Comics Disassembled: Ten Things of Note from the Past Week in Comics, Led by Backups Leading the Way

One week to Christmas, and what did the world of comics give me as a gift? A ton of things to write about! Let’s look at the ten most interesting in this week’s edition of Comics Disassembled.

1. DC, Wearing New Hats

It was a big week for DC Comics news, as Brian Michael Bendis all but told the world he’s writing Justice League next, Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo are working on a new Nightwing book (featuring Barbara Gordon and set in Bludhaven!), and The Joker is getting his own ongoing from James Tynion IV and Guillem March with a Punchline backup included. But it’s none of those things I want to talk about, even if those are inarguably “sexier” bits of news. Instead, I’m focusing on the last bit there. Not the Joker (although I am sure that will do numbers). The backup.

When you pair that with the varying anthologies and digital series that have been announced as coming from DC in the future, a vision of what’s next for the publisher starts to form. From what I’ve seen, they’re not looking to move away the single issue format, they’re looking to reimagine it, albeit through an array of old school strategies.

Take that Joker book as an example. Could someone like Punchline carry her own book? Maybe for a bit, but probably not for long. But would the character appearing as a backup in a Joker book give that series a 10% lift on orders? Probably! We’ve already seen how DC is looking to repackage titles that might not be able to sustain themselves on their own – see: the upcoming Batman: Urban Legends anthology that pairs a recurring Grifter story and another featuring the Outsiders with a Batman/Red Hood lead – and these backups are another way to do it. This feels like the play. Instead of publishing more in hopes of finding diamonds in the rough, it’s publishing less with more in each, maximizing consumer value without limiting the buildup of intellectual property.

And that’s smart! I think that’s a great angle, as it gives each comic two hooks in one package, albeit at a slightly higher price. But $4.99 for a comic with a top notch lead story and a contextually relevant backup makes a lot of sense. They’re squeezing more value there, but giving readers a little something more out of it. We won’t know if that works until later, but it feels like a plan that might. That’s a good step, and certainly not one away from single issues as many expected. Maybe they’re not moving away from the comic form as much as morphing it, finding a new way to get more out of it. I like that. More to come from this for sure, but I continue to like DC’s moves, even if I’m the only one.

2. Free Comic Book Day, Now in August

One of the big unknowns of 2021 in comics – if and when Free Comic Book Day would happen – is now known, as Diamond announced an extremely, extremely tentative date of August 14th, the second Saturday of August. While the “extremely, extremely tentative” is my addition, you can read that in the subtext of the press release, as even they know that the potential of this date actually happen entirely depends on vaccine distribution and the state of the world at the time.

Which is not up to them! What is up to them is the date, and I think they were smart in realizing May was the heaviest of long shots. Pretending otherwise would have been detrimental to everyone, so aiming for a date that could reasonably happen was the right move. I don’t say this very often, so it’s worth saying here: good job, Diamond.

The next big question is whether or not DC participates. As they’re no longer being distributed by Diamond, there isn’t as clean of a fit there. It definitely would make comic shops happy, but if I were a betting man, I’d bet against it and instead seeing DC either do its own thing physically or digitally, with a lean towards the latter. But we’ll see later on. I’m happy for this to still be going down, especially with FCBD’s 20th anniversary on the horizon. That will be fun to celebrate, although only if I’ve gotten that sweet, sweet vaccine action by then. TBD, I suppose.

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