Marvel and Its Diminishing Luster

I am a fan of Marvel comics.  I am just not a fan of Marvel Comics.  Does that make sense?  I’ll explain.

I grew up reading Marvel and DC.  But I loved Marvel a little bit more.  Spider-Man was always my favorite, but Daredevil was up there as well.  The New Teen Titans were good, but the Uncanny X-Men were the best.  Legion was neat, but confusing.  Superman never held my interest much, although I loved the old 60 books I had.  That Jimmy Olsen, what a nut!  Batman ebbed and flowed.  But Marvel books were always my favorite.

Even now, I tend to get more interested (can’t really say excited anymore.  Its a job more than a passion at this point) reading the Marvel previews than the DC ones.  I am far more intrigued by the Marvel solicits and where they are going than with DC’s more perfunctory ones.

But, as a business partner, I will take DC hands down (most of the time).  DC seems to have a much more solid fan base.  Events gain customers, but the follow up rarely loses all of them.  People tend to stick with DC books longer, knowing, or hoping, that if they are bad now, they’ll get better soon.  If they mess up, they tend to try to make things right for me.  The recent Return of Batman foul-up is a good example.  The last 2 Return of Bruce Wayne issues were late and even came out after “The Return”.  DC has made these returnable.  If they change the content of an issue, an artist or writer, I can send those unsold books back, like the fill-in Superman issues.  If a book is exceptionally late and that causes me to lose some sales, I can send those unsold ones back.  DC is usually pretty upfront with me about stuff.  And, in most cases, if I run out of a book, I can reorder more (very important).

Marvel, on the other hand, is a renegade.  The solicits rarely tell you what is really going on in the book.  They are far more apt to give incorrect info and change it in a note in an email.  I still remember the debacle of Captain America Reborn shipping the finale before issue #6 because it tied into Siege and the date for Siege #1 was already set.  I remember being told not to worry because it would read fine in the trade.  And all of the classified solicits, where they don’t tell us anything about the book, writer or artist sometimes not until after our final orders are set.

Marvel editor Tom Brevoort recently talked about a conversation he had with a retailer indicating that we (retailers) rarely read the solicits and need more events to boost sales.  I remember shaking my head at this.  While it is true, my fear is that it will be misunderstood.  We do not adjust our orders based on the solicits unless it appears something big is going to happen.  Something that would make people that are not reading the book to decide to pick it up anew.  If I sold 22 copies of Uncanny Lockjaw #119, I will probably sell 22 copies of #120.  Events do boost sales.  Siege boosted sales on all of the tie-ins, which is a good thing.  The problem is that they also decide to do a multitude of unimportant minis and one shots that burn out wallets and budgets and leave me with unsold product, that will never sell after the fact.  Shadowland was an interesting idea.  A self-contained Daredevil event.  But did we really need: Shadowland Bullseye, Spider-Man, Elektra, Power Man, Blood on the Streets, Daughters of the Dragon, Moon Knight, Ghost Rider and any others I may be missing.  These minis sold poorly.  The people who did get them all probably feel a bit cheated.  Were they all needed to tell the story, or were they a cash grab to squeeze more money out of completeists?  Sometimes it works.  I thought Civil War Front Line was as good as Civil War.  But overall, I really wish they would stop them.  What I would like to see, and what actually does work, is a solid thought out event (with an ending even, haven’t had a good one of those lately, Marvel. SPOILER – Iron Fist punches the demon out of Daredevil? Really?) with meaningful tie-ins to the regular series.

Also, cut back some titles.  The mass proliferation of Deadpool titles has only succeeded in making hardcore Deadpool fans either drop everything else they were getting or  only get one or two Deadpool titles.  I now order all Deadpool books at the number that the previous one sold, knowing that I will have enough left for the shelf from people dropping the book.  Not a sound publishing strategy.  Wolverine didn’t need a new title.  Lets get one right first, ok?  There doesn’t seem to be a publishing plan, more of a lets throw all of this stuff out there and see what sticks.  Unfortunately, I am the wall.  And I get stuck with the stuff that doesn’t sell.  And the stuff that does sell, I can’t get more of.  Marvel loves to announce a sell-out.  But all that means is that they didn’t print enough.  Several times, all of my copies of a book are damaged and I have been unable to get replacements.  I find it hard to believe that Marvel did not print enough extra copies to be able to replace my damaged copies of Daken Dark Wolverine #1.  But it happened.  Second prints are great, but if I need more copies now, getting a second print in 3 weeks isn’t really going to help.  People move on.  They give up on that min-series that they couldn’t get more copies of and wait for the trade.  But by then, they know what happened and may decide not to spend $15-$20 on a book.  And I have to try to decide, do I order more copies of #3 since I sold out fast even though I can’t get more #2? It happened on Chaos War, a book I had no hope for.  It is selling better than expected (but the tie-ins aren’t).  I need more 3’s.  Do I up my order on #4 or just hope to sell-out?  More and more, I am happy to just sell-out.  And that’s not good for Marvel.

