Copyright Marvel Entertainment Inc.

Marvel Legacy #1 features a wraparound cover with most of Marvel’s major characters. Variants have a lenticular cover, the sort of expensive gimmick that some say is part of Marvel’s sales problem.  

Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

Marvel Comics is suffering a historic sales slump – and it’s looking to an initiative called “Legacy” to get back on top.

It’s hard to believe, given that Marvel dominates the box office and is ubiquitous on TV. But print sales have fallen off the Bifrost, and that has not only Marvel but rival DC Comics worried, not to mention all of America’s comics retailers. When Marvel stubs its toe, the whole industry yells “Ouch!”

How did this happen? As they say, it’s complicated.

You might remember some controversial remarks by Marvel’s Vice President of Sales David Gabriel, who explained poor sales in March to ICv2.com by saying, “What we heard was that people didn't want any more diversity.  They didn't want female characters out there. … We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against.”

There’s no doubt an element of truth in there. A casual pass over the message boards at various comics websites will find hateful comments about “SJWs” by people who are incensed by any superhero comic book not aimed squarely at a white, male audience.

But more importantly, there’s also an absolute in serial fiction that fans don’t really like change – they want, as Stan Lee used to say, the illusion of change. If a major publisher replaces a major character with someone else behind the mask, you can bet your last repulsor ray that the original will return.

And when these temporary replacements occur, there’s a very good chance a woman or person of color will be the replacer, while the replacee will almost always be a white male. That’s  because most major characters are white males, since most were created in the 1940s (DC Comics) or 1960s (Marvel), when white males dominated most entertainment media.

So when Marvel replaced Captain America, Iron Man and Thor in recent years with Sam “Falcon” Wilson, RiRi “Ironheart” Williams and Jane “Mighty Thor” Foster, it was a given that Steve Rogers, Tony Stark and the original Thunder God would return someday. That’s the illusion of change: Things happen, and then they un-happen. And in the meantime, we get a lot of (hopefully) cool stories.

Copyright Marvel Entertainment Inc.

Avengers #675, arriving in January, will kick off a a weekly, 16-issue story titled “No Surrender” in which the Earth has been stolen. 

That the Big Three of the Avengers were replaced by, respectively, a black man, a black girl and a white woman is almost beside the point. We know this to be true by judging from the last time Captain America, Iron Man and Thor were replaced.

Yes, this is literally a rerun. In the late 1980s, the originals were taken off the board, and replaced by, respectively, John “USAgent” Walker, James “War Machine” Rhodes and Eric “Thunderstrike” Masterson. In that case, three white men were replaced by two white men and a black one (Rhodey). But they didn’t last, either – and nobody really expected them to.

Meanwhile, sales don’t bear out the “diversity” charge. Sure, America (starring a lesbian Latina) isn’t doing well, but neither is Guardians of the Galaxy, led by a white guy. Marvel’s best-selling books aren’t exclusively white, nor are they primarily diverse – Amazing Spider-Man and the X-Men books are among Marvel’s better sellers on a monthly basis, but Unbeatable Squirrel Girl does well in collections, and Ms. Marvel (starring a Muslim, Pakistani-American girl) stays alive due to digital sales.

Most people attribute Marvel’s big sales slump to other factors – mainly, Marvel’s awful marketing practices. For years, Marvel has been launching new first issues of all its titles, complete with gimmicks like variant covers, then canceling the titles a year or so in and doing it all over again. Some characters would literally have two or three first issues in a calendar year. This is terribly expensive for retailers, and after a while, even the fans begin to feel jerked around.

Content-wise, Marvel has leaned on massive, line-wide “event” stories that require fans to buy books they don’t want to get the complete story. Ongoing books can’t ever work up a head of steam, as they’re always being taken over by the “events” – and then launching over with new first issues, and often new creative teams.

Sadly, event-driven stories are unlikely to stop because – well, that’s about all that really sells well for Marvel, even though poor sales of the recent "Monsters Unleashed" and “Secret Empire” events indicate they’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. Of course, some of those lost sales were to people who were revolted by the Cap storyline, which had the Living Legend of WWII re-imagined as a fascist.

But here’s the good news: All of the major changes of the last few years are heading for a reboot. We know this because of Marvel Legacy #1, a 58-page, $6.00 book that came out Sept. 27.

And it’s really pretty interesting. Legacy introduces us to the “Prehistoric Avengers” – a group that fought a Celestial a million years ago. (Celestials are a gigantic, space-faring race that tends to wipe out civilizations it deems unworthy.) This group – consisting of Odin (before Thor was born), the Phoenix Force (long before Jean Grey), the first Ghost Rider (on a flaming mammoth), and a few other concepts that are effectively immortal – defeated the Celestial, and buried it in what would become South Africa.

