Comics Disassembled, my look at ten things I liked or didn’t like from the week of comics, is starting off with me grumping. I can’t help it. That’s just the way it is. Let’s get to it.
1. Batman/Fornite, Eliminating Success
The second round of Fortnite I ever played was in the Battle Royale mode most are familiar with. For those that don’t know, you’re one of 100 people dropped onto an island in that version, and it’s all about who survives to the end. The first time I did terribly, but on my second run I endeavored to last as long as I could. So I did what any rational person who had no idea how to actually effectively eliminate my opponents would do: I hid in a barn, or some similar structure. I managed to take out a couple people on the way over, but I had zero confidence in my skills. Hiding was the name of the game.
I made it all the way to the end, somehow lasting until I was one of two people remaining. That other person, near as I could tell, eliminated at least the other 96 people — they were clearly either an eSports god or not human — and, unsurprisingly, I was not much of a problem for them either. I finished second.
You might be wondering why I’m telling you this story, especially in regards to a column that’s ostensibly about comics. Well, Batman/Fortnite: Zero Point #1 was released this week. What does me playing it as safe as possible in a Fortnite match before ripping defeat from the jaws of victory have to do with this comic? It, my friends, is what we call a metaphor, except in the case of the comic, it was comic shops hiding in a barn, reducing risk in hopes of squeaking out success before what real success looks like came and wiped them out of the match.
Here’s the skinny. Batman/Fortnite: Zero Point #1 was a lot of things. It was a tie-in to one of the most popular video game franchises in the world, with the game making somewhere around a billion dollars in 2020, making it about as big as the entire comic industry alone despite being free to play. It’s a comic that starred Batman in that environment, and will also feature other related characters as well as Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe for unknown reasons later on. It was the home of a code for a Harley Quinn skin within the game, as well as one part of six codes that will eventually result in a unique Batman skin for the game (that is, if you get all six issues). Lastly, it was a returnable comic. If any comic was destined to be a big hit, it was this one. It was a tie-in to a popular game featuring Batman, useful codes to in-game features, and it was completely returnable, with the caveat being they needed to still be bagged and sealed as well as in pristine condition. Even with that conditional element in mind, that’s a slam dunk, right?
It was not, at least from an ordering standpoint.
From what I’ve heard, many shops woefully underordered it, ranging from one or even zero copies from some and even low double digits from some larger stores. They didn’t expect much out of the book, for one reason or another — or in some cases they were proving a point to DC — so they kept numbers low, returnable or not. What happened was these shops got their orders and, when DC and Epic Games promoted this comic to fans of the game — as they had been all week and even before — they sold out in a minute. Frustrated, some shops lashed out at DC, blaming the publisher for not properly warning them of this title’s potential popularity.
Now, I’m typically an advocate for comic shops. I try to support them as much as I can, and I acknowledge that their jobs are hard. This comic was not part of the initial order, and it was a short order window, at least at first. It wasn’t an ideal situation. But not ordering more of this comic isn’t DC’s fault. It’s on shops for managing risk to the point they robbed themselves of success. If you’re not going to order a healthy portion of this comic, a returnable comic that again combined Batman, Fortnite, and usable codes in-game — which is a crucial distinction from the Marvel/Fortnite crossover, a confusingly titled comic that featured Thor instead of Batman and no codes — what are you going to order heavy on? Especially considering that from what I understand, DC didn’t just give shops a single final order cutoff window, but two, as if they were saying to retailers, “ARE YOU SURE THAT’S WHAT YOU WANT TO ORDER? BECAUSE THAT SEEMS LIKE A MISTAKE!” It was, as I said on Twitter, an own goal of the highest order.
Now, some shops ordered light and admit they should have ordered more. Others were fine with it, never getting pummeled by customers desiring the book on the day of release or since. If either was the case for you, I totally get that. I’m not saying shops had to order more. But the ones who sold out in a flash and are pinning that fact on DC need to look in the mirror rather than yelling at the publisher. That’s just passing the buck. Beyond that, I heard of a shop who sold out shortly after opening, and they said they wouldn’t have ordered more even knowing how well it sold. What are we doing here people?! Isn’t this the business of selling comics? This was a way to do it!
I just don’t get it.
There is an argument to be made for, “oh, people are just buying it for the codes” and I just have to say, that idea vexes me. These customers may be doing that — I’m sure plenty of these people just wanted the code — but from what I heard, a lot of these customers were kids or parents of kids. It wasn’t just speculators. And if 20% or even 10% of those people who buy that comic read it and then come back for more comics or toys or whatever, that’s a game-changer. That’s an enormous influx of regular or even semi-regular customers. Doesn’t everyone in the direct market want more product that brings potential new readers to the store? This is the dream! But it’s a dream that was unfortunately missed on, and then pinned on the publisher the second it turned out that way.
To me, this whole thing is an indictment of the way some comic shops do things. I’m sure many of these shops are wonderful places that help bolster and define comics in so many ways. Many others did well with this. I was heartened by those stories of Free Comic Book Day levels of interest. That’s great. But if shops are presented with a growth opportunity like this and they handwave it away out of fear or anger or a complete misunderstanding of the market and then pin it on DC when it quickly proved to be the wrong move, that reflects a market that’s so fearful of losing that they can never win. If they can’t get out of the barn and go for it this time, then they might not ever. And I don’t know where that leaves us.
2. Emilia Clarke, Mother of Comics
You know who had a big week in the world of comics? Emilia Clarke, aka Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones and Qi’ra from Solo. This might sound weird if you didn’t actually hear the news, but it’s true. First came word that Clarke would be joining the honestly amazing cast of the upcoming Disney+ series Secret Invasion that’s set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn and Olivia Colman also starring. That by itself is superb fodder for the ever hungry world of nerd news, but then came something unexpected: Clarke…is co-writing a comic?
This shouldn’t be too surprising, in reality, as Clarke follows on the footsteps of Keanu Reeves and Oscar Isaac in the “A-list actors who also write comics” train. The actress is co-writing M.O.M.: Mother of Madness, an upcoming Image Comics mini-series, with Marguerite Bennett, with art by Leila Leiz, covers by Jo Ratcliffe, and other contributions by Isobel Richardson. It stems from a joke Clarke once told, before she realized that if mothers are regularly called superheroes, why couldn’t they be ones in actuality, which honestly is a great angle. That’s the gist: it’s a mother who gets superpowers unexpectedly and uses them to take on human traffickers.
Maybe this is the idealist in me, but there’s something oddly pure about this one. It being an Image release, the lead character not looking like an Emilia Clarke stand in, it being a three-issue mini-series built off of a long ago idea…I dig it in a way that something like BRZRKR just couldn’t get to. Plus, that art from Leiz in the preview is looking nice, Bennett is a heck of a writer, and, I mean, there are worse things we could have in comics than great actors potentially drawing interest into the medium.
It’s a big get for Image. I’m not sure if it’s going to translate to massive orders, as it doesn’t strike me as that kind of book. But even being on the table for this type of property is a win for them. It’s coming in July. We’ll see if I was right on its fate from an orders front then, but I’m down with it regardless. Welcome to comics, Emilia Clarke! I hope you enjoy the experience!