What lead to this post is a topic on a retailer message board entitled “Is Marvel Still Publishing Comics?”  This should be our busiest sales time of the year and we have received Daredevil, Shadowland, New Avengers and Thor so far this month.  No X-books (last week was just X-Men Forever, not really a core book), no FF, no Spider-Man.  Heck, I don’t think we’ve even gotten a Deadpool title.  For a company that puts out 100+ titles a month, where’s the beef?  (To be fair, we haven’t gotten any Superman, Batman, Green Lantern or Justice League books from DC in this time period either).  This lead to a discussion of how Marvel’s sales have fallen.  Stores that could sell 100 copies of a book, now can’t hit 50.  Where a default order was 20 on any Marvel book, it is now 4.  And some retailers are astonished that for the first time, they have ordered zero of a Marvel book.  For one retailer, it was the first time in 33 years.  But if you don’t sell a single copy of Blah mini-series issue #3, why order #4?

What is the point of all of this?  I just want Marvel to put out better books.  To have an actual strategy.  Tell me why I should order some mini-series, rather than just expect every body to purchase every tie-in to what ever event Bendis came up with.  I’d love to know that the next event has an actual ending, not just leading into the next event.  I’d love for them to want to work WITH retailers, instead on in spite of us.  (Polybagged comics again?  Seriously? With no overprint to make us load our shelves knowing that we can’t get more if we sell out of this stunt).  Stop renumbering books every couple years for no apparent reason. (Why jump Daredevil to 500 only to relaunch it with a new #1.  Why end Fantastic Four 17 issues short of #600 when everyone knows you will relaunch it and then renumber it, like Ultimate Spider-Man)  Just stop the gimmicks and put out good books again.  The Amazing Spider-Man restart has gone well (of course, I’m sold out and waiting for the announcement of 2nd prints).  The vastly different storylines in the X-books have created reader confusion.  X-Men has vampires.  Uncanny X-Force (another pointless relaunch) has some of the same characters going after Apocalypse.  I honestly don’t know whats going on in Uncanny and Legacy anymore, but sales are dropping on X-books across the board.  They are no longer “Must Reads!”  I’d love to get news that there was an X-conference and there is a plan for all of the books, rather than just continually putting out books that don’t relate, all having the same characters.  The stories don’t all have to line up, but Wolverine shouldn’t be in hell in one book, a vampire in another, on a secret mission in another and the ultimate Vishnu fighting machine in another.  I get questions like “Which one matters?” and I can’t answer it.  Was it wise to launch Namor into a crossover?  How many people that may have read it passed because it was launched into Curse of the Mutants, that they could care less about?  I don’t know.  Maybe it was planned that way.  It just doesn’t seem like a good idea to me and sales have borne that out.  Did we even need a Namor book at all at this time? Was it necessary to relaunch Wolverine and launch 2 spinoff books (Daken and X-23) out of that.  And then launch another ongoing.  Wolverine is selling less than half of what it was during Old Man Logan.  Find a way to make him relevant again.  But he can’t be if he’s in 2 Avengers teams and 3 X-books and 2 ongoing series, plus innumerable one-shots and the like.  Make him special again.  Some times less is more.

Same thing goes with mini-series.  I always thought of them as stories that they wanted out there that wouldn’t fit into the main title’s story.  But lately there have been just a succession of them coming down the pike and you can’t tell which are important or which are good.  And people tend to pass on them all.  Captain America has had 5 over the last few months (Flags of our Fathers, Patriot, Young Allies, Korvac Saga, Man Out of Time).  Thor is just nuts with them right now.  I realize that they have movies coming, but there is no movie buzz right now and I am being buried under books that have no marketing.  People are bemoaning the failure of Thor Mighty Avenger, but Marvel did everything they could to keep it from succeeding.  Thor, First Thunder, For Asgard, Ultimate, Astonishing, Loki, Thunderstrike and Warriors Three are all on the shelves right now competing with it.  Thor is good for an ongoing and maybe one occasional mini or one shot.  This is far too much to have on the shelf at one time.  Scale it back.  Make sure that everything you put out has a purpose.  Ask “Why do we need this book out right now?”  Stop throwing stuff out to see what sticks.  I can’t afford it anymore.

