Sunday, November 12, 2017

Silver Threads Among The Gold

Casual readers could be forgiven for assuming that the current DOOM PATROL series written by Gerard Way had been cancelled. It hasn't, just to be clear on that. There are four solicited issues which have been delayed several times. Since the first story arc ended in issue #6 (in direct market locations Apr. 26th earlier this year), the trade collecting it appeared May 31st, and the next two issues followed on Jul. 26th (#7) and Sep. 6th (#8). Those two issues were in the shadow of an announcement from the San Diego Comic-Con on July 21st that once the second arcs of the various Young Animal titles end, there would be a mini event in which each of the four core titles would release an annual in January 2018, forming a four part crossover that would establish that the characters under the Young Animal imprint will interact with mainstream DC heroes. DOOM PATROL's Annual would have the Justice League co-star, for instance. This would be the opposite of the policy for characters removed from the DCU to form Vertigo, 25 years earlier. Needless to say, they're not going to make the Silver Anniversary of the Vertigo launch, which will be the first week of January.

The last issue of SHADE THE CHANGING GIRL (#12) arrived with DOOM PATROL #8 and the last issue of CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE (#12) followed two weeks later along with the most recent issue of the mini-series BUG! THE ADVENTURES OF FORAGER (#4) on Sep. 20th. Next came the final two issues of MOTHER PANIC on Sep. 27th (#11) and Oct. 25th (#12). Aside from the two remaining issues of BUG! and four of DOOM PATROL, there have been no other comics solicited under the imprint. Trades collecting those books that have been published, yes, but no new comics. Diamond Comics Distributors has announced all of the January titles and not only do the annuals not get a mention, but the JLA titles each ship twice for that month. That means that whatever the ramifications of combining the imprints were intended to be, the larger DCU isn't waiting around to see what they were.

The larger, unintended problem is that we not only have three other creative teams standing around, resentfully tapping their feet waiting for who knows how long to continue on to their third arcs, but when those issues of BUG! and DP do come out, they will be the only ones on the racks under that imprint. The whole point of having an imprint is that readers who enjoyed one title are implicitly referred to the other titles. It's a short-hand way of communicating the feel and outlook of a narrative style and other subtle and nuanced kinds of information that are difficult to convey in a blurb. This worked beautifully for Vertigo, mostly because the line was created with six existing titles that had each been published for 30+ issues and had cultivated reputations that distinguished them from most other DCU titles, but also because they added one or two titles (including ongoing, minis and one-shots) every month for a year. Facing a market that is smaller generally, Young Animal chose, wisely I think, to start with a sharper focus. It became feasible for more people to follow the entire imprint every month than it had been for Vertigo. But you don't get cross-recommendations from other titles if you've put the other titles on hiatus.

Ultimately, five years from now when these stories are only available as trades or downloads, it may seem like a moot point when the individual issues did or didn't ship. My point is, by the time the current DP arc ends and proceeds to the annual crossover, the three other titles could have completed a third arc apiece. If the point of the crossover is to bring these other titles into your own title's continuity, then these delays mean that there were three trades that could have been part of your continuity but now do not exist. More importantly, there could have been eighteen individual comics out there, any one of which could have led readers to the others and/or DP. It would have meant quadrupling the imprint's share of rack space for a six-month period. As a fan, I'm just jonesing for my DOOM PATROL. But in cold, hard business terms, it means that in comics specialty stores, which are usually small, operator owned businesses that rent their retail space and get their comics on a direct market basis (meaning unsold copies aren't returnable for credit), provide you with a little sliver of their rack/wall/floor space for each of your publications. They pay for both the space and the comic occupying it. The cover of the comic serves as an advertisement for itself, of course, but the more comics that appear under the same logo and the stronger their sense of collective identity, the more so that the cover serves as an ad for other publications under that imprint/logo. It means the retailer is not only advertising the rest of the line beyond that comic, but doing it every minute of every day they're open and paying you (at least in part) to do it. And every title on the rack at the same time doesn't just increase the visibility geometrically, but exponentially. Consequently, when you reduce the number of titles the effect diminishes logarithmically.

Anyway, the new dates for DOOM PATROL were announced this week:

  • DOOMPATROL #9, originally solicited for June 28 then cancelled and resolicited for September 27, should now be arriving on November 22.
  • BUG! #5, originally solicited for September 13 then cancelled and resolicited for November 8, should now be arriving November 15.
  • BUG! #6, originally solicited for October 11 then cancelled and resolicited for December 13, has not yet been rescheduled further.
  • DOOM PATROL #10, originally solicited for October 25, should now be arriving on December 20.
  • DOOM PATROL #11, originally solicited for November 22, should now be arriving on January 17.
  • DOOM PATROL #12, originally solicited for December 27, should now be arriving on February 24.
And let's not forget that while the first week of January is the Silver Anniversary of the Vertigo launch, the end of next summer is the Golden Anniversary of the death of the original Doom Patrol. Let's hope there's something out there by which to commemorate that.

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