21 October 2009

Mighty Chew

(FAIR WARNING: I'm not 100% sure this will go anyplace substantive. I have questions but no answers. I hope we can discuss in the comments.)

Yesterday's release of the DC Comics solicits for January 2010 revealed that issue 12 of The Mighty will be the series' last.

This bums me out, as I really enjoyed this series; I honestly could not believe it was being published by DC at times, not because it was horrifically violent or featured lots of gratuitous nudity (it had neither), but because the storytelling was so smart and methodical. I won't get too far into it, at the risk of spoiling for those who may read it someday (this would be a GREAT trade paperback purchase and an even BETTER dollar-bin roundup). It's essentially a suspense thriller about a superhero who may or may not be insane, told from the point of view of his all-too-mortal lieutenant and friend. It's a great comic.

Thing is, there's lots of great comics within what I'll term for the purposes of this conversation the American genre mainstream -- basically the Big Two and the other large, medium, and smallish publishers who also publish primarily superhero, action, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc comic books.

It seems universally true (to me at least) that for the most part, the books that sell in the top 50 or 100 are usually not as good as those that fall beneath that rough line of demarcation. I say that as someone who enjoys Bendis and Brubaker a whole hell of a lot, worships the water Grant Morrison walks upon, and even occasionally gets into the gore-infested melodrama of Mr. Geoff Johns.

But if you think about the really great mainstream genre comics out there, it's almost always stuff that is either "comfortably" in the midlist or pretty much always in danger of cancellation. From the past few years alone, so many examples come to mind -- Agents of Atlas, Captain Britain and MI:13, Secret Six, Incredible Hercules, Jay Faerber's books for Image, Checkmate, Blue Beetle. These are just from the top of my noggin. Pick through your own brain, or poke around your longboxes sometime, and you'll no doubt find your own pet favorite series that ended too soon because it sold too little, in spite of high quality, many positive reviews, and maybe even a fan campaign to resurrect it. (Shit, forgot Manhunter. Especially Manhunter.)

So this got me to thinking about not the whole "why don't people really like the good comics that it seems like everyone agrees are good but nobody buys" argument, which is kinda played out, but a more specific argument. To wit:

Why did The Mighty fail, and Chew succeed?

I like Chew, a lot. I like The Mighty better, I think. But this isn't a value judgement on either comic. It's more about two mainstream genre comics, one that sank like a stone over a year, and one that already seems to have drummed up enough buzz and sales to see it through two or three years.

Obviously it's not strict apples to apples, and maybe that's all the answer we need. The Mighty was a superhero book from a superhero publisher that didn't take place in said publisher's mainstream superhero universe. It was marginalized from the start. Chew is not a superhero book and has no aspirations to be one. The Mighty has a much less poppy "hook" than Chew, which is about a guy who eats dead people to find out about how they died. (Damn, that's a great high concept.)

There's also huge differences in the philosophies of the publishers; Image is clearly willing to nurture a title like Chew for long enough to let the book either make an impression or fail to do so, and even after it fails to do so, it may keep publishing it anyway, because those guys are cool like that. I have no knowledge of their inside baseball but one look at a smash TPB hit like The Walking Dead proves that it must be worth it for them to try lobbing out interesting books into the marketplace and trying to see what will "stick" in a similar way.

DC...well, like I said, I have no idea why DC even agreed to publish The Mighty. It's not a DCU book. They rarely publish non-DCU books. This might not have been the best fit for something like Vertigo but it could easily have folded into the Wildstorm line instead, not that doing so would have helped or hurt its chances much, in my opinion.

Does Image just care about comics more than DC does? There has certainly been plenty of press and buzz surrounding Chew, some of it organic to the book and its hooky concept, but some of it definitely stoked and driven by the Image marketing and exec team. On the other hand, I do recall interviews promoting The Mighty upon its initial debut.

Are we just that shitty a readership, that we can't spot the good books from the massive wall of absolute pablum wretched up onto the stands every week? Maybe so. According to estimates The Mighty 1 sold around 17K; by issue 3 it was at half that number; by issue six it was under 6K. So some of us tried it and gave up; fine, it's not everyone's cuppa. But that first issue was so purposefully slow and careful that I wonder if it didn't push people from picking up a second and third installment. I guess that could be our fault as lazy addled readers, or the creators' fault for not putting enough BANG in their big debut; I still thought it was an awesome opening.

Oddly enough, Chew started at around 5K in sales reported for its debut month (with more thereafter as the issue went through multiple printings), and had hit 13K by its third issue. So a nice sizeable climb...but ultimately in the same ballpark as The Mighty, honestly. And frankly, DC just has much deeper pockets than Image, at least I would think they do.

So why not just keep publishing The Mighty for a while longer, put out some trades, try to nurture the book more than just a push off the ledge with a few Newsarama articles to help it fly?

I don't know. I'm running out of questions and I'm pretty absent of answers. I'm bummed; not like indignant and angry, like you are all morons cause you didn't buy this comic book I liked. How sad would that be? Pretty sad.

But every couple years, I'll pull out my meager stack of Mighty issues, and I'll read them again, and I'll wish I had more to read. I don't know why I won't have more, and I don't know if there are easy answers to these questions. I just wish more of the good stuff got more of a chance to be even better, I guess.



Blogger Marc said...

You raise some interesting questions. I think sales figures are always going to be the number one priority for any publisher, but the thresholds for defining success between Image and DC are undoubtedly different. If Image had published The Mighty, it might have enjoyed more longevity, but with DC, its sales were just too low to justify continuing it.

