Bubble-bursting time. It’s no big secret that Power Company from DC isn’t setting new sales records with every new issue. It’s not in cancellation territory, but that’s not stopping writer Kurt Busiek from taking action on his own.
It’s a vast plan involving death, destruction, phone calls, and Busiek writing the book in the manner he feels he should have from the beginning. What are we getting at here? Well, it’s probably easier if we just hand things over to Kurt…
SIGNED BOOKS! ORIGINAL ART! ‘VIRTUAL" STORE APPEARANCES! FREE STUFF FROM KURT & TOM! WEB STUFF FROM DC! WOO-HOO!
What’s this all about?
Tom Grummett and I would like to see the sales on Power Company a lot higher than they are, so we’ve come up with some promo plans for the book. DC’s up for it, too, so they’re doing their part, but a lot of it is just Tom and me on our own, putting our money (and time) where our mouth is (er, mouths are), and giving away some free stuff to make some noise about what’s coming up in the book. We think if readers and retailers to take another look at what we’re doing, we’ll hook a lot more of them on the book.
So what’s going on?
The thing is, every time a new issue of Power Company comes out, we hear from a lot of people who tell us it’s the best one yet – it’s been pretty consistent. Every issue’s the best one yet, month after month. Maybe we’re just getting into the swing of it, maybe it’s a book that needed to establish a foundation and build up story momentum, but whatever it is we’re doing, the readers we’ve got seem to like it more and more every month. Even some readers who gave us horrible reviews when we launched are now calling Power Company "the best team book at DC." So we seem to be doing something right.
But the problem is, the comics industry is a pretty unforgiving market these days, and if you don’t catch on right away, you don’t have much of a chance. Apparently, a lot of readers tried out the first couple of issues and decided they didn’t like the series – or never tried it at all. So they’re not reading the book. And if they don’t give it a try, how are they going to find out about this whole "getting better every month" thing?
That’s what we’re trying to fix.
So how come we didn’t catch on right away? Why should readers give us a second chance, if they tried the book and didn’t like it?
I think we made a couple of mistakes early on – at least, I made a couple of mistakes – and we had a few launch problems. To run through it:
First, I think we underestimated the resistance out there to new characters right now. Comics readers are loyal to their favorites, and the news of a new DCU team book had a lot of readers resistant to it right out of the gate, saying they’d prefer something that had characters they already know and like – characters they already had an attachment to.
We tried to get around that with our launch strategy – giving readers a taste of the team in a free backup in JLA, DC’s top seller, and following it up with seven self-contained one-shots, each one-shot introducing one of the Power Company members and teaming them up with as established DC super-star. We figured that people who didn’t care about the new characters would at least be interested in seeing the established characters, and that’d give them a chance to get to know the new heroes. And we sweetened the deal by giving them artists like Keith Giffen, Matt Haley, Dan Jurgens, Mark Bagley and more.
But, well, it backfired. It was my idea, and it didn’t work. Instead of being intrigued by the team-ups and the art talent, a lot of potential readers were annoyed that they "had to buy seven one-shots" before the series even came out. We tried to stress that they were self-contained, that you didn’t have to read them to pick up the series – but it seemed few readers believed us. Add to that that DC had just had two big crossovers in a row, and readers were a little "evented out." So while it brought in some readers we otherwise wouldn’t have won over – Nightwing fans in particular seemed enthusiastic about the Manhunter special – it turned off a lot of potential readers, too.
Oops. Well, we tried.
The second problem was even more squarely my mistake, I think – I simply started out with the wrong stories. When we’d launched Thunderbolts, at Marvel, we also did a teaser story in Tales of the Marvel Universe – nothing much, just a light little story that showed the characters in action and gave a sense of the flavor of the book, hinting at some of what was to come. We even had a team-up of sort before the launch, as the T-Bolts debuted in an issue of Incredible Hulk.
So I thought, let’s do it again. It worked he first time, it’ll work again, right?
The thing I missed was that Thunderboltssnuck up on people. Nobody was expecting much out of it, so the Hulk appearance and the Tales of the Marvel Universe story were taken as what they were meant as – teasers – and then that first issue of T-Bolts came out with its bombshell surprise ending, and everyone was floored. It worked big time.
But when it came to launch Power Company, people had already read Thunderbolts, had already been through that particular launch. And they didn’t particularly remember the Tales of the Marvel Universe teaser – what they remembered was that pull-the-rug-out surprise ending in #1.
So they went into Power Company waiting for that big surprise, that big hook. Some of them, anyway. A lot of them, going from the e-mail I’ve got. And we didn’t give it to them.
I wrote a light little teaser for JLA, one that gave people a taste of the book’s atmosphere and a look at the characters in action, but it wasn’t a surprise, it wasn’t a hook, it was just a light little teaser. It should have been more.
