Unacceptable conclusions about Batman R.I.P.
Batman R.I.P. has been making headlines, as DC Comics no doubt prayed it would. Mainstream comic sales dwindle yearly, and the only light at the end of the tunnel is the fact that film-making technology has now caught up with comic-making technology. No news is bad news as far as the big comics companies are concerned – Batman R.I.P. gets a few column inches (the BBC runs it, for god’s sake), DC shift a few more units and everybody gets to pretend that superheros are the thing.
It had its moments, but I’m not going to spread fairy dust on this mess that is Batman R.I.P. – Tucker Stone nails it completely when he says
… if the goal–and yes, this was the fucking goal make no mistake–was to do a Batman story that could stand alongside the hoary old classics, a story that could make good on the promise Grant showed for the character back when he said he wanted to bring back “the old Neal Adams hairy chested sex god Batman”… then hey, yes, no math required: Batman RIP is a miserable failure, and it’s a miserable failure that actually sold out in stores in Wilmington fucking Delaware, because idiots read newspapers, and they thought this was going to be a big deal… Take a bow, squandered talent. Make sure that you and your friend, lofty ambition, sign some autographs on the way out the door. There’s a fucking line.
The problem is that the whole exercise is so transparent. Check out Mr Butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth himself, writer Grant Morrison, quoted in the Times:
“It took me by surprise,” says Morrison, who writes the current series Batman RIP for American giant, DC Comics. “I thought a few people would sit up and take notice but 72 newspapers around the world picked up the story and suddenly there was all this excitement and nervousness.
That’s right, Grant. You didn’t have a clue that a plotline that claims to kill off Batman wouldn’t make headlines. Unlike the deaths of Superman and Captain America, both of which generated fairly hefty media interest, but neither of which helped to reverse the death spiral of the comics industry. Every single problem I have with the marketing of comics is summed up in the closing lines of that BBC article:
The storyline included clues which dated back to Batman comics from 40 years ago, [Morrison] added. Wayne may be dead, but publisher DC Comics shows no sign of bringing to an end the Batman franchise… It is not the first time a superhero has met an unfortunate end in the comic world. Last year, Captain America was killed after being shot by a sniper in New York.
Breaking it down:
- Literally nobody cares about clues dating back 40 years except comics bloggers, and even they’re not sure if they should care about them that much. Morrison’s writing is dense because it packs in so many allusions, but allusions only work if the readers can actually make the necessary connection. If they can’t, then they go away disappointed – and you’ve lost yet another reader to the Xbox.
- Everybody knows that the franchise isn’t going to end, and that means that everybody knows that the “death” of Batman is just sleight of hand, a cheap magic trick. The publisher is that man behind the curtain that you’re not supposed to pay attention to, because it’ll spoil the magic. But if the man behind the curtain is issuing press releases about the Death of Batman, then he’s not really behind the curtain any more – and any magic is pretty much screwed.
- Superheroes die all the time. Everybody knows this, at least since the Death of Superman storyline. However superheros never stay dead for very long, which everybody also knows – again, thanks to the Death of Superman (and wasn’t there a Superman film out last year?). So how are you every going to deliver on that promise you made to the public when you went to the newspapers – because, you know, there’s going to be another Batman film out in two years’ time?
If you treat the public with contempt – by promising them something that you won’t deliver, in a book that requires a fairly deep background knowledge to really appreciate, and in a really obvious way – they’re not going to thank you for it. They’re just going to ignore you even more than they were before, because they’ve got other things to do. In the long run, the comics industry doesn’t benefit from this kind of exercise – but if there’s one thing the comics industry appears to be good at, it’s repeating its mistakes over and over and over.
December 2, 2008