DC FanDome Brings The DC Universe To Fans

 

We were robbed of Comic-Con this year thanks to the ongoing pandemic (the less said about their virtual convention, the better). However, comic book and DC fans were entreated to the virtual event DC FanDome which showcase all that is going on with the DC Universe in comics, film, TV, video games and much more.

There were many highlights in the virtual event and many avenues for fans to explore. Visiting the website, one could see there were different sections to view such as the Hall of Heroes, WatchVerse, KidsVerse, InsiderVerse, and so on. The most talked about highlights of course were the exclusive looks at the upcoming DC films and TV shows seen in the Hall of Heroes. For example, we were treated with a new trailer for Wonder Woman 1984 and a glimpse at Wonder Woman’s chief villain, the Cheetah (a bit too CGish but that’s fine). Other clicks revealed the first look at the re-designed Flash suit for the upcoming film of the Scarlet Speedster. Looking at the sleeker suit, it is obvious the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) version of the Flash was clearly inspired by his brief encounter with The CW version of the Flash as seen in his cameo in the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” TV crossover event. Frankly, the new suit is a great improvement as it looks more aerodynamic and befitting of the character.

There also was a lively panel of The Suicide Squad hosted by the film’s director, James Gunn. For the first time the roster of supervillains was revealed and what a motley crew! Leave it to Gunn to pick some of the most obscure and goofy villains for The Suicide Squad. Comic book speculators and collectors will have their hands full trying to hunt down the comics that debuted the likes of the Polka-Dot Man or the Weasel. The panel itself was quite funny and gives fans who were disappointed by the previous Suicide Squad that the sequel will be injected with James Gunn’s humor and be reverant to the original comic book as he promised in the panel.

The suicide squad panel

Director Zack Snyder presided over a presentation of his original vision for Justice League. Featuring appearances from the film’s stars like Ben Affleck (who made news recently when it was revealed he would reprise his role as Batman/Bruce Wayne in the upcoming film, The Flash) and Henry Cavill, who looked really buffed out–a hint that he will return to the DCEU as Superman? After taking questions from fans who championed for his original cut, Zack Snyder unveiled a teaser trailer for Justice League. What stood out is the huge amount of original footage including a new and better version of Steppenwolf, Darkseid and Superman in his black suit. With a running time of four hours, the original vision of Justice League promises to be a true superhero epic.

The other big movie news was the premiere trailer for next year’s film The Batman. What can be said that has not already been written online about this first look at the new Batman film? As it has been said everywhere, this film looks awesome. Easily one of the most anticipated films next year, The Batman seems to be a spiritual successor to the Christopher Nolan Batman films, especially Batman Begins. The film looks gritty and promises to be more of a crime thriller peppered with intimidating scenes with the Caped Crusader.

Aside from giving us previews and first looks at upcoming property, DC FanDome was a celebration of all things DC. The event showcased brilliant and imaginative fan art and cosplayers, which captured the spirit of past conventions. Visitors got to see how influential and widespread DC was as videos showcased fans and creators from all over the globe. The Celebration of DC Pets was really cute, by the way. It was impressive to see how DC captured our imagination. DC FanDome also took time to celebrate the rich and vast history of DC with clips and images from past incarnations of its superheroes and villains.

On a technical level, there were the usual technical glitches that we are all experiencing these days with our Zoom meetings and other video calls, but for the most part, the event went off smoothly and was slickly produced. Their online store, there should have had more variety of merchandise because the only thing on sale were different kinds of t-shirts. But fans were able to read online comics and check out all the things related to DC, whether it be the latest with the DCEU or the thrilling video game Gotham Knights.

The DC FanDome was a great success and was actually better than what could have been done at Comic-Con. For a long while, Comic-Con was too exclusive as tickets to the yearly event were rare and expensive and frustrated nearly all of the fan community who were not privy to view first looks at trailers or concept art. We were forced to scour online for amateur videos taken at Hall H for just a glimpse or an upcoming film. The way DC FanDome was done should be continued in the future and can be done by other companies (hint, hint Marvel) as a way to better reach fans.

The Current State And Future Of Comic Books, Part II

We looked at the current state of the comic book industry, which had been declining in recent years for many reasons ranging from too many products flooding the market to the obsession with variant comics. The industry suffered a brutal blow with the COVID-19 pandemic which forced most stores and industries to close in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. This weekend, another annual Free Comic Book Day event would have taken place all over. That is gone, along with highly anticipated conventions, especially the San Diego Comic-Con.  But fear not, we will get our geek fixes at some point in the future.  However, as our society looks ahead and to reopening, many fans are wondering where the comic book industry goes from here or if it can survive.  Let’s look further.

