My reaction to the end of The Marvel Universe.
So, I’ve seen the same news everyone else has and here are my first impressions.
Well, having been reading Avengers and Avengers NOW and whatever the other ones that aren’t the beautiful Uncanny Avengers, this morning’s news about the end of The Marvel Universe doesn’t come as a shock. There wasn’t a way back from the Black Panther murdering Namor, or Pete’s deal with Mephisto that everyone at the Spider-Man team has been trying to rewrite ever since. Time and continuity in The Marvel Universe has been a fractured mess since Age Of Ultron, and the upcoming Secret War appears to be the get out clause needed to fix a number of stories that have contradicted each other since the beginning.
A number of things spring to mind here, not least of which being ‘How wise is it to launch comics like Silk or Spider-Gwen a few months before everything breaks down?’, but I don’t work at Marvel, so it could be that those titles will carry over post Secret Wars. I personally will be glad to see the back of The Ultimate Universe, a line that’s had no real meaning and suffered a number spike reboots that have read like nothing but professionally drawn fan fiction since Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch finished their run on The Ultimates 2.
A worry is that long-term Marvel readers have put up with a hell of a lot over the last few decades. High priced mini-series, crossovers with no real point, deaths and rebirths, snarky editorial teams throwing personal jabs at readers for not liking what’s been written (‘Brand New Day’ was particularly bad for this.), and this might be it for a few comic fans. I posted on Dan Didio’s wall a few days ago that the reaction from comic readers to The New 52 was that people who’d been buying every mainstream DC Comic out of habit (i.e, Not Vertigo, Wildstorm, and licensed books.) upped and cancelled their entire order for DC product and never came back. That was a loss of sales of roughly 50 comics per month from a number of customers which added up to the best part of a thousand pounds of lost income.
This morning, I’m not at work, so haven’t heard the reactions from the customers to this news yet, but I’m more than aware that many of them are to be blunt, sick of each year featuring two crossovers plus a number of spin-off books that they’ve felt compelled to buy and have been looking for a reason to stop. If, as suggested in the news piece, that this is the end of The Marvel Universe as we know it, then the inevitable Amazing Spider-Man 1, Captain America 1, Uncanny X-Men 1 etc might have to find a new audience., much like Batman 1, Action Comics 1 did.
Personally, I think there’s a lot of potential good here, but as DC proved with The New 52, you can’t put the old poison in a new glass and expect people to want to drink it, so here’s what can be done to potentially expand the comic market beyond the addicts and into the new generation of people interested in Marvel via the films:
1) Keep the ‘controversial’ changes.
With the exception of stupid people, nobody has a problem with Captain America being black, Spider-Man being Hispanic, Northstar being gay or Thor being a woman. There are things that need sorting out with Marvel’s line up of characters, but reconfiguring them so they’re all whitebread WASPS isn’t a thing that needs to happen Whatever else I’ve said about Marvel, I totally applaud their attempts to reach out to other demographics beyond ’45 Year Old White Man Who Thinks All Comics Should Written For His Tastes Alone.’ and speaking of that….
2) Decide who your audience is for your characters is once and for all and write for them.
As a customer, I can go into Toys R Us and buy a Deadpool Marvel Mash-Up action figure, a toy designed for children. I can also go into a comic shop and buy Deadpool Max, which features mental illness played for laughs, child abuse, a brief lecture on the history of the KKK and a good amount of other plot elements that are either unsuitable for anyone under 10 or will just plain bore them.
As a retailer, this trend of writing Marvel Super-Heroes to the older audience has been an absolute nightmare. There should not be a point where I have to remember if the issue of Avengers a child is buying is the one that features Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne having super-powered oral sex. Yes, it makes me laugh, but I shouldn’t be the target audience for characters that also appear in video games aimed at kids like Disney Infinity Marvel. You can’t have it both ways with branding franchises for kids, because parents don’t generally know the difference between Deadpool and Deadpool Max and there’s no reason for them to have to second guess you.
Either cancel all the toy lines/videogames/cartoon merchandising, or put out comics featuring those characters that anyone who’s got into them via Lego Marvel can read, which fits nicely into….
3) Bring Back Epic.
Or if not Epic, or Icon, or something akin to Vertigo, anyway.
