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