In the course of talking to comic creators this year, I started to think about their unique talents and what I think they would be best suited to. Inspired by all kinds of wonderful ideas I’ve seen online and heard from creators, I’ve put together my New 52. These are the 52 books I would publish if DC’s offerings were up to me and, as my friends and I have had a good time discussing them, I thought I would share them with you.

Showcase_29I tried to consider the actual feasibility of these titles, not only in the sense of immediate sales but in their ability to expand DC’s brand long-term. I also recognize that this is a dramatically simplified version of what DC actually has to do. As such, I made a couple of rules for myself. First, as I don’t have the same knowledge of the creators’ availability and timeliness as an actual editor, I decided that I would allow myself access to any writer currently working in comics, but that I could only assign a creator to one book. Second, I tried not to put a writer on the same book that they’ve already worked on, though some were moved to similar concepts or allowed to expand short work they’ve already done. Finally, while an actual relaunch might do well to include some new books, I limited myself to preexisting titles and IPs for this project.

Even with these rules however, there’s no denying that comics need fresh blood. While I tried to invest some new energy into the line, I’ve still had my eye on publishing all 52 titles for at least two years. That means thinking somewhat conservatively. Like DC, I was looking to do something new but I was also trying to avoid risk. Risk is deadly to a business, especially one that is struggling with changes in the market. But obviously risk is a necessary part of the creative enterprise. I’m afraid I’m not going to turn around and suggest a Brenda and Paco book from an untested creative team (even if it could be awesome), but, in addition to the series and creators whose risk I’ve tried to temper, I suggest we have one book that’s built around it.

 

SHOWCASE

Launched in 1956 in response to the demands of the comic publishing system of the day, Showcase was an anthology series designed to gauge reader interest in new comics. While the sales numbers are lost to me, I feel fairly confident that the series can be declared a massive success. DC characters who got their start between the pages of Showcase include Adam Strange, Bat Lash, Rip Hunter, Hawk and Dove, Ray Palmer, The Metal Men, The Challengers of the Unknown, Anthro, the Creeper, Barry Allen, and Hal Jordan.

“A daring and bold idea”, I think a revival of this “startling innovation in comics” is essential for the future of DC. The only question is how?

In years since, the reluctance of retailers to purchase untested books from DC has decreased and Showcase became a less necessary part of the company. Nonetheless, I think it’s time we brought it back.

For a company built off ideas like DC, you can’t afford to get stagnant. That’s a big part of how Marvel outpaced them in the 60s and 70s and Image has stolen much of the market from both of them over the past decade. Anthologies like Showcase are a fantastic way to expose readers to new creators and new ideas. It’s also a fine way for DC to test new writers and artists that they might want to work with more thoroughly in the future.

The factors standing against this series are actually some of the most critical issues in comics today: nostalgia vs. innovation and shared universes vs. creator rights. The simple fact of the matter is that enough fans are more willing to read an ever growing number of Batman books quicker than try new comics and while that won’t stop DC from drowning, it will keep them afloat for a little longer. It naturally doesn’t help that there’s an increasing perception among creators that it’s not safe to utilize the creations they really love at one of the work-for-hire companies. The risk of losing control of your creation is not worth the extra attention and the chance of a team-up with Batman when the readers inevitably don’t come out the way you hoped.

Dealing with these issues completely is something that is well beyond my ability, but I will say that DC has to work with creators to find an acceptable way for them to create new properties and characters that neither deprives the company of usable concepts nor the creator of fair credit and compensation. Thankfully DC seems to be slowly moving in the right direction, with the horror stories of the Golden and Silver Ages giving way to more agreeable arrangements like Chuck Dixon’s compensation for the use of Bane, however this needs to be the baseline, not the rarity in comics.

Showcase is a great place to explore different tones for established characters and to give new writers the chance to make an impression on fans. This Arkham vs. Blackgate softball game made for a memorable story and a great cover.

Once Spotlight is ready for creators, there’s still the issue of fan interest. On one hand, it’s ok if fans aren’t psyched about an issue of Showcase, not all of the featured creators and characters have what it takes to draw a monthly audience, however we need to make sure that the series can support itself financially.

I propose the following: two to three (max) issue arcs spotlighting a character or run the creative team would like to expand upon. The first issue of each arc would take after Image and sell for a discounted $2.50, making it the cheapest investment on the stands. After that the book would jump up to a larger page count and adjust to a more natural $4.00, possibly with a $3.50 middle mark for the second installments of three-part stories. (Obviously should the price of comics change this should be adjusted to match.)

The value of this strategy is two-fold. Firstly it incentivizes readers to take a chance on a book they might not otherwise and hopefully helps the book stand out at the comic store. Secondly, it makes it easier to gauge reader interest. For those who don’t know, the comic industry doesn’t actually work based on reader demand. Like a kindly but occasionally sexist electoral college, retailers are the ones who actually make the determination of what gets ordered and, as a result, what a book’s sales numbers look like. Because of the way the system works, the books get ordered long before their quality is known to readers. Since that’s not going to change, it’s necessary to give readers a chance to read and hear about Showcase before we move onto another concept, hence the shift to multiple issue arcs. The increased price on the back-end also helps to demonstrate whether a spin-off book would sell. While critical and fan acclaim is something we all hope for more of in our Big 2 comics, the most important thing for the company isn’t how fervent the fans of a property are but if they’re willing to support the books they love. A reader hooked enough to accept that price increase is likely to come back if an ongoing or miniseries follows. Of course, that sounds slightly cruel, but in exchange for that extra dollar we get to give fans more content and creators more space to tell their stories.

Showcase provides a space for otherwise unusual ideas like this story from Showcase ’96 starring Black Canary and Lois Lane.

Assuming this strategy would be viable, I’d recommend rotating arcs between established creators and rising talents and between new features and old characters who haven’t been viewed as workable leads. This is a great place to let high-profile creators do work at DC and, if he’d be interested, I think I’d probably look at Mark Waid to launch the series. Starting with such a respected and talented writer would help give the series legitimacy and grease the wheels for newcomers following after. It also gives readers who aren’t moved by the thought of discovering new voices a reason to keep an eye on the title, for fear of missing a pair of issues by Neil Gaiman or Darwyn Cooke. Between such giants readers would be introduced to new heroes and talents, and hopefully be part of the ascension of brand new titans.

It’s one of the riskier titles in the line, but it’s essential that we give new writers a place to explore the DC Universe and support the creation of new heroes. Showcase will be that place. Even if only one or two new characters or series come out of this, it’ll be more than worth it. Especially with advertising support in other DC comics and particularly as anthologies become more popular among prose readers, I think this series has a chance to change some of the preconceptions about anthology comics.

Tomorrow… No one does it better…

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