Mike Gold: Batman Is Batman, and I Am The Sweetheart of the Donut Shop
Back in the mid-70s the astonishingly gifted Neal Adams pointed out – in context of something else – that the issues of Detective Comics he drew outsold those Frank Robbins drew. Let me state: Neal was not putting Frank’s work down.
Nonetheless, I felt that comment lacked veracity, so – being an honest-to-Crom obnoxious brat hotshot at DC Comics at the time – I looked up the sales figures. It turns out Frank’s issues actually sold slightly better than Neal’s on average. But in those days of newsstand-only comics, the all-important sell-through percentages – that is, the percentage of comics sold out of the total print run – was a couple points higher. And each point over breakeven is pure profit, each point significant to the publisher and to the success of the title.
I am not putting Neal down; I think most people would have suspected his work would outsell Frank’s. But, really, the marginal victories contributed by the artists are less significant than the mere fact that ever since Adam West donned the cowl, Batman is Batman. It’s possible that really bad talent could torpedo the character, but it would take a while and management would notice and hit teams would be assembled.
I mention this by way of Marc Alan Fishman’s discussion in this space last Saturday of the recent brouhaha between Rob Liefeld and Scott Snyder. Scott went on about how his Batman (which, in my opinion, is one of the best monthlies DC Comics publishes these days) sells 80,000 copies and how it outsells Rob’s work at DC, from which Rob recently resigned.
Rob’s position is that such stellar sales are not due to the craft of the talent within as much as the fact that the book is called Batman and that Batman would be a top-seller even if Jason Todd wrote it. Scott said horse hockey (I paraphrase), and lots of folks agreed, including our own Marc Alan Fishman – the son I never had and if there were any hint he was he’d demand a blood test.
At this point, I need to point out the following: It was Marc who turned me on to Scott’s Batman. As he has repeatedly made clear, Marc’s not a big fan of The New 52. Yet he personally took every opportunity to inform me that Batman was an exception. I read the first three issues and told him I agreed.
I also need point out that I have never met Scott. I’ve met Rob, although I haven’t seen him since a San Diego show about a decade ago and I don’t think we’ve ever had a real conversation. I personally do not find his work of late to be compelling, but that’s my taste. There’s a reason why DC gave him all that work this past year, and he’ll always be a hero for creating Deadpool. Rob’s managed to make an impressive number of not-friends during his career, but that can be a positive mark of distinction depending upon the individuals and circumstances involved. I, on the other hand, am well-known as the sweetheart of the donut shop. I have no axe to grind against any anybody.
Batman receives much wider distribution than Savage Hawkman or Deathstroke. The latter titles are pretty much restricted to the comics shops and to e-comics sales; you can buy Scott’s Batman at a great many convenient stores, truck stops and the more enlightened supermarkets. This is because Batman is Batman.
His Batman outsells Rob’s New 52 titles in the comics shops, to be sure. Quality is in the mind of the reader and, unfortunately, when you’re dealing with Batman or X-Men or Oreo cookies, who’s got the better stuff simply is not as important as the brand itself.
Rob Leifeld is absolutely correct when he says Batman is Batman.
But bringing rational thought to a flame-fight is a buzz-kill.
Mike Gold, Marc Alan Fishman, and our fellow ComicMixers Emily S. Whitten, Glenn Hauman and Adriane Nash will be at this weekend’s Baltimore Comic-Con, mostly hanging around the Insight Studios and Unshaven Comics booths, annoying the innocent. Drop by and say hello.
THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil
Yes, Batman is Batman; but only to a point. Snyder took a top fifteen book and turned it into a consistent top two book. His Detective run had similar success. All of the Bat books sell fairly well, but real talent is needed to make one stand out from the rest. Snyder has it.
I would love to know what the number was that Neal was actually selling on Batman or I should say Detective. What was the print run on a given book and what was the final number of sell-through on a given Neal Adams Batman book?
It was over 35 years ago, Kristine, and I can’t say with precision. I can easily say this: if any comic book sold those numbers on the newsstand today, it would be published DAILY.
Newsstand sell-thrus overall were pretty low by then — around 30%, some (not a Batman title at the time) were below 25%. That’s one of the main reasons behind the “DC Implosion” of 1978.
However, during said DC Implosion Detective Comics was actually cancelled — for about three days. Batman Family was above the line, so we kept Detective Comics going by applying the name and the numbering to the content of Batman Family. This, of course, has nothing to do with Neal’s work.
My understanding is that Detective was on the verge of being canceled when Neal picked it up. I guess Batman has had trouble over the years.
That’s a common theory. There was no statistical reason to do so at the time, but that doesn’t mean the story isn’t true. There was a drop in sale after the teevee show was cancelled and Julie did a major revamp on the character — Neal, of course, played an extremely significant role in this. New villains and stronger story lines helped as well, but there was a transition between the readers who bought it because of the teevee show and the readers who disliked the book because it followed the teevee show.
But, what’s far more important to the mix is the fact that during this period the number of newsstand outlets was plummeting. Shopping malls and chain stores replaced the corner drug stores and mom’n’pop operations that traditionally sold the bulk of comics at the time. Rents were a lot higher and there wasn’t enough profit in a comic book to warrant taking up the floor space. Malls and chains look at revenue by “turns” (how fast the item sells and needs to be replaced) as well as profit, and policing comics racks was a very high maintenance effort. Many publishers went out of business or got out of the comics business. So overall it was a crappy time for the Batman teevee show to be cancelled.
Batman certainly had its share of ups and downs, particularly between about 1960 and 1970. Before the teevee show, it was certainly underperforming line average, although merchandising (by the standards of the time) remained pretty good.
My understanding is that Neal was changing Batman in Brave and the Bold and Julie wanted that Batman for Detective. Julie did not revamp Batman. I believe that was happening on its own in Brave and the Bold. Hmmm