283616Oh 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.

Wonkette captured the zeitgeist, while running one of our favorite photos ever:

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.

Picture 4

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.


  1. I’ve only been in the comics retailing business a little over 4 years (I was in middle school/high school during the 90s boom/bust), but don’t retailers have more tools at their disposal to help prevent another bust? We have Final Order Cut-off dates now, and (if we’re lucky) authorized returns. It seems that companies are taking some of the risk along with the retailer now.

    Also, as far as these big events bringing new readers? I can attest to Civil War bringing in multitudes of new readers (and returning readers) into my store. Many of these are now regular readers, ones that have signed up for pull-lists and are open to new titles and suggestions because they’ve been out of the loop for so long. I believe your rising tide theory. I see it all the time with movie tie-ins (V for Vendetta, 300) and big dumb events (Civil War, Cap’s death). They may not be snatching up Jeffery Brown’s latest or multiple copies of Fun Home, but the new customers are there. And that’s what we want.

    Also, for the record, we were caught with our pants down for this issue of Cap. I didn’t take Marvel’s warnings seriously and probably lost 30 individual sales on that issue from selling out so fast. Is that my fault? No. DC Infinite Crisis stunt left me with tons of Aftermath issues, so why would Civil War be any different. Was it Marvel’s fault? No. They can’t risk spoiling the big secret that’s going to lead to huge 2nd and 3rd printing sales, not to mention increased interest in Civil War trade paperbacks and the like.

    Ah, I’ve gone on way too long.

  2. I’m going to ramble:

    What publishers have to realize, when they do events like this, is that the comic may as well be the first issue. If an event like the death of Captain America is going to be a jumping on point for new readers, then they have to have an amazing follow up. Where does the story go from there? What happens next? Too often these events are like traffic accidents. You’re stuck behind a long line of rubberneckers, but once you get to the accident, you glance over, say “wow, that looks bad”, get your thrill of having seen the calamity, then speed up and pull off grateful that the traffic has thinned and that mess is all behind you. It ends with seeing what happened, seeing the event, as opposed to that being where it begins. It’d be a shame if this comic event turned out the same way: “Captain America was shot? I have to see it! Let’s go get a copy! Sold out? Try another store! Ah, finally! Oh, man, they totally killed him. Well, at least I got a copy, now back to my normal life where I’ll never think about this again.” Years ago comics would start with their first issue with a hook like the main character dying. Imagine that image of Cap on the stairs being the cover of Captain America #1, with word balloons from the characters saying “Oh, no! Captain America has been shot dead–and it’s only his first issue!” That stuff used to be cover material, the hook, and it was all about getting the audience to need to know what happens next. How many casual readers/spectators/normies are going to get hooked with the death of Cap and become regular readers because they need to know what happens next? How many, if they buy the next issue, willl get lost in all the references made to the previous 25 issues, not to mention all the other stuff going on in the Marvel Universe?

    I think I’m done. My point’s in there somewhere. I think it has something to do with me being fine with event comics, just that there rarely seems to be follow up to them that sustains the interest of new readers.

  3. Watch out, Heidi. Both McCain and Obama got in trouble for saying that our soldiers’ lives were being “wasted.” At this rate, you’ll never be president!

    Re: Palmiotti’s story … sure, but is it feasible or even possible to get that sort of mass market distribution for ONE issue of one comic? And if lots of comic book retailers were caught off guard by the demand, why would book stores, newsstands, and 7-11s think to suddenly stock their shelves with issues of Captain America #25?

  4. i find it telling that the same day that ny times reports the death of captain america is the same day that, buried in the back pages is the obituary of one of the most profound influences on popular culture, jean baudrillard. some how, i think that he would have liked being eschewed the cover for a fictional characters demise.

    also, these have been some really great posts on the state of comics, gns and story telling in general. thanks heidi.

  5. Note: because this posting is written and you can’t hear the tone of my voice, please don’t think that I’m being snarky, angry or attacking anyone. I’m just talking common sense in my soothing West Virginian twang. I’ve seen this happen many times in the last 20 years in comics.


    It all seems pretty simple from a marketing end.

    Joe Simon has come a bit too close in his bid for ownership for what will now be called “The Original Captain America”. I’d say after the creative/ownership deal with Superman a few years back that Marvel knows that the public always sides with the underdog creator, so they may be trying to distance themselves from that. Far fetched? possible, but you also shouldn’t count it out.