Leap to the present, and guess what’s getting dug up in South Africa? I imagine it’s pretty grumpy.

Oh, and we learn something’s monkeying with the timeline. A “new” Avenger named Voyager has been added to the team’s history, and nobody seems the wiser.

Copyright Marvel Entertainment Inc.

Captain America will stop its current numbering and pick up with issue #695 in December, as Steve Rogers attempts to reclaim the shield and the country’s trust after a controversial “event” in which he was turned into a fascist. 

And did I mention Valeria Richards? The pre-adolescent, genius daughter of Reed and Sue Richards (Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman) has been missing and presumed dead since the 2015 “Secret Wars” event, along with her parents and brother, Franklin. But she narrates Legacy, teasing a return of the Fantastic Four just as the remaining pair, the Human Torch and the Thing, team up in an ongoing series titled Marvel Two-In-One.  

Meanwhile, Legacy checks in on most of Marvel’s major characters. And as you’d guess, the status quo and the original characters made famous by the movies are in process of returning – even Wolverine, who’s been dead for three years. But we’ll also have the new kids, and with luck, the best of both worlds.

Will that be enough to get readers excited about Marvel Comics again? Legacy is a sharp-looking package with some interesting ideas, but fans have already registered fatigue with constant events and re-inventions. Worse, Legacy will affect every book in the Marvel line, returning some long-running characters to “legacy” numbering (Avengers will re-launch at #672, for example), but quite a few others will start over with new first issues.

Can Marvel go to that well again?

That comes down to execution. Marvel has to decide if its true legacy is imagination and adventure … or events and sales gimmicks. A whole industry is hoping for the former.

Find Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), on his website (captaincomics.ning.com), on Facebook (Captain Comics Round Table) or on Twitter (@CaptainComics).

Views: 895

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Apologies Captain, I shall trouble you no more.



Captain Comics said:

Oh, here's a shock: Ron Morgan and Mark Ogilvie don't like Marvel Comics, and they will never read any more Marvel Comics, and they want everyone else to join them in hating Marvel Comics.

 photo deadhorse.gif

Jeff of Earth-J said:

If Marvel heard that fans didn’t want diversity I think they heard the wrong message.

The message Marvel should have heard was, "We don't want ALL of the star players offstage at the same time." Within the past four years:

  • Thor was replaced by Jane Foster.
  • Spider-Man was possessed by Otto Octavius.
  • Iron Man was replaced by RiRi Williams.
  • Steve Rogers wasn't Captain America, first because he got turned into an old man and then because they made him Stevil.
  • Bruce Banner was replaced as the Hulk by Amadeus Cho.
  • Wolverine was killed.
  • Cyclops was essentially turned into a villain.
  • The Fantastic Four was pushed off screen entirely.

What team would take all of its stars out of the lineup at once? What TV show would turn over its entire cast in one season? How come Marvel couldn't see that making all of these changes at the same time would be a problem?

If all or even most of the main players left a TV show it would just die, either right away or very soon.

Not only are the fans unhappy with all of their favorite characters being replaced, no one likes to feel manipulated. It is very obvious the fans are being manipulated. Lenticular covers? That worked so well just before their bankruptcy.



ClarkKent_DC said:

 What TV show would turn over its entire cast in one season? 

Doctor Who!



True but they expect that! And sometimes the companion is carried over like Rose and Clara.

The Baron said:



ClarkKent_DC said:

 What TV show would turn over its entire cast in one season? 

Doctor Who!



I guess for many years I’ve been a so-called “SJW.”  I’ve always hoped that Marvel would branch out and give us characters that appealed to various groups that I’m not a part of. It wasn’t necessarily because I wanted to read all of those stories. That would just depend on the creative team more than anything else. But I really felt like the key to the health of the industry was to broaden the audience. I still do. But I think that’s a long term strategy. You’ve got to give these characters time to carve out a soft spot in people’s hearts. When I was 5 or 6 years old, all of the characters were new to me.   The characters I was reading about could have all been replacements for older characters as far as I knew. But 40 years later, those characters are the classic definitive versions to me. But maybe not to a 70 year old reader.  And probably not to a 10 year old reader.

As Clark says, Marvel made a mistake by abruptly switching over to these new characters. It upset a lot of older readers. It angered and threatened a lot of closed minded readers. And it made the rest of us just kind of feel left out. Like the industry was trying to move on without us.  That was dumb. A new audience takes time to build and the old audience still has plenty of value. Marvel apparently didn’t realize that. Instead they bought in to the internet troll driven consensus that people don’t like diversity.

