In a conversation this week with John Jackson Miller — author of the indispensible comic book sales history website Comichron.com — about the historical context of DC’s announced sales of Justice League and Action Comics #1, and whether or not the early success The New 52 could help spark long-term sales growth, Miller dropped this knowledge on me:
"The secret is cash flow," Miler wrote. "Comics' booms have historically not come from single-issue hits, but rather from a steady stream of strong titles and events where retailers had the money to put behind shelf copies for new things. Civil War didn’t happen in a vacuum. The market began to recover in 2001 because from the absolute pit of the market, Ultimate Spider-Man begat Wolverine: The Origin and Dark Knight Strikes Again, which begat Dreamwave’s Transformers boom, which begat... etc., etc.
"People may complain about events every year, but the reason they were possible is because one event funded the next. In the absence of cash flow, retailers look more to making sure the lease is covered than toward buying extra copies of and promoting the Next Big Thing."
So with retailers perhaps being relatively flushed with cash over the next few months if the early success of The New 52 holds (and presumably other projects like this week’s Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1), following Miller’s logic, the industry could move to reverse the sales decline over the last year and a half with a series of strong subsequent projects of interest to large percentage of its fanbase.
Can Marvel or DC come up with some new twist on a summer event that recaptures interest like 2006’s Civil War did? Maybe they can. But with the current Fear Itself selling less than a third of what Civil War did five years ago, it'd have to be one strong, relatable concept to win back the so-called "event fatigued."
Is there another 2002-like 1980s comic book toy/animation boom somewhere to be found? What’s the 1990s nostalgic equivalent of the '80s animation craze anyway? Grant Morrison's Saved by the Bell: The Comic Book Series?
Can Alan Moore be coaxed back to Watchmen for a sequel? Or Frank Miller back to Batman?
No way, and probably not.
Wolverine: The REAL Origin?
Identity Crisis 2?
Then it occurred to me something we haven’t seen in a while and that’s almost always performed well. A near sure-fire way to generating interest among the largest possible fanbase of readers past and present, and that could also maybe generate some of that highly coveted "mainstream" press interest.
So, Marvel… DC… it's time to do a crossover.2003’s JLA/Avengers was the last, and despite an enormous price tag at the time ($5.95 for four prestige format issues), sold very well and was no doubt one of the cash flow generators Miller was talking about, helping along a six-year industry growth spurt between the years 2001 and 2007.
With DC's reboot only heightening the age-old fan rivalry between the major publishers, and with 2012 poised to deliver a trio of monster Hollywood hits in The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and the Spider-Man reboot, what better time would there be to pool your efforts and help give comics book stores a shot in the arm.
Marvel and DC should also be working together to help mature the digital market, but that’s an OP/ED for another day.Now there is some old story about DC never doing a joint-Marvel project because of something Marvel’s former editor-in-chief once said. And you know what, I'm not even going to go there. Some of the players on both sides have changed since those days, and I'm going to leave the past in the past and assume both publishers have or can too.
So what's stopping them from doing what will almost undoubtedly be a much-anticipated project?Having worked at Marvel Comics during the publication of JLA/The Avengers, I have a small idea of what a painstaking production process an inter-company crossover can be. You’ve got two different sets of editorial offices overseeing approval of everything, and probably with more sets of eyes and a greater-than-normal scrutiny as well as both publishers understandably look to project their valuable intellectual property and be certain their characters and concepts are portrayed accurately.
But we thought of this too, and we're going to even suggest a concept that may mitigate some of the complications that come from putting iconic heroes from different publishers side-by-side.
The concept is: Don’t do that.C'mon, we've all seen the story play out too many times anyway. The beats are as follows:
1.) Contrive some way to work two villains from the respective universes into the plot.
2.) Have the two heroes or teams meet, and come to blows over a manipulated misunderstanding or seemingly unsolvable situation set by the villains.
3.) Have the heroes/teams put aside their differences and team up in the third arc to save the day.
Show of hands: Who wants to see that again?
Yeah, I didn't think so. And the less said about "Amalgam," the better, don't you think?So borrowing liberally from the school of Keep It Simple Stupid, here's what we're proposing — The Greatest Marvel Heroes vs. the Greatest DC Villains … and of course, vice versa. A series of one-shots or limited series, created and published respectively by the company who owns the hero, "borrowing" the villain, and telling simple, good ol' fashioned comic book stories of good versus evil, rather than some elaborate hero-on-hero mix-up.
Spider-Man vs. the Joker, Batman vs. the Green Goblin. Superman vs. Doctor Doom, the Fantastic Four vs. Brainiac. And here’s betting you could get some of the biggest names in the industry interested in writing and drawing these stories, particularly if they're allowed to tell straightforward stories free of some elaborate crossover continuity.
The possibilities are endless. Well, maybe not endless, but at least abundant. So abundant, we've come up with 10 of our own, which we gladly offer up to the "Big Two" gratis, if they're so inclined.FACEBOOK and TWITTER!