sense.


Matt A. said...

That was weird - that last post was mine, but the blog thing didn't ask for my name stuff.

Matt A. said...

That was even stranger - it didn't keep that original comment. Hm.

Anyway, what I commented was:

That comic looks interesting. Not to belittle it or anything, but the art style reminds me of Captain Underpants. And I only say that because I'm reading the Captain right now.

The League said...

I don't know if that's intentional of not. Captain Underpants did sell a LOT of books. These guys also did "Tiny Titans", which probably didn't pre-date Captain Underpants, but looks a lot less like that style.