Comics: DC relaunch of superhero universe tops 2011
DC may be enjoying the lion's share of the market pie, but its wild gamble has also made it a bigger pie for everyone.
Scripps Howard News Service
As we look back on 2011, there is little doubt about the year's No. 1 comic-book story: DC's September relaunch of its entire superhero universe.
Even in retrospect, it's hard to believe DC did it. Never before has any publisher — perhaps any business — canceled its major product line and started over from scratch. Especially when you consider that "Detective Comics" — from which DC Comics took its name — had an unbroken run back to 1937, and that "Action Comics" had the highest numbering of any current American comic book (904). Those little pieces of history are now gone, as even those two venerable books started over at No. 1 in September.
You can imagine the sheer hysteria that gripped comics fandom when "The New 52" titles were announced in May. We fans couldn't comprehend why DC would take such a risky step. We absolutely freaked out. "What was DC afraid of?" we wailed, for we were certain only the threat of imminent demise could force such a move. Was digital destroying the print market? Had Warner Bros. given its comic-book arm an ultimatum? Was this the last gasp of a dying industry? Since nobody believed DC's official reasons for doing it — vague, unconvincing corporate-speak that I have already forgotten — the rumors ran wild.
And it worked.
All of The New 52 titles sold out in September, and DC was No. 1 with a bullet. In October, it was a rout: DC's share of dollar sales was 13 percent higher than archrival Marvel's, and DC had 51 percent of the entire industry in units sold.
Best of all, the rising tide has begun lifting all boats. DC may be enjoying the lion's share of the market pie, but its wild gamble has also made it a bigger pie for everyone. Sales of comics are up across the board, putting a lot of grateful comic shops thoroughly in the black.
Stories this big usually don't happen in the comics industry, but this one surely did. And there were two more nearly as big in 2011.
One is the strip-mining of comic-book concepts and characters for other media. It's been going on for years, but 2011 was a particularly good year — or a bad one, depending on your point of view.
The most obvious examples were five superhero movies, with combined budgets that could probably feed Bangladesh for a year. "X-Men: First Class," a critical and commercial success, seems to have rebooted the franchise. "Thor" and "Captain America: The First Avenger" hit big enough for sequels and helped set the table for 2012's "The Avengers," which also could be a franchise. "Green Lantern" was deemed a flop, but it probably broke even and Warner Bros. is still thinking sequel. Even the superhero-slash-comedy movie, Seth Rogen's "The Green Hornet," made $220 million worldwide.
On Broadway, the musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"is playing to packed houses, making money despite its bloated $70 million budget and so many delays, injuries, cast and crew changes, rewrites and other problems it became the topic of a skit on "Saturday Night Live,"a punch line on late-night TV and fodder for a New Yorker cover. Even now, its troubles aren't over; former director Julie Taymor is suing the producers on the grounds that they're using her artistic contributions without payment.
In video games, "Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions" and "Batman: Arkham City"were two of 2011's biggest releases. And while Warner Bros. has had trouble getting a live-action superhero movie franchise off the ground, the Warner Home Video unit had two hits: "Green Lantern: First Flight"and "Batman: Year One."
"The Big Bang Theory," which we geeks can thank for helping mainstream our obsessions, has entered its fifth season on CBS. The second-season premiere of AMC's "The Walking Dead" garnered more adults ages 18 to 49 than any other drama in basic-cable history, and it's already been renewed for Season 3. "The Super Hero Squad Show," "Batman: The Brave"and the "Bold and Young Justice" cartoons continued, joined by Green Lantern, plus The X-Men, Iron Man, and Wolverine anime.
One last development of 2011 was the huge growth of digital comics. All of the major publishers are moving to same-day release of print and digital comics, with Marvel bringing up the rear in February 2012. This may turn out to be the biggest story of 2011, after all.
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