And then I wrote Power Company #1-3, our big intro story. And there wasn’t any big surprise or big hook there, either, just a pretty straightforward intro adventure, bringing all the characters on stage, showing who they are and what they do, and setting the stage for the adventures to come. Most of it was stuff I’d worked out 15 years ago, when I first came up with this version of the team.
That was a mistake, too.
Fifteen years later, I’m a better writer. And fifteen years later, comics aren’t selling as well, they’re more expensive, and readers don’t have the patience with a new series that they used to.
What I should have done was scrapped all the story material I’d come up with back then, and started fresh, trying to build as big a hook as I could in the first issue. Maybe I could have used the JLA story to focus on one character – Josiah recruiting Manhunter, maybe, something that’d make readers aware that this wasn’t a straightforward superhero team – that members were joining with their own agendas, with motivations other than "the public good" – and followed it up with a first issue that introduced the team as a whole, showed them in action, got them on each other’s nerves, but had a big splashy triumph that won them a lucrative contract. And then we’d find out that the guy they’d just hired on with was Darkseid or Vandal Savage or Lex Luthor or someone, and they were being maneuvered into doing something awful.
Maybe not as big a hook as T-Bolts – they can’t all be that big – but it’d have been more effective.
But, well, I didn’t do that. And now it’s too late.
Or is it?
The thing is, people seem to like the basic idea of the book – professional superheroes, organized like a major law firm, taking on a wide variety of jobs for a wide variety of motivations, with a lot of action, a lot of character drama and an interesting ensemble. In fact, one of the most consistent reactions we got while #1-3 were coming out was that readers expected something different, and what they got was a pretty straightforward superhero adventure, one that wouldn’t have played out all that differently if the Power Company _weren’t_ for hire. And they wanted to see more of the corporate side of the team.
And certainly, Tom Grummett’s doing dynamite work – the book looks great.
The Rejiggering of the Power Company
So what we need to do, I figure, is give people the book they were expecting in the first place – the corporate superhero firm that does things differently from the JLA or the Titans or the Legion – the stories I really should have been writing from #1.
We’ve started doing that – in fact, we started with #4, and it’s one of the reasons we’ve been getting such good feedback these past few months. It seems to be working well, for people who stuck with the book.
So how are you going to get people back?
Well, we can’t exactly go back and do another first issue – too many people aren’t even looking at the book any more, so we need an event, something that’ll really shake up the team, raise the stakes and grab people’s attention.
What we decided on was that one of the strongest, most distinctive things about the team is that the members are all there for different reasons. Manhunter wants big money. Witchfire wants the spotlight. Skyrocket wants to be a full-time hero. Bork just wants a job. That sort of thing. And despite all these clashing motivations, they’re held together by the personal strength and business savvy of founding partner Josiah Power, who keeps everything from getting too heated, from going off the rails.
Well, what if he weren’t there?
What if the other three partners – Skyrocket, Manhunter and Witchfire – all of whom have very, _very_ different ideas about what the Power Company should be all about – had to run the company themselves, without Josiah’s experienced hand? They’d be at each other’s throats in seconds. And the result would be a lot of trouble, a lot of scheming, a lot of drama … and, if we do it right, a lot of fun.
So that’s what we’ve set out to do. Power Company #8-9 is a two-parter called "Power Loss," which takes Josiah out of the picture swiftly and unexpectedly, at a time when the other partners are barely speaking to each other, much less getting along. Now they’ve got to work together, or watch the Company fall apart. But can they? Do they even really want to? And even if they do, what will the Company become?
We’ll see office politics, bizarre clients, deep, deep divisions over what kind of work they should be doing and how they should be bringing in the business, and lots more. All kicking off in the first three pages of #8.
(As for what’s happened to Josiah, that’ll be a big part of the story, too, but I don’t want to blow too many plot twists.)
#8-9 also guest-star Green Arrow, in the wake of his appearance in #6. That was something that was already going on when we started talking about this new story, so it wasn’t anything we planned, but who knows, maybe some GA fans will come along to check out "Power Loss" for him alone – we won’t complain. If nothing else, the Green Arrow/Manhunter fight in #9 is a sight to see.
So that’s Part One. New focus, event story to kick it off, even a guest-star.
U Deci…er, Chose the Next Member
Once we’re rolling with this, though, we’re not slowing down. Another thing readers have asked for is for the book to include established DCU characters they want to see featured somewhere, so we’re doing that, too. As of #11, the Power Company will be adding a member to build up the roster with Josiah out of the picture – and it’ll be a well-liked DC hero.
Who will it be? That’d be telling – but there’s something more to come on that, a little further along.
#11’s part of the buildup to a major, major showdown for the Power Company, one that’ll establish them as bigtime heroes in the DCU or break them utterly.
