DC Comics is taking a page from the past and will launch four oversized comic titles this summer. The 100-page anthologies will combine completely new stories along with reprinted arcs from earlier this century. However, these will not be available online or at your friendly neighborhood comic shop. Instead, these will be sold exclusively at 3,000 Walmart locations across the US.
In some regards, this is a blast from the past when DC released special tabloid-sized comics that would be sold through news stands. These were generally 10″x14″ and were largely reprinted story arcs collected into a single issue printed on newsprint (as were the regular comics) with heavier cardstock covers. The All New Collectors Editions appeared between 1974 and 1978. These oversized issues were also sold through retailers. Aside from the two Christmas stories centered around Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, these issues contained all-new story lines set in the DC Comics Universe – even if they may have not fit within the overall continuity. In 1978, Superman faced (the former, at the time) World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali. In the 72-page Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, the two boxed for the right to be Earth’s champion against destruction at the hands of an alien race known as the Scrubb.
Similarly, the wedding of Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad, two of the original Legionnaires, also earned a giant-sized treatment. The marriage was considered a big deal back then and, while the Millennium Massacre story line only took up 44 of the 72 pages, it included new information on the formation of the Legion of Super-Heroes and featured just about every member (current or past) taking part in the action in some way or another. The additional pages included details about the origins and powers of many of the Legionnaires – something that wouldn’t be repeated until the 1985-88 run of the Who’s Who in the DC Universe title.
So, Why This?
The June 22 press release from DC is pretty explicit in the reason for this move is to reach more customers. DC’s publisher, Dan DiDio is quoted in the press release;
“We are extraordinarily excited about working with Walmart to expand the reach of our books. These new monthly books combine new and accessible stories with reprints of classic comic series. It’s a great way for new readers to get into comics and follow the characters they’ve grown to love in TV and film.”
In other words, DC is trying to go beyond the demographics of the typical comic book buyer. An October, 2017 report by NPD BookScan broke down sales of comics and graphic novels by gender, age and race. It found that 63% of buyers are men, with women being 37%. If one looks only at specialty comic shops, then the percentage of male buyers shifts to 72% and being older. Additionally, the current demographic of the US as a whole is 61% White, 18% Latino, 10% African-American and 8% Asian (the numbers add up to more than 100% due to rounding). The demographics for comic shop customers is not too dissimilar, actually over-representing in every category but Asian with 69% White, 13% Latino, 14% Black and 5% Asian.
According to market data complied by Comichron and ICV2, revenue from comic book sales through direct channels, including Diamond has been growing since 2003, but with a major decline in the 2010-2011 time period and almost stagnant growth since 2014 with a possible decline again this year.
By putting these mass market titles out through Walmart, it reaches a vastly broader potential audience that may not even know of a local comic shop – if one exists. It also reaches the younger readers and for an industry to grow, it requires the entry of new consumers to replace the older ones lost to attrition.
Blowback from the Comic Shops
While the goal is to grow the consumer base by bringing new readers into the hobby of buying, reading and collecting comic books, some comic shop owners are not entirely happy with the method. The main story in the Giant issues will be exclusive. They won’t be available in comic shops except maybe down the road in some vaguely hinted-at anthology. The worry is that dedicated fans of Superman, Batman, and etc. will divert some of their comic book budget to picking up these $4.99 titles at Walmart rather than spending that money at the comic book shop. Enough customers not spending $20 a month adds up quickly for retailers with tight margins.
Causing further annoyance is that these titles will involve some of DC’s top talent – including the first outings in ongoing Superman and Batman stories by Tom King and Brian Bendis, respectively. The creative teams have been committed to year-long story arcs to support these titles. Writer Bendis is already engaged with the Man of Steel title which subtly alters Superman’s origin. With his commitment to work on the Walmart-exclusive content, it is felt that this will be a loss to the direct sales retailers. There exists the potential that some comic store owners may clean out their local Walmart of issues and sell them on at a mark-up.
The Initial Lineup:
Here are the contents of each of the premier issues per the DC Comics press release:
Superman Giant 1 features the first chapter of two-part original story entitled “Endurance.” It is written by Jimmy Palmiotti (Harley Quinn, Action Comics) with art by Tom Derenick (Harley Quinn, Cyborg, Batman/Superman). The Daily Planet sends Clark Kent to Tornado Alley to do a story on the area, but when the storm hits, it turns out that this mild-mannered reporter is more helpful as Superman.
The reprinted stories include:
“Meet the Terrifics Pt. 1” by Jeff Lemire and Ivan Reis. It is reprinted from The Terrifics #1 (2018) and features Mr. Terrific, Metamorpho, Plastic Man and Phantom Girl as a team of heroes bound together by fate and united by the spirit of exploration and discovery. Together these heroes plumb the depths of the fantastic to learn what it means to become family.
“Airborne” by Geoff Johns and Carlos Pacheco. This is reprinted from Green Lantern #1 (2005) and is the first part of a three-part story which returns Hal Jordan to the DCU as the Green Lantern.
“Public Enemies” by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness and Tim Sale. Originally printed in Superman/Batman #1 (2003) the duo teams up when President Lex Luthor accuses the Man of Steel of a crime against humanity and assembles a top-secret team of powerhouse heroes to bring Superman in by any means necessary.
