After retailers voiced concern about Marvel's cryptic announcements about Secret Wars, comic shop owners we contacted about DC's new June line-up were more enthusiastic.
"I love the diversity of the new line-up," said Mike Wellman, co-owner of the Comic Bug stores in Manhattan Beach and Culver City, California. "It represents a trend, certainly, but a trend that will be good for the entire comic book industry if it sticks around — or even better grows! Many of the new titles look fresh and intriguing. You can't fault DC for not taking chances on this batch."
Carr D'Angelo, owner of Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks and Northridge, California, said one of the best things about the diversity is the addition of lighter fare to DC's line-up.
"I was glad to hear there would be a sense of fun returning to the DC Universe, as one of the comments we have heard is how dark the New 52 has been," D'Angelo said. "It will really help to have different kinds of books that build on DC's mythology in diverse ways."
Retailers are also thrilled to see titles that should appeal to their growing number of female customers.
"It seems to me that DC is trying to think a little outside of the box with fewer titles with Batman and Justice League in the title, and defiantly attempting to attract more of the female readers," said Justin Blair, store manager at Samurai Comics in Mesa, Arizona. "Versus the initial launch of the New 52 that felt very much in the tone of comics from the 1990’s with focus on grim, gritty macho driven titles, DC seems to be more aware of some of the changes in the audience."
"We’re seeing new types of comic fans in addition to the hardcore superhero ones," said J.C. Glindmyer, owner of Earthworld Comics in Albany, New York. "There’s been a huge fangirl presence strongly emerging in the hobby and some of DC’s books, Batgirl and Black Canary, have been tailored to that audience. Having a diverse line will help us recommend books easier to the right audience."
"Our biggest growth at our shop this last year has to be that of female readers," Wellman said. "I have no hard statistics on this, mind you, but the response to Batgirl and Catwoman was great. Captain Marvel is steadily growing in sales. Saga, which has a strong female appeal, is one of our bestiselling indies. So having more titles to offer that audience is a great thing."
Yet John Robinson, co-owner of nine Graham Cracker Comics stores throughout Illinois, was concerned that DC and other companies might be acting too fast when they cancel existing books and launch new ones too often.
"The diversity that they're trying is very interesting and probably healthy for the industry, but not if they just cancel the damn thing after 16 months," Robinson said. "It's not that easy to constantly convince people to try a book, sign up for a book, commit to a book, only to have the publisher sack that book after a short while — and we're stuck trying to convince them to try the next 'new thing' that the publishers will not commit to for any solid length of time.
"I prefer sticking with titles for the long haul," he said. "I understand if a title is losing money, you can only keep it going so long, but if it's profitible (but not really profitible), I'd still rather see it keep going than constantly dipping into the pool trying to find the next 'hit.'"
Robinson said the attempts to find the "next big thing" also makes it difficult for retailers to order.
"Very few die hard fans have been waiting for a Prez relaunch, so not a lot of excitement comes with those types of announcements," he said. "Most of these are a shot in the dark, and we have to guess how many people are going to try Section Eight (which I think will be great), or We are Robin or Black Canary or Bat-Mite — all titles with no track records."
Wellman agreed, but still thinks it's necessary to try new things every once in awhile. "It's tricky for us as retailers to guess which books to order high on and which ones are going to be stinkers, but talking with our customers and reading their reactions help us gauge a little better," he said. "I think it's good to raise the earth and plant new seeds every few years and when a broad swath of new titles launch all at once, it's kind of exciting."
Glindmyer said he's hoping DC has learned from the mistakes of the New 52 — and the successes at Marvel and Image Comics — as they allow creators to launch comics with a unique voice.
"[The New 52] needed more consistent creative teams with specific voices to compliment their titles," Glindmyer said. "One of the main reasons Batman sells as well as it does is due to [Scott] Snyder’s and [Greg] Capullo’s commitment to the title, and fans respond to that. Detective Comics sells about a third of Batman."
Stephen Mayer, co-manager of Acme Comics in Greensboro, North Carolina, agreed that the DC "voice" has changed for the better. "The break from the typical house style of the New 52 at this point could save the opinion of a generation of readers … that may have been brought in by the initial launch of the line in 2011, but have since moved on to different voices at Marvel or Image or Boom or Dynamite," he said.
Retailers also tended to like the announcement that story trumps continuity.
"I was somewhat surprised by the announcement that DC would have this new mandate that interesting new takes on characters will trump continuity," said Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff in Concord, California. "I've long felt both Marvel and DC have been way too slavish to continuity."
"There is a lot of potential for new readers for some of these characters if they are not bogged down by decades of storytelling," said Adam Casey, manager at Ssalefish Comics in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. "I hope this is a sign of more inclusive mainstream comics."
Yet several retailers pointed out that DC had to do something, because although the New 52 brought new eyes to their comics, the company was unable to hold the readers long-term. "It was something DC had to do," Glindmyer said. "Aside from the main Batman title and Harley Quinn, every DC title's sales have slid way below it’s pre New 52 numbers."
Whether DC's June changes are successful is something that even respected retailer Brian Hibbs, owner of Comix Experience in San Francisco, said is "way, way, way too early to tell."
Until retailers know for sure, they're trying to stay positive about the future potential of comic books and DC's new line.
"As more details are released, long-time readers will figure out which titles they'd like to read, and new or casual readers will surely find out about some of these interesting projects," Casey said. Yet he added that, "on the whole, it seems that customers are more excited for these new stories than Marvel's massive retcon."
"DC has always been about the story — at least in the nine years of my store — and that is what will sell and please fans," said Bret Parks, owner at Ssalesfish in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. "Fans do not want gimmicks. They want good storytelling. I think DC can deliver."
"Between what DC is planning and Marvel's still somewhat secret Secret Wars, we'll have some strong super-hero sales this summer," Field said. "Coming off our best year ever in 2014, I'm always looking at how we're going to do better. I'm happy to know that publishers — DC, Marvel and all others — are trying to do what they can to excite readers and increase sales."