I like the idea behind Legacy.  I think Jeff is right. You can’t go back.  But maybe this provides a little bit of spark to get some of the older readers interested again.  After that, as usual, it’s going to be about the quality of the work.

Btw, I was looking at some of those lenticular covers.  I thought they were kind of neat. I hate them being used as part of a crass marketing strategy but they’re kind of interesting to look at.

But how many five-to-six years old are reading comics today? And on a regular basis? 

I feel bad for kids today. So much of what I enjoyed as a child is priced way up now. I used to get comics and paperbacks cheap at yard sales and thrift stores. Now they are expensive collectibles.

And that's if their parents want them to read comics. I have two sister-in-laws that FORBADE me from buying their kids/my nephews and nieces comic books and action figures. I suppose that they were afraid that they would turn out like me!

I think the lenticular concept for Marvel's Legacy covers is perfect -- homaging old covers and being able to shift back and forth between them? That's practically what the technology is for! But I think the way Marvel limited their availability to goose retailer orders (and most likely leave retailers holding the bag) is really short-sighted and money-grabby.



Philip Portelli said:

But how many five-to-six years old are reading comics today? And on a regular basis? 


Not enough. And I don't think they're reading Marvel. But I was surprised to learn the other day that there is a successful and long running "My Little Pony" series of comics. And probably some others I'm not aware of.



Detective 445 said:


Not enough. And I don't think they're reading Marvel. But I was surprised to learn the other day that there is a successful and long running "My Little Pony" series of comics. And probably some others I'm not aware of.

From what I've heard, My Little Pony has a much larger non-kid audience than you would think.

Detective 445 said:

I guess for many years I’ve been a so-called “SJW.”  I’ve always hoped that Marvel would branch out and give us characters that appealed to various groups that I’m not a part of. It wasn’t necessarily because I wanted to read all of those stories. That would just depend on the creative team more than anything else. But I really felt like the key to the health of the industry was to broaden the audience. I still do. But I think that’s a long term strategy. You’ve got to give these characters time to carve out a soft spot in people’s hearts. When I was 5 or 6 years old, all of the characters were new to me.   The characters I was reading about could have all been replacements for older characters as far as I knew. But 40 years later, those characters are the classic definitive versions to me. But maybe not to a 70 year old reader.  And probably not to a 10 year old reader.

I think the model DC used to establish Robin and Birds of Prey worked great. Both of those titles were not launched as ongoing series. Birds of Prey was introduced as a series of one-shots, and BoP and Robin were a series of miniseries, and were nurtured into becoming full-fledged ongoing books. Or, there's the example Rob cited above, putting Batwoman in Detective Comics, where she headlined a flagship title, but Batman is still available elsewhere. In the long term, it paid off, establishing Birds of Prey, Robin and Batwoman as major players.

As I've noted over here, what is somebody who wants to read a Captain America story -- one where Steve Rogers is the hero -- supposed to do when he's out of the book for months on end? First, he's not Captain America for a year or more because he's been turned into an old man, followed by another year-long story where he's the ultimate villain? There ought to be a way to explore those stories without taking the hero out of action for THAT long.

ClarkKent_DC said:

I think the model DC used to establish Robin and Birds of Prey worked great. Both of those titles were not launched as ongoing series. Birds of Prey was introduced as a series of one-shots, and BoP and Robin were a series of miniseries, and were nurtured into becoming full-fledged ongoing books. Or, there's the example Rob cited above, putting Batwoman in Detective Comics, where she headlined a flagship title, but Batman is still available elsewhere. In the long term, it paid off, establishing Birds of Prey, Robin and Batwoman as major players.

I was just reminded that Marvel used to have  try-out books (like DC's Showcase) called Marvel Spotlight and Marvel Feature where they would give a new character, spinoff character or totally new series two or more issues to gain readers. They could entice retailers to buy into it by making it 100% returnable. The non-returnability and the difficulty in finding comics outside of a comics store has painted the industry into a corner. Launching fresh new characters is also inhibited by the creators not wanting to lose the characters to a corporation.

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Welcome!

No flame wars. No trolls. But a lot of really smart people.The Captain Comics Round Table tries to be the friendliest and most accurate comics website on the Internet.

SOME ESSENTIALS:

RULES OF THE ROUND TABLE

MODERATORS

SMILIES FOLDER

TIPS ON USING THE BOARD

FOLLOW US:

OUR COLUMNISTS:

Groups

© 2019   Captain Comics, board content ©2013 Andrew Smith   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service