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Rumors are Flying that DC Comics Might be Shuttered After Firing of Co-Publisher Dan DiDio

It’s no secret that the American comic book industry has been in a slow decline for decades now. In the 1960s, Archie and Superman averaged half a million copies sold per issue, while this past January Superman only moved 43,000 copies and Archie sold just 7,000 copies, despite both characters being featured on prime-time soaps on the CW with large followings.

DC Comics, the publisher of iconic characters such as Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, recently announced the ouster of long-time co-publisher Dan DiDio, with prominent comic-focused sites reporting he was fired by higher-ups are Warner and AT&T. It’s a major shake-up at DC, and no doubt at least partially the result of Warner wanting somewhere to lay the blame for the failure of their DC-based movies to generate the same excitement as Marvel Studios.

Former DC and Marvel artist Ethan Van Sciver, who was the penciller on the Green Lantern: Rebirth series that saw the character become a top property and a fill-in artist for Frank Quitely on Grant Morrison’s groundbreaking New X-Men run, said Sunday that in light of DiDio’s firing, AT&T was planning on closing publishing operations at DC if their upcoming 5G reboot fails to reinvigorate the brand.

I’m going to start by saying I think we should all take this with a grain of salt. Van Sciver is not the industry darling he was a decade ago and has alienated most of his fellow creators with his outspoken political views and support for the so-called “comicsgate” movement on social media. And despite Van Sciver’s comments to the contrary, I can’t imagine he wouldn’t be absolutely thrilled at the fall of the American comic industry. But in Van Sciver’s defense, this is not a new rumor, either.

DC has clearly been struggling with the viability of their line as 5G is the third reboot of the line in the past decade, following 2011’s New 52 and then 2015’s Rebirth, both of which mainly undid the previous reboot.

The idea behind 5G is essentially a time-skip that would replace the existing DC characters with new “fifth-generation” characters taking up their mantles, much the same way that Kid Flash Wally West became The Flash after the death of Barry Allen in 1986’s reboot Crisis on Infinite Earths (they do this reboot thing a LOT, 5G is like the tenth overall) or when former Robin Dick Grayson became Batman in Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin.

While this sounds intriguing, these changes never last. Both major comic companies have done them, and at the end of the day Barry Allen is still The Flash, Bruce Wayne is still Batman, Peter Parker is still Spider-Man and Logan is still Wolverine. No one ever expected anything different, really.

The official name of the book that will launch DC’s new continuity is Generation Five: Age Of Tomorrow, and it’s the last in a series of one-shots that begins with Generation Zero: Gods Among Us, which DC will be offering for free on May 2nd as part of the industry’s annual Free Comic Book Day, where major and minor publishers send out free books to encourage people to visit the comic book specialty shops that the industry relies on.

As someone who worked in a comic book store in the past, I can assure you that if DC ceased publishing operations it would likely mean the end of Marvel’s publishing endeavors as we know them as well. Comic book sales are almost entirely dependent on the comic book specialty shop today and at least 95% of those shops won’t be able to stay open if DC shuts down. These shops are already struggling to stay above water and DC represents about 30% of the books sold in said shops, in terms of both dollars and units sold. The loss of DC would be the end of those shops and the loss of those shops would be the end of Marvel, who have virtually no presence in the larger book trade; their entire output to that market in 2018 was outsold by super hero manga title My Hero Academia. That’s right, one single manga title sold more copies than everything Marvel printed combined, for the entire year.

Speaking of manga, that industry would be largely unaffected by this. In America, the vast majority of manga sales come from the book trade, meaning places like Amazon or Barnes and Nobel, and not from specialty shops. Manga publishers also have a robust online presence, with readership numbers for Shueisha’s top titles in their Manga Plus app reaching the hundreds of thousands.

So what does a world where DC ceases publishing operations look like? The movies, animated series, CW shows and merchandise will no doubt continue indefinitely, and that’s where the majority of the money these properties are bringing in is coming from. They would probably continue to print their back catalogue to the book trade, especially the lucrative Watchmen, an IP they would lose control of if it went out of print for over a year due to the nature of their contract with creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

It probably wouldn’t even mean the end of comics with DC characters as they would likely license them to other publishers, and I can see a world where they also continue the 100-Page Giant line that repackages old issues of Flash, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Teen Titans with exclusive new stories for sale at Walmart, Target and other large retailers outside the comic book specialty shop direct market. But it would be a huge upheaval to the American comic book industry, such that it’s really impossible to guess what it would look like in the end.

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