Maxing the mini: Marvel's accelerated use of the limited series

Here's a question for the Legionnaires: Is the mini-series the future of Marvel Comics?

They appear to be placing unusual bets on on it. I noticed this when I was forced to cut back on comics purchases, and decided to keep ongoing series on my pull list at the Local Comics Shop, and order mini-series and one-shots only from Westfield Comics. But while my stack at the comic shop has continued to decrease, my Westfield bill has remained steady -- despite a number of mini-series wrapping up. The reason? As various mini-series wind down, Marvel keeps adding more -- and not just easily-ignored books that don't much affect continuity like Pet Avengers Unleashed or Girl Comics, but minis that are virtually required reading to understand ongoing books that I'm already buying.

For example, take Incredible Hulk and Hulk, both of which I continue to buy. Currently there's the "Fall of the Hulks" storyline marrying the two, and there have been a couple of one-shots and so forth as adjunct reading. (Fall of the Hulks Gamma, Fall of the Hulks Alpha, Red Hulk, etc.). But as the story reaches its climax, a new crop of minis have come online, presumably also necessary to understand the story, including Savage She-Hulks, She-Hulk: Sensational, Realm of Kings: Son of Hulk, etc.)

But that alone wouldn't raise my eyebrows. What did was Ghost Rider.

In events last year in Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch found out new revelations about their transformations and the entity behind them: an angel named Zadriel, which planned to conquer heaven. Danny and Johnny teamed up to stop him, and the story reached its climax ... but not in Ghost Rider. Instead the ongoing series was put on "hiatus" while a six-issue mini-series called Ghost Riders: Heaven's on Fire -- indistinguishable from the ongoing in any meaningful way -- continued the story to its finish.

Evidently, Marvel felt like a mini would sell better than the ongoing title. There's no other explanation for Heaven's on Fire, since it took the place of Ghost Rider on the schedule, employed virtually the same creators, and could just as easily have contined as Ghost Rider. It probably took a little extra effort to re-name it, for that matter.

Now, Ghost Rider hasn't returned from hiatus, so evidently Heaven's on Fire didn't raise the numbers sufficiently. But that doesn't detract from my basic point, that Marvel felt a miniseries would sell better than a familiar ongoing.

And this is not the only place Marvel has placed that bet. For example, Black Panther has been replaced on the schedule by Doomwar, a six-issue mini which is simply Black Panther under a different title. Immortal Iron Fist went on hiatus for the Immortal Weapons miniseries (and never came back). Meanwhile, Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova are both going "on hiatus" after April, but the characters and their storylines will combine into the Thanos Imperative: Ignition one-shot in May, followed by the six-issue Thanos Imperative mini beginning in June.

And God help you if haven't read the bajillion "War of Kings" and "Realm of Kings" minis and one-shots from the last couple of years, as they are just as much required reading to understand Thanos Imerative as Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova.

Will Black Panther, GotG and Nova come back from hiatus? Your guess is as good as mine. (And my guess is "no.") But what's interesting is that Marvel opted to shift their stories from ongoing to minis, evidently in the hope of better sales for poor-selling ongoings. Meanwhile, other Marvel ongoings keep getting the axe: Ms. Marvel, Ghost Rider, S.W.O.R.D., etc.

So what's the deal, Legionnaires? Is Marvel slowly shifting to a trade-friendly line of minis over ongoings? I imagine flagship characters like Amazing Spider-Man will always have a monthly, even if it's just a "Marvel Adventures" title for kids. But outside of the big guns (basically those that have carried a title from the Silver Age to present), will we eventually see the bulk of Marvel's product be minis and one-shots?

And how do you folks feel about them? Which do you prefer: Ongoings or minis? Do you buy trades of ongoings? What are the trends here? Anecdotal evidence welcome!

Views: 75

Comment by ClarkKent_DC on March 11, 2010 at 7:10pm
Well, I'm not the typical customer -- just yesterday, I looked at my entire pull list and discovered I'm down to one, count it, one title from Marvel, Captain America. However, Captain America also recently went the route of going on hiatus for a five six-issue miniseries, plus a one-shot, that could just as well have run in the main title.

It certainly appears that's Marvel's approach. Now, do I prefer ongoings to minis? For Marvel's output, I guess I'd have to say minis, as what I've mostly bought from them in the past year or two was Marvel Divas and the Power Pack series of miniseries. Do I buy trades of ongoings? No, but that's because I'm something of a Luddite in that respect; I can't bring myself to think in terms of choosing to buy a trade instead of an ongoing.

But here's a question: Why is Marvel doing it this way?
Comment by Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) on March 11, 2010 at 7:24pm
One of the things miniseries have to offer is variety. DC has been going the same route, in different ways. Trinity, for example, could have just been called DCU -- it focused on Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, but there were large swathes of the story when those three weren't around, and other characters took center stage.

I expect Brightest Day to do the same thing. Beyond the bog crossovers, DC has been occasionally been putting a bunch of characters into a title, just for the length of whatever story they'd like to tell: The Omac Project, Villains United, The Rann-Thanagar War (and later Holy War, and later who knows what, since I stopped buyin' em). There was also a supernatural book, whatever that was called.

Now, a few of those books (notably Villains United, with the Secret Six) gave us lasting teams (the supernatural book also gave us the Shadowpact series, and I guess you could say the Checkmate book sprun from The Omac Project), but it's not a bad template (in theory, anyway): Tell a story, and use whatever characters you like. Want to do a Nemesis minseries? Why not call it Escape? A human Flame book, God help you? Call it Run. Emphasize that these are all books connected to a DCU event, rather than centering on a particular character, who may or may not have enough clot to sell a book on his own.

I'm not sure how those worked out for DC. I didn't pick up very many of them (aside from the original Infinite Crisis countdown series). But it seemed to be their guiding philosophy for a little while.
Comment by Doc Beechler (mod-MD) on March 11, 2010 at 7:31pm
I believe this is a half-step toward a world without ongoing series. A lot more people are buying their comics as trades and it's nice to have a complete story in each book. There will certainly be carryover, but the Harry Potter and Twilight kids will more likely pick up the new Iron Man book than single issue comic. And a longer file will sell better on Kindle or iPad.
Comment by Cavaliere (moderator emeritus) on March 11, 2010 at 11:03pm
I didn't realize this was happening, Cap. I knew about it happening to Captain America and, for the record, I hated it. That is, I hated the monthly being on hiatus for a story that could have been part of the series AND I may not have hated the story but I didn't enjoy it much. I'm reading Doomwar but didn't know that it was replacing Black Panther (which I don't read).

Is this the future? I don't know but I do oppose it. A monthly title should be--gasp!--monthly. As in every month. Silly me.
Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on March 12, 2010 at 8:24am
This is an interesting trend that has happened right under my nose but I didn't notice. Perhaps the reason I didn't notice is that it happened under my nose, but not in front of my face. In other words, the only Marvel ongoing I read these days is Captain America. I think Cap has already answered CK's question ("Why is Marvel doing it this way?"): "Evidently, Marvel felt like a mini would sell better than the ongoing title." In answer to Cap's question ("Which do you prefer: Ongoings or minis?"), I have always preferred a mix. the Marvel (or DC, for that matter) Universe has always been comprised of their "illusion-of-change" core titles, surrounded by "flavor-of-the-day" creator pet tiles interracting with the core.

That sounded cynical, didn't it? That wasn't my intention.

I buy mostly trades these days, but not necessarily collection of recent material. there's plenty of older stuff I haven't read (and prefer to today's comics for various reasons), plus older stuff I have read and do own but haven't read in some time and prefer to read in trade for whatever reason. I'll probably never stop reading comics completely, but my buying habits have changed drastically over the course of the past year or so.
Comment by The Baron on March 12, 2010 at 10:20am
I would think that by going solely to minis, they would lose they "continuing to buy a monthly out of inertia" buyers. But maybe there aren't so many of those anymore?
Comment by Luke Blanchard on March 12, 2010 at 10:22am
According to John Jackson Miller’s Comichron site, in January Nova sold an estimated 21,841 issues through Diamond, Guardians of the Galaxy 21,623, Ms Marvel 21,177, Black Panther 2 17,881, and S.W.O.R.D. 13,271. These cases look like cancellations because of sales. I don’t know at what point titles go into the red, but the publishers can have a good idea ahead of time that it’s going to happen.

The last issue of Immortal Iron Fist, #27, sold an estimated 27,365, but the previous issue sold 21,864. (I don't know why sales were up for #27. The price was a dollar higher.) Immortal Weapons started at 22,136 and ended around 15,504. The last issue of Ghost Rider, #35, sold an estimated 20,523, and Ghost Riders: Heaven’s on Fire debuted at 21,921 and was down to 15,128 by #5.

So sales-wise the minis seem to have picked up where the ongoings left off, with at best a small improvement at the start. I can't say whether they lost sales more quickly than the ongoings would likely have done.

The titles at the top of the charts tend to be ongoings or big event minis. In January Captain America Reborn sold significantly better than Captain America, but I think it qualifies as a big event mini.

Switching to minis for low-selling features would be logical if they sell better in collections and an ongoing would generate new material more quickly than the collections could keep up. In the Iron Fist and Ghost Rider cases, though, the minis appeared on heels of the ongoings.
Comment by Chris Fluit on March 12, 2010 at 2:47pm
Thanks for citing some numbers, Luke.

It looks like this is Marvel's newest stunt to sustain sales. It doesn't really surprise me. It's becoming obvious that re-numbering is losing its clout (whether that's a new number one, or an anniversary re-numbering to 200 or 500 or something).

It does seem to have some success. Sure, the regular issues of Captain America were back to where they were before the mini-series. But they weren't any lower. The mini-series (and the anniversary re-numbering) basically added eight months worth of increased sales.

It also looks to be somewhat successful for finishing up lower-selling series. Just cancel the series early and solicit the final arc as a mini-series. If it works, you can always come back with another volume because you demanded it. At the least, the final arc picks up a thousand sales or so and finishes higher than it would have otherwise.
Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on March 12, 2010 at 3:46pm
Initially I was going to say I would prefer a series of minis, but ultimately it doesn't really matter to me. It doesn't matter if you have a Ghost Rider ongoing or mini I'm not interested in the character, so neither one will get me to buy it.

I guess I would be more inclined to buy a mini if I had dropped the ongoing and then saw the mini I would be more apt to pick that up than pickup the ongoing again.
Comment by Cavaliere (moderator emeritus) on March 15, 2010 at 11:44pm
I was thinking on this. It seems that what Marvel & DC are following the examples of network TV. It seems like more and more TV series aren't making it beyond one year. Heavens, many don't even receive a full season. The networks do seem to be giving producers warning, though, so that stories can be wrapped up. The TV shows are, more or less, limited series. New TV series aren't ongoing, they are limited...and comics may be going the same way.

If this doesn't make sense then it will probably lead one to the conclusion that I shouldn't think and drive.

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