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Monday, December 24, 2012

An Aquaman Wager

 March 26th, 2011

As fast as the Shrine was to rejoice and spread word of writer Geoff Johns' confirmation of Aquaman way back in the spring of 2011,  Richard Bruton, a writer for the British site Forbidden Planet International, was almost as quick to post a wager predicting the series' demise. The gist of his now infamous piece "Ten quid on cancelled by Christmas 2012; Aquaman and the problem of third tier heroes" was that a new Aquaman title's swim towards cancellation would be as inevitable as the tide since "third tier" heroes just can't sustain ongoing titles successfully; no way, no how. Here's an excerpt from Richard's piece:

"In truth, there are three tiers of comic characters with the big two companies when it comes to selling comics with their name on the cover: 

Top tier: Big legacy characters, the ever popular, the iconic – your Batmans, Supermans, Spider-Mans, Flashs and Green Lanterns. They will continue to be popular, a long standing brand with success in the past pointing to success in the future.

Second tier: Radical reinventions, that sometimes work and sometimes don’t, basically third tier characters pushed up to this tier by writers. Think Grant Morrison reinventing Animal Man, Alan Moore reinventing Swamp Thing.

Which brings us to the final, bottom, third tier – the failures, the bit parts, the supporting cast, the perennial team members, the never manage to support a continuing series. Ever.

Guess which category Aquaman fits into?"
Woah Richard, really???

Flash-forward to the present and still going strong, 2012 has been an outstanding year for the New 52's biggest break-out hit. Aquaman has been acclaimed by fans and critics alike, was nominated for four Eagle Awards, outsold every single Marvel comic not once, but twice, reached #1 on The New York Times Bestseller List, and is the #1-selling solo book in DC's Justice League title group--outselling the Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Hawkman, and Firestorm on a regular basis. Admittedly, even we did not expect this kind of unprecedented success for the new series!
And while some argue that it is Johns' name that sells Aquaman, we vehemently counter that it is not. Aquaman is a comics and a pop-culture icon. All joking aside, the Sea King has achieved a place in the pantheon of intellectual properties that most others never will. Namor, who? We hazard to guess that if Geoff Johns wrote Mister Miracle or Martian Manhunter or Black Lightning sales wouldn't even come close to where Aquaman has leveled out. A telling stat was recently reported by the Beat in that "The 10 [DC New 52] books that held on to the highest percentages of their debut sales over the last year, as of September 2012, are Animal Man (83.2%), Batman (83.1%), Aquaman and Nightwing (76.2% each)..." which certainly counters the "flash-in-the-pan" theory that Bruton insinuated.

So we waited patiently for over a year, not wanting to jinx anything, before reaching out to Richard earlier this month to discuss his impending "departure of financial assets." When we did he graciously responded to the Shrine, informing us that he planned to make a donation to a local library fund and referred us to his  "Ten Quid" follow-up post, aptly titled:  "I LOST." We quote: 

"I was wrong. Absolutely and completely wrong. Heck, I read [Aquaman] to see what it would be like, and surprised the life out of myself by really enjoying it.

Dear God, I like Aquaman." 

Vindication at last! 

So Merry Christmas 2012 everyone and here's to many more lost bets against Aquaman in the years to come!

Before we sign off with the post, I feel like I should just add a word or two about this post. Thanks to Shrine Correspondent Joe Slab for doing the legwork on this piece, and extra special thanks to Richard Bruton for being a good sport. We are, of course, happy that Richard was so wrong. 2012 has been an *amazing* year for Aquaman, thanks to the work of the aforementioned Geoff Johns, and of course Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Rod Reis, and everyone else who contributed to the Sea King, both in and out of the pages of the comic. Happy Holidays to all you Aqua-Fans! -rob!


Diabolu Frank said...

"We hazard to guess that if Geoff Johns wrote Mister Miracle or Martian Manhunter or Black Lightning sales wouldn't even come close to where Aquaman has leveled out."

Gee, thanks Joe. I'd be pissed if you weren't right. The Martian Manhunter is decidedly third tier, as he's never carried an eponymous series longer than three years and has minimal cultural relevance.

Meanwhile, I'll forgive Richard Bruton his dubious assertion about Aquaman because he's a limey and the Sea King may not have the same impact across the pond. In America though, and I suspect much of the world, Aquaman is the super-hero of the water. That has often been played for cheap laughs, but most people who have any familiarity with super-heroes at all know who Aquaman is through his cartoon, live action, and comics appearances. That Entourage story arc wouldn't have worked with any other character, because no one combines notoriety and perceived uselessness like Aquaman. Even I as a comic fan and cartoon watcher often forget that guys like Green Lantern and Hawkman were ever in the Super Friends, and they likely had no more resonance with casual viewers that Black Vulcan or Samurai. Anyone who loves comics who has ever swam in any sort of body of water has imagined themselves as Aquaman, and when an Olympian like Michael Phelps excels, he is compared to the Sea King.

There was a big debate a few months back about whether the Batman brand or the creative team of Snyder and Capullo had made Batman a top seller. The obvious answer is that it took both. Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Carlos Pacheco and Ethan Van Sciver could not make Green Lantern sell as well as Aquaman, nor could any collaborator with Johns push the Flash to the top. Meanwhile, Aquaman could never sustain with lesser creators, and he never managed to nab more than one reasonably hot talent at a time (Peter David, Jim Aparo.) The initial creative team on the latest volume were the total package, and on the right character, dominated the charts.

Superman is the prototypical super-hero. Wonder Woman is the prototypical super-heroine. Batman is the dark hero who is super because of his mind, training, and gadgets, rather than through powers. The Flash is the fast guy. Spider-Man is the geeky everyman. Captain America is the super soldier. Hulk is the angry strong guy. Iron Man is the debonaire tech guy. Wolverine is the feral, edgy guy. Aquaman is the ocean guy. They're all primal, and increasingly universal in the public consciousness. That's what makes them A-list, and that matters more than whether Aquaman sells a monthly title, while explaining why he's had a title more months than not over the past several decades. Aquaman matters in a way most other super-heroes, or even literary characters, do not. He is an heroic icon, and any comparable properties inevitably are sized up against him.

Wings1295 said...

Awesome on all counts! Happy Holidays to you and all at the Shrine!

Joe Slab said...

@Diabolu Frank

Thank you for taking the time to make such a well-articulated comment, I agree with it on many points!

Incidentally, this post was written well before the news broke that Geoff Johns actually WILL be writing Martian Manhunter (even if its just as a co-writer for his JLA back-up). I am more hopeful that JJ will take a bigger spotlight in 2013 but have reservations about the dark & deadly approach that they have teased. How can DC animation get J'onn so right in B:TB&TB and Young Justice but they can't translate him well to the comics?

I also should have mentioned in my piece that while having an all-star creative team on the comic certainly helped, one of the biggest factors in Aquaman's recent success is that DCE has fundamentally changed the way they approach the character and have made it a point to product-place the Sea King in all their major marketing efforts. Whether its been "We Can Be Heroes," the Kia cars or the high-profile Throne of Atlantis crossover with Justice League starting this week, you can't touch a DC property and not know that the Sea King is a major player anymore.

Corporate management is huge and when done correctly can propel a character into the stratosphere. Just look at what Marvel has done with Iron Man & Thor which are now household names, and conversely look at how the Green lantern film has made the public aware of the character, albeitnot in a good way :( Sorry, GL fans! In fact, insiders at DC believe Hal Jordan as GL is so toxic that they created a new one to headline the book and had to drop the "Green" from the title of CW's "Arrow" to avoid negative associations with the film.


Your regular commenting is a hug support to me & rob!, Happy Holidays as well>

Joe Slab

Designer Daddy said...

Joe, I'm sure you meant "huge" support, but what you actually wrote is aww, shucks cute. :)

And here's to another OUTRAGEOUS-ly awesome year for our man Aquaman!

Shellhead said...

Long live Aquaman, King of the Seven Seas!

Richard said...

Cheers all,

The Limey here...
Yep, it was a slight surprise how enjoyable the start of the series was, and I'm genuinely glad to be proved wrong this time!

Richard Bruton
Forbidden Planet International Blog

Aaron said...

"Third tier"? As I recall Aquaman stayed in continuous demand when "legacy" characters Green Lantern and Flash were cancelled.

Anonymous said...

Wait, what? DC deem Hal Jordan as toxic character? The movie bombed because it was not good, not because of what version the GL was. If it was John Stewart or Kyle Rayner it wouldn't have mattered one bit. If the movie was still bad, it was going to bomb. How is Hal Jordan to blame for that movie's failure? I have nothing against Simon, he's cool, but if that's really the reason why they replaced Hal, then that's just messed up. Anyway, great Aquaman year! Hope for many more to come!