Oh boy, where to begin.
Marvel really lucked out with the Captain America news frenzy — either that or they were more canny than we ever give them credit for. A nation that still fears terrorist attacks behind every cartoon promotion and man with a magnet in his ass, a nation that would rather obsess over trailer trash singing stars and missing campers than admit that they are losing a pointless war and wasting the lives of our soldiers — this nation probably cannot help but feel some kind of psychic connection with the image of Captain America–CAPTAIN AMERICA! The guy who fought the Nazis!–lying in a pool of blood, stars and stripes, felled by a cowardly sniper’s bullet. As always, the fictional embodiment of what you fear helps you deal with those fears.
The stars-and-stripes-clad superhero has been deeply depressed since April 2005, when his manager convinced him to take part in a bizarre Pentagon propaganda stunt with since-deposed defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld — who was already widely considered a war criminal at that point.
The embarrassing press conference featured a glassy-eyed Captain clearly wearing a fake muscle suit to prop up his flabby frame and Rumsfeld staring intently at Spiderman’s penis — it was all so weird that Spiderman’s very public turn to fascism was hardly noted.
[LInk via John Jakala]
So yeah, killing Cap in this day and age was a no brainer.
And yes, we all know that he’s coming back. That’s part of the gag.
At the same time, the death of Captain America and resulting media frenzy couldn’t have come at a better time to illuminate (or even refute) some of the points I’ve been talking about for the past few days.
Okay, let’s begin. First off, it was amusing looking at all the headlines over the web yesterday. Every outlet from CNN to Nightline covered this story. A few of my favorites:
• Famous Comic Book Super Hero Is Killed Off
•Captain America shot dead at 66
and this guy, who knew what the people REALLY wanted, and joined them in one heady brew:
• Sexy ‘Idol’ photos, Captain America dies
Comics shops were a whirlwind yesterday; around 6ish I went into Hanleys across the street from the Empire State Building. I had some errands to run but thought it was worth checking out the scene. In short order I ran into Jose Villarubia, Gina Gagliano and Marc Wilkofsky on New Comics Day, but there were many other people in the store. Danny told me they had sold out of some 250 copies of #25 in 3 hours.
Seeing my dismay at not getting my OWN copy, a gloomy-faced middle-aged man told me that there wasn’t a copy to be found in the city. “I’ve been going around everywhere, but nobody has one,” he said, glumly.
“Are you a regular reader?” I asked, wondering if this was a would-be speculater.
“Oh yes,” he assured me, and yet not that convincingly. “But you can see what happens here.” And then, swear to God, he pulled out a copy of some CIVIL WAR tie in, and flipped to the back to show me some other view of the slaying. I didn’t catch exactly what issue it was.
“Thanks, if I need to read it I’ll just download it when I get home,” I said, truthfully.
Meanwhile, far from the madness of New York, Chris Butcher had a serene day:
So… we haven’t had anyone calling about Captain America #25. No passionate phone calls imploring us to hold them a copy. No “Is it True!?”. I’m almost disappointed, actually, because apparently that’s been happening a lot today everywhere else. What with the news and all. The thing is, we actually have plenty of copies of Captain America #25, and are in no danger whatsoever of selling out. Maybe that’s why we’re not getting those anxious phone calls? We’re not the store that sells out of event books on the first day? We ordered correctly the first time around? I dunno. Sometimes I miss the excitement of that sort of thing, but I guess I just like having the books in stock too.
I’m surprised normally astute Chris missed out on this, but the name of the series wasn’t CAPTAIN CANADA, der! The book on Cap has always been that he doesn’t have the foreign licensing possibilities of, say, the Hulk, because people in Latvia might not relate as well to a character named after another country. It’s like we would ever jump up and down for MISTER MONTREAL.
That brings us to the retail aspect of this. Although rumours about Cap’s demise had been epidemic for months, it hadn’t been officially announced. Retailers had no idea the issue would be such a watershed. Apparently, near #25’s final order cut-off date, Marvel Sales and Marketing veep David Gabriel issued a veiled warning “You’d better order lots of copies.” Gabriel knew that his message would go unheeded by some, and the issue was greatly overprinted, but it’s unknown if that was enough to meet demand. Retailers were mostly thrilled to have the influx of traffic into their stores, but there was some “Ben! Why didn’t you TELL me!” crying, too.
