Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fan Ramblings – DC goes Digital

I’m excited to see DC branching out (all at once, with no advanced warning in fact) onto the digital scene. I know digital comics can be a bit of a polarizing topic among fans, and while I prefer to read comics that I can hold in my hand and not off of a screen I do recognize that this is a big step for the publisher. Anything that can get comics into the hands (or onto the screens?) of more people is a good thing, and DC really seems to be taking care of a lot of the concerns people have had about it. I’ll be very interested to hear more about their “Retailer Incentive Program” that could not be in place for launch but they promise is coming soon.

DC kinda one upped Marvel’s big announcement of releasing their Invincible Iron Man Annual #1 online on the same day (June 30) as it comes out in stores by offering their bi-weekly Justice League: Generations Lost series as a same day release from here on out (starting exactly one week before Marvel’s big online experiment), and at the same price as the actual comic. Honestly, I think it was an okay choice to experiment with, but apparently not for the same reasons that DC does.

In an interview with CBR, DC co-publisher Jim Lee spoke about why this title was chosen, “Creatively speaking, I think it was ideal for our day-and-date experiment because it has some of the world's most recognizable and well-known characters. So if you're interested in pulling in a lot of new readers coming in via a Justice League cartoon or game they've played, and having seen these characters in other media, that title will showcase those characters first.” I hate to argue with Jim Lee, but has he seen who the lineup is in Generations Lost? It certainly isn’t the Justice League from the cartoon. As far as I am aware it’s Booster Gold, Fire, Ice, and Captain Atom (former members of the Justice League International) along with Blue Beetle (Jamie Reyes). Of those, I think the only character to even appear in Justice League Unlimited was Booster Gold. As much as I like some of those characters I certainly wouldn’t call them “some of the world's most recognizable and well-known characters.” Honestly, of the list I would say Blue Beetle is currently the best known outside of comic book folks because of the Batman the Brave and the Bold cartoon. I could be very wrong about this series, because I honestly have not read it. But from what I understand about the series from interviews, reviews and solicitations this just doesn’t seem to be a comment that holds water. Just because Justice League is in the title doesn’t mean that it’s going to appeal to fans of other things called Justice League.

I will whole heartedly agree with the next part of his statement though, “The fact that it also comes out on a bi-weekly schedule is something that speaks to the digital environment. Having something that comes out more frequently helps because, as we know, everything online happens at a quicker pace. The idea of a book coming out every two weeks works well in that format.” People want things on the internet to be fast. They don’t want to wait a month for an update to their story. Two weeks is a much better jumping on point for a reader, who feels like they can get a story fast without losing too much steam in the process. Also, from DC’s point of view they will get twice the data from this title than if they had used a normal ongoing. Since it comes out twice a month they can get more detailed data on the rise of this service and how often people are using it. And since it is a limited series (24 issues last I heard) if it turns out that this was a huge mistake for whatever reason they aren’t committed to it forever. They have a good set time period to look at the data and make observations from there.

He ended his response with this, “And also the fact that it's launched more recently meant that it would benefit from the additional press attention and marketing that this announcement would garner, and that will help drive not only digital sales but print as well.” I would agree that it could help print sales, but probably not of this specific comic. This comic is under the Brightest Day banner, dealing with characters brought back from the dead after Blackest Night. If they do it right with advertising and teasers for other books this could bring people into the other Brightest Day comics.

All in all, when I saw that Generations Lost would be offered as a simultaneous release it really didn’t surprise me. Whatever the reasons that drove the company to choose it I think they could have made a far worse choice.

Looking over the rest of the initial release titles there are a few things that stand out. Most of the selected titles make a great deal of sense in one way or another. They released the first 6 issues of Jonah Hex, which would have been a very smart move to go along with the movie release, except that I have heard that the movie is terrible and strays so far from the source material that it probably turned most of the mainstream off of the franchise, and even if someone did like the movie he wouldn’t find a continuation in that same vein in the comics. The first twelve issues of The Losers are available, again probably with movie hype in mind. There is a strong Green Lantern presence again for the upcoming movie. Superman and Batman have strong showings here while Wonder Woman is notable absent again supporting the idea that DC has a Big 2 and not really a Big 3 as they claim. I’m thrilled to see Tiny Titans offered here! Anything that can bring more sales to that title is aces in my book.

I really enjoy the idea of a free issue 0 as with Fringe and Mirror’s Edge, making preview possible before committing to a title. However, I’d be happier with a policy of first issues being free or $0.99 as a standard policy. As it stands here, the first issue of The Unwritten is twice the price it was on the stands and, as I recall, it is available for free on Vertigo’s website. I’m not sure why someone would want to pay $2 for it with those things in mind. But that’s really the only issue I can see that seems to really drop the ball.

And while licensed titles from video games and such might not sell that well in print form they are exactly the kind of product that DC should be pushing on the digital market. That’s the kind of potential reader that this service will appeal to. Those licensed comics could well be someone’s first comic. We already have a lot of overlap with the video games community, but there are plenty of people out there who play video games and aren’t reading comic books.

There is a good variety of titles from DC, Vertigo, Wildstorm, and even Zuda. I think it presents a good cross section of DC’s lines to new readers who might be surprised to find that DC does more than just superheroes. There are a lot of first issues here and the whole launch group just seems to scream “new reader friendly!” And while it might not offer a whole lot for the dire hard comic fan, there is certainly potential for more to come and a nice safety net to explore what is available.

Now what’s missing? I’m surprised that there are no Young Justice issues here. If we don’t see it soon I will be shocked. With the cartoon coming out soon and fans ALWAYS asking about collected editions at cons it seems like a no brainer to reprint those stories in this format (people want to give them money for these stories!). I suppose that’s what I’m really looking for from this service. Comics I can’t find anymore. Old comics, things that have never been collected, that sort of thing. I’m talking first issue of Batman old. Now I’m sure the royalties issues with these older works is going to be a pain in the ass to figure out, which is probably why we don’t see them here, but I hope they make their way here in the future.

I’m also surprised that none of the classic Teen Titans stories are here. The Wolfman and Perez run is classic and would probably appeal to fans of the cartoon looking to get back to the comic roots. Again, no Wonder Woman. You’d think with her 600th issue hitting the same time as Superman’s 700th they could at least have gotten equal hype with a preview here. Flash is also missing, but with his movie push coming along, this will no doubt be corrected sooner rather than later. But I suppose the trouble is in deciding which Flash to put up. Do they put up old Barry Allen stories? Do they put up the more recent Wally West stories, even though he seems to have been more or less shelved at the moment and the movie will no doubt be only about Barry? Or do you wait a few months and then try to put some of the very recent Flash stuff up? And if you do that, could it affect the trade sales? Ah, I can clearly see why there is no Flash presence here.

All in all, I’m rather pleased with this initial release. I’ll probably go download all of the free issues and play with the app and see how it reads. I only have an iPod touch, so I’m not sure how it will be reading on the small screen. But I’m willing to give it a shot and see how it works and am not completely against giving them my money in the future.

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