Punch bowl.

In comedy there is a rule that one shouldn’t “punch down,” that one should not attack one who is in a weaker position and who is of no threat. It is an unnecessary cruelty that should not be engaged in if one wishes to be the “better man.”

In marketing? You punch everywhere. Should another company have a weakness, said weakness should be exploited. Should another company have an asset left unprotected, said asset should be obtained. Should another company have a market left unsatisfied, said market should be quickly wooed. Companies are not men. They do not deserve empathy or consideration nor do they provide it to others. Compassion should be reserved for those able to bleed more than just revenue.

In comics, spectators have amused themselves for decades watching the battle between the “big two”—Marvel Comics and its distinguished competition, DC Entertainment. Despite a good showing by DC, Marvel can easily be declared the winner at this juncture, regaining the number one spot in the market and a position as America’s premiere comics publisher in the eyes of the public. DC has had great difficulty shaking its image as an out-of-touch underdog, despite pulling from the same talent pool as Marvel and producing similar work. If DC wishes to rid itself of its “Dad’s Comics” public persona, it will need to carefully examine where its corporate culture diverges from Marvel’s and decide if changes need to be made. However, a silver medal is still a medal. DC might just be content with the status quo.

Marvel, comfortably settled in first place, has never had a problem “punching” in any direction it deemed fit, be it a well-timed barb lobbed at DC during a panel—“We don’t publish books weekly; we publish them strongly”—or delivering a blow to Dark Horse via a partnership with Lucasfilm to produce Star Wars comics, declaring years of Star Wars canon carefully crafted by the indie publisher to be irrelevant.

Wayward

Dark Horse, though producing great work, is in danger of becoming the indie market’s DC, due to Image’s rising star and increased bravado and a very short window provided to establish a unique brand in a changing market. Much like DC, its positive moves tend to result in tepid responses, though thankfully the company is not at all prone to the public relations disasters endured by DC.

A recent Image press release, however, is a bit of a concern. After spending the past few months “punching up”—repeatedly pointing out DC’s and Marvel’s weaknesses in speeches and interviews—Image has now clearly “punched down,” using advertising not only to promote upcoming work, but to suggest that the work of its competitor has grown stale, introducing Wayward as “the perfect new series for wayward Buffy fans.”

75. Buffy TVS (Dark Horse)

  • 03/2008: Buffy TVS #12 – 88,930
  • 03/2009: Buffy TVS #23 – 64,108
  • 03/2010: Buffy TVS #33 – 46,568
  • 03/2012: Buffy TVS Season 9 #7 – 29,908
  • 03/2013: Buffy TVS Season 9 #19 – 22,424

I would have done the same. Wayward looks fabulous and will cater to the same audience—and who can resist a great pun? Dark Horse has the option to take it on the chin, or respond via advertising to let all know that Buffy is doing just fine and that Queen B will not be relinquishing her crown any time soon! The latter would allow for the initiation of a friendly rivalry akin to Marvel and DC, but one more evenly matched.

I would love to see a Dark Horse that is more vocal about its success! It produces the best superhero book on the market, but buzz surrounding Empowered is almost nil. (Truthfully, I’ve wondered if a defection to Image would bolster recognition.) It draws superstar talent but does not aggressively link said talent to Dark Horse in the eyes of the public. (Consider Marvel’s “architects” and “young guns” or Image’s Experience Creativity campaign.) I’d also enjoy seeing a Dark Horse that once again reaches beyond the realm of comics, pushing back into movie theaters and onto our television screens. Who wouldn’t love a survival horror game set in the Hellboy universe?

Everyone loves a winner—but I find an underdog with the potential to be a winner much more alluring. The puzzle of how to properly groom a usurper for the top spot brings out the Olivia Pope in me I suppose!