    Like the “Death Of Superman”, it can be a quick sales and publicity fix to try and throw some life into the character name. Check sales on Captain America, they haven’t been bruning down the house and the editioral offices have never understood why because “all of them in the office love it”. Well, they don’t buy the book. The readers do…or don’t in some cases. Sometimes its good to find out what your readers really want. Ed Brubaker is a wonderful writer and the art team on Captain America has always been A-List, but sometimes you have really talented folks on a project that do really good things, but…if it’s not what the readers, both vocal and silent, want for that particular character, then the sales don’t rise, they drop or just slowly slide. Like pizza, some folks just don’t like thick crust on their pizza.

    Outside the direct market publicity always helps when you have to answer to the corporate heads. Marvel can show all these clippings from “real news sources” and extend their job contract another year.

    Count on Captain America/Steve Rogers coming back. If the “new” version (If there is one), that will no doubt rise up doesn’t work out then like always, the original will return. In fact, count on the original Captain America coming back ayway. LICENSE.

    If the new Captain America is a hit then they’ll be more than happy to pat themselves on the back, take the money and THEN haul the original Captain America back.

    What’s next? Spider-Man making a deal with the devil? It’s entertainment. It’s comics. Anything can happen…and re-happen and so on.

    Your amigo,


  6. The problem with the “rising tide lifts all boats” theory in this case is that Marvel didn’t let us know about the tide at all. A rising tide can drown people, too.

    DC told us months in advance when Superman died.

    I could have sold 5 times the amount I ordered, if Marvel had told the customers about it beforehand.

  7. You know what pisses me off? That everyone and their brother has now ruined the issue for me. I’ve read all of this new Cap series (it’s been great, seriously), and I would’ve loved this payoff ending. But I get to work today and my assistant forwarded me a link about it with the subject “Captain America gets killed” or something. I haven’t even gotten to the end of Civil War, which was also spoiled for me. I’d love to go back to hitting the comics store every Wednesday, but Comic Cubicle in far off Williamsburg, VA (plug!) has been too good to me to not support.

  8. I’m a “new” comic reader. I read my babysitter’s ancient collection of horror/detective comics–which would probably be worth brazillians to collectors now–until we moved away when I was 9 (yes as early as age 7, I was reading about deadly jungle vines strangling women in torn blouses). After that I read some Archie Digests, but that was about it. Of course, that’s setting aside my interest in newspaper strips like Bloom County, Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes, as well as collecting (as I could afford it) Pogo. But I certainly wasn’t visiting any comic shops.

    That changed with the Hellboy movie, taking me right back to my babysitter’s living room floor on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Hellboy is practically mainstream, but Mike Mignola’s art defied my preconceived notions of what was going on in comics and prompted me to seek out other artistic and story-telling surprises in comics. This led me to a lot of independents (of very wide-ranging genres, not just horror/detective stuff).

    My focus on independents gave me the skewed impression that they had a good slice of the market, so I was surprised when I went to SDCC the first time and instead of finding them taking up 1/3 of the dealer floor, they mmmmaaaybe had 1/8. More than half was stuff that I still have no interest in to this day (though I sometimes read some Batman, but only once it’s collected). Yet Marvel and DC books seem to be the measure of “comics” by a lot of people to the disregard of all else.

    Speaking of collections, one thing I haven’t been able to completely accept as a new comics reader is the sales model of the serial pamphlet with a guaranteed TPB collection in a few months. I’m annoyed by the thought that I am expected to spend my money twice. If I can wait two years (or more) between Harry Potter installments, I can wait a few months for the TPB. Plus it drives me mad to spend $5 (CDN) to read for 15 minutes and then have to wait a month or two to find out what happens next. I’d rather read it all in one go for less money. I buy less popular or independent titles in pamphlet form (or cool mini-comic form in interesting envelopes or hand-screened covers) because I know sales of the individual pamphlets determine the longevity of the series and that it may be years before they’re collected or even never. However, when it’s a given that there’s going to be a TPB after 6 issues, why bother? I’m definitely more of a TPB/GN buyer than a true “comic” buyer checking my pull box on a weekly basis and I wonder how many others there are out there like me. The TPB market is also what the mainstream bookstores, book publishers, and libraries tap into and the format makes them seem somehow more “legitimate” than a flimsy pamphlet. I wonder if determining the popularity of a title strictly by serial sales when a growing number of people might be waiting for the TPB might be becoming detrimental to some titles.

    There’s so much speculation about who’s buying comics, who might buy comics, why they’re not buying comics, what stories/genres/formats might or do connect to which readers and why or why not, what floats whose boats… someone needs to commission a survey!

  9. Oh, and for those who think Marvel doesn’t have anything to follow up this issue with, hasn’t read the previous 24 issues of Cap. I’m dying to find out what Ed does with this…

  10. Brian, you get five seconds to think in this new Internet / Blogging world. By the time you actually re-read and edit what you’ve read or, god forbid, re-think your premise or re-read a book before you review it (to actually be able to absorb it), someone’s made you yesterday’s blog entry.

    Marvel should just eliminate the Direct Market altogether and send out comp copies to the WORLD. Then, we wouldn’t have Brian’s problem.

    I still remember being at the comic store – back when new comics came out of the Friday of each week – when The Guardian ate it in Alpha Flight and our dumb-ass, casual comic book reader friend said, “Who’s Mac?” Jerk!

    You make a good point, Brian, that (in our media saturated world where content is delivered – without much filitering – the second it’s created) avoiding “spoilers” is an art in itself. The Tivo/PVR teevee recording device is a wonder, but try going a few days without finding out from some other source what happened on Lost or Battlestar Galactica.

    How ’bout poor Heidi, who has to wait for the trade! :)

  11. Not when you’re responsible for the Demise of Venice, you won’t!

    I enjoyed your Batton entry from the 27th! Now I want to get my work incorporated into Supernatural Law!

  12. I like Beau Smith’s analysis… it makes sense.

    Perhaps he can shed some light as to why DC picked Superboy to become the big bad guy in the recent “Infinite Crisis” crossover.

  13. Yesterday I disagreed with you; today I have little to no idea what you’re talking about. Improvement? I’m not sure.

  14. Stopped into the local comics store (Cosmic) today to check the Death of Cap issue out, and had not realized there’d been such a run on the books — the owner said some people were buying on eBay, and calling and offer to buy, for upwards of $60. But he also said there would be plenty more copies available — a flood, actually, in a week.

    Ironically, I ended up buying Jason’s You Can’t Get There from Here — and was very happy to see it on the shelf. So, that was one more copy sold thanks to Cap… though I tend to pick any Jason book up eventually.

  15. I have been selling comics for 16 years and I gotta say that Brubaker has done a great job with Captain America. It has been a great read. He turned Cap into Jack Bauer or someone in a Tom Clancy Novel.

    I really feel that The Punisher will be the new Captain America (until Bucky takes over). He did pick up Cap’s cowl (maybe to sell it on eBay though).

    Assuming this is true, let me pose a question. Does anyone feel that Marvel (or Brubaker) is trying to make a statement about America and our little “war?”

    If Steve Rogers was a mirror of America in World War II. Does this mean that Frank Castle is a mirror of America today?


  16. Really? People give a shit about this? I have no interest whatsoever and am shocked that anyone else sees this as “interesting” but I’ve been wrong before.

  17. I have been reading comics since I was 11 years old, Cap was always a character near and dear to my heart, for those wondering if this is just a 1-shot gimmick… I doubt it… theres 2 “obvious” sucessors to Cap, one which will only last one or 2 issues, and they’ve already said that Bucky (The Winter Soldier) Barnes will be the focus for the next few issues… him and Nick Fury…

    Ed Brubaker is so protective over the Bucky character at this point, that its pretty obvious to me who takes his mantle… and Tony Stark will be puzzled, because not even SHIELD knows that Bucky is alive, except for Sharon Carter (Agent 13, who will be shattered), Nick Fury, and the Young Avengers. Bucky is also a lot more brutal that Cap was, and less brutal than frank Castle… a good happy medium, plus Bucky is the only person I could see even worthy of Cap’s mantle, and it seems to me that Cap’s death will have meaning for him, enough to make him want to serve his birth country *his way* again. Also a Patriot/Bucky teammup is just too cool to not see happen.

    While Caps death saddens me, especially as a Libertarian comics reader, I am interested to see where this is taken next… and in a year, Cap will be revealed to have been “assassinated” so they could quietly hide him away, as patrt of a plea bargain championed by Tony Stark….so that Cap’s good name will not be disgraced with a felony….

  18. Captain America, dead at 66. Co creator Joe Simon ( Jack Kirby co creator ) was quoted “It’s a hell of a time for him to go. We really need him now,”
    I am very impressed that the storyline deals with loosing our freedoms since 9-11, and Captain America’s true to character, revulsions to this attack on our civil liberties. Wow. The Marvel house of Ideas has gained my respect again.
    Yes we all know that super hero deaths are not permanent, clones, or a myriad of other resurrections are possible, but this super hero death is profound in the face of this new American Century, that has the PINAC group out to change it and the world. Make Mine Marvel.
    I devoted this weeks cartoon to Cap, see it at my website.