New Kid on the Block
Gotham City has a new kid on the block, the fallen talon Calvin Rose. The question is will he become a permanent addition to the DC Universe, or will he soon fall by the wayside never to be remembered? I've done some serious research and some serious guess work, and I have an answer. It may very well be the wrong answer, but I have it nonetheless.
Know Your History!
I knew I was going to do this article well over a month ago, but only once I started mentally composing did I realize the enormity of this deceptively simple question. How can you predict the success for failure of a comic title? It's not like there is some simple formula you can plug in to decide these things. If there was, the comic book companies would have discovered it and would never have a flop.
It soon became clear that to truly make a good call as to whether or not Talon would succeed or fail, I had to know what had succeeded and failed in previous Batman spin offs. Before I started that, I had to define “success.” For the purpose of this article, any series that survived 36 issues is a success. If a series can garner enough readers to stay published for three years, it has to have made at least a moderate amount of money for DC, and that is a respectable run in my book. With this in mind, I dove into the back issues of DC's successes and flops and found several things I did not expect.
If you don't want a history lesson, just skip down to the section, “The Moral of the Story.”
When Did Batman Become a Bat Family?
Any comic fan will tell you that Batman has had two ongoing comics since the beginning of time and a plethora of other books carrying his adventures over the years, but Bat Family books are a different matter altogether. Now days, we think little about having nineteen different titles that tie closely with the Batman books, but it was not always so.
The move from Batman to Bat Family took quite some time. The first step to truly expanding the Batman universe was back in 1966 with the formation of the Teen Titans. I realize that only one of the comics' five original stars originated from a Batman title, but this was the first time a member of the family, Robin, truly operated separately from Batman and formed his own identity. The next attempt to build Batman into more of brand than a character came in 1975 with the release of two new titles, Joker and Bat Family. Did you know that? Joker had his own ongoing series which lasted a grand total of nine issues before going down in flames. Batman Family, which starred Robin and Batgirl, fared a little better lasting a whopping total of twenty issues before getting canceled. However, the wall started crumbling a little in the 1980's when Perez took hold of the Teen Titans and made them one of the most successful titles of the decade. Teen Titans actually had two titles going simultaneously at one point in the eighties, and DC finally saw the potential for profit in expanding the Bat Family titles. Batman and the Outsiders spun off in 1983 and became a regularly recurring team which always managed at least moderate success, and Huntress came out in 1989 though it was canceled after 19 issues.
Blame It on Knightfall
Love it or hate it, the boom in the Batman universe which gave Bruce an entire family of books stemmed from the classic nineties plotline, Knightfall. Right after Bane broke the Bat, Catwoman just happened to run into Bane herself during the same month her own series launched. This created a solid starting point for Catwoman's ongoing which lasted a very successful 94 issues after which she took a one year break before being semi-rebooted as a more anti-heroic character in another ongoing Catwoman title which lasted more or less until present day. In the plotline following Knightfall, Knightquest, Jean-Paul Valley took over the role of Batman and kicked Tim Drake to the curve which was the beginning of Tim's ongoing series as Robin, and his title essentially lasted until the Flashpoint reboot. After Batman inevitably returned, he left Dick Grayson in charge of the role of Batman. After a brief tenure as the Dark Knight, Grayson handed the matnle back to Bats got his own ongoing Nightwing series which has lasted in one form or another until present day. As if three extremely successful launches from one story arch were not enough, the crazed Batman substitute, Azrael, received his own ongoing series which lasted 100 issues before Valley's untimely demise. DC finally found a pattern that worked,and they have continued to employ it ever since.
The next push came in 1999 with the introduction of two new spin off series. On the positive side, Birds of Prey was introduced which has lasted until present day. On the negative side, Alan Grant tried to push the little known Robin villain Anarky into his own ongoing series which failed to absolutely no one's surprise. Batgirl (73 issues) and Harley Quinn (38 issues) came out in 2000 from the events of No Man's Land. Gotham Central came out in 2003 and lasted forty issues. Gotham City Sirens and Batgirl spun out of Batman Reborn, and though neither series reached 36 issues, I consider both a success since both sold relatively well before the reboot killed their series. The Sirens may not have had a book in the New 52, but all three of its members were featured prominently in other titles. Stephanie was edited out of continuity just so Barbara could once more take the mantle of Batgirl. On the other hand, the new Azrael which came out around the same time only lasted 18 issues before getting the axe. Many other new Bat titles are currently ongoing, but it is a bit early to determine which of them will actually last.