Here we see the retail system caught between the rock of trust and the hard place of information. Of course, if Marvel had come clean with retailers, someone would have blabbed, and today’s media storm might not have reached the Category 5 winds it stirred up. And yet, there is a certain “Boy who cried wolf” aspect to it, as well — Marvel urges retailers to take leaps of faith on lots of books, especially in today’s shock horror stunning surprise driven atmosphere.
But we’re not accusing Gabriel of any bad faith here. From what we’ve seen, Marvel handled this whole thing with a lot of savvy, certainly a lot more than when they got tons of mainstream press over Black Captain America and Gay Rawhide Kid back in the olden days.
Nonetheless, Jimmy Palmiotti’s comment indicates that many of the civilians remain ignorant of where to buy those goddamed comics everyone is talking about. It seems likely that wider distribution on March 7th would have sold more copies, but we’ll never really know how this could have been achieved.
Stepping back a bit from the macro, Captain America Media Day does back up my “a rising tide lifts all boats” theory. Spurge didn’t agree and I said I would explain why I believe this today, with timing and the news cycle on my side.
Now, as I stated yesterday, I don’t believe that merely putting more people into the proximity of Jason’s YOU CAN”T GET THERE FROM HERE will automatically sell more copies of Jason’s book, although foot traffic never hurt anyone. People who want to buy the issue where America, er, Captain America dies will 95% of the time not suddenly decide to purchase a copy of FINDER on the way to the checkout. BUT there are many benefits for all to the increased interest from both the media and the public in sequential storytelling.
#1: Like I said, getting more people into stores is always good. Keeping them there is another matter — see Free Comic Book Day — but you’ve got to get customers into the store to begin with. Things like the Death of Superman and The Death of Cap are flukes, and the retention rate may be 1% for all I know, but that’s still growth. The industry needs to work better on keeping more of these fluke consumers, of course — get from 1% to 5%.
#2: Increased media awareness generally shines a spotlight of prestige over all aspects of comics. I suspect I will get some argument on this one, but as someone who has been tracking media mentions of comics for five years straight, there has been a definite snowball effect, from early “novelty” adapters, to putting comics on the regular beats of most magazine and newspaper entertainment sections.
This shift from fan fringe to acknowledged entertainment medium didn’t happen over night, and we still need the finishing touches, but to a general audience that has vague comprehension skills at best, the more we hear how important cartoonist/graphic noveler Frank Miller is, the more the subliminal message that all cartoonists/graphic novelers are important is planted. This kind of steady growth in recognizability doesn’t last forever, and eventually tails off. But it’s something EVERYONE can take advantage of to some extent.
#3: The more money in the room, the better. If stores make a lot of money on CIVIL WAR maybe they can spend some money on a price scanner, or better signage, or an ad, or some other improvement. In short, anything that enhances the overall retail environment enhances everyone’s products.
If I seem to be spelling out the obvious, I’m sorry, but I know many people doubt the rising tide theory. The effects in general are subliminal, and need to be better taken advantage of, rather than being a straight boost to the bottom line. But there’s something there for everyone.
Anyway, it will be interesting to see where we go from here. The Death of Superman is now regarded as the beginning of the end for the 90s comics boom. So much money was out there being spent by speculators that the bubble was bound to burst.
Will the Death of Cap be a similar high water mark for the New Paradigm? Is it all downhill and lowering tides from here? I honestly do not think so. The base is a lot wider and more stable than it used to be, with revenue coming from different channels and material. There was doubtless some speculation over CAP #25, but even from the people I talked to, there seemed to be much genuine excitement over the event nature of this happening. People seemed to care about the story, or at least its symbolic meaning. Certainly the comics moles in the mainstream press, from the Daily News guy to the New York Times George Gustines, treated the story with respect.
Is it all silly? Yes. Cap will be back. America will rise again. Marvel will ship late books again. The tide will ebb and flow, inexorably.