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What the Hell is Wrong with Marvel Comics, Anyway?!?!?! Tilting at Windmills #259

In which I address the elephant in the room.

Read it at the Beat, and I’d LOVE to hear your comments




13 Responses to “ What the Hell is Wrong with Marvel Comics, Anyway?!?!?! Tilting at Windmills #259 ”

  1. Interesting stuff, and a theory that feels about right from my perspective as a consumer.

    When I started buying weekly comics nearly ten years ago, I was buying about half a dozen Marvel comics each week – now I’m on less than that each month. Pricing and event fatigue are the main things putting me off books I would otherwise be interested in. On the whole I can no longer bring myself to buy into series which require significantly expanded commitments (financial and time) several times a year. Yes, i also still read several series on the MU app six months late, but honestly, if I didn’t have this service I don’t think i would bother about them any more at all…

  2. Marvel seems to be on a 20 year cycle of crisis.

    1956/1957, various distribution problems lead to them cutting over 75% of their line, down to 8 books a month, only digging out of that with the creative power of Kirby, Ditko, et al.

    1976/1977, various distribution and management problems almost leading the company down the drain, but for the lucky acquisition of the Star Wars license, eventually recovering with the growth of the direct market

    1996/1997, corporate shenanigans and moves like trying to self-distribute through Heroes World lead the company to actual bankruptcy protection, eventually recovered with a return to Diamond and for a while a smaller more focused line.

    2016/2017, not sure if there’s any actual crisis on the distribution side (maybe the over-reliance on variants?), but definite overproduction and out-of-touch management.

    And the overproduction is without variety. Of the 90 books Marvel publishes a month, maybe 5 are Star Wars, another 5 at most are other categories (very occasional Icon books, a few Disney things, the Dark Tower books still trickling out). The rest are Marvel Universe books, mostly right down the middle, a few on the fringes but still MU. 80 books a month, at least $4 each. Crazy. Even DC, when it gets up that high, tends to have a dozen Vertigo books, licensed books and other stuff, don’t think they’ve ever gotten much over 60 squarely in the DCU (and I think even that’s too much, even with their lower prices).

  3. Great article — I think it expresses, from the retailer perspective, what I’m also feeling as a reader.

    Succinctly, I’m looking for long-form, continuous stories about characters that I can follow from month-to-month without interruption. That’s one of the things that Saga is offering folks right now that Marvel (and DC) books really aren’t.

    I just miss the days when Marvel characters felt like they were changing and growing in organic ways, as opposed to being wrenched from one personality to the next over multiple reboots.

    One other thought: if Marvel condensed their line and limited each property to one or two books (as warranted by sales) a lot of the characters who no longer had their own titles could act as the supporting cast for the title character(s). There’s nothing wrong with having a large, diverse cast of characters who all have spider-related powers — but they don’t all need their own books.

  4. Brian, you are absolutely correct. From my POV as a reader, way, way too many titles is why I don’t read more Marvel comics. I have a greater emotional attachment to Marvel characters than any other comics properties, and would love to follow the Avengers, Captain America, Daredevil, Hulk, etc. But when I see 3-6 titles on the stands each month related to each of those characters, it makes me a lot more hesitant to touch them.

    Your example of Dr. Strange is perfect. He’s one of my favorite characters, hadn’t had an ongoing title in years, and I loved those first issues of the new title. The day I worked in my LCS and saw the “Sorcerers Supreme” comic my stomach dropped. “Oh, no, they’re pulling this shit with Dr. Strange, too.”

    It’s bad for the company when seeing a new title makes me sick, not excited.

    Nowadays I mainly follow peripheral Marvel properties–Squirrel Girl, Howard the Duck, Hellcat. They’re fun, I get to visit the universe I love, but they’re also *safe*. I don’t have to worry (I hope!) about proliferating Hellcat or SG titles.

    I don’t think the pricing, per se, is a problem. I’m willing to fork over the extra back for a well-written and -drawn title. But not if it means I have to pick up multiple comics and titles a month to follow a character.

  5. Sorry, “The day I worked in my LCS” should read “the day I walked in my LCS”

  6. I wasn’t in charge of the ordering at the LCS I managed, but when I left that job a year ago all of this was true then and I can only assume it’s still true now. The shame of it all is that there will be stores like the chain I worked for that, when pressed to figure out where to make cuts, will 100% of the time cut the independents to keep Marvel and DC’s complete output on the shelves. Where, a lot of the time, they stayed, gathering dust.

  7. There’s a lot of really interesting business stuff in that particular piece. I found it really fascinating. I have no idea how to run a comic shop, so that sort of talk is always interesting to me.

  8. I’m a MU subscriber and came up on Marvel, and I still won’t read 4/5ths of the new stuff they put out, even though it doesn’t cost me any extra. I still haven’t read a single issue of Secret Wars. I mostly read old stuff, and 1/2 of their new stuff I read I definitely wouldn’t read at all if wasn’t “free” with the service, including all the Star Wars books, Thor, Black Panther, Howard the Duck, Ant Man, Sam Wilson, Punisher and a few more (most of those I’m reading solely out of habit because they are free, Panther is so painfully dull). If I had to pay by title, I don’t think I’d be reading more than Squirrel Girl and maybe Hellcat, and even those I’d just buy in trade for my daughter. And I still buy a lot of comics, just mostly Image and indie.

  9. You nailed it. For years, I’ve been avoiding big event crossovers from both Marvel and DC, and hate Marvel’s current flood-the-market approach. I want something self-contained, with consistent creators. The only Marvel titles I’m buying these days are Ms. Marvel, Silver Surfer, and Unstoppable Wasp. By far, I buy more comics from Image than anyone else.

  10. Fewer titles of better quality would be much appreciated.

    I’d think general accounting would push Marvel in this direction. If they sold the same number of units a month with say, half the titles, then that should be a win for everyone. Less creative teams to pay, better royalties per creative team, less titles to order, less confusion for the customers, etc.

  11. You summed it up as have the comments, so piling on why my pull list is now almost exclusively DC and Image/Indies than Marvel …

    -Event fatigue. Honestly. In the day, Claremont and Frank Miller were never press-ganged into participating in these stupid cross-title events that just get sillier and sillier. Pass.

    -Creative teams that do not spark much interest. The interesting work is now pretty much in the Image/Indie space but still curious to see where some of the DCU Rebirth is headed.

    -Killing the Golden Goose. You’ve mentioned it but really, probably the most egregious example recently: TWO spinoffs from Squadron Supreme? Which itself was stealth cancelled?

    -Forcing us to stare into the sausage factory. Even w/out BC’s reporting about Marvel “disappearing” flagships FF and X-Men by upper management fiat, it was obvious. Shoving Inhumans down the audiences’ throat was one of the most heavy-handed among a whole host of cynical missteps by Marvel

  12. “Fewer titles of better quality would be much appreciated.”

    But what is “quality”? Mark Waid is a great writer. Mike Del Mundo is a great artist, yet their Avenger is just all wrong. I can’t say it’s not “quality,” it’s a mismatched creative team on watered down (but redundant titles) concept.

  13. I have a bias toward DC’s characters (although I haven’t bought anything regularly from DC in many years) and indie comix. The only time I really found myself buying Marvel’s comix on a regular basis was from about 2000 to 2003 or so. Post-bankruptcy, pre-movie success, height of the popularity of the Ultimate universe. They were actually taking creative chances back then (Ultimates, Spider-Man’s Tangled Web, Unstable Molecules, Wolverine-Doop, to name a few off the top of my head). It felt very much like DC from 1986 to 1990 or so. Just like DC back in the ’80s, Marvel’s early 2000’s output was actually exciting and unexpected. Once they stopped doing that and went back to the same formulaic stuff they had been doing since at least the 1980s (which I never liked), I lost interest. It sounds like they’ve only doubled down on that strategy in the 15 years since.

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