The Coming Contraction

To be blunt, there are too many comic book titles flooding the market. Certain popular characters have multiple monthly titles; numerous crossover event books have overtaken the shelves; and every time a fan turns around a title is canceled, relaunched or rebooted just to produce a new number one issue for collectors. The hard truth is that this cannot continue. Once this crisis passes and the stores reopen, the publishers have to entice readers to buy their products. One thing to keep in mind is that too many buyers are now out of work and cannot easily afford comic books, not with current prices. It is not realistic to expect the average fan to buy all of your products as in the past.

Publishers need to determine what books to create. The obvious answer would be to focus their titles on their most popular and recognizable characters. And they should be limited to two or three titles at most. One thing publishers can do is to increase the amount of pages in a popular title and feature back up stories with lesser heroes. This was the norm back in the Golden Age of Comics and would allow for the publishers to keep employing creators as is currently done.

Look at the Downside

While contracting the amount of books published monthly goes against publishers wanting to put out as much product as possible, there are long-term benefits. Limiting the amount of exposure for a character creates demand. At the same time, the quality of the stories will improve as not every story angle will be quickly used up in a short amount of time by writers and artists pumping out dozens of titles per month.

Another benefit for downsizing comics is that it will be easier to coordinate events and continuity. An all-too-common gripe from readers is how they are pressured to buy every single crossover comic book and keeping up with what is going on. Too often, events are contradictory and repetitive. How many times can someone in the Fantastic Four or the Avengers die and come back? Think of how great it was to read the early Valiant comic books. Back when those comics came out in the early 1990s, only a few titles were published monthly and there was a tight continuity between the titles. They were easy to follow, yet for the most part we were not forced to buy every book. This helped create buzz for those Valiant titles. When an event like Unity occurred it was a big deal. Nowadays it seems as if there is some kind of weekly event. Speaking of events, what is the latest Spider-Verse thing going on now? Or is it Spider-Geddon?

Reduced Prices

There are many ways to cut costs aside from limiting output. The easiest way to entice buyers is through sales: BOGOs, discounts, subscription services, etc. Many of these sales tactics are used right now, which is often seen during the holiday season, Free Comic Book Day, or the release of major superhero films.

Still, these sales will only go so far. To keep people coming back and buying comics on a regular basis, prices must be lowered. Expecting loyal readers to fork out $3.99 per title is unrealistic given the state of the economy. One reason why comic books took off when they were first published was because of low prices. Everyday kids could afford to buy them for 10 cents at the beginning. They were even affordable when the prices eventually went up to a dollar or so. But current prices inhibit children from buying them. Publishers must entice new generations of readers to keep the industry alive; although publishers put out inexpensive comics geared towards young children, they are not adequately attracted to more traditional titles.

OK, so how can publishers lower prices besides limiting the amount of books published? One thing that can be tried is to change the paper stock and if worse comes to worse go back to newspaper print. It was only in the past couple of decades that the paper quality in comics took quantum leaps forward. No longer did collectors have to worry about yellowing pages or crumbling paper. But this came at a literal cost. Perhaps it is time to revisit the traditional newsprint, if only for a while.

Another idea is to use less pages per title. This could mean shorter and more serialized stories. But this should be considered along with the actual size of a comic book.

Most fans know that the Golden Age and Silver Age comic books were actually slightly bigger than current comics. The sizes were reduced eventually to diminish the amount of paper needed and therefore cutting costs. Comic books in the future will probably be smaller and look like those Best of DC comic book digests that came out in the 1970s.

Continue reading

The Current State And Future Of Comic Books, Part I

It was well known by fans that the comic book industry faced declining sales in the past few years. Then this pandemic struck. Now, comic book shops all over are closed down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Major comic book companies like Marvel and DC will not release comic books digitally, and this has resulted in the entire industry coming to a standstill. We have not had any released comic books for several weeks and this has cascaded to lost jobs, revenue and products. On top of that, the San Diego Comic-Con and other conventions have been cancelled.

This crisis will pass at some point. But will its damage be too much for the comic book industry? Even without this pandemic the industry had many challenges and was running on inertia and good will from other media, notably the films and TV shows based on their comic book characters. It was in a fragile place and it may only take an outside factor like the coronavirus to be the kill the industry.

So, what happened to the comic book industry and where does its future go? If it even has one.

Modern State

When the American comic book first came into existence back in the 1930s they were aimed at children and at first reprinted newspaper strips. This changed with Action Comics #1 in 1938 as it introduced Superman, the first genuine superhero. After a lull in the 1950s superheroes dominated the medium to this day. However, comic books continued to change as new styles and ideas were introduced, and readers’ tastes changed, as well.

