When it was originally announced, the “Black Label” from DC Comics was supposed to be a breath of fresh air for the comics industry. It was touted as a way to showcase new, original and “mature” original series – all while repackaging time-honored classics like “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight Returns” at the same time. With new, “unrestricted” content from top tier creators like Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello as “the new norm,” the excitement was immediately palpable. It looked to be – finally – the type of thing that retailers had been asking for since the death of the “All-Star” imprint years prior.
Oh, what a difference a couple of weeks makes.
The thing that changed between the announcement of the “Black Label” line and now is “Batman: Damned” – the first book out of the gate under the new line, which hit shelves to a wave of controversy in September. The magazine-sized book immediately drew an incredible level of controversy for featuring, among other things, full frontal nudity of protagonist Batman/Bruce Wayne. Not only was the issue censored in its digital version, but it was quickly announced as a response to the backlash that the issue would not be reprinted. Issues 2 and 3 of the series were quickly delayed, presumably to avoid this type of dust up in the future.
The Retailer Impact
The most immediate implication of the “Batman: Damned” controversy for retailers is, of course, financial. If you’re one of those lucky stores that still has a few extra copies laying around, you may want to consider heading to eBay sooner rather than later. Graded, 9.8 and 9.9 copies of the issue are still selling for $500 or more online – so if you were looking for a hot book to turn a quick profit on, it’s this one.
But the long-term implications are, sadly, less-than-clear. Word is already going around that the controversy surrounding the issue may have already killed the “Black Label” line before it ever had a chance to get off the ground. Stories were flying around the recent New York Comic-con and Baltimore Comic-con events about publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio feeling the full frustration of executives. What was clearly intentional is already being written off as an “unfortunate printing error,” as a major rewriting of history takes place before our eyes.
What’s worse, however, are the implications for the line itself moving forward. Interviews have already been given indicating that DC is “totally rethinking the line,” taking a far more cautious approach to content because company leadership “doesn’t want a repeat of what happened with the first issue.”
The shape that future issues of “Batman: Damned” – and other announced books for the imprint like Frank Miller’s “Superman: Year One” – will take remain unclear. But one thing is for sure: if, as a retailer, you were hoping for DC’s “Black Label” to inject a much-needed boost of adrenalin into the DC Comics line, for one brief Wednesday afternoon in September you got your wish.
Here’s hoping you were able to enjoy it, because at least for now it seems like things are going to continue much the same as they always were. When you also consider the current state of the DC Cinematic Universe, not even Hollywood will be able to help you to that end.