Superman Giant 3 will see the start of Eisner Award-winning Tom King’s first story since “For Tomorrow” in Action Comics 1000 as he and artist Andy Kubert create a 12-part adventure entitled “Up in the Sky!”
Batman Giant 1 has as its original story, “One More Chance” written by Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Patrick Zircher which sees The World’s Greatest Detective on the case of a missing girl visiting a place from his past that he’s long avoided.
It also includes;
“Hush, Part 1: The Ransom” by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee. This originally appeared in Batman #608 (2002) and starts the tale of when Batman sets out to unmask the mystery character wreaking havoc in his life, he teams up with an unexpected ally (Catwoman) and finds himself facing off against not only his deadliest foes, but also Poison Ivy, Killer Croc and even Superman!
“Welcome to Gotham” by Kyle Higgins and Eddy Barrows. This originally appeared in Nightwing #1 as part of the New 52 in 2011 and debuted a new look for Dick Grayson as he dives into a tale of murder, mystery and superhuman evil against the backdrop of Haley’s Circus, the place that started him on his path from acrobat to orphan to sidekick and ultimately superhero!
“Hot in the City” also was first printed in 2011 as part of The New 52 in Harley Quinn #1. Writer Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Amanda Conner break Harley Quinn out of The Joker’s shadow with all the force of a giant mallet!
Batman Giant 3 will see the start of Bendis’ 12-part “Universe” story line featuring the Dark Knight on a globe-spanning mystery after a run-in with the Riddler.
Justice League of America Giant 1 spotlights Wonder Woman in “The Conversion”, an original story from Tim Seeley (Nightwing) with artists Rick Leonardi and Steve Buccellato. This will be a stand-alone story featuring the Amazonian warrior going up against Ares, the god of war, who wants to recruit her.
The other stories will be;
“Justice League, Part 1” by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee is another 2011 story that was part of the New 52. It appeared in the relaunched Justice League #1 where superheroes are a strange and new phenomenon. After Batman discovers a dark evil, he must unite reluctant heroes Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg to protect Earth from a cosmic-level threat.
Again from the 2011 launch of the New 52, “The Flash” Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul’s story was first printed in The Flash #1 and it introduces Barry Allen to a villain who not only can be everywhere at once, but is also a close friend of the Scarlet Speedster.
Likewise, “The Trench”, from 2011’s Aquaman #1 is also part of the New 52 continuity. Geoff Johns teamed up with Ivan Reis as Arthur Curry, having given up the throne of Atlantis, comes across broken race of undersea creatures, the Trench, as they emerge from the ocean depths, bent on destroying the surface world.
Wonder Woman will be the lead story 13 issues Justice League of America Giant starting with issue 2. Two original stories, “Mother’s Day” by Tim Seeley, Felipe Watanabe and Chris Sotomayor will be followed by a 12-part story “Come Back to Me” by Harley Quinn co-writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti which has Diana Prince on a mission to rescue Steve Trevor after he lands on an island out of time that is populated by dinosaurs, monsters and other surprises.
Teen Titans Giant #1 starts off with a 6-part story by Dan Jurgens with an art team consisting of Scot Eaton, Wayne Faucher and Jim Charalampidis. The as yet untitled story, the superheroes pizza dinner is crashed by a new villain, the Disruptor who has teamed up with the Fearsome Five and working as an agent of H.I.V.E. The battle spills onto the streets of San Francisco, putting its citizens at risk, while H.I.V.E. uses this distraction to begin their plan for world conquest.
Previously published works include;
“When I Grow Up… Part 1” by Peter J. Tomasi and Jorge Jimenez – From Super Sons #1 (2017) and part of the Rebirth event. Reintroduces the sons of Superman and Batman, Jonathan Kent and Damian Wayne. As Robin, Damian’s more than ready to take his place at the heroes’ table and has zero plans to wait his turn. And he’s dragging Superman’s son along for the trip, whether Jon likes it or not!
“Fun and Games” written by DC Publisher Dan DiDio with art by Kenneth Rocafort. It first appeared in Sideways #1 (2018) as part of the New Age of Heroes. Readers are introduced to high schooler Derek James who, during the events of Dark Nights: Metal, has acquired powers from the Dark Multiverse and stepped into the role of superhero! But when cracks begin to appear in the space-time continuum, he soon learns that with that much power comes even greater liability.
“Teen Titans” from 2003’s Teen Titans #1 by Geoff Johns with art by Mike McKone. Cyborg, Raven, Starfire and Beast Boy welcome in a new roster of young heroes to train to defend humanity—Wonder Girl, Impulse and a Superboy who’s been cloned from Superman’s DNA.
With the commitment of big name talent and a production schedule that goes out over a year, DC is serious about their partnership with Walmart. It’s an attempt to not only build market share, but make comic books as ubiquitous as they were in the 60s, 70s and 80s. For today’s audience, their first introduction to the DC line is either television or the relatively small slate (for now) of DC superheroes, and the “Arrowverse” and other shows aren’t heavily branded as being DC. It’s an end run around Diamond Comics, the principle distributor of comic books and graphic novels. It’s also a way for DC to get in front of an audience that spends its money on two or three Marvel Cinematic Universe films each year. If DC is successful, how would Marvel respond? Stay tuned, dear readers!