Currently, we are in the Modern Age and just as in the 1990s it is defined by an overreliance on speculators and comic books geared to please them. There are differences between the two time periods. The speculators during the Copper Age in the 1990s were mostly outside investors who hoped to retire by buying comic books with gimmick incentives like hologram covers, inserted trading cards, and numerous guest appearances by popular characters like Wolverine or Venom. This period was infamous for the Great Comics Crash of 1996 as investors were unable to sell their comics and left. Sales dropped so hard that comic books’ continued existence was in doubt.

Exclusive Variants

While those investors are long gone, today many hardcore collectors are encouraged to seek out very expensive variant comics. These are issues of certain key titles with different covers that are given out to retailers as incentives by distributors like Diamond Comics and publishers to encourage retailers to buy large volumes of comics. The retailers in turn sell these exclusive variants at premium prices, but are stuck with too many comics that will not sell. That is one of the reasons why comic book stores have so many sales with comics selling for $1 or so.

A new type of variants are blank cover comics that can be used for signatures or sketches by artists. This means that these comic books become unique pieces of art and thus more valuable. On average an individual title will have roughly eight to ten variant covers released. It can be hard to discern which is the regular cover for a title for a collector not interested in the variants.

These days collectors submit their coveted titles for grading to the Certified Guaranty Company (CGC). This company uses experts who thoroughly examine comics and assigned a number grade before the comics are sealed in hard plastic cases. This has led to collectors with large wallets to chase after these high-value items. Lately, CGC is selling comic books that are exclusives with black and white sketch variant covers of regular issues.

While some can profit handsomely with these graded comics, one has to wonder about the future of this niche market. After all, the average collector cannot afford to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars for these CGC exclusives, let alone the fee to have their precious comics graded.

Higher & Higher Prices

The current prices of comic books is an important reason why sales are declining. Let’s put aside the CGC comics. Those are a niche market for collectors with deep pockets and the average collector is not missing anything if he or she is just trying to keep up with a collection.

Anyone buying and collecting comic books will confirm that they cost too much money. This complaint has existed ever since the Silver Age when prices increased from 10 cents up to 20 cents. As publishing, printing and distribution costs went up so did the prices. Now, the average comic book costs about $3.99.

Lately, publishers released special anniversary issues that cost anywhere from 8 to 12 dollars. These particular comics are meant to celebrate the anniversaries of long-running successful characters. These special issues which feature assorted stories by many writers and artists sold extremely well, and is why more are coming out. The latest celebrant is The Joker who will have his own special 80th anniversary comic book that will ship directly later this month. Unlike the CGC comics, the average collector will seek these out even though they are expensive.

Where does this end? Think about it, where once a comic book cost only 10 cents now on average is nearly five dollars. Then multiply that with all the individual comics a collector will buy on any given month and what is left is an expensive hobby. Surely, most comic books today are not oriented to young children and publishers have correctly figured that the average buyers are adults who can afford their product. With that said, where does it end? It is easy to see comic books in the future costing ten dollars, even twenty dollars for an average issue. Will the average collector be willing to pay that much on a monthly basis?

Continue reading

Twilight Of DC Comics?

The latest rumors percolating around the internet is about DC Comics and how it will cease publication. The reason behind this is low sales and loss of confidence by DC Comics’ owners, AT&T. While the comic book company is challenged by declining sales, it is too early to start writing obituaries for the company.

It’s been reported that AT&T does not have any interest in comic book publications and considers DC Comics to be a financial drain to the point that they want to sell DC. More dire is that if the upcoming DC Comics 5G revamp does not succeed then DC will fold. That is ludicrous and an exaggeration. First of all, even though DC comic book sales are down, the characters are still popular. Just look at the amount of money made in merchandising and from other media. Namely, TV shows, films and video games. The video game Batman: Arkham Knight and Batman: Arkham are some of the most revered video games ever released.

Sure, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is struggling right now, but the cinematic universe is rife with potential. Want proof? Look at the positive reaction generated by the clip introducing the new Batman in next year’s The Batman. It is too easy to pile on the DCEU because Shazam! underperformed last year and Birds of Prey was a box office failure. Too many are comparing the DCEU to the MCU, which is unfair since the MCU was a properly planned cinematic universe that is reaping the rewards now. But keep in mind, the MCU may not be the top dog going forward and this could coincide with the DCEU taking over as the top cinematic universe. Just greenlight a Man of Steel sequel and all should be fine. 😀

Then there is the high anticipation for new DC TV shows like Stargirl and Green Lantern. Also, many current TV shows are getting lots of attention like the ones streaming on the DC Universe app (Harley Quinn, Doom Patrol and Titans) or on The CW–the recent crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths earned tons of positive publicity as several versions of live-action DC superheroes made appearances and teamed up.

