The price of several comics, as well as all new mini-series and one-shots, at Marvel recently rose to 3.99-- A full dollar more than the price of comics for the past half-decade or so. With Marvel's announcement, it seemed inevitable that DC comics would follow suit and raise prices on some of its titles as well. DC has indeed announced a price hike, but not without a pleasant twist involved. All DC titles to have a 3.99 price tag will be accompanied with additional pages featuring a (related) character currently unable to sustain a title. The first announcements were made a few weeks ago and included Metal Men to appear with the upcoming Doom Patrol, Blue Beetle to appear in Booster Gold, and Ravager to appear in Teen Titans.
Earlier today, the June solicitations for the Batman and Green Lantern titles were released early [full solicitations release the last Monday of the month]. Among the news, it was also announced that Manhunter would be co-featured in Batman: Streets of Gotham, and The Question would be co-featured in Detective Comics!
Those who know me are aware that I've been championing for a title for Renee Montoya's Question for some time. It would have given DC their first LGBT protagonist in an ongoing (Wildstorm did have a gay character but it was quickly cancelled, not triumphed, and most importantly not under a DC billing). When it was announced that Batwoman would be taking up Detective Comics it was both great, and disappointing news. Great in the sense that DC was fully embracing a LGBT character by delivering on an ongoing (The original flag ship title to boot!) but disappointing in that it was a character who has seen little use until this time (contrasted to Montoya who had held the spot-light more than once). Both O'Neil's run on the Question from the 80s, and Gotham Central are titles I'm reading in graphic novel form-- both of which are fantastic-- and that's why I had been hoping for a new Question series. I was ecstatic when I found out that DC would be adding Question to a series I already had every intention on picking up.
DC's new buissness model is something of genius. First and foremost, it's not simply ripping money out of the hands of its readers like Marvel intends to do. While Marvel had a difficult few quarters early in the year, it managed to close on quite the high. It was a bit of unfortunate timing as the news of increased prices came only a few weeks before Marvel's financial triumph. Additionally, as of February 2009, Marvel controled 47% of the American comic market versus DC's 28%. Likely what has saved DC from having to hike prices first is the fact that they're a subsidiary of Warner Brothers while Marvel is an independent company. All that is a bit of a tangent, but the point is that DC is making an attempt to keep readers contented despite rising costs. To boot, the titles going up in price are already low-selling titles which means that DC is simply trying to make cost and keep them on the shelves (This is not the case with Marvel).
Not only does this seem to be a genuine attempt at easing readers into the 3.99 era, and to keep comics on shelves, but it also keeps good characters out of obscurity. The characters that have been chosen to have co-features are all character that have proved that they have a readership in the past, but an unfortunately small sect. Montoya pre-Question was one of the primary draws to Gotham Central, while Blue Beetle and Manhunter sustained their own titles for several years. These are interesting, good characters with a great deal of potential mileage, and it's fantastic that DC isn't dropping them completely.
It's also good news for comic writers and artists-- simply, more comic equates to more potential work. DC could garner a great of respect if they were willing to do 8-page shorts, or original features to stand beside their own comics. There is, of course, a down-side to everything. Certain fans will be unwilling to pay an additional dollar for certain comics, and an 8-page feature (An optimistic guess) might not be enough to draw in the readers of the co-featured characters. Generally though, I feel this is the best available option a company has. Those who don't grab on when DC has it's arm outstretched are likely blinded to the realities of the world around us. Comics will universally go up in price. Co-featured characters won't sustain a title on their own. It's the way things are, and those who are unhappy about it will likely stay unhappy or have to simply stop reading.
The 3.99 price hike isn't going to be pretty however you look at it, but they're making a strong showing. It's also generally good news for comics like Jonah Hex, Simon Dark or Secret Six, who are unfortunately dying from a slow bleed despite their quality. DC deserves a round of applause for doing the best they can for both their creative teams, and their readers.