Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The $420 bottle of Batman Perfume and DC Comics in 2024

A long time ago now, comic artist and famed "nice guy" Jim Lee became President of DC Comics.  He'd been put in a position of power during the Diane Nelson era, having had brought in the Wildstorm Universe to DC Comics, first as an imprint, and then shoehorning it into the New 52 (pretty much against logic and reason).  And he was the foil to Dan Didio's blustering and general ass-hattery.  

But every time an interviewer put a mic in front of Lee, he'd say things that I found confounding.  Chief among those things was that comics weren't really a form of reading, they were a collectible.  DC was in the collectibles business.  

Which makes sense if you made a million dollars because kids were speculating wildly on comics in the early 1990's, but has made minimal sense since that fateful era that almost killed the American comics industry.

And, yeah, under his leadership - and during the largest increase in awareness of superheroes in my lifetime, and during a period in which the adult collectibles business exploded, DC Comics itself canned 1/5th of its staff, reduced the number of titles, flattened the variety of what it publishes, and went all in on alternate covers.  You can buy 8 different covers of Superman #13 arriving in stores this week.*

What DC has done very well is open the doors to a female audience and broadened the scope of characters to meet the increasingly diverse community of readers.  And, of course, squeeze them.  

Now, I can throw only so many stones.    I have space in my house dedicated to statues and action figures of my favorite superheroes.  I do pick up the occasional alternate cover - if it features Lois Lane, Jimmy or Krypto.  And many of those statues are not cheap.  I have key issues of comics that are also worth some dough.  

And while I find spending $420 on a bottle of perfume kind of nutty (if you want to smell great, just put a dab of cookie dough on your pulse points), I'm more baffled by than outright condemning this item.  If DC can make a buck, and that's something you feel would... make you smell like Batman, I guess?, go crazy.  It's ~2x the price of Chanel No. 5, but okay.

Friends, I once owned a bottle of "Shirtless Kirk".  So the fragrance isn't the problem, in my mind.

But while DC figures out how to sell jackets, perfume, Funko Pops, and 8 different covers on the same pamphlet, what they are *barely* doing is making sure that the ship stays afloat by giving people a reason to care.  There's been maybe three or four DC comic of note since All-Star Superman, released in 2005.  The only one that leaps immediately to mind right now is Wonder Woman Historia.  

The rest has been coasting on the work done in the 1980's and 1990's.  Man, I miss Karen Berger at DC.

That's not to say I've not enjoyed reading comics in this timeframe, but, honestly, we should be getting another Watchmen every few years.  Another Dark Knight every two to three years.  A new Sandman or Hellblazer every year or so.  Comics that turn the whole industry upside down.  But we don't.  Because what matters to Jim Lee and pals is not story.  It's keeping the IP alive and selling 8 covers on a comic no one will remember in four years.

Writers and editors:  stop making the comics about themselves.  When you write a comic, it can be about things other than continuity and maintaining the soap opera mechanics.  That's fun, too.  But try to think about why the non-comics things you love work.  And then find your own inspiration far away from capes and tights before bringing it back to the page.

There's a rumor afoot (found at Supergirl Comic Box Commentary) that DC is about to *finally* put out a line of books somewhat similar to the Ultimate line.  And, man, is it sorely needed.  Just imagine the freedom a creative team would have if they knew the continuity was being maintained elsewhere and they could maybe take some chances.  Who knows what the books will actually be like, but one can always hope.

And then, maybe, we can get back to selling $420 bottles of Bat-perfume.

*by the way, good luck finding any information about the comic on DC's actual website  

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