Saturday, March 19, 2011

Flash Fact: The Property Is In Trouble

I get accused of pandering to DC these days, mostly because I do.  I pander strictly because "holding the line at $2.99" is one of the most refreshing and beneficial things I've seen in comics in the past decade.  It took brass balls, and it required a company with more than a month's worth of profits in mind.  That's rare and it should be commended, so I have been.  But they don't always get it right.  And sometimes they get it horribly wrong.

Most of the news I've been hearing out of C2E2 this weekend has been either depressing, infuriating, or both.  DCs news about The Flash ending with issue 12 was both.

It's a bad idea.  It's a bad idea for the book, for that character, for the retailers trying to sell Flash comics to their customers, and it's bad for the customers as well.  There's going to be a lot of people throwing their hands up in the air wondering just what the hell is going on with this character for the past five years.  And when DC goes to the next iteration of The Flash and discovers that this exasperation is costing them even more readers, and it absolutely will, DC is going to learn that it's a bad idea for DC, too.

To say that The Flash has been an unstable property over the past few years is to engage in the most extreme kind of understatement.  Let's take a brief tour through the character's history as an ongoing title and you'll see what I mean

Flash Vol 1:  105 - 350 (1959-1985)

Flash picks up where Showcase left off, which is how things were done back when comics sold in the millions.  If you wanted an audience, you didn't continuously reboot with a new # 1.  If you wanted credibility, you wanted a higher number that indicated you had been around for awhile and might actually be good.

The series chugged along just fine for more than 25 years, and only ended when Barry Allen met his demise in Crisis on Infinite Earths # 8.  This was back when parlor tricks meant something.  Yes, Barry ultimately came back.  It took about twenty years, though. 

Flash Vol 2:  0 - 230  (1987 - 2006)

Wally West takes on the mantle of The Flash, and this era provides some of the finest runs in the history of the character.  Maybe some of the finest runs in comics.

Mark Waid begins with issue # 62, and introduces Impulse with # 92.  He brings a consistent tone of fun, adventure, and building drama.  Geoff Johns begins making a name for himself when he takes the reigns with # 164.

This epoch doesn't last quite as long the original, but we're left with twenty years of Flash stories, most of them outstanding in quality before the wheels come off and the title limps to an inexplicable finish at issue 230.  Wally takes his family to another dimension for a bit after the Infinite Crisis mini.  Sure.

Flash Vol 3: Fastest Man Alive 1-13 (2006 - 2007)

Bart Allen takes over as The Flash.  For a whole 13 issues.  Just when the character is beginning to get slightly interesting, he is "killed" for approximately four or five minutes.

No twenty or better years of solid storytelling.  What we get is barely a year of stories nobody will remember, and it is now becoming confusing to figure out exactly what we're talking about when we're talking about The Flash.  It's becoming confusing for a customer to piece together where things fall in the reading order because we've now switched title names.  It's getting more difficult to rack Flash as a retailer as well.  It's about to get worse.  Much worse.

Flash Vol 4:  231 - 247 (2007-2009)

With Bart now "dead", DC decides to bring Wally back from his alternate dimension with All Flash # 1, and then pick back up the numbering from Flash Vol 2.  That's not confusing, is it?

Waid returns and tries to steer the title away from the gritty grit of Bart's death and into something more family friendly and lighthearted, mostly centered around Wally's children and the hijinx created by their burgeoning powers.  His new run is almost universally panned, and DC kills the title (though thankfully not The Flash himself) with # 247, for a total of 17 issues of that incarnation.  Better than the 13 issues that Fastest Man Alive "achieved", but not really good, either.  It's about to get worse.

Flash Vol 5:  1-12 (2010-2011)

Geoff Johns returns to the character and ties it into Brightest Day, but this book has now become a white hot mess.  Barry Allen is now Flash again, which means in the last five years, the book has had three different main characters, one of the runs is not named The Flash and fits in between #230 and # 231 of the Wally West Flash.  Now there's a new # 1, but it fits after # 247, not before it.

How could that be confusing to a civilian walking in off the street?

"I want to read The Flash."
"OK, do you want to read the Barry Allen Flash, the Wally West Flash, or the Bart Allen Flash?"
"I just want Flash."
"Well, if you want to start at the beginning, here's a black and white Showcase Flash, or if you want to know what's going on now, you can start with the Geoff Johns Flash and oh here's the Brightest Day mini that ties into it that came out of Blackest Night and - hey, where are you going!"
[customer walks out of store to go play Call of Duty]

This "run" sets the new Flash record by finishing in only 12 issues.

It's embarrassing to watch, and it's obvious to anyone with open eyes that as a business tactic, rebooting doesn't work.  The first two volumes run from 1959 - 2006.  The next THREE run from 2006-20011, and that's scary.  The property has been mismanaged terribly and DC just made it worse, not better.

- Ryan

1 comment:

Irish Mike said...

I somehow missed this piece. I found my hands balling into fists as I read through your examples. You're absolutely right. It's amazing to me how naively unaware the mainstream publishers are when it comes to effectively marketing their properties.

The industry keeps shooting itself in the foot and soon it will be permanently crippled. Hell, health care is shit these days, too.