Comics, FYI

By Graeme McMillan

Behind That Hero Initiative JLA/Avengers Announcement

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Comics, FYI
Behind That Hero Initiative JLA/Avengers Announcement
By Graeme McMillan • Issue #14 • View online
Why just 7000 copies? Are the companies really fighting behind the scenes? Why the rush release? I asked, I got some answers.

Wednesday saw the announcement that 2003’s JLA/Avengers, the last crossover between Marvel and DC, will be returning to print in a new paperback edition from the non-profit Hero Initiative to be released next month. It was something that fans had been asking for since George Pérez revealed his stage three cancer diagnosis in November last year, with many considering the idea of bringing what is one of his crowning achievements back into print a fitting tribute to his artist; despite this, Wednesday’s news was treated with no small amount of confusion and suspicion.
Part of the reason for that may have been a lack of clarity in the original announcement and reporting. The official press release from the Hero Initiative described the release as “honoring one of George Pérez’s seminal bodies of work and his long-time support of Hero [Initiative],” leading many to believe – and some to go so far as to report – that it was a project directly benefiting the creator and his family. That’s actually not the case; in another demonstration of Pérez’s largesse, all profits from the project will go directly to the Hero Initiative itself, as Pérez himself clarified on Facebook. “I am so elated that all profits from this reprint are going to one of my favorite personal charities,” he shared. 
Pérez has a long history with the Hero Initiative; a founding member of the board of directors of the organization, he has served as the co-chair of the fund disbursement board for a number of years, and was one of the first recipients of its lifetime achievement awards alongside John Romita Snr. back in 2006. (For those unfamiliar with the Hero Initiative, it’s a 501©(3) non-profit created to support comic book creators in financial need – you can find out more on the organization’s website.)
Next month’s release means that JLA/Avengers will be in print for the first time since 2008, when the previous paperback edition was released by DC. The only other collected edition was 2004’s JLA/Avengers: The Collector’s Edition, an oversized two-volume slipcase also published by DC that included the four-issue series as well as a 64-page “compendium,” which featured annotations from writer Kurt Busiek, the original proposal for the crossover, and the 21 completed pages of pencils from Pérez to the canceled 1980s crossover between the two teams. The new edition will feature “64 pages of companion content,” according to Wednesday’s announcement; it’s unclear if these pages will be identical to the Collector’s Edition material, although Marvel and DC jointly confirmed that a new afterword from Busiek is the only new content in this upcoming release.
Something that I’ve run into repeatedly over the past couple of days is the fact that DC editor-in-chief Marie Javins was the primary mover-and-shaker behind the new edition, integral in ensuring that all parties came to the table and that required deals got made. Multiple people with knowledge of the situation have spoken about her effusively – something that, admittedly, isn’t entirely unusual, given her rare position as an executive generally beloved across the industry – and noted that DC handled a significant portion of the work on the project, including design and production. However, Javins herself made a point of sharing the credit on Twitter Thursday, writing, “The Hero Initiative printing would never have happened without [Marvel Entertainment* president] Dan Buckley’s idea to approach them,” adding, “30+ years of friendship and trust between myself, Buckley, and [Marvel Entertainment VP of licensed publishing] Sven Larsen is how we were able to come together to honor George.”
Larsen’s involvement is key, as the new JLA/Avengers release is technically an independently published reprint of material originally co-published by both Marvel and DC. While DC was responsible for the two previous collected editions, the original series was split evenly between the two companies: Marvel published the first and third issues, DC the second and fourth. (The title of the series flipped back and forth, too, dependent on who was publishing; technically, the DC issues were titled Avengers/JLA.) While it, obviously, benefits from licensing deals with Marvel and DC, the Hero Initiative JLA/Avengers collection is… well, a Hero Initiative book. 
That’s something worth bearing in mind when considering what most are considering the problem with the new edition: the fact that it’s being released in a limited edition of 7,000 copies. Putting aside the question of, “what were the print runs on earlier Hero Initiative releases?” – I don’t have any specific insight into this, I admit, merely suspicions that low print runs are not that uncommon on non-profit releases – the 7,000 copy limit has provoked a lot of complaint, discussion, and conspiracy theorizing since it was announced.
Admittedly, 7,000 copies of an often-requested title that’s been out of print for more than a decade feels like it’s underestimating the demand, something that only feels underscored when you realize that Diamond Comic Distributors, which as the Hero Initiative’s usual distributor is responsible for getting the book to stores, services roughly 3,200 accounts. It’s a pretty safe bet to assume that each comic store will have more than two customers who’d want copies of this particular release**.
Fans and retailers have been making this point since the news broke; San Francisco retailer Brian Hibbs estimated that even a print run of 100,000 copies was likely to sell out in a couple of years, while Comichron’s John Jackson Miller came up with a figure of 70,000 as being the upper end of demand for the title, based on the success of other titles. He also noted that the Collector’s Edition sold roughly 5,928 copies in August 2004, with the previous paperback release selling around 7,404 copies four years later, for the number junkies among us.
The low print run has fueled rumors that some of the involved parties are attempting to limit the reach of the project, preferring to – as one source characterized it, “keep it in the vault” for reasons unknown***. The reality is, sadly for those who enjoy drama, far more mundane. 
Having spoken to multiple sources, it’s become clear that there aren’t any bad actors in this particular situation – although there are corporate entities that are obviously protective of their intellectual properties; again, Marie Javins as well as the Hero Initiative’s Jim McLauchlin have been credited for ensuring that the project made it to completion. Instead, the print run is entirely the result of practical considerations related to the material available – there’s still a paper shortage going on, remember, not to mention limited time available at printers – in the timeframe necessary. 
That last part is important; some have been asking why this couldn’t be delayed to ensure a larger print run, or why this is being rush-solicited. (Final orders are due on Monday, although Diamond has already announced the book will be allocated, for obvious reasons.) Not to be too much of a downer, but all involved want George Perez to see this book made available again, and he was given a diagnosis of six months to a year to live in November of last year. Time is most definitely of the essence here.
Some of the people I’ve spoken to in the last couple of days have expressed frustration with the reception of the news, and in particular, the limited edition element; others have, simply, expressed frustration with not being able to buy (or, in the case of retailers, sell) the book due to its limited print run. It’s clear that everyone recognizes that this is far from a perfect solution, but it is a solution, one that brings the book back into print for the first time in 14 years in some form – and, perhaps most importantly, provokes this reaction in the man at the center of the entire enterprise. Perhaps, for now, that’s enough.
* The organization of Marvel as a corporate entity is somewhat arcane, but Marvel Entertainment includes basically everything Marvel apart from the movies, which fall under Marvel Studios, which is actually a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios and therefore something altogether different. 
** I confess, this math somewhat breaks my brain when I consider the low sales of certain titles. According to Comichron’s estimates for December last year, the sixth issue of Image Comics’ Made in Korea sold roughly 3,990 copies. Occam’s razor would suggest that means some stores didn’t even carry one copy. 
** This rumor was actually the first I’d heard of the new edition, having successfully missed the news earlier that day. My introduction was, essentially, “[Corporate Entity X] is screwing with [Corporate Entity Y] by limiting the print run on JLA/Avengers” which was only somewhat disorienting at the time, given that I thought they’d both finished publishing it more than a decade earlier. 
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Graeme McMillan

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