I also have to admit that I never even heard of The Mighty, so whether or not the book was any good, it failed to generate any buzz, at least from my perspective. Chew on the other hand has been getting a ton of attention all over the place.

October 21, 2009 9:32 AM  
Blogger Johnny B said...

I've been enjoying The Mighty, too- I think it's been a solid, well-written take on the "Bad Superman" genre-of-sorts that pops up every so often.

I'm a bit surprised that it was ever considered an ongoing anyway- the very structure of its story would seem to point to a definite ending, and 12 issues is plenty of time to arrive, I'd think. I'm glad it got that many.

More questions- why did Pete Snejbjerg bail? Since this is such an under-the-rader title, no one reported on it, but it made me curious. Fortunately, they found an excellent replacement with Chris Samnee, who should be on the fast track to comics stardom, so all good there. Still, I wonder.

It's almost as if this book was nothing more than a market experiment to begin with- as you say, very little hype at the beginning, low-fi concept, not-quite-buzzworthy creators, DC title but not in DCU...just an odd situation all around.

October 21, 2009 9:39 AM  
Blogger alex-ness said...

Great and thoughtful piece... I am unable to wrap my head around what goes into deciding ongoing midlist or quick hitting 6 issue mini, but, ultimately, to me it is a question of is the comic below the continuity radar enough to make it readable on its own, and if so, who is the creative team... I find lots of good comics by trying to steer clear of continuity ...

October 21, 2009 12:20 PM  
Blogger Martin T said...

I'm not sure if The Mighty was ever genuinely intended to be an ongoing - I remember when it was launched, the creators said the first 12 issues were a complete story, with scope to follow up later if there was sufficient interest.

I buy the comic, but to be honest the pace is too slow for my tastes. It seems that every issue, Alpha One's up to something, Alpha One's up to something, but we're not really finding out an awful lot. With that said, I'd quite possibly buy a second volume (as long as these last few issues don't suck!).

I don't buy Chew, but I couldn't escape the buzz around the first couple of issues, which seemed to consist more of "Nth PRINTING SOLD OUT, N+1 PRINTING THIS WEEK!" headlines rather than discussion of the comic itself, which was a shame.

October 21, 2009 2:08 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

October 21, 2009 3:05 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

hanks for the comments everyone!

Marc: Totally agree re: the thresholds for "success" being different for DC and Image; I just wonder why DC's isn't lower, honestly. I can see not supporting a raft of low-selling titles but they do continue to publish Jonah Hex despite low sales, which I appreciate even though I'm not a regular reader of the title. And if they knew this is what was going to happen (I think I knew it had 12 issues max even as I bought issue 1, and I'm not in the publishing biz), then why'd they publish it? Anyway, more questions, no answers, etc...I hope this doesn't make me a bad conversationalist.

Johnny B: Yeah, I wish it'd just been a 12-issue maxiseries to begin with; in some ways, I think it would have helped the title, since people might have been willing to invest in the book knowing it had an ending, rather than as an open-ended new superhero effort in a new continuity. It might also help trade sales as a single 12-issue story that could be value-priced at like 19.99 or something. I love Samnee's stuff and also hope he gets lotsa Big Two work--he has a story in X-Men vs. Agents of Atlas, I believe?

Alex: A lot of the good stuff definitely happens outside or on the fringes of continuity, yes!

Martin: Buzz definitely has something to do with Chew's success, and it could just again get back to that issue of Image knowing how to play the comics marketing game better than DC, which has made some nice strides recently but which overall I think is very lumbering and old-school when it comes to selling their books.

For those who bought The Mighty, what brought you in? For me, I'll confess--I flew to a magical land upon a moonbeam and purchased the first few issues using pixie dust, then upon reading them, immediately bought those issues in hard copy on our mortal plane and subscribed. I would not have considered checking it out otherwise unless I read one or more glowing reviews from those I respect.

October 21, 2009 3:20 PM  
Blogger Dave James O'Neill said...

Matt - DiDio has, when been asked about Jonah Hex's sales figures - that it's in DC's best interest to keep the book alive, because they want to publish A Western book, so show brand diversity. Or something. Also, it tends to attract big name artists (darwyn cooke, and J.H. Williams) for an issue or two..

Also - I don't know if publishing the series as a maxi series would have worked - DC tried War That Time Forgot last year, as a 12 issue maxi, and that bombed worse than Mighty.

Truthfully, I read the first few issues in the store (Dave Johnson covers tend to draw me in), but got cold because of the awful pace..

October 21, 2009 7:24 PM  
Blogger David Wynne said...

I've been reading the Mighty.I hadn't heard of it, picked up #4 or 5 (whichever one was Snejberg's last) on a whim because I like Snejberg's art. Stuck around because I also like Samnee, and the story's about 7000 times more interesting than most Superhero comics out there. I particularly the genuinely creepy/scary tone, and that it is achieved without ridiculous levels of gore; I also really like the pacing.

All that said, I've been trimming my pull list lately, and I was going to drop The Mighty - ironically, the fact that it only has a few more issues to go actually saved it. Same goes for Wolfman and Leonardi's Vigilante, as it happens.

October 21, 2009 9:13 PM  
Blogger Martin T said...

Matt: I first became aware of The Mighty when I read its solicit in Previews. The description was so-so - murder mystery in a superhero's backup organization (it didn't really reflect the course the comic would take, but then they often don't). The Dave Johnson cover must have been what really hooked me, it'd turn out to be a far more accurate representation of the comic's mood.

I buy another non-DCU book too - Warlord. I assume that's on borrowed time as well.

David - I'd actually dropped Vigilante, but have picked it up again for these last few issues.

October 22, 2009 3:35 PM  

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