Getting up to speed

DCE2013AWhile I’m normally a sucker for “comic characters reading comics” covers (see?), I feel kind of bad for the Justice League on the cover of the recent DC Entertainment Essential Graphic Novels and Chronology 2013. It doesn’t really seem to me that they’re having fun reading these comics, but studying them to get up to speed on their own increasingly-convoluted continuity…

This recently-released catalog is (per the back cover copy) “an expansive look at our rich backlist collection created by the best writers and illustrators in the industry. This catalog can be use as an important resource for new fans seeking a starting point, as well [as] a look back at our impressive backlist for the most fervent DCE enthusiasts.” I know I’ve been hard on DC about their “New 52” initiative (both in this blog and in face-to-face conversations), but it seems like they’ve thrown out their own history for the short-term sales boost it’s given them. For all the talk of their “rich backlist collection,” that impression is definitely reinforced with this catalog.

Of the 147 titles spotlighted in the essential/DC Comics categories, only five feature material originally published prior to 1986, with just one of those dating from before the Silver Age. They entirely ignored the Jack Kirby & Will Eisner collections, their extensive Archive series and Showcase reprints collecting well-regarded work from the majority of their history. Shazam! went entirely unrepresented. Legion of Super-Heroes were only mentioned in a rundown of all New 52 titles. Wonder Woman merited a grand total of three entries on a “Women of DC Comics” spread, featuring her rich history dating clear back to… 2010. (As a caveat, these characters were given somewhat better representation in the ISBN listings at the back of the catalog).

As a starting point for new fans, it didn’t fare much better:

On this spread of Batman titles, for instance, 60% are “volume one” … and that’s not even counting Batman: Earth One, yet another possible starting point. I feel bad for new readers and also for the collection development librarian who hopes to provide a basic collection for library patrons interested in these characters. As alienated as long-term readers would have been by a totally fresh start (many of whom have been alienated as a result of the New 52 anyway), a clean break would have at least made it easier for new readers to actually get on board at the beginning.

This slanted selection of what the publishers find most essential among the “breadth and depth of DC Entertainment’s comprehensive library” (p.1), is a sad snapshot of the current comic market. A recent article by New York Post writer Reed Tucker (the only link I can find to it is via this post) points out some of the problems keeping comics from reaching the larger audiences that movies starring the same characters do. While I agree with most of Tucker’s comments, this question of his seems to hit home most directly to the dilemma of where new readers’ should start: “Do you like Batman? Well, you’re gonna love him in 13 other monthly books.” It makes me yearn for the days during the early 80s when Dick Giordano coordinated Batman and Detective Comics into a single biweekly Batman title (or when DC did the same with Superman titles in the 90s); at least you’d get a piece of the same story no matter which issue you picked up first. With the added benefit of being able to collect issues from different titles into trades at a faster rate instead of having multiple “volume one” starting points.

While on the whole, this catalog left me discouraged about the direction DC (and given its size, the larger monthly comics market) is heading, I did get a chuckle out of one thing about this catalog: the fact that it was titled  DC Entertainment Essential Graphic Novels and Chronology “2013” … because it’s a safe bet that it’s not going to be the same chronology two years from now…


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