Posted in Opinion.


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  2. I’ll start by saying these are my own opinion, since I help out at the store. No clue if Colin agrees or not.

    I think Marvel is starting to themselves a disservice with the habits that Colin mentions above. I collected comic as a child probably until I was 12-13 which would have been about 1990. Although I did get GI Joe until the end (94). And at the time I got all my subscriptions via Marvel/DC direct in the mail. So I missed a lot of these types of things.

    I got back in to comics about 3.5 years ago and as Colin will tell you I am the aforementioned completist. My first trip to Colin’s store I spent over $300 on Civil War trades. The ones I didn’t get that day, I got on my next trip.

    I’m still learning about all this, thankfully I have an honest retailer to help me out, and some friends that have been doing this for a while.

    Looking at the most recent Marvel events. Secret Invasion: the arc’s that were part of ongoings were ok, dedicated mini-series were worthless. Siege: same thing. And with Seige, the series of 1 shots were absolutely worthless. Shadowland, honestly the main story and Daredevil parts were ok. The rest was pretty much crap. Now Chaos War, interesting. So far the main series has been good, Dead Avengers was good. So far the other tie ins have been boring and one I couldn’t even finish reading.

    Now lets not let DC off the hook here. Tie-ins to Final Crisis? Really not necessary, the mini-series after, really really not necessary. Batman returns? The 1-shots? Not sure what they were for? Oh and Time Hunters (or whatever) is late and pointless.

    If you want to talk about title sprawl, Marvel is bad. But DC isn’t great either: Batman, Batman and Robin, Detective Comics, Batman Inc, Batgirl, Batwoman, Red Robin, Batman Dark Knight (Finch’s title),Streets of Gotham, Gotham City Sirens and those are just in continuity. Then there is Superman/Batman, Batman Confidential and whatever incredibly late mini series that Kevin Smith is writing (I know there isn’t one right now, but there usually is).

    I think both publishers are sort of hitting the customer hard. Sounds like DC is a little better on the retailer side. But do we really need all those Batman titles? What about 3 Green Lantern titles, 2 JSA titles, or 2 bi-weekly mini series?

    Colin mentions “which one is real?” That is a great question. No one seems to be able to answer. We’ve had zombie verse cross into 616 (Merc with a Mouth), Astonishing cross into 616 (Kitty in the phased bullet). And then we have the Legacy books, I was told my Fred Van Lente Iron Man Legacy takes place between Heroes Reborn and Extremsis, however today when reading it there is a footnote about it taking place in 1984. Umm? Does that mean X-Men Legacy doesn’t take place in “current time”?

    Some will defend some of Marvel’s mini-series saying “I like Colleen Wing, I loved Blood on the Streets” (or whatever mini she was in). My answer is then have a mini-series about Colleen Wing, don’t tie it into an event and try to get people who could careless about the character involved.

    If they are going to have these alternate universes (astonishing, ultimate, legacy, zombies, vampires, etc) tell us which continuity a book takes place in. Does it matter in 616? Some people only really care about the core continuity some care about them all.

    I think both publishers need to look at their marketing strategies, reduce the number of titles in some of their core franchises. Do things like DC did with Batman Beyond, the mini sold well, so they made it an on going. IDW did this with GI Joe Cobra title. Don’t do what Marvel does and announce an ongoing then say “it was always a limited” thats unfair to fans of the titles and IMHO to the creative teams.

    Last but not least. If your idea involves Wolverine getting drunk and cutting hair during a party in a bar. It is not a good idea. It is a terrible idea. Go write some fan fiction, but spare us and I feel like Marvel owes me $3.99 for that book.


  3. I agree 110% — They just don’t care. They continue churn out event after event. Mini after mini. Why? Because the marvel zombie buys into it. It’s just like in the 90’s with all the special covers. Look ‘Ma I just bought 3 “glow in the dark” copies of X-men #0. I slowly started gravitating towards DC, because I felt there was something more there. Better stories, with writers and artists that gave a damn about their craft. Marvel pumps out $3.99 books during the second worst economic downturn in US history. If that doesn’t tell you, nothing will. I understand that company needs to make a profit. But at what cost? Sooner or later, the Marvel machine will crash (again)… and then we’ll see if they change their tune?

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