It’s the dog days of August, as the comics industry recovers from their big party at San Diego Comic-Con, while quietly prepping for the New York Comic Con bacchanal to come.

As I noted in a few of my post-Comic-Con rundowns, I was somewhat discouraged to see that the industry as a whole wasn’t able to take advantage of “The Comic-Con Without Media” to seize the moment with some headline-making developments. Granted, they only had about two weeks to pivot when the SAG-AFTRA strike made it clear there would be no big news out of Hall H. Big comics news that had been planned for a more propitious time couldn’t just be shifted on the marketing schedule. But the answer to “what was the big news out of Comic-Con?” is mostly a bunch of smaller stories.

It doesn’t help that the industry itself is in a slump at the moment. Sales haves slowed or (at best) plateaued from their Pandemic-Era highs, and while no comics publisher Funko’d it up, (expanding wildly and disastrously based on temporary sales patterns), no one (aside from some crowdfunders) is really whooping it up either.

It’s not a knock on the material. We’ve had so many great comics for so long that we take it for granted how much good stuff is out there.

But there’s no denying that the periodical business, which drives so much of the comics shop traffic, seems particularly tapped out at the moment, with price increases and a bombardment of variant covers and mini-series being loaded into a mason jar to turn into mush. And unlike my overnight oats, it’s not a particularly healthy diet.

Which brings us to The State of Marvel. I don’t read Marvel Comics regularly, so take this as an outsider’s perspective. But even as an observer, the State of the Big Two is still key to many readers and retailers and tends to drive a lot of the narrative. DC is bravely  hanging in there despite corporate contempt, and doing what they can. But what’s going on at the House of Ideas seems to have escaped much scrutiny. And the answer is: not much.

Marvel’s current malaise was spotlighted in a piece at SKTCHD, Marvel Might Be in Need of a Fresh Start. You’ll need to subscribe to read the whole thing, but even the teaser lays it out, starting with Marvel’s rather mid SDCC announcements – a return to Secret Wars, a new battle one shot, Greg Capullo’s return to Marvel .

These announcements didn’t build excitement; they made me ask myself a single question.

“What’s wrong with Marvel right now?”

I’m not the only one wondering that. It’s been a common topic of late. Whether it’s creators, retailers, or plain old readers, there’s a simmering sense of doubt and discontent with the direct market’s biggest publisher. In recent conversations about Marvel, words and phrases like “disillusioned,” “unfocused,” and “no identity” were pretty typical. It’s easy to see why when you look at the publisher’s current slate and those recent announcements. While there are good comics in its line, the whole just feels like a mess. The pervasiveness of that feeling has resulted in customer confidence fading, retailer skepticism rising, and general enthusiasm for the publisher waning.