If any two words describe the DC marketing plan in 2014, it would probably be "future" and "weekly."
By the end of the year, DC will have three weekly series running concurrently, a publishing commitment that Co-Publisher Dan DiDio confirmed is replacing almost a quarter of its regular monthly comic line-up.
The move to weeklies, which DiDio called a coordination "challenge," is an attempt to generate enthusiasm for comics at a time when, the publisher said, excitement is "quieting down."
DC is also committing the entire month of September to showing readers "potential futures" in all its ongoing series in a month-long, line-wide event under the header The New 52: Futures End (tying into the weekly series of the same name). By giving readers peeks into the future of the DCU — including both what will happen and what might happen — the company is hoping to generate further excitement among readers.
It's certainly not the first time DC has published stories about the future — some of the company's most successful stories have been set in "possible" futures, including Kingdom Come and The Dark Knight Returns. But the idea of "peeking" into the future has shown up a few times in even the past year at DC, from Geoff Johns' Green Lantern #20, where he shared a "possible" future for the comic's characters, to this month's Batman #28, which showed what the Caped Crusader's life will be like in one year .
The idea of weekly comics isn't an entirely new concept either, but making such a significant commitment to them is a switch from former attempts at DC — most notably the 2006 year-long series 52 and its 2007 follow-up, Countdown to Final Crisis.
As DC themes the whole month of September around the future, the event will include several new titles that are launching in June/July. The event will also feature variant 3D covers — similar to last year's "Villains Month," although with images that visually change from the present day to the future. (DC is requiring retailers to order the September comics earlier than normal, with a cut-off date of May 29th.)
DiDio revealed details about the new weekly series and the September Futures End event during an interview with Newsarama that was timed to announcements being made at today's national meeting of the ComicsPRO retailers association.
And as we spoke to the executive, we found out more about why Futures End doesn't have an apostrophe, why the weekly comic features several concepts from the former WildStorm universe, and how the story's "possible" futures will impact the current day DCU.
Newsarama: Dan, what's the idea behind the big event in September 2014?
Dan DiDio: We have the weekly series kicking off, Futures End, which starts in May. And the idea is that it gives us a snapshot into the future of the New 52 DC Universe. And one of the things we wanted to do was not just look at it through the lens of the weekly series, but also take a month and flash forward, and see what the potential futures of all our characters might be in that month.
So in that month, you'll get a chance to see where, in the next five years, our characters might finish up or might end up being.
So there are a lot of twists and turns, and it gives some exciting teases of potential storylines that might be coming for our characters in the near future.
Nrama: You keep using the word "might." Obviously, your fans understand the idea of a possible future, particularly with the success of stories like Dark Knight Returns and Kingdom Come. But it seems like the future stories wouldn't impact your present-day DCU. Are there going to be things teased that definitely are going to happen? Or does it tie into present-day in other ways?
DiDio: These stories aren't going to just be tied into the weekly. But what you'll be seeing is a lot of the writers who are working on series right now projecting forward — their ideas, their storylines, where they think their character might be five years from now.
What that means is that you have a writer who's working on a series currently, and he's looking forward to his run five years from now, where he anticipates the characters will be at that time.
Nrama: It sounds like some will tie directly into the weekly, and some will be more like a "what if" of the future.
DiDio: I'd like to think it's a little more than "what if."
Nrama: Oops, that's not a DC term anyway.
DiDio: Yeah, no, no. We really wanted to show things that seem like the logical progression of the characters and where the storylines are going.
That's the main thing.
So if you're reading a series right now, you might actually see threads that look like they're being played out five years from now.
Nrama: So in other words, if you're not reading Futures End, but you read Superman, the September issue of Superman is still going to interest you. It's not just going to be about the weekly series.
DiDio: Oh, absolutely correct. And in some cases, some of these things will have the regular [art] teams on [them], if their schedules allow. But a lot of them will have the regular writers on them as well, from the ongoing series.
Nrama: And I'm sure you're going to add a few new titles at that time too, although you may not be able to talk about those yet (although I'd be happy to hear about them).
DiDio: [Laughs.] We will be having some new series that we will be premiering between June and July, and they will be participating in the Five Years Later future and tied to Futures End, and they will be part of the September event.
But they will all be ongoing titles. So unlike what we did with Villains Month, which were villains that were stand-alone, attached to individual titles of other series, these are actually the series that are going to be here. So all the lenticular covers — all the Futures End stories that will be told in September — will be in the titles of the ongoing series.
Nrama: We've seen that Stormwatch and Grifter are playing a role in the weekly Futures End. Why do you think those former WildStorm characters haven't caught on as well as you were hoping when you first launched titles for them, and what you're hoping for them in the weekly?
DiDio: The only thing I can really say about this is that the characters that appear in the Futures End story were chosen by the writers on the book, the creators on the series.
And the idea of putting Grifter in there or Stormwatch came from the team. They're the ones that wanted to see those characters.
I think that any time you have a writer or an artist that has a particular excitement for a character, I think they have a better chance to succeed.
And, you know what? We launched a lot of product out of the gate when we launched the New 52. Some of it succeeded; some of it didn't. But it doesn't mean that any of those characters weren't working for us. As a matter of fact, we have a lot of faith in them. That's why they were in the initial launch.
And from our standpoint, this gives us another opportunity to show why we included them in the beginning, and why feel that they're part of our pantheon now.