In short, the Batman spin off wins include The Teen Titans, The Outsiders, Catwoman, Robin, Azrael, Nightwing, Birds of Prey, Batgirl, (Cassandra) Harley Quinn, Gotham Central, Gotham City Sirens, and Batgirl. (Stephanie) Batman spin off fails include, Joker, Batman Family, Huntress, Anarky, and Azrael.
The Moral of the Story
So what can we learn from all this? Well, there are certain trends that can be observed in DC's successes and failures. Successful books tend to:
1. Star established characters
2. Star heroes
3. Spin off from a major crossover events
Why Talon Is Likely To Fail
Calvin Rose has one major disadvantage going into his solo series; he has no established following.
Out of all the successful spin offs, only one dealt with main characters which were not well established before they got their own series, Gotham Central, and even in that case, some of the supporting characters were partially established beforehand. Furthermore, Gotham Central struggled with sales. I still consider it a win, but it certainly wasn't a runaway hit for DC. On the other hand, sixty percent of the failed Batman spin offs feature a relatively unknown character. Huntress had been around for decades, but Helena Bertinelli was a completely new take on the character since the previous Huntress was rebooted through Crisis on Infinite Earths. Anarky had been around for about ten years when he got his own series, but he didn't have very many appearances. Michael Lane had a handful of appearances before getting his own ongoing comic, but few of them even really focused on him.
In Talon, we are presented with a brand new character, Calvin Rose. Sure, Batman fans might be familiar with the Court of Owls style assassins known as Talons, but they never met Rose, and Rose does not act much like the typical talon. We had no idea who Calvin Rose was before he read his ongoing series, and that means if Talon wants to stick around, the creative team better make us care about Calvin fast because there is no built in audience that will be rooting for him based on previous appearances.
Why Talon Is Likely To Succeed
Let's just get real for a minute. If you put a guy or gal in tights and say he or she has close ties to Batman, you are going to sell some comics. As unfair as it might be, the name of Batman does a lot of the heavy lifting when you want to get a book off the ground.
That being said, it helps tremendously if your main character is not a bad guy. Out of all the successful spin off titles that succeeded, none of them focused on stone cold killers except, arguably, Gotham City Sirens who included the sometimes lethal Poison Ivy. Beyond that, we do have Harley Quinn, who may have killed a few people here and there but never reveled in it, and Catwoman who was an occasional hero in the nineties and a full time hero in the thousands. Even when Selina is up to her more felonious ways, most people see stealing as far removed from murder. Out of the failed series, Joker is clearly a bad guy, (though he was not nearly as bad in the seventies) Anarky was supposed to be an anti hero Anarchist according to Alan Grant, but he was only a Marxist bad guy in reality, and Azrael (Lane) was originally a bad guy who did not last long as a good guy before returning to the dark side. Most comic readers want to root for a good guy, or if they are watching a bad guy, they want it to take on a light hearted adventure tone.
is most definitely a good guy. Sure, he might have soiled
his hands with
a teeny weeny bit of
are talking about a guy who murdered
assassin for a job promotion and then saved
innocent people. Few would condemn him too harshly under the circumstances.
As far as originating from a major crossover event, the case has already been pretty well made that most of the successful spin offs start off that way. It is also worth pointing out that 100% of the failed spin offs lacked the backing of a major event. Did Calvin have a major event to launch him? Only the best selling crossover of last year, the Night of the Owls. Granted, it did not feature Calvin as a character, but it did set up the framework for Calvin's whole shtick.
In these respects, Talon was planed on very fertile soil indeed.
The role of Tynion IV and Snyder can't be ignored either. James Tynion IV has done a great job and garnered a respectable fan base from his work on the backup stories of the Bat books before he even began Talon. Since starting the series, he has addressed the lack of a built in fan base by making Calvin a very likable fellow and doing a good job of selling the whole concept of the hero in well written, concise stories. Furthermore, the hottest name in Batman these days, Scott Snyder, is attaching his signature to the project, so how can it not succeed?
By the Numbers
All this is well and good, but what are the sales numbers saying? Is Talon connecting to readers?
Talon started off with a very respectable 54,000 sales, but it dropped to 50,000 with the next issue and 37,000 with the issue following. That might sound pretty bad, but it really is not. People always purchase the first issue or two of a series to give it a try and then give up on it if they decide it is not their thing. Sure, Talon has lost thirty-two percent of its potential readers, but that is not so bad when you compare it to a title like The Ravagers that started with lower sales for its first issues and then lost forty-five percent of its potential readers in the same timespan. In November, Talon actually ranked (if my counting is correct) 22nd out of DC's 52 central universe titles, and that is not bad at all.
My Personal Conclusion
I don't know if Talon will have an ongoing title ten years from now, but I would be surprised if he doesn't make it to the three year mark. Long live Calvin Rose.