As a comic reader of 15 years, it’s hard for me to get a real grasp of how things like the New 52 or Marvel NOW! really affect the mythical new reader. I’m so far beyond that frame of reference that I can only really think of it as-is from my perspective. The New 52, to me, was a ballsy initiative that seems to have paid off, continuity woes and all. Marvel NOW! feels like more of the same, but with new costumes this time, and less coordinated than previous Marvel relaunches. Last week, however, I was able to get a clear frame of reference for the DC 0-month from a brand new perspective.
At my day job, I’m the comic book guy. Any time anyone has any question related to comics or any adaptation thereof, I’m the guy they talk to. I doubt I’m alone in that regard. One of my coworkers (let’s call him Scott… because that’s his name) was a comic reader many years ago. He was a DC guy back then, so I’ve talked up the New 52 quite a bit, particularly Batman and Aquaman. After a few months on the fence, Scott decided to put in the call to our friends at Superfly Comics and Games and got a subscription set up.
For me, Aquaman #0 was a tough pill to swallow. On its own, it told a very cool story. The problem is that it was the first chapter of a longer story and that chapter interrupted the flow of the ongoing story taking place between issues 12 and 13 of Aquaman. It’s not the only 0 issue that interrupted the ongoing story, either. DC was more concerned with giving every book a 0 issue in the same month than they were at telling the best stories in the best way that they could. The gimmick outranked the stories and that’s inexcusable. Having several of those issues as “chapter 1” is another misstep, especially leading into big stories like the current “Death of the Family” Batman epic. What about young Bruce Wayne and the Red Hood? They’ll get to it someday… Maybe.
Supposedly, this entire exercise was for the unicorn of the comic market: the new or lapsed reader. My friend Scott is that unicorn. After ordering the first hardcover of the new Aquaman series, Scott discovered Comixology and came to me very puzzled the next day. If you go to Comixology and search for the current Aquaman series, this is what you’ll find.
Aside from giving you a glimpse at Ivan Reis’s amazing cover art, it presents Aquaman #0 as the first entry of the series, not the 13th. Scott told me how he got a little impatient after ordering the hardcover and decided to check out the first couple of issues. The minute he said the words “number 0,” I knew what was coming. This was my chance to watch the unicorn in the wild and gauge his response to the initiative so firmly directed at him. He told me how he read the zero issue first (since that’s what Comixology presented first), loved it, and moved onto the first issue of the series, only to find that it had nothing to do with the zero issue. It, too, was really good, but it wasn’t the story he was expecting based upon the zero issue.
So I told Scott about the zero month and how it was executed. His expression got more and more blank as I spoke. When I finished, he said to me, “That is really f**king stupid. So this thing isn’t going to be in the hardcover I bought?” I said no. When he asked in what hardcover it would go, I told I had no idea. All in all, it’s safe to say he was unimpressed with the zero month concept, regardless of how good or bad the issues themselves were.
Two fans with two radically different starting points and backgrounds ultimately came to the same conclusion: the zero issues were pretty dumb. It doesn’t matter, though, since they were a phenomenal success sales-wise. Will fans and retailers bite from that apple again? That’s hard to say. By the end of September, I was actively skipping zero issues of titles I was already reading and was definitely not about to take a chance on a new title (except for Talon). Personally, I’d like to say I wouldn’t fall for it again. But I am a lifelong comic reader, after all. We are notorious for reading things we know we won’t like. But will the new reader fall for the same tricks? But what about these new readers? Without years of a sometimes-abusive relationship with comics to drive behavior, will they fall for the next Zero Month? Or will they be better than us? Fly unicorn… Fly.