DC Comics’ cancellation zone seems to be somewhere under 20,000 units sold. Of the titles not already cancelled, these are the titles that fell under that mark in the month of October: Ravagers, DC Universe Presents, Dial H, Batwing, Firestorm, Savage Hawkman, Legion of Super-Heroes, Demon Knights, Deathstroke. That doesn’t mean that these are the titles that will be cancelled next. Some of them most certainly will be cancelled, but others will probably be given extra time to regain lost readers with a change in focus or creative team. These are usually the signs of a book before cancellation. Sometimes you can even tell a book is going south before the sales figures can even be posted.
1. Phantom Stranger doesn’t sound like a title that will make it very long. It was kind of a surprise that it even existed in the first place. I figured the Stranger would be walking around somewhere, but definitely not in his own title. It’s kind of hard to see this book even making it through its first year. While the title has seen better sales than probably expected (people love Phantom Stranger), the book has already seen a 35 spot drop in its second month of publication. Many other New 52 books have been cut short after issue #8 and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was one of them.
The problem with the book stems from the Phantom Stranger character himself. He’s been traditionally depicted as a mystery. Where did he come from? Why is he doomed to wander the Earth alone forever? Was he a fallen angel? Was he the biblical Judas? No one ever knew and it was really fun to be able to guess about it. But in the New 52? No. He’s definitely Judas Iscariot, he was punished to wander the world looking like he’s a crime noir coachman and he wears a necklace made out of the thirty pieces of silver he sold Jesus for. Now he has a secret identity and he has a mission and a motive. This is not the Phantom Stranger. Elimination of all the mysteries surrounding him does not make him a more compelling character, it makes him feel hollow. Especially when he’s a religious figure. I can only imagine what actual religious people think about this.
Why did he even need his own title? Phantom Stranger always worked so well as a ghostly guide. I never once demanded his story be told, because it was clear that his story was already told. He did something horrible, so now he’s been punished. He tries to do good, but his inability to connect with people prevents him from doing what he wants. I didn’t need his identity to be confirmed because now the mystery is gone and the mystery was always going to be more compelling than the truth. If you want a real Phantom Stranger story, check out Matt Wagner’s Madame Xanadu, a title that chronicles her adventures through different time periods as well as her interactions with the Phantom Stranger. That’s all I ever wanted out of the Phantom Stranger.
To add to its inevitable demise, Dan DiDio is writing the book. This is the same guy who wrote OMAC, which was cancelled after eight issues and was responsible for an absolutely hated run on Outsiders before the reboot. Back then he promised to save the title and that he would not hesitate to cancel himself if the book proved unpopular. His run lasted fifteen issues, even after everyone stopped reading the book after the first arc. It finally ended when it was clear they were just biding time before the reboot took hold. With DiDio on the book this thing just might stay around to meet the one year mark, even if it’s past due for cancellation. DiDio’s titles are more editorial moving characters into the position they want them than an actual creative endeavor. If we had to have a Phantom Stranger title and we had to know who he actually was, there were tons of writers I’d prefer to get the nod before the Publisher of the company took control of it. Maybe they don’t pay him for his writing in order to cheapen the production cost of the books he’s on.
2. They have tried so hard to make The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men work. They let Ethan Van Sciver come in and try and turn Firestorm into Green Lantern and they brought Gail Simone on the title just for good measure. But people don’t want to read a Firestorm Green Lantern, they want to read Firestorm. Too bad they kind of turned Captain Atom into a Firestorm/Dr. Manhattan hybrid so that role had been filled.
Firestorm was a character that always played on dual identity. More than any other comic book character, because Firestorm was always two people. The focus of Firestorm was about the relationship between the two characters who made up Firestorm, whether it was Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein or Jason Rusch and whoever he happened to be with at the time. Relationships were key. In Brightest Day, Firestorm’s story revolved around the relationship between Ronnie and Jason. After the reboot there were now hundreds fo Firestorms running around, Ronnie and Jason were their own separate Firestorms and everything was all over the place. Now when the two Firestorms tried to merge they transformed into a giant monster. The book still tried to make it about Ronnie and Jason trying to get along, but it didn’t have as much weight to it when they’re no longer inhabiting the same body!
Now they’ve re-reinvented the character to be much more in line with (un-reinvented) the traditional Firestorm character. The hundreds of Firestorms are gone and Ronnie and Jason are in one body again. It’s sad when a book’s survival is dependent on its concept being rewritten to be exactly the same as it used to be.
I like Dan Jurgens, but he doesn’t really have much of a place in the New 52. He’s been on Green Arrow, Justice League International and Superman and none of his runs have been very well received. DC really needs to start giving their titles to new creators who are actually writers, instead of relying on their old standbys. Though Jurgens might just be what the doctor ordered: a return to the classics.
Whatever Jurgens ends up doing with the title, now called The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Man, DC will surely cancel it before anything new can be added to the book. The sales are already in the 13k territory, which is pretty awful. Jurgens is simply fixing the concept so Firestorm can actually be used by other writers in other titles. I’m sure this new arc will be its last. Van Sciver isn’t a writer, so I have no idea why they would trust him with the complete revision of a character. They’re probably wondering that now too.
3. The Ravagers is a title that needs to be shot and put out of its misery and then never mentioned again. No one is reading this title. DC’s attempts to combine the popularity of Teen Titans with something similar to Wildstorm’s Gen13 probably sounded like a moneymaker at the time. They brought on Howard Mackie to write it, who was kind of popular in the 90′s and never did much after that. Mackie is probably writing what DC editorial wants him to write.
