What exactly is Marvel Comics doing?
Marvel has been publishing comic books since the mid-1900s. To say that they are one of, if not the, biggest comic book publishers on the planet would probably be filed in the “no duh” category.
Marvel Comics, not to be confused with Marvel Studios which is making money fist over heel, has been in a bit of a slump lately. Their comic book sales just aren’t where they should be, especially considering the ensemble of characters they have access to. Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Wolverine, Spider-Man; these are bankable characters that should be stupidly easy to sell. But there are not. So why is Marvel slumping?
Comic book store own Brian Hibbs wrote an insightful, if rather lengthy, article on his theories as to why that is.
While he makes some great points, and I agree with some of his premises, others I think he may have somewhat missed the mark.
I’ve been an avid Marvel reader since my teenage years back in the mid-90s. I love Marvel characters and I want them to succeed. So what are they doing wrong? Quite a few things actually.
So let’s talk about this because it’s obvisouly the elephant in the room. It’s no secret that Marvel has been pushing hard for a more diverse lineup. Captain America is African American, Thor is female, Hulk is asian, Spider-Man is a mixed race, and Wolverine is a woman. And the list goes on.
I’ll start off by saying that while I don’t push for diversity in comics, and I’m in no way against it. Honestly, I just want good stories. Give me superhero that draws me in and I don’t care what race or gender they are.
However Marvel destroying its core and history in favor of forcing diversity. Logan is Wolverine, Tony Stark is Iron Man, and Peter Parker is Spider-Man. That’s who I’ve been reading about since I was a kid and they all have a special place in my heart. That’s who I still want to read about. When you kill off those characters and replace them with others, I lose that connection. I’m just not going to be immediately reading because you said Laura is now wolverine. It has nothing to do with gender or race. You could make Scott Summers the new Wolverine and I would still lose interest, because it’s just not Wolverine.
Adding diversity in Gender or Race isn’t going to automatically sell comics. Don’t believe me? Think about it. If Marvel decided to make Scarlett Witch or Black Widow a man, do you think their solo books would immediately start out selling the current lines? Of course not.
If Marvel want’s to diversity their lineup, then they should be getting creative and giving us new characters with new stories to tell. New characters can happily co-exist with old ones. But as long as they keep destroying their core characters, the ones generations have come to know and love, they are undoubtably going to be turning long time readers away. Because when you change who a character is, you cut that connection to the reader. I’ve been reading Wolverine comics regularly for 30 years. As good as X-23 comics may be, I just don’t have a connection to her. She’s not Wolverine. When I lose that connection to a character, I stop caring.
And then you have to think about the new readers. Someone who saw the latest Captain America movies is going to want to come in and buy the latest Captain America title to continue the fun. Yet it’s confusing. There are two Captain America’s now. Steve Rogers is a Hydra agent and the other one is an African American hero with wings. Neither of those anything like what’s being sold to movie goers.
DC seems to have taken this to heart with its rebirth line. It’s a perfect jumping on point of new readers with its iconic characters. For as much as DC fails at making movies, they sure get how to do comic books.
But let’s move on.
Too Many Titles
One of the bigger points Hibbs went into was the glut of Marvel titles. There are just too many. Not too many characters, but too many titles for each character. Want to read about Spider-man? Good luck figuring out which of the many titles to buy. At one point, there were about 5 Avengers titles currently running. At around $4 a pop, no one is plunking down $20 for one title. Marvel may see splitting Spider-Man into 4 titles as quadrupling its sales.
However, the reality is probably more that same audience is splitting it’s purchases across 4 titles, with some just abandoning the line all together. So instead of Marvel going from 100% sales to 400% sales, it’s more likely going from 100% to 80%. We don’t need that many titles for one hero. No one’s budget is unlimited.
Which brings me to the next point.
The Constant Crossovers
Enough already with the crossovers. There was a time when a crossover was a special event you got exited about. Maybe once or twice a year your favorite comic hero would have a crossover with another. Now, it’s literally every month. From Secret Wars, to Civil War 2, there are just too many constantly going on.
And then they add in all the ancillary titles. Want everything from this one crossover? That will be 70 different books you need to buy. To be honest, if it was once a years or every other year, I could stomach that. But the frequency Marvel does it is just stupid. They jump from one massive crossover to the next.
Plus, their own artists can’t even keep up. The ending for Secret Wars was basically spoiled by the ancillary titles because the main line didn’t publish its run quick enough.
Killing off the X-Men
By and large one of Marvel’s biggest draws for me has always been the X-Men. I used to buy every X-title they published back in the 90s. Even the stupid stuff with the holograms on the cover.
But thanks to the Terrigan mists, the X-men are all dying. So why would Marvel systematically kill off some of its more popular characters? Money of course. Movie money that is. Thanks to deals made decades ago, Fox owns the rights to all the mutants. As long as they keep making a movie every few years, Marvel can’t make their own X-Men movies.
The solution? Attempt to kill off interest in the X-Men by killing them off, and then push the Inhumans. If you are not familiar with them, the Inhumans are a group of mutant-like characters that aren’t actually mutants. They have similar special powers, just a different origin story. Regardless, Marvel is once again dumping decades of history and reader attachment to try and push something not everyone is even interested in. They are cutting off their nose to spite their face.
Marvel really needs to get their house in order. Their sales are down. The quality of the books have been declining for a while, and they are quickly burning up decades of good will. They can make all the excuses they want, as finger pointing is pretty easy, but they clearly have some problems that run really deep. Returning your core characters to their roots would probably be a good start, as would scaling back the cross overs. But I doubt they’ll listen until it’s too late.