Getting back to the comics, the low sales DC is grappling with is shared with all the other comic book companies. There are many reasons for declining sales such as rising costs, other competing media, and so on. What can be done to deal with the sales? That is the million-dollar question and it is clear the current comic book model and distribution no longer works. A solution as innovative as direct sales was back in the late 70s is needed to allow the medium to survive. Whether this means going completely digital, lowering prices, or changing the print format (going directly to graphic novels or trade paperbacks) remains to be seen.

Of course, AT&T could license off their comic books and have another company create their comics. But that could lead to headaches down the road. What if a new character is introduced in the hypothetical licensed comic, does that character belong to DC? The best example is Marvel back in the 90s. The company canceled several comics and hired Rob Liefeld and other Image creators to relaunch core titles like Captain America into their own reboots. At the same time, Marvel sold the film and TV rights to film companies to raise cash and climb out of bankruptcy. The result was that the Liefeld books were poorly received and eventually killed, while to this date, Marvel is struggling with trying to regain the rights to all their characters. Hence the mess over Spider-Man’s film and TV rights, ditto for the Hulk. DC Comics is in a state of flux right now. This was evident with the recent dismissal of DC co-publisher Dan DiDio; and how 5G will fare is unknown. The comic books as we know will most likely change, but its too fluid to guess how, so we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, if any of you don’t want to see a twilight of DC comics then remember to keep buying them.

 

 

Requiem For A Dark Knight

ben-affleck-as-batman
The status of Ben Affleck’s role in the upcoming Batman film directed by Matt Reeves has been a source of both interest and mystery ever since Affleck left that film’s role as director two years ago. This mystery was finally solved a few days ago with the article on deadline.com that detailed a release date for the film titled The Batman, which will come to theaters on June 25th, 2021 with a new actor to be cast in the role. This was seemingly confirmed by Affleck himself, who retweeted the article on his Twitter account. This news has brought a reaction from fans that of sadness and regret since he will no longer be playing a role that he has owned since his debut in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The initial announcement of his casting as Batman was met with some skepticism at first, but after the first trailer for the movie, with the image of Bruce Wayne staring at his Batman outfit, consumed with rage, fans were convinced of his ability to play the dual role of playboy millionaire and costumed vigilante, obsessed with stopping what he saw as the ultimate threat in Superman. His excellent performance in the somewhat divisive film cemented his legacy as the definitive live-action Batman. His brief, but well received, cameo in Suicide Squad further excited fans. His last full time appearance as the Caped Crusader in Justice League in 2017 was met with mixed results since he seemed somewhat disinterested. Possibly this was due to reshoots by Joss Whedon and rewrites to the story that changed what the original director Zack Snyder had planned. But, overall, I thought his performance was still a great interpretation of a transformed Bruce Wayne who was trying to live up to Superman’s example and not let his sacrifice in Batman v Superman go in vain. 
I do wish that Ben Affleck was given another opportunity to play the role. However, due to the reaction to both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, as well as his own personal problems with alcoholism and a high profile divorce, this led to his wavering on whether or not to continue the role. Also complicating things was the fact that Matt Reeves wants to tell a story of a younger Batman that takes place maybe 10-15 years before the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There were some rumors that Affleck might play the older version of Batman at the start and end of the movie, but this seems to have been rejected by Reeves.  His vision of a noir-driven detective film does sound interesting and unique, but it would have been great to see Affleck in this type of film as well, since his previous movies as Batman focused on his fighting abilities and strengths. As for who will replace him, there are, of course, lots of rumors on that as well. One is Armie Hammer, who would be a good replacement. Hammer has been rumored to be up for the part of Hal Jordan in the upcoming Green Lantern Corps film, but that movie is still several years away with Geoff Johns writing a new script for it. Another one rumored is Aaron Taylor-Johnson from 2014’s Godzilla and 2010’s Kick-Ass. Whoever is picked should not be so young as to look more like Robin than Batman. Even though Reeves is supposedly looking for an actor in the range of 25-30, this Batman should already be an experienced crime fighter. Christoper Nolan’s Batman Begins in 2005 already told the story of the Caped Crusader first starting out. Another origin story is not needed. Whoever is cast needs to have the same presence that Affleck had and be able to show that he will eventually become the force that dominated Gotham’s underworld in Batman v Superman.
If there is ever another Justice League movie or another DCEU film that takes place in present day, one hopes that Affleck will be called on to don the cape again, but that is unknown at this point. If he never plays the role again, his legacy is still cemented in comic movie lore as arguably the most accurate Bruce Wayne and Batman to show up on the big screen. Every role is eventually recast at some point. Look at how many actors have played the role of James Bond over the years. Batman is no exception. The character is over 75 years old and will go on no matter who plays him, so while it’s sad that Ben Affleck is leaving, any hysteria over this is not really necessary. I just hope that whoever takes the torch from him is able to live up to the standard he set and helps Matt Reeves make another great Batman movie.
C.S. Link