I was filling out my pre-order list for March when I noticed something unusual. My DC entry was extraordinarily low. Of course, this didn’t happen overnight. My interest in DC’s output had been steadily shrinking for some time but the March preorders revealed that I’d passed a tipping point. I noticed it first when I checked off more comics from Dark Horse than DC. But it truly astounded me when my order for IDW also exceeded my order for DC. Had DC really fallen all the way to fourth?
This isn’t the first time that DC has failed to sit in first in my orders of comic books or in my esteem. I’m not excessively loyal (though you may argue that point if you wish). DC and Marvel have often traded places at the top of my pull list depending on their current output. And there was a brief period (too brief, if you ask me) when CrossGen was the king of the mountain for me. Yet DC had never fallen lower than second. They certainly hadn’t fallen all the way from second to fourth in a single month.
This also isn’t some sort of predetermined protest against DC in the name of continuity or creator rights. I buy the books I like and the books that interest me. I’m not interested in making political statements with my purchases.
I’m aware that a lot of fans are still upset with DC for restarting their entire line in the fall of 2011. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with the concept of the new 52. I was even excited about and gave myself permission to exceed my normal budget for a few months while I tried new titles. In fact, I commend DC for recognizing that they needed to do something noticeably drastic in order to turn their fortunes around.
The problem is that a lot of the new titles weren’t very good. I expected that DC’s revitalized output would make it difficult to cull my pull list back down to a manageable (and affordable) size. But that wasn’t the case. It was really easy to drop title after title. Too many comics were poorly conceived or poorly executed. Within 6 months, I was down to the titles I had been collecting before the re-start (Green Lantern) plus a couple of others that I would have picked up anyway based on the writers involved (Geoff Johns’ Aquaman and Justice League, and Gail Simone’s Batgirl). By the end of the first year, I was following the same number of DCU titles as the summer before (I dropped Justice League due to a lack of interest, and Aquaman due to an impending crossover with the Justice League title I had just dropped).
I’m aware that a lot of fans are upset with DC for going ahead with plans to publish Before Watchmen in spite of Alan Moore’s objections (and I’m aware that there’s some overlap between these two camps). I’m not one of them. I don’t need to rehash all of the arguments here. But I’ve always felt the proof would be in the pudding. If the books were good, their quality would be their own defense and they would have demonstrated that they were worth doing. If the books were bad, they would not blemish the original work anymore than “Code of Honor” failed to sully “Marvels” or “Scarlett” was unable to diminish “Gone with the Wind.”
I’ve followed all of the Before Watchmen books. I’ve appreciated the different approaches to many of the characters. I’ve admired the twists on the Comedian’s history. I’ve delighted in Silk Spectre’s adventures as a young woman. And I’ve been amazed at both the beauty and complexity of the Minutemen. I enjoyed the comics so much that I willingly signed up for the later additions of the two-part Moloch story and the Dollar Bill one-shot. From my vantage point, they’re a way to give the audience (me) what they (I) want.
Actually, it’s the conclusion of Before Watchmen that caused my DC orders to crater. For the past year, Before Watchmen has kept my DC orders inflated with an extra 4 or 5 monthly comics, masking the underlying decline. With Before Watchmen gone, my DC orders were suddenly cut in half.
The closest I came to making a political statement with my March orders was in dropping Batgirl. I was buying the book because of Gail Simone in the first place. Without her involvement, I wasn’t as interested. I might have dropped Batgirl even if Gail Simone had left of her own accord. Her unceremonious dismissal made it an easy decision to dump one more DC title. (DC’s wise decision to reinstate Gail as Batgirl writer means that title will be back on my pre-order list for April).
The issue for me has been the simple question of quality. DC’s comic books haven’t been very good. Justice League was slow-moving and forgettable. Aquaman started out strong but lost steam when it shifted to The Others storyline. Green Lantern Corps became simplistic and trite. Red Lanterns had a navel-gazing lead character and a distinct lack of action. And those were the books that enticed me to stick around for a few months at least. The other titles couldn’t even manage that.
I’m still buying a few out-of-continuity titles right now. Batman Beyond Unlimited is a monthly treat with the ongoing adventures of the futuristic Batman, Superman and Justice League. And my daughters eagerly anticipate each new issue of Superman Family Adventures. I haven’t quite canceled my orders for every in-continuity book either. I’ll come back to Batgirl with Gail Simone. And Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern remains a riveting read.
As I said previously (and repeatedly), this isn’t some sort of protest. I’m not opposed to DC. I’m simply not interested in them. But, after twenty plus years of collecting comic books, that’s kind of remarkable.