The best three days of the year came to a close once again on Sunday, as the sun set in Chicago on the massive C2E2 banner hanging in McCormick Place. Like any good con, C2E2 provides a snapshot of popular culture, and especially providing a look at what the trends are in comics. After three very full days of panels and floor-journeying, here is what we saw as the state of comics:
DC continues to capitalize on a hell of a year. Rebirth worked, and they know it. Every one of their panels was packed, completely full up. And for each one, they presented a surprising amount of tact and honesty. Dan DiDio and the rest of the moderators spoke at length about the lack of faith and interest from fans toward the end of the New 52, and how fans missed the legacy of their deep pool of characters, while still longing for new and innovative stories. The result of course was Rebirth, devoted to more consistent creative teams, legacy focus, and risk-taking stories. The zenith of this is the new DC banner “Dark Matter,” which focuses heavily on art and fully-collaborative stories. The general sense provided at the panels was that these books were going to take big risks, and not be afraid to get weird with it. Looks no further than Capullo’s Batman promo image, in which the Dark Knight is holding a pair of battle axes.
Confusingly, DC continues to lack promotion, despite their success. Exclusive ashcan books were handed out at their “surprise” panel that re-announced “Dark Matter,” but that was about it. Considering their Post-Rebirth surge and the upcoming Wonder Woman film, you’d expect more of everything. This could be read as a lack of faith, though it seems more likely to express their continued struggle with allocation and lack of resources.
Talk about a polar opposite. Marvel has struggled in the past year with decreasing sales and bad PR. Of late, the big story has been around Nick Spencer’s Captain America, and the upcoming “Secret Empire” event that doubles down on his allegiance to Hydra. Marvel’s Secret Empire panel provided a look into their strategy around this criticism: completely ignore it, and in fact, lean hard into what is viewed as the problem. It opened with the moderator asking if there were any Hydra members in the crowd; one fan stood immediately, proudly dressed in Hydra gear. He was cheered by the panel, and brought forward to read an advance copy of “Secret Empire.” Then they dived in, exploring the future plotlines of the event and the art, and the tie in books. And not once, in an hour plus, did they address the concerns of Steve Rogers being a Nazi. The crowd filled the room on this one, though was noticeably quieter than in DC’s Dark Matter panel. However, there was also a noticeable lack of dissent. Undoubtedly self-selection played a role, such that those who are more likely to read Secret Empire happily are more likely to go to the panel.
Other than Secret Empire, Marvel’s panels were relatively quiet. The most surprising was their X-Men panel, which was around half capacity. There were very few cheers at any of the news, and a noticeable silence around any Inhumans announcement. This was unthinkable in years past, when events like IvX, or the advertising around the Inhumans filled these panels to capacity. This spells bad news for the future of the larger X-Men and Inhumans franchise.
Their one advantage over DC should not come as a surprise: Marvel can promo anything. Free coloring books, inserts, one sheets, and comics flowed from their yearly booth. While last year the Michael Cho variant cover banners stood out over the floor, this year a massive Secret Empire banner welcomed every guest. Even if the event does flop or they are losing sales, one cannot help but think that they still garner more attention than DC, simply because they get their name out there more.
Image really has nowhere to go but up. Their Contemporary Storytelling panel showcased the depth of talent the company now has relationships with. It also showed their continued focus on storytelling first, and above all. They aren’t interested in promotion through a traditional sense. Instead, they let their often-eccentric creative teams showcase their own works, and through that, Image’s brand image. They know that they are telling some of the best stories today, not just in comics, but in any medium. And if the amount of Lucille bats that were sold at their booth is any indication, Image is still able to play ball with the Big Two.
Dark Horse always has a good presence at C2E2, though they’re real strength is in their booth. It is prominent, with lots of great books, staff, freebies, and signings. They’ve got panel topics that the Big Two aren’t talking about: “The Millennials Guide to Keeping Comics Alive” and “The Un-CONventional Superheroes.” And the real kicker: their new headlining comic, “American Gods,” adorned every three-day badge, and its presence was everywhere. Once the new show drops, expect Dark Horse to really kick things into high gear.
Valiant has a smaller but devoted fan base, and that was felt in their full-capacity panels. However, their real strength comes from brand dispersion: Valiant is everywhere. Even if you’ve never read a comic by them, or even knew they existed, you could still walk out of the con with seemingly endless stacks of free comics and merchandise bearing the Valiant logo. Given their some-rumored-some-confirmed film/TV adaptations in the works, Valiant stands to make some larger waves going forward.
Aftershock, IDW, Lionhead
These are some of the smaller players, but if the con is any indication, then their future is bright. Most significantly: they all had panels! This is great to see from smaller publishers, and the focus was on putting up bigger names. Having Brian Azzarello up on stage obviously helps spread their brand and show that they are legitimate players. Fans can personally interact with the staff and creative at their booth in a way that just isn’t possible with the larger brands. If you’re not reading titles from any of these companies, well, you should be.