The random smattering of characters in this book never seemed to click. You have a few new characters and then there’s Terra and a red Beast Boy, all led by Caitlin Fairchild. They all hate each other and don’t get along. That’s a terrible way to write a team book. How is the reader supposed to accept this team when the characters in the book don’t either? The team doesn’t even have much of a purpose because they’re basically just running away from their captors after the events of The Culling. They don’t fight crime, they don’t save people, they’re just a group of people who don’t want to get tortured and killed. That’s not much of a vision for the title.
During September’s Zero Month, Ravagers #0 was #100 of the top comic books. In October the book fell to #131 and is now well under 20k after only 5 issues. If there’s any comic in danger of not making it a full year it’s definitely this one. The book is already solicited through issue #9, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the words FINAL ISSUE next to #10 in the March solicits. I think I’d actually be relieved at this point.
4. Dial H hasn’t sold particularly well, but it has certainly been critically praised since the first issue. China Miéville’s book reinvents the Dial H for Hero concept into a darker Vertigo-like title that was never destined for mass popularity, but has certainly shown the potential for award winning storytelling. DC has shown willingness to hold onto a poor selling book if its followers are vocal enough. They’ve done it before with Jonah Hex, Blue Beetle, Manhunter, Batgirl and others. Maybe it’s just to make themselves look better to their customers. That they’re actually dedicated to creative endeavors, sales figures be damned. Eventually even that ploy is not enough to spare a title from cancellation and Dial H will be laid to rest.
Another reason I pegged this book for cancellation is the departure of Karen Berger from the company. The long time Vertigo editor had been editing the book since its inception, which explains it’s Vertigo feel. Berger leaving means a lot for a lot of different books, like all the Vertigo titles currently being published, but it also spells certain death for Dial H. Not only was she crafting this book to be what it needed to be, but she was most likely harboring it from inevitable cancellation from the New 52′s quick handed guillotine. I see more editorial interference in the future and less chance for this book to see a full year before being shot down.
What I really like about this book is not only is it crazy and out there in concept with its multitude of odd superheroes, but it also stars a fat guy! Nelson Jent is an out of shape deadbeat, not a ripped stud. He’s often out of breath, sweats profusely and complains about exerting himself. That’s the Vertigo coming out. When we talk about the disparity of minorities in comic books, it’s not just race and women that are on the outside looking in, there’s also the out of shape demographic. Not all people in the world have a six pack bursting from their tight fitting t-shirt and I’m glad to see this title shows that. In fact, the co-star of the book is an old woman. That’s really daring and in mainstream comics, daring gets you killed.
5. Batwing is still alive because of its inherent connection to Batman and Batman Incorporated. Batwing is essentially a black Batman, so there’s potential in that. He’s much more than that in his own title, but DC gave him a book because that’s what they saw in him. The character has had mild success under Judd Winick and Ben Oliver, but now both have left the title and Fabian Nicieza and Marcus To are supposed to keep up the same quality. While Nicieza sounds like he’s dedicated to the title, the diminishing sales along with the possible end of Batman Incorporated could also mean an end to the Batman of Africa.
It’s disappointing to have a character in such a great position to offer a unique perspective in comics and not have the numbers to keep it going indefinitely. DC Comics needs diversity and that is what this title was created for; expand the reaches of the DCU past the United States and into Africa, a place rarely depicted in any meaningful way in mainstream comics. The ‘Dark Continent’ is still alive and well in comics and the idea of exploring it, not from Superman’s or Batman’s Western perspective, but from someone who actually lives there, sounded awesome. But then sales dropped and Batwing had to go to Gotham for awhile, then he joined the Justice League International and somewhere along there it seemed to lose the focus it once had. I hope they give Nicieza the time and room to explore the world of Batwing before they inevitably shut the door on this corner of the world once again. I won’t be holding my breath, but I’ll cross my fingers.
DC Universe Presents and Sword of Sorcery are two books that I would also like to point out as in danger. Presents is doing pretty badly, falling 65 spots in one month from September’s Zero month and into October. The title is hovering around 14k, which is somehow still not the worst ongoing DC title not already cancelled coughFirestormcough, but that might be ok for an anthology title. I’m not sure what standard they could hold that title up against considering the sales depend entirely on which characters they decide to focus on. They could simply focus on more popular characters and it would be ok.
Sword of Sorcery already fell 33 spots between its debut 0 issue and issue #1 and is now hovering just above 20k. DC claims the book is an anthology series as well, with a main Amethyst feature and a backup feature currently starring Beowulf. This seems more like an ongoing that has the ability to spin out its main feature as an ongoing if it proves to be popular, but what if it doesn’t? Would they still try a new feature or just cancel the whole thing altogether?
Legion of Super-Heroes is once again failing. They reunited Keith Giffen and Paul Levitz in the hopes that people still care about stuff from the 80′s. Sooner or later DC has to realize that a team of 30 characters, in space, in the future, all in one book, is not really working in today’s market. Instead of only letting Paul Levitz touch the Legion, how about letting someone new come in, break things up and try something crazy. DC will keep this title as long as they can, especially after Legion Lost was cancelled. Maybe one day they’ll learn.
I would have included Green Arrow in here too if it wasn’t for Arrow and DC’s renewed interested in actually making Oliver Queen interesting again. Savage Hawkman is another title that should be in danger, but now that he’ll be appearing in Justice League of America I have to imagine they’ll let his title hang around for a little longer in hopes that people take interest. They just announced Robert Venditti would be coming onto Demon Knights and changing its direction. That’s a big sign the book is in trouble, especially when it has dipped under 17k. They’ll let Venditti have an arc or two before they pull the plug. Justin Jordan has been brought onto Deathstroke, so they’ll give him a chance to improve the title, if only just by having his name on the cover. We’ll see what happens.