Nrama: OK, I'm going to confront you a little bit on the title of this event and the weekly series. It's been pointed out to us that there's no apostrophe in Futures End, which means we're talking about plural futures. Can you explain the significance of that missing apostrophe at all?
DiDio: Yes! It's interesting because, what you're going to see at the start of Futures End, the story actually starts 35 years in the future, and then moves to five years in the future. And you'll see the potential of where the world is heading and what needs to be changed, or what needs to be acted upon.
Ultimately, what you're going to see is the potential of where the futures can be going.
And also, I'd like to say, what direct impact it has on stories set in the current timeline in the DCU.
Nrama: So there is direct impact on the current day? If it's set in the future, how does that happen?
DiDio: Because ultimately, we are… you know what? Rather than just alluding to this, we might as well say it here too.
We are going to have another weekly series kicking off in October that will be set in the current DCU timeline that will have direct implications on what's happening with the five years later storyline.
And you'll see a level of connectivity that I think will help really bring into focus where we see the future of the DCU heading.
Nrama: So this weekly that's going to start in October — does it focus on one character, like Batman Eternal, or is it more of a "big DCU" thing?
DiDio: It's much more world-building than that.
Nrama: So you have a lot of commitment to weeklies. That's obviously a huge change from, say five or 10 years ago. Talk to me about why you guys are committing to three weeklies in one year.
DiDio: Three weeklies in one year, what it brings to us is a sense of urgency to the line. We do weeklies primarily because we have big stories to tell, and this is the best format to tell it in. It gives a sense of urgency, themed to the story beats and the actions that are occurring on a weekly basis.
So that's what's exciting about that.
Also, just to let you know, these aren't weeklies added onto 52 titles. They are part of the 52 number of books that we create on a monthly basis.
So it's not that we're adding more product in. It's just as the weaker books go away, we're adding weeklies, which we think have big stories that lead to more and exciting events as they start to unfold over the next year.
Nrama: So you've got a new weekly in April, a new weekly in May after Free Comic Book Day, some new titles launching in June/July, and the big event in September that leads to the new weekly in October. Talk to me about this schedule you've established where the big event comes in September – an annual sales necessity because of the numbers generated that month in 2011. What does it feel like, to you, that September has become the "big month" for DC for so many years in a row — and I assume into the future, since you've established this sales pattern?
DiDio: What it does is it gives you a chance to reset the line a little bit and see where your strengths and weaknesses are.
And if you look at what we did, we launched the New 52, which re-established the heroes in a new direction, voice and continuity. That's where we started.
Then we went forward and we did the Zero Month, because we sort of started the New 52 into the storyline. Zero Month allowed us to look back and look at the origins of the characters themselves, and how they came to be.
Then, because we established the heroes in that fashion, it only seemed to make sense the following year, to launch with the villains. So that's why we did a month around villains, because we have such a great pantheon of villains. We wanted to give them the chance to shine in the light too.
And now, we're looking into the future.
So what we've done is, we've looked in the past, we've looked at the heroes, we've looked at the villains, and now we're looking toward the future.
Nrama: And these 3D covers are also intended to help sales in September. I assume the last covers, in Villains Month, did well?
DiDio: The last ones did extraordinarily well for us. And you know, it wasn't without its challenges.
And the best part about it is that we had a chance to work with a number of retailers. We heard what their concerns were. And we figure we came out with a structure and plan right now that I think allows everybody to feel confident in how to order these things, to make sure that the right amount of books are on the shelf.
What we've done is accelerate the initial order and FOC process. Instead of doing this four months out, we're actually doing it six months out in order to give the retailers time to order properly, and for us to build the books with enough time to get the lenticular covers on to the order specifications that will be given to us from the retailers.
Also, when we went through the process the first time on the covers, we really got excited by the 3D effects, and the multiple layers and the depth of field that was created in the lenticular covers.
The covers now will also have the ability to have a "flicker" effect. That means that the images change and show the transformation going on.
In this particular case, and why we attached the lenticular covers onto this month, is that there is a level of change that is taking place with our characters during the course of this story. And because of that, we thought that the transformation aspect would be fun to see on the 3D covers themselves. And that's why they're on the covers of the September books.
Nrama: Yeah, this cover you released has Superman as a robot!
DiDio: And that's the reason why we have the "might" aspect of our conversation. Because the 35-years-in-the-future story is a very dystopic future. And because of that, we're saying that it might happen.
Ultimately, the goal of the Futures End story is to reset the future so that that type of end for our characters does not happen.
Nrama: I know you'll be talking to the retailers at ComicsPRO today, but what do you specifically want to say to readers about what's coming up at DC over the next year?
DiDio: I think the weeklies is really the big story for us right now, because it is a major commitment, and a lot of coordination to get it right.
But one of the things we felt very strongly about is that sense of momentum and excitement.
When we came out of the gate with the launch of the 52, we had people buy it, and we held onto them really tight and there was a level of excitement that we hadn't felt in comics for quite awhile.
Quite honestly, we felt, even between ourselves and other companies, it seems like the excitement is quieting down again, across the industry.
So we feel like it's time to crank it back up again and start to remind people about the big, bold and just craziness that we can bring to comics, that makes our storytelling so unique and exciting.
And from my standpoint, the three weeklies that we're doing — with Batman Eternal, with Futures End and … series to be named later — these are all world-building and show really, just the depth and breadth of the DC Universe and all of our characters from all different perspectives. And I think that's what makes it fun.
It's a challenge. It's a lot of work. But I think, if we pull this off right, I think the reward is for everyone.