The problem with the Direct Market taking control of how comics were ordered is that audience dictated the content. In an ideal world, Marvel’s flagship icons like Hulk, X-Men or Spider-Man would be a gateway comic that led people into the medium, much like Donald Duck or Archie. Once you’d been into them a few years, you’d realise that these aren’t stories in the way that Preacher or From Hell or Cerebus is a story with a beginning, middle and end and you’d graduate up to books that reflected your interests and concerns. That’s a fairly intelligent model that works in other mediums. You don’t quit watching Television because High School Confidential or Hannah Montana doesn’t appeal to you anymore, you just move onto different shows.
Sadly, in comics, what appears to have happened is that the readers of Marvel/DC superhero comics never wised up that they should have stopped playing with the kid’s toys, and moved onto more adult oriented fare, and instead (especially when the fans became pros.) made the kid’s stuff more adult in tone and content. So now Secret Invasion isn’t just a daft story about Skrulls invading the Earth, but rather an allegory for post 9-11 America and the inability to trust close friends for fear that they’re double agents working as terrorists.
Again, in an Avengers comic. The same Avengers who I can buy Lego figures of.
I’m not arguing that intelligent commentary on social issues can’t be done in comics, or even that superhero comics are incapable of tackling such topics, just that Marvel Superheroes aren’t the place to do long office scenes discussing the nature of perception vs reality or hostile corporate takeovers. These things are literally meant to be kid’s stuff.
So instead, create the ‘adult’ line. Bring in the creator owned deal that DC used to run with Vertigo. Sign up the likes of Minimum Wage, Sex Criminals, Grindhouse, offer to reprint Love & Rockets in colour for the first time. Be a PUBLISHER, rather than a vehicle to put out new Marvel Superhero product. A defined adult line would allow writers to express the concepts they’re interested in without having to jack the Spider-Man brand into conveying ideas it wasn’t designed for. and finally.
4) Sort out your pricing structure, once and for all.
So She-Hulk was $2:99 an issue without a downloadable digital copy, Amazing Spider-Man is $3:99 an issue with the code, but Miracleman runs 16 pages an issue for $5 a pop without the code.
How but who but whuh?
I’ve argued the point about the price of modern comics before, but this is the most defining moment for the future of American comics, I think. (Where Marvel goes, everyone follows.) It is, or shouldn’t be, a secret that comic sales are down. They’ve been in a steady decline since the 70’s and the numbers on pre-orders that are touted as huge news stories today are the same numbers that would have had you fired for poor performance less that twenty years ago. (I think Star Wars is a massive glitch, not a turn around for the future of comics and I expect to see copies of Star Wars 1 in every collection I buy in for the rest of my career as everyone realises a million copies of anything can’t possibly be rare in a market that has less than a million readers.)
Every point I’ve made are occurrences that have been detrimental to the expansion of comics as a medium, whether it’s the content being too adult, too obtuse, too decompressed to the point that it takes 5 issues to tell a two-part story,and essentially a publisher treating their customers like drug addicts who will pick up their next fix regardless, but if there’s one thing I’ve seen standing order customers (That is, people who have an order to pick up an amount of comics from month to month without fail.) cancel their order over more than anything else, it’s the constant price rises, the gradual jacking up the dollar cost of a comic every two or three years.
While profits mat have remained roughly the same, it’s only due to the price rises making up the deficit in reader, so essentially, those readers who carried on buying when others simply decided ‘No, this costs too much money now.’ are effectively being charged extra for their loyalty.
Obviously, that situation is suicide, and I fully expect to live to see the regular issue of Amazing Spider-Man costing $10. A step forward, and a show of confidence would be to re-price the new line at reasonable amounts. Nobody I know (who doesn’t work for Marvel, anyway.) thinks $4 is an acceptable price for one 24 page comic, and certainly not an amount that would lure younger readers (who I’d remind you again are meant to be the target audience for Amazing Spider-Man.) into getting into the medium. No one would believe Marvel are in danger of going under while they’re funded by Disney, so they could certainly afford perhaps $3 for a regular superhero comic, maybe with the option of another edition at $3:50 with a downloadable code
I’d say it’s long past time to stop playing to the adults who’ll buy X-Men no matter what’s done with the franchise, to stop appealing to the speculators who are and have never been of any benefit to the comics industry with this variant business and finally to stop letting adults who should know better to stop writing The Avengers as a pitch for an adult oriented sitcom.
It’s time to grow up and let the Kids back into their sandbox.