And even after that, we’ve got more cool stuff. The one thing we’ve gotten more requests for than anything else is for this new Manhunter to go up against Batman, after Batman played such a memorable part in the first Manhunter’s grand finale. And for our second solo-mission spotlight issue (our first is the Steve Sadowski-drawn Striker Z spotlight in #7), we’re doing just that – sending Manhunter to Gotham City on a questionable mission that’ll run him afoul of the Dark Knight, leading to a running conflict through Gotham City with life or death stakes. Australian artist Gary Chaloner is working on that now, and doing a stunning job.
So okay – if we’ve got lots of cool stuff coming up, shouldn’t that be enough?
No, not really. We’ve still got to let people know about it.
DC’s been very supportive of the book right from the start – hey, they went for that whole big launch idea of mine, even if it didn’t work out the way we hoped – and they’re still behind the book. They’re doing a couple of web-based promotions to help call attention to what we’re doing.
First, they’re releasing the first three pages of #8 early, to give you a look at how it all kicks off. Those pages should be available here at Newsarama, and on DC’s Power Company mini-site.
Second, they’re running a poll on their website, dccomics.com, which starts shortly – pitting the spotlight on #11, and the new member who’ll be joining that issue. We’ve got some special bonus art from Tom and Prentis Rollins – you’ll see what I mean when you check out the poll – and we’re asking readers who they’d pick as the new member. We’re doing this in part to disguise who it’ll be – don’t want to give this stuff away too early – but we guarantee that whoever wins will turn up in the book, even if they’re not the hero who joins in #11.
So that’s what DC is doing. What are Tom and I doing?
I know the thing these days is controversy – start a fight, and everybody gathers to watch. But I don’t do feuds, and I don’t do pie contests or dunk tanks. I’d rather just do the best comics I can and show off that way. So rather than manufacture a fight, Tom and I figured we’d back up what we’ve got coming up with a more classic, if less contentious, promo gimmick – free stuff.
We’re going to give away free stuff to a bunch of lucky retailers (and if they so choose, to their customers), as a means of getting them jazzed about the new direction.
We’ve got three different kinds of prizes, and since I’ve been going on and on forever at this point, let me just get to ‘em.
First, we’re giving away signed comics. Twenty stores will get ten free copies each of Power Company #8, signed by me and Tom. Sell ‘em, give ‘em away to loyal customers, use ‘em as prizes, whatever you want – we’ll send ‘em, and from that point on it’s up to the retailer what he or she does with them.
Second, we’re giving away what we call "virtual store appearances." We can’t travel around to every store that sells the books, but we figured maybe a phone call would be the next best thing. So ten retailers will get phone calls from me and Tom when Power Company #8 comes out – we can work out the details with the retailers in question, so the calls don’t come at the height of the new comics day rush, but sometime that week. I’ll call five stores, Tom’ll call five stores – and even if you’re outside the US, it doesn’t matter. We’re paying for the calls. The retailers can put us on speakerphone, or have readers take turns talking to us,
or raffle off who gets to take the call, whatever. We’ll be available to answer questions and talk to readers for at least half an hour per store. If you’ve got questions about what’s coming up, about any of the books we’ve worked on in the past from Astro City to Superman to Teen Titans to The Adventures of Jell-O Man, about
what’s coming up in Power Company or JLA/Avengers, about how to break in,
or where George Pérez gets those bizarre shirts – we’ll field ‘em all.
And third, the "grand prize," as it were – two lucky retailers will get free original art. Tom’s picking out a couple of Power Company covers, and we’ll give them to two of the retailers who take part in all this. Again, the retailer’s free to sell them, give them away, raffle them off, whatever. Original art by Tom Grummett -- how cool is that?
So how do you sign up for this? If you’re a retailer and you want a shot at the giveaways, just e-mail your name, address and phone number to PowerBoost1@aol.com, and you’ll be on the list. If you’re a Power Company reader (or someone who plans to try the book, and wants in on the fun), then you need to get your retailer to sign up with us – and that if they win, you want a shot at the prizes. We’ll pick the winners from the folks who sign up, and we’ll give out the prizes in September, when #8 comes out.
A side note: If you’re not a retailer, please don’t make up a store name and send it in, hoping you’ll win and we’ll send you free stuff. We’ll be checking, and if you’re not a real store, you’re not eligible.
Another side note: Any retailer that doesn’t have e-mail can get onto the PowerBoost list by regular mail. Just send a card or letter to:
Juke Box Productions
13215-C8 SE Mill Plain Blvd
Vancouver WA 98684-6991
So that’s the story. We think we’ve got a pretty good book here, and that it’s getting better all the time, and we’d like to support it. Maybe we started off on the wrong foot, but we’re happy doing it, DC’s happy with the book, and the readers who are on board seem to like it a lot. If you’re intrigued, but gave up on the book (or never tried it in the first place), make sure your retailer’s getting a copy of #8 for you -- even if he’s already sent his orders in, DC will still happily take order increases. If you’re a regular reader of the book and want to support it (or just want a shot at the prizes), let your retailer know, and spread the word.
And don’t miss #8 – you’ll be glad you picked it up.