Saturday, June 6, 2015

Marvel Comics Rapes Their Fans and They Like It – An Outsider’s View

Okay I’m not a 100% outsider. Still since I just recently declared myself Marvel free a little while ago maybe I can claim an outsider status. So I finally jump ship and then I read the BIG news out of Marvel. It made me sick to my stomach. All New All Different WE Want All Your Money Marvel. At least Marvel has made my decision to zero out any books from them a lot easier and they even cancelled the only title I was getting from them with issue #8 I believe (the Lemire written Hawkeye).

So the All New All Different Marvel Universe is talking about launching around 60 new #1 issues. It all starts after the end of Secret Wars and has an eight month time jump. A total reboot, right? No, not at all.  Alex Alonso, Marvel’s Editor in Chief, states “This is not a reboot. We are not erasing our history, or throwing away any old stories; we are building on our history. The Marvel Universe that greets readers in "All-New, All-Different Marvel" is going to be the Marvel Universe that you know and love -- and recognize -- but it's also going to include some new stuff -- new characters, new places, new things, new artifacts of great importance -- that should make it even more interesting.” Good try Mr. Alonso, good try.

Marvel is desperately trying to do a re-launch of their entire line up of comics, as DC did a few years back. They are also trying to avoid the calamity that befell DC as DC threw away the legacy aspect of the DCU. A major strength of DC was flushed down the toilet in a grab to shake things up. Change just to change is never a good idea. Marvel is being smart by campaigning that even though Secret Wars will have an impact on some characters and may make some continuity changes they are not wiping out their history. Yes the All New All Different Marvel Universe is all bright shining and new, but it is still the same Marvel Universe you love. Selling these two points at the same time is creating some of the greatest cognitive dissonance in comic book history. Yes Bruce Banner is now Catilyn Banner, but she is still the Hulk. Yes Old Man Logan is now in present day, but he is still the original Wolverine. Yes Iron Man is now Pepper Potts, but she is still the armored Avenger. It is a clever marketing ploy, but one, that for me, is a stinking heap of cow dung.

Where all this becomes egregious is when you realize what type of impact this will have on the actual business of selling comics to the fan base that still exists. First and foremost you are making comic books stores bet the house. My guess is there will be some heavy promotion discounts if you order enough books. My worry for the retailers is there will not be returns allowed.  If, as I suspect, most of these #1s are $5 price points that means an increased risk for a retailer. Granted there is increased reward in more profit. Still many stores are small operations that could go under with a few bad months or even one bad month. If a retailer orders 100 issues of every new number one (use 60) that is an investment (at 50% discount) of $15,000. Meaning to just break even on his invoice from Marvel he will need to move 3,000 books. Too often a retailer will get caught up in the hype from Marvel and not look at their overall sales to realize those type of numbers have never happened for their store; so why should it happen now. Another hidden cost of this type of launch is unsold copies of books from other companies. If a customer can only spend $50 and goes all Marvel, that means anything else he was normally buying goes unsold on the retailer’s shelf. It is a dangerous game that the retailer has to play and I hope Marvel gives support in the way of a return program of some sort.

The other retailer problem is how you order for a new #1 issue of a comic. Maybe a book like the All New All Different Spider-Man you can base on sales of the prior ASM books, but the All New All Different Red Wolf (or whatever) is a major crap shoot. Of course Marvel will push as hard as they can to make fans feel like they have to try all the titles and the first couple months could be a great success. The problem is having a new toy immediately ends the next day as it is no longer new. I’m sure there will be variant covers all over the place and the “rare” ones will be on Ebay as soon as the store gets them from Diamond or even before as a pre-order. As an ex-retailer the idea of relying on Ebay to make my store profitable is a scary proposition. If my store is stable and doing well, Ebay as supplemental income is great, as a source to make it work, it is like going to Vegas. Remember only the winners’ brag about how they did. When the speculators wake up and realize they have wasted their money that variant market could disappear in a heartbeat. None of this is made easier when DC has just crapped out 24 new #1s or something close to it and Image is rolling out #1s like hotcakes at an IHOP. Strong stores will survive and many will even thrive, the smaller stores are going to possibly go under trying to guess what to order. It can be just as deadly to not have the book your customers want as it is to have too many.

Of course there is the actual fans themselves. Now a fool and his money is soon parted, so Marvel is hoping to find around 50,000 fools per book would be my guess. Marvel has always pushed the price point of books depending on the inelasticity of demand that comic books have often demonstrated. If Marvel moves all of their books to five dollars, even for just the first issue, I think that could be the final straw. For me the five dollar price point is the line in the sand, we will only go this far and no further and other statements to that effect. The supposed inflation rate over the last few years has been relatively insignificant if you believe government reporting. Even if you don’t a jump from $4 to $5 is a 25% increase in price. For $11 bucks or less I can see a 2 hour movie, buy two on demand movies and purchase at least one digital book. All of these alternatives give me way more than the maximum 10 or 15 minutes entertainment that two comic books may give me. The bang for the buck is not there when a comic cost $5. Sure you might be able to re-sell some of the books on Ebay or elsewhere, but that is just normally recouping some of your cost and never a guarantee. Also I believe there is only a certain level of spending that the fans will make towards comic books. So any success that Marvel has could well come via reduction of sales for other companies. Let’s face it that is what competition is all about. It may seem unfair, but it is the nature of the beast. The stores have to invest in Marvel for fear of missing out and therefore may order less of other books in some cases. That means that the books from other companies will not be on the stands. Of course an aggressive play by another publisher to push lower discounts on their books while the re-launch of Marvel happens could offset that disadvantage.

Sadly Marvel seems to have an unshakeable hold on the market and they can generate excitement for the All Retread All Marketing Ploy Marvel Comics Now. I’m just glad to be out of the picture and have no desire to jump back in. I guess the fan base is recycling faster than ever. Personally I would find it hard to truly get invested in a character who is going to be reset every year or two or gendered or race swapped at the drop of a hat. New times, new market, it will be interesting to watch from the sidelines.


  1. Jim, you are so right. Marvel has proven time and again that they see fans only as wallets to be picked. How are they still the number one publisher of comics? They seem to be little more than the advertising arm of the Marvel movie franchise. And their content? Compare the comics Aaron, Hickman, Fraction, DeConnick or Remender have done at Marvel to the work they do for Image. It's like night and day. Their Marvel work seems phoned in for a paycheck while their Image work is filled with heart and soul. If you like high cover prices, pages with low panel count, poorly written stories that lead into event after endless event, and variant covers for countless new number one issues, by all means keep on buying Marvel. Me, I'm joining Jim on his No More Marvel campaign. Marvel doesn't care about the fans, their own characters nor the direct market shops anymore. Why should we continue to support them?

  2. Jeff - Agree - all great points.

  3. Don't forget Marvel uses the CHEAPEST paper in the business. You could eat your dinner off a Bongo or IDW comic.

  4. "Different but the same"- has it really come down to that?

    It's like they view their actual comics as nothing more than fodder to keep their licensing options open. I'm beginning to think they don't care about the readers who have invested in their legacy.

    It also feeds into my bias for stories that, eventually, are self-contained. When a story has to go on, issue after issue, decade after decade, repetition and pointlessness become inevitable. What would the original Star Wars movies be like if there were 300 of them, all with Luke and Vader crossing paths? A satisfying story needs to go somewhere, to have a destination.

  5. Dave and Liz - Agreed - especially about stories having an endpoint. It doesn't mean the character's life is over, but that a chapter has ended.

  6. I loved (most of) the original Marvel Star Wars books. So, I was excited to read the recent ones, but the regular book had so much rehash of things seen in the movies that it was almost unreadable. It did get better by the end of the arc with a blind Luke fighting Fett. The Darth Vader series is more enjoyable to me and the Kannan one is well told. I like to see people fill in the gaps, but the Star Wars newspaper strips did the best job of doing that between A New Hope and Empire. At least the Legacy series went in bold new directions.

    I'm not as much a hater about new realities (like I was when the Ultimate line started), but you can just cease publishing the regular one rather than cosmicly hit the reset button! Reading Didio's comments about Convergence and the need constantly modernize and not dwell on the past, made me sick. I love the older versions, but I don't mind the characters progressing (naturally) either. Superman will probably never get his trunks back now!

    I guess the characters have just lived too long to maintain the same continuity, which is why DC had a crisis after 30 years (silver age time frame). At least we can always reread our favorite stories. I can't blame them for wanting to make money on their assets/characters, but are they really generating new readers for all these gimicks? I'm following Johns and Fabok's Darkseid War in Justice League, because the art is fantastic, it is told well, and I love the New Gods, but in terms of investment to any characters -- it's just a story to me now.

  7. What was jarring to me in the DC You - was reading Action Comic and the John/Fabok JL book. Superman is a super strong guy in a t-shirt in one book, in another book Batman is Jim Gordon in an Iron Man suit, in John's JL they appear to be the same as before convergence. I understand it all doesn't have to tie together like Marvel did in the sixties but this just feels like there is no DCU at all anymore. Each book is 100% it's own thing. So anything that happens "dramatic" has no impact unless you are following that series.

  8. Marvel Comics back when it aged in close to real time and had actual continuity is now existent only in the movies. If you want the oldie timie Marvel vibe, it's the movies / netflix / TV show or nothing.

    The Marvel comicbooks died a long, long time ago, which is why other than as storyboards and audience testers Disney doesn't care what the hack factory does to or with them. Compare the negligible "profits" of the awful comics with the money printing exercise which is even the worst performer of the AV media Marvel Universe.

    I was howled down for pointing out the same truth about DC. Say what you like about Smallville, it has literally 20 times as many fans as any Superman comic. Literally.

  9. You are right. They only want the books publish to legally keep the copyright alive.

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