Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Making Sense of Marvel

I grew up as a "Marvel Zombie". I always thought their characters and stories were superior to The Boy Scout (Superman) and his friends. The Avengers were cool, I thought. The X-men by Claremont were the best-sellers for -decades-, and everything else was big and fun and flashy and all that. Marvel rocked. DC = zzzzz.

But the last couple years have not been kind to Stan Lee's wunderkinds. Event fatigue, the $4 price point, Marvel editorial's reluctance to care much about continuity (the hallmark of great Marvel comics) and the feeling that not every comic matter... all these factors led to people walking away from Marvel comics.

To be blunt, I question whether the last couple years worth of Marvel comics have held up, quality-wise. It feels to me that Marvel's last great story was Civil War. I think most of you will agree that CW was a great mini-series, but the follow-ups have not been nearly as strong. Secret Invasion was too long (and felt like a series of boring fights in The Savage Land), Dark Reign was, well, Dark and Siege was.. honestly, I don't even remember what happened in it. The Spider-Man One Last Day story is still loathed by many readers (not all good press is bad press, Marvel) and then there's Fear Itself which just wrapped up.

I promoted Fear Itself pretty heavily in the months leading up to it's launch. I did a 1-on-1 phone interview with Matt Fraction about the series, put up signs, mentioned it to customers, and when the book shipped I was... underwhelemed. It was good, mind you, but it wasn't GREAT.

And maybe my expectations are high (tell me if they are), but if you or I are spending $4 on a comic, it better be GREAT. Money doesn't go as far as it used to, and every dollar counts. It's a different world, and comics are not a necessity. Gas, food and rent are. So, if I'm going to recommend a comic to someone, and it's $4, it'd better be worth every cent. I'm not certain that Fear Itself was worth the money. I hate saying that 'cause I love a lot of Fraction's (Hello, Casanova!) other works, but FI just didn't do it for me.

Now don't get me wrong, there's been other good stories since Civil War. The Annihilation stories were top-notch, World War Hulk and Planet Hulk were superb, and the long-form Death of Captain America story that Brubaker wrote in the Captain America book was fantastic.

But most of Marvel's recent output comes off as "ehh-" worthy. The only exception would be Uncanny X-force. While the recent Hulk and X-men relaunches have done very well, The Dark Angel Saga is, in my mind, the best story Marvel's published in years. The Avengers titles feel like a re-tread. Norman Osborn, again? Really? Seriously, let's give that guy a break already.

Before the holidays, Marvel cancelled a number of new mini-series, and also announced that they'd be double-shipping a lot of their best books in the spring. This is clearly a cash grab, leading to increased revenue, but it also has the potential to push people away from their comics. I have a number of customers who only come in once or twice a month to grab books off the wall. Imagine coming in, having $8-10 to spend on your favorite 3 titles, only to find that there's been 2-3 issues of each published while you were gone. $10? Try $20, easily. That's not fair to the consumer, but Marvel doesn't seem to care. That may sound harsh, but it's true.

So, where does Marvel go from here? Well, you're going to see a lot of your favorite books being double- and triple-published over the next year. Another Avengers book is on the way, in addition to the next Marvel event, Avengers v. X-Men. I think you're going to less mini-series being published, and that's something that's way over-due. Not because the books are bad, but because Marvel has been flooding the market.

In a way, I think Marvel owes DC. If it wasn't for the influx of new customers that The New 52 has created, I think Marvel's numbers would be even lower.

As always, you the customer, will vote with your dollar. Right now, your dollars are going to DC, not Marvel and your feedback to me supports that. In the end, Marvel's going to have to make some changes or face the new reality that DC is the #1 publisher in the Direct Market. Maybe that will make Marvel change.

'Nuff said.


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