Priority: Superman

14May12

I went to the comic book store on Comic Book Day (aka Cinco de Mayo), and grabbed a couple books, both for money and for non-money. As always, I did the stroll down the line, checking out what’s new and what might possibly catch my eye. I flipped through a couple books, but didn’t vary from my initial strategy. But I wanted to. The only thing missing was the pull from the books themselves, and that’s where I came up with the following fool-proof strategy:

DC Comics should concentrate on making one Superman book, and making it fantastic. 

The Reasoning: I’ve been thinking a lot about “The Avengers” and all the Marvel movies. When talking about the comic book movie world in general, the general discussion is that Marvel has their house in order and DC does not. No one disputes this, nor should they. What makes things even more interesting is the fact (aka “fact”) that none of the Avengers are A-list characters. That is to say, prior to 2008’s “Iron Man,” only people inside the comic book world knew or cared about these characters.

This points more to craftsmanship of the movies than to anything else. The first “Iron Man” and the first 2/3’s of “Captain America” in particular are just rock solid as far as character, story and comic-book-style excitement. They are movies built well and designed to make you like them. The execution of these Marvel movies has been professional, and it’s paid off very well for them.

And all this, as I said, this was all done with B-level characters. I’m not saying Captain America isn’t a good character. I’m saying that to the average person, he isn’t as popular as the Big Three: Superman, Batman and Spider-man. I believe that the average American can tell you at least three key components about each of these characters — the average American’s grandmother might be able to do the same. Ask anyone on the street, and they could tell you the secret identities and the hometowns of the Big Three, but prior to 2008, they couldn’t have done any of that for any of the Avengers, with the possible exception of the Hulk, but even then they would have probably said David Banner instead of Bruce.

THE POINT is that DC holds two of the biggest cards in the deck, and they should use them as ambassadors to the world in an effort to hook new readers. They have an easy in with the average person in that they don’t even need to introduce the character with a charming actor or movie. Half the work is finished.

And this strategy does not mean “make a ton of Superman comics.” I mean go all the way down to the bottom and figure out what works with the character, how to best show that, and deliver it in one monthly title. You could still have your meta, self-examining, insider’s view stories on the side story for the fanboys and dedicated readers*, but for the title “Superman,” DC should focus on hooking the new ones.

Actually, I take that back. DON’T keep doing those titles. Or at least don’t keep doing them with those writers. Pull all of your best talent currently working on Superman books, and put them in a room to concoct the greatest Superman arc humanly possible. They can still work on “Man of Steel” in their off-time, but this should be their top priority.

And here’s another suggestion: don’t re-tell the origin. Most everyone knows who Superman is, where he came from and that he can fly. They know he fights Lex Luthor and they all live in Metropolis. Assume everyone knows this (which they do) and go forward. Map out a major plot of Luthor’s to take over the city/world, and set it up so only Superman can stop him. Get Lois Lane in there and in trouble. Show Superman as a complete bad-ass who can take a punch from a nuclear missile. Have him tear up robots. Make him fight a volcano. Make people hear the John Williams score in their head.

It’s easier said than done, I know, but that’s the best strategy I can think of for a struggling publisher and market. Superman is a gateway character. Use him that way. Don’t try to wrangle people into your world with “Justice League Dark.” And don’t marginalize the entry-level power of Superman by putting these kinds of stories in the “kids books” on the smaller shelf. Make this a top priority and act like it. It’ll work.

…Man, I hope that next Superman movie is good.

*Whoever those people might be. I don’t hang out at the comic book store, but are there people who still pick up every Superman title, thinking it’s the apex of the comic book medium?

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