I can’t imagine the term “Blackest Night” can possibly be used to describe the mood around the DC offices these days.
Earlier this week, industry website ICv2.com released their initial data and analysis for comics sales in the direct market during the month of September, and it was apparently a very good month for the market’s perennial second banana, DC Comics.
According to their numbers, the best-selling book of the month was Blackest Night #3, with four other tie-ins to the “Blackest Night” event/story placing in the top-ten—Green Lantern, Blackest Night: Batman, Green Lantern Corps and Blackest Night: Superman. (It’s also noted that there doesn’t seem to be very dramatic drop-offs between issues of the “Blackest Night” books, which is also good news for the publisher.)
Of the top ten, there’s one more DC book—Grant Morrison and Philip Tan’s Batman and Robin—with Marvel claiming the other four spots, with event title Captain America: Reborn, two “Dark Reign” branded tie-ins, and Wolverine Giant-Size Old Man Logan.
That’s a pretty extraordinary showing for DC, and obviously they’re going to want to do whatever they can to try and replicate that success in the future. I’m sure they’re asking themselves, and have been doing so for a while, just what it is about Blackest Night that seems to be hitting with their audience, and what they can do to generate more Blackest Nights in the future.
I’ve got a couple of ideas.
Certainly people like this Geoff Johns character, probably more than they like Hal Jordan or any other Green Lantern, and I’m sure DC has already long ago learned this lesson: Let Geoff Johns do whatever the heck he wants. (“What’s that Geoff? You want us to kill off Dick Grayson and make Hal Jordan the new Batman? And Lois Lane dump Superman for Hal? Well…if you say so.”)
Johns clearly knows his audience, and his audience clearly likes him and are willing to buy books based on his byline alone (To test this, I think DC oughta have Johns just start writing a random book a month and see what happens. Like, give him Scooby-Doo for one month. Will it triple in sales?)
Given that the book is essentially a Green Lantern book that’s so far expanded fairly organically, originally confined to just the main miniseries, the two pre-existing Green Lantern titles, and three optional standalone miniseries, it could be seen as a reinforcement of the “Sinestro Corps War” lesson, that franchise specific mini-events might work better than line-wide crossover events (Of course, “Blackest Night” has since expanded, to include more standalone miniseries, a line of “undead” one-shot specials, and tie-ins will also start interrupting pre-existing ongoing titles in the traditional superhero crossover mode).
DC’s attempts at mini-events have seemed to have pretty mixed results so far, though. Certainly the two Green Lantern-related ones were hits, and the Batman ones have been hits as well, even when they’re more like branding exercises than true crossovers. Think “The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul,” “Batman R.I.P.,” “Battle for the Cowl” and even “Batman: Reborn,” which is essentially just a uniform logo slapped on the post-”R.I.P.” books.
But tie-ins to Wonder Woman event Amazons Attack didn’t fare any better for being tied to the event, and most “Countdown” branded books outside the main series fared rather poorly. The recent Titans titles crossover, “Deathtrap,” didn’t even really help out any of the titles (save the low-selling Vigilante) and the year-long Superman-moves-to-New Krypton storyline in the Super-books has been middling when it comes to sales, certainly never approaching “Sinestro Corps” numbers, heat or buzz.
So while it certainly makes sense to continue franchise specific events—even when they fail, they fail much less spectacularly than when a line-wide one fails—that doesn’t seem to be the single factor responsible for Blackest Night’s success.
That leaves me with one more major potential factor: “Blackest Night” is a storyline that Geoff Johns has been writing his way towards for about five years now.
Whether he had visions of Black Lantern rings dancing in his head as far back as when he was typing up scripts for Green Lantern: Rebirth, I can’t say, but he has done a remarkable job of at least making it seem like he’s been thinking about it for that long.
Love or hate Johns as a writer, he’s done a pretty remarkable job of long-term planning as far as this particular storyline is concerned, and has been—as he so often does in all of his DC writing—tying new events into older ones that there’s an inevitably to Blackest Night.
It reads like something that had to happen, a storyline that seems realistic within the confines of the DC Universe, and I think that may have a lot to do with how eager DC readers are to embrace it—it’s harder to find the cynicism and artifice in it than in some other similarly sized and scaled stories.
So if DC wants to make more Blackest Nights in the future, how could they go about it? Well, one way is to find skilled writers who are passionate about a particular character and franchise and are devoted enough to it to spend years on it, and then to go ahead and let them spend years on it.
Green Lantern: Rebirth launched in late 2004. The Green Lantern monthly in 2005, and it’s now reaching it will reach its 50th issue during “Blackest Night.”
That is a really, really long time for a comic book writer to be writing the same book these days. I may be wrong about this, but in all that time I can’t remember Johns ever having a fill-in writer step in to take on GL, even when he was keeping a pretty grueling multi-book schedule, full of demanding books like Infinite Crisis and the year-long weekly 52.
There isn’t any book comparable at DC Comics at the moment, in terms of a writer devoting that sort of time and attention to a story arc.
The closest is Jonah Hex, which launched around the same time as GL and is also about to hit #50, and Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have been writing that all along. But then, Hex has never reached a GL level of popularity in that time, and the concept of a scarred cowboy doesn’t lend itself to a universe-shattering crossover story the way an army of space cops do, so I can’t imagine we’ll be seeing an Infinite Hex storyline any time soon.
Gail Simone lasted around 50 issues on Birds of Prey, but, again, it was never a blockbuster, although it did have a lot more potential to lead to a big crossover story than Jonah Hex does, since at least it was set in the same century as the bulk of the DCU line.
Beyond those books, I’m having trouble thinking of any current or recent DC comics with substantial runs by he same writer…other than other books by Johns (JSA/JSoA, Teen Titans, The Flash). Am I missing one?
Now, it’s quite possible the amount of time he had to build up to it is only a minor factor in Blackest Night’s success, and that it has more to do with a writer’s specialty and subject matter lining up so perfectly, or the appeal of seeing so many characters in one place at the same time (the whole DC Universe, past or present, living or dead can have a role in this story).
But when DC’s casting about for a rationale for Blackest Night’s success, I hope they won’t think it’s just a matter of fans loving big crossover event stories, no matter the quality or content. I hope they give some thought to the fact that maybe long-term planning, dedication on the part of the writer and a willingness to foster that sort of dedication and longevity on the part of editorial may be helping set this particular event story apart from their last couple.
If they start now, then they can have a couple more Blackest Nights in…three to five years, maybe…?