Despite having made a big deal out of the first few batch of new books coming through in designed “waves”, DC seems to have fallen into a habit of regularly canceling and announcing new titles. Based on what has been announced alone, every month in 2012 through June will have either the first or final issue of a New 52 series. That’s half the year, and that’s not taking into account any unexpected cancellations in June.
This makes my series of semi-regular DC-wave analysis articles more difficult to plan for, but with the recent rash of DC cancellations, it feels as good a time as any to at least do some post-mortems. We currently know three of the eight titles that are slated to be replace the outgoing books (assuming Man of Steel is one of them), but we’ll hold off on that blog post until those final five are announced. For now though, let’s take a look at the dearly departed.
DC Universe Presents: A bit surprised to see this book disappear, only because it always smelled like a loss-leader anyway. More or less this was an anthology line of mini-series, largely for characters who wouldn’t carry their own ongoings. In theory, it could be used to test the waters of interest for the new incarnation of certain DC properties, or in the case of James Robertson’s excellent Savage story, be the launching point of a new character completely. However, I can understand why it would be an ordering nightmare for retailers, and thus it becomes harder to justify creative costs month over month. I have seen some folks online suggest that it be converted to a digital-first format, which I agree fixes the issue of having a book you don’t know how is going to ship from arc to arc. But along with the failure of DC’s stabs at the war comic genre, this seems to continue the expectation that anthology titles just don’t sell in the American market.
I, Vampire: Less surprising to see go than DCU Presents, but profoundly more disappointing. I, Vampire has been one of DC’s most distinctive books since the relaunch, as it blended classic horror comics of the past with modern storytelling devices, while introducing new entertaining characters into the fold. It’s art was breathtaking, blending a sense of Renaissance beauty with horrific imagery. More importantly, it was felt wholly unique from anything else that DC was publishing, a distinction more books could use. Sadly, word of mouth and stronger than expected trade sells don’t seem to have been enough to help the book rise above an obscure property and unattractive title. It is some comfort that Andrea Sorrentino’s art will live on in Green Arrow, and word on the street is that Falkov is being slated to play a major part in DC's new Green Lantern creative office. A step up in exposure for both creators, but expect to see this title reach a small but vocal cult-following after it's untimely demise.
Deathstroke: Mixed feelings here. Kyle Higgins initial run on this book remains one of the hidden gems of the New 52, a compelling story of family grief and the price of a life lived in service to violence. Also, it had a man dropping a giant cruise liner on Slade Wilson. Sadly, the book in that format wasn’t selling, so it along with a horde of other books were put under the creative eye of Rob Liefeld; I like to think of this as the Liefeld gambit, where a score of books were given one last chance under the guidance of a creative voice who, if nothing else, was one-of-a-kind. In Deathstroke's case, which Liefled both wrote and drew, the book promptly became an unreadable mess, both losing the original tone of the series and botching the re-introduction of Lobo to the New 52 universe. The book was salvaged somewhat when Liefeld left the company and Justin Jordan took over, showing promise with a self-contained two-part story that was a bit of campy, violent fun with some political touches. Still, villain books are hard to keep readership up for, and the fact the book had two soft relaunches already made this cancellation seem more like an eventual “when” rather than “if” it was going to get axed; I strongly suspect that DC had no illusions about Jordan saving the title, and more wanted to keep him in their corner until they were ready for another wave of cancellations to roll out. Ultimately disappointing if only because Higgins proved that a fantastic Deathstroke series can exist. It just might not be able to sell.
Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men/Man: Firestorm is one of those concepts that keeps coming back up over and over again, largely due to a cult following that passionately loves the central conceit. And this version of Firestorm certainly had a lot of ideas going for it, from the dual identity of it’s heroes to the idea of superheroes as literal WMDs. But it also often lacked direction, giving the impression it was one of the infamous DC books that was being written by editorial committee rather than a single author's vision. The book was never depressingly unreadable, but it also never reached the inspiration of it’s high concepts beyond a few flashes and a handful of really eye-catching character designs. Wouldn’t be surprised to see these characters pop up somewhere else in the near future, but not enough vision or purpose to maintain a long-term solo book.
Ravagers: The one book on the list of cancellations I don’t recall seeing anyone publicly grieving the passing of. And it’s not really hard to see why: it was a Teen Titans spin-off back that was spawned by the generally unpopular Culling crossover, was spearheaded originally by the divisive Howard Mackie and featured an unlikeable cast of misfits. Add to all of that the fact that the book reverts to some of the most unseemly tropes of angst-ridden young supers comics, and it isn’t hard to see why this book was often the subject of ridicule or, perhaps more often, outright apathy. Some of the earliest issues were a good showcase for Ian Churchill’s new dynamic artistic voice, but that’s hardly enough to recommend the book, and between being a crowded market and a product of questionable quality, this book’s fate was more or less a foregone conclusion at some point. It’s worth noting that with this cancellation, there are only two books in the Young Justice line, and one of those (Legion of Super-Heroes) is in dubious standings in terms of sales numbers. I suspect more will be announced for a June premiere, but as it stands right now, the next generation of DC heroes are an endangered species.
Savage Hawkman: Another book that hasn’t seen many tears shed upon it’s passing, though there are some that would argue there’s always a space for Hawkman on the schedule. Perhaps the most puzzling part of this announcement is that the character is set to have a much more prominent role in the DCU as a member of the new Justice League of America. But like Deathstroke, the numbers on this book were so low that any sort of rebound that putting a new creative team on it would have earned probably wouldn’t have been enough to keep it on life support. Another victim of the failed Liefeld gambit.
Sword of Sorcery: A lot of people have pointed towards this book cancellation as some sort of lightning rod that signals not just the doomed state of DC, but of the comics industry as a whole. A book targeted towards female readers, by veteran cartoon writer Christy Marx, sporting a slightly different tone than the rest of the capes and cowls DCU, and it can’t last even a year. But it is important to keep in mind that it’s fairly astonishing that DC attempted to publish a book like this at all. You can contribute several different factors to the book not capturing the audience it needed to justify it’s existence (unknown character, high price point, confusing title, lackluster promotion), but as I said when this book was announced, DC remains dedicated to at least diversify and experiment with the kind of books they’re willing to publish within the DC Universe. People might complain that it gets cancelled before it has a chance to fly, but don’t weep because it’s over. Celebrate that it ever happened at all.
Team Seven: There is an emerging theme that can be traced through certain New 52 books since the relaunch of the line: paramilitary books haven’t done well. I’ve talked extensively about the troubles that DC has had launching a straight military book, but even edge cases like Blackhawks, Grifter and Deathstroke have had difficulty as well. While Team Seven hedged somewhat closer to traditional superhero comics than any of those books, it still had a bit of a GI Joe look and smell to it, just enough to keep it towards the basement of DC’s sales figures. Unlike Deathstroke, which Jordan was always likely assigned to more or less steward towards it’s inevitable grave, this was a book that he launched and failed to capture a wide audience with. If the next set of DC titles has another vaguely guns-and-bombs book, I wouldn’t put even money on it lasting very long among the rest of the crop.