Despite the undisclosed (yet embarrassing) percent of monthly income I spend on little paper things about superheroes, I have some big ideas that could maybe fix Marvel Comics, LTD (is it LTD?...wait, what does LTD even mean? I seriously know nothing about business).
But to understand my ideas for the future, we, dear readers, must examine Marvel’s mistakes of the past, starting with something that happened to me last year. It was Feb. 6, and news broke that David F. Walker and Sanford Greene’s Power Man and Iron Fist was ending after 12 awesome issues, all of which featured a unique aesthetic, kind of like an all-time great graffiti artist from the late ‘80s was teaming with a writer buddy who deeply loved the characters. It was being replaced by a Luke Cage solo book, which seemed to me like an excuse to put out a new #1 and make Luke Cage more like the version of him on the Netflix show. I, however, didn’t want the guy from the Netflix show. I wanted continuing adventures of a character I’d known since I was a kid, one who’d been in Heroes for Hire and just recently gotten a cool new update from Greene and Walker. Besides, this new Luke Cage book wouldn’t last 15 issues, either.
I went to my local comic shop that same day and dropped Power Man and Iron Fist, and apparently, I wasn’t alone. The clerk told me three other regulars had done the same. Three! And this isn't a high volume shop.
Why? Simply put, Marvel was doing a bad job rewarding readers. It hadn’t hit me until the Power Man and Iron Fist thing, but the problem had been brewing for some time. See, after Marvel relaunched its line with new #1s in late 2015, it decided to relaunch much of its line AGAIN in late 2016, calling it...Marvel Now!...the same name as an old initiative from not even five years ago. You could practically hear corporate:
Guy in a Suit: *lighting a cigar with movie money* “Let’s just call it Marvel Now! again...these nerds’ll buy anything with a #1 on the cover anyway. Mwahaha.”
I’d been ignoring this, though, because storytelling at Marvel was strong, especially in books that hadn’t been reset (see my recent piece about my favorite Marvel books since 2015). In addition to the books on that list, I was reading Amazing Spider-Man and Mighty Thor and most X books and All-New Wolverine and Invincible Iron Man and Black Panther, plus some others I forget and maybe even an Inhumans title. I ended up dropping most of those soon though, because the shared universe was becoming so watered down and chaotic.
I wanted to be rewarded for being a reader, I wanted a payoff. I wanted to feel like if I kept reading, there’d be a plot point or reference or something I understood because I'd stuck with a book for a while. I wanted stories to end because creatives decided they should, not because some suit felt like Luke Cage would sell better if he was the same dude from his Netflix show.
A year later, Marvel is still struggling to give readers this. So, here I come with my awesome business acumen, generously helping Marvel via a list of tips. Let’s rock!
Tip 1 - Quit treating us like ATMs and start respecting our wallets. Yes, we will turn out in way bigger numbers for a first issue. We have been trained, after all, to relish the tiny bit of monetary promise, the idea that a #1 might reward us for our good tastes someday by being worth a bunch of money. This is true, but quit being so blatant about exploiting our hopes! First and foremost we want good stories, and we want them to keep going. I mean, even the new ones we like (Ms. Marvel, for example) are interesting because they take different types of people and steep them in our favorite old genre tropes. We want to follow character development that lasts longer than a year. We want to see our favorite writers leave plot seeds that bear fruit way later, and we want consistency.
Tip 2 - Cut back your line. Marvel has too many titles. When All New, All Different launched for example, both the new Uncanny Inhumans team (one of two Inhumans team books, two!) and the main Avengers (one of an estimated 4 bajillion Avengers team books) had first arcs with a version of Kang the Conqueror. Why? Because Marvel almost literally has more books than it has viable villains. This, however, isn't a problem if they don't need like 400 villains for their 400 books every month.
Tip 3 - More isn’t always better, which, I know, is basically a continuation of Tip 2. Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye was really great! But we don’t need 40 books about other under-served characters with the same quirky tone. Also, the hip hop variant covers were really great! But for the love of God, there just isn’t enough iconic album art to merit 100 of the damn things. Things are special because they’re rare. If I was a business guy (and I’m not, like, at all) I’d write this on a whiteboard in my office, which I’d soon get evicted from because, again, I suck at business.
Tip 4: Quit releasing OMG exciting new books that are clearly veiled ads for upcoming shows or movies. I’m not saying synergy should be avoided, but could you please be less blatant about the raw, uncut commerce you’re lacing our stories with? Returning almost every hero to his or her status quo right in time for a show or movie is so dull. We see it coming and it ends up making for boring stories.
That's it, and hey, I know there are complex business concerns driving Marvel's decisions, but please remember there are people on the other side of retail counters. Once you put a marketed book into the world, it causes a reaction that effects your next book. As fans, we may not be business geniuses (or even business proficients) but we are your end user, and, as the bros in the tech world can attest, if an end user doesn't like something these days, they'll just stop using it.