"Justice League of America" #1 topped the comic book charts for February -- but its spin-off titles "Katana" and "Justice League of America's Vibe" tanked, with positions in the top 100 of #80 and #78, respectively.
What exactly happened, here? Didn't the "bounce" of tying into such a mega-seller as "JLoA" give these two solo titles somewhat of a "halo" effect? It's not like they were neglected PR-wise -- both "Katana" and "Vibe" were heavily promoted by DC Comics.
Is it that comic book fans just don't have the patience to plunk down $3 or more for a solo character that doesn't have a "Bat" or an "X" attached to it?
Or does the fact that both comics starred diverse supeheroes also play a part?
The comic book industry is often accused of not producing comics reflecting a variety of different nationalities, races, genders, and sexual orientations. This criticism goes double regarding solo titles. Why not enough female solo titles? Where are the comics featuring a Hispanic or Asian or American superhero? And how about female comic creators -- why don't we see enough of them?
In a recentish Reddit AMA, "Captain Marvel" writer Kelly Sue DeConnick was extraordinarily blunt on the topic of why comics featuring female superheroes do not sell:
"Marvel is a publicly-owned company. They exist to make money. Period. If there was an idea that extra dollar could be made with female-led comics, Marvel would have more lady-led books than Avengers titles--with multiple variant covers, no doubt.
Why are there so many Avengers titles? They sell. Reliably.
Right now, we're stuck in a cycle. The perception is that women do not buy comics in significant numbers and that men do not support lady-led books, unless those books are loosely-disguised T&A books."
"Katana" has the "triple-whammy" of a) starring a female character, b) starring an Asian character, and c) being written by a woman. Have these factors scared off both hardcore readers and retailers? If so, should comic publishers be shy about trying to increase the diversity of their comics across the board -- or push ahead, regardless?
DeConnick firmly believes that the answer is opening up the comic book market to other markets:
"If our "base" won't reliably support female-led books (and that is a whole other conversation that I do not have time for) then we need new readers. Strictly from a sustainability standpoint, we need new readers--our readership is aging and dwindling and the goodwill we should be getting from the comic book commercials commonly called "tentpole movies" we are, in large part, squandering. As an industry we put up high thresholds against new readers--whether it's something as culturally repugnant as this whole "authentic fangirl" crap or just our mind-boggling practices of shelving by publisher and numbering books into the 600s."
Or -- and this was suggested to me by several persons who read "Katana" and "Vibe" -- were the books just not compelling enough to hold a readership? And if that is the case, does the "fault" again loop around to the comic publisher?
As a person who has been in this business for a good long while, I expected from the moment I heard these two books were announced for them to have short runs. I expected this based on a mix of all the factors discussed in this post -- the unwillingness of readers to read comics featuring diverse characters, the insular nature of mainstream superhero comics culture, and a generic look to the first preview material of said comics.
But DC Comics did try -- as they have done many times before -- to increase the diversity of their heroes. And they did promote the titles, not leaving them to die in the cradle unloved. So in the quest to have a more inclusive slate of superheroes and comic creators, what is the next step for them here?
I partially agree with DeConnick -- you need to expand the comic book reading audience. But you also need to make these "harder to sell" (and I know that sounds like a horrible way to put it, but that's how they are often referred to in the industry) comics incredibly amazing. For example, while "Batwoman," featuring a lesbian protagonist, is not the #1 comic every month, it does hang in there. Because it looks unlike anything else on the DC slate, instantly grabbing the reader. The previous incarnation of "Blue Beetle" -- which "Vibe" seems to strangely mimic -- was a comic featuring a Hispanic character that had a huge cult following.
I sincerely do not wish to see "Katana" and "JLoA's Vibe" fail. "Katana" in particular, while not perfect, has a lot of interesting ideas and an edgy look; after a few issues, the title could smooth out to be an awesome series.
But the truth is -- they probably will be cancelled early. And that sucks. And so what do we do from here -- because a mostly-white, mostly-male pantheon of solo superheroes and comic book creators just doesn't work in 2013.
Postscript: DeConnick's "Captain Marvel" was #110 on that Feb. Top 100.