So yesterday was Free Comic Book Day (and of course, that's why I held off my post until today. I had to discuss that memorable annual event. It had nothing to do with goofing off, watching horror movies and playing 'City of Heroes' until all hours of the morning, nosiree.) Obviously, both Marvel and DC had free comic books available, and equally obviously, both Marvel and DC were plugging their particular "big events" (Dark Reign and Darkest Night, respectively. Because sticking "Dark" in front of something and calling it good isn't just for Image anymore.)
How did they fare, respectively? Marvel scores a bit lower on branding. They didn't do a whole lot to make it clear to new readers that if they wanted to find out how the battle between the renegade Avengers and Norman Osborn's Dark Avengers played out, they could do so by reading Dark Reign. But they scored a lot of points in a lot of other ways; the story was complete, with a beginning, a middle and an end. It had quite a bit of action, even though it does remain dialogue-heavy (which is Bendis' style, of course; I just don't think it fits a series like the Avengers very well.) It gave enough exposition that a new reader could figure out what was going on and why there were evil versions of the Avengers running around, while not getting bogged down in explanations of who the new Cap is and why Wolverine has a son (and why Marvel isn't utterly ashamed of that fact, which will take a few years to explain all on its own.) And the Sentry wasn't in it very much. (I tend to consider the quality of comics to be inversely proportional to the amount of time the Sentry is in them.)
DC, on the other hand, branded their comic very well, making it clear that this is all about the Blackest Night event, complete with a little dossier at the end on the various Lantern factions and a checklist of upcoming Blackest Night tie-ins (and a personal message from Geoff Johns that basically amounts to, "This won't suck as bad as 'Final Crisis', I promise!") But it fails on the key grounds of "not being two guys standing around and talking for the entire issue, because Geoff Johns has a total man-crush on Silver Age DC characters and thinks there's nothing so interesting as two or more of them standing around talking about their inter-personal relationships." In theory, this is a book designed to attract new readers, people who have either never picked up a comic before, or at least not picked up one in years. The story should immediately engage their interest and excitement, and Barry Allen and Hal Jordan standing in a cemetary recapping things just isn't the way to do it--especially not with a "twist ending" that shows a bunch of headstones of the civilian identies of second and third-tier DC characters and hints they're going to rise. You know why? Because only a long-term fan even knows who Ronnie Raymond is, that's why. It's a comic made for long-term fans, marketed and given away to new ones. Catastrophic marketing fail.
The art, however, is very pretty.
So if you were to ask the average new reader which event they were looking forward to, I'd guess "Dark Reign", assuming they figured out that they should be looking forward to "Dark Reign". But we shall see...