Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Future of the Flash, Part I: Back to (Silver Age) Basics

(This is the first part of a four-part series that analyzes how DC Comics has handled the Flash series over the last few years, and how they can get it back on track. Feedback is definitely appreciated!)

Is bringing Barry Allen back a good business move for DC? Well, Barry has already made four or five brief visits from beyond the grave since his death in 1986 and those temporary flirts certainly could not help or hurt sales in any earth-shattering way. But precedent set by the return of other classic characters forecasts that a permanent return for Barry Allen would be a good move on DC’s part. After all, three have been very positive long-term moves. In order of success:

  • In 2005, Silver Age Green Lantern Hal Jordan was brought back to dynamite sales in Green Lantern: Rebirth, resulting in one of DC’s best-selling franchises (the Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps titles), and “The Sinestro Corps War,” DC’s most positively-received crossover in years. Both titles are currently building towards another crossover in 2009, “The Blackest Night.” Popular writer Geoff Johns is certainly committed to the character for the long-term, so DC can probably count on continued success.

  • In 2001, Green Arrow Oliver Queen was brought back by filmmaker Kevin Smith and enjoyed a 75 issue series that ended to make way for a high profile wedding to Black Canary and the re-launched “shared” title, Green Arrow/Black Canary. Ollie also had a fairly prominent role in Identity Crisis, the crossover that help set the direction for the DC Universe over the last few years. While sales of Green Arrow/Black Canary are not at Green Lantern levels, Green Arrow is still enjoying solid success.

  • Hawkman and Hawkgirl both enjoyed prominent roles in JSA after their returns from comic book continuity hell, as well as a spin-off solo title. Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray had a strong run that generated positive buzz and regained sales before the title was changed to Hawkgirl at issue #50. Sales soon dropped harshly and the title was cancelled at issue #66. Currently Hawkman still appears in Justice Society of America and Rann/Thanagar: Holy War while Hawkgirl appears in Justice League of America, so both characters are certainly doing better post-return despite their main title being cancelled.

All good moves, DC!

Curiously enough, it appears all recent attempts by DC to significantly alter one of their “icons” have poor long-term results:

  • Aquaman was close to cancellation in 2005 but received a gigantic jump in sales with issue #40 when it was revamped by Kurt Busiek into a sword-and-sorcery series with a brand new Aquaman. However, interest did not last and even fantasy novelist Tad Williams, who took over from Busiek with issue #50, failed to bring the numbers back up (although personally I thought his run was really well-written). Cancelled with issue #57, the Aquaman property seems to be taking a rest.

  • While the All-New Atom was the longest-lasting Atom series since the 1960s, the sales were never that great and the title was recently canceled with next week’s issue #25. Silver Age Atom Ray Palmer appears in the last few issues and will also be appearing in James Robinson’s upcoming Justice League title.

  • Martian Manhunter’s recent mini-series revamp did little to revive interest in the character. See Final Crisis #1 for the end result.

Ouch... Better luck next time?

Taking all of the above into account, it is clear that the classic versions of DC’s characters are far more successful than revamped versions. Of course, the Atom and Martian Manhunter never had the sales power that Green Lantern or even Green Arrow had, yet neither did Hawkman, who has never been a top seller since the Golden Age, and he has done fairly well. The Flash, however, is certainly as high-profile a character as Green Lantern, so logic dictates that by following the “back-basics” model DC would have another blockbuster.

Except for one major problem: over the last few years the Flash franchise has been nothing less than a total sales disaster.

(Coming in Part II: some truth about Bart Allen’s hasty exit…)


Rockin' Rich said...

Good points.

Superman, too, apparently, since all the stuff that was removed during the Byrne/Wolfman reboot is restored, except for Superboy. Although...

totaltoyz said...

While the All-New Atom was the longest-lasting Atom series

Er...what? Ray Palmer's first solo series lasted 38 issues and more than six years. That's a better track record than the All-New Atom.

McK said...

Thanks for pointing out my mistake, totaltoyz!

I don't know how I made that mistake. I wanted to mean it lasted longer than the "Power of the Atom" series in the late 80s, but I missed that detail in my fast typing/proofreading/whatever.

Edited so it is now accurate.

Rokk Krinn said...

Excellent analysis. I agree with pretty much your entire post. It is hard to argue against the popularity of DC's Silver Age characters compared to the newer versions of classic characters that DC attempts to create.

I think it is a smart move by DC to continue this trend by bringing back Barry Allen. Hopefully, Aquaman will get the same treatment at some point in the future.

Anonymous said...

the barry allen flash was most powerful no doubt!! they need to give him some new tricks besides being able 2 run real fast i like extra strengh, destructive vibrations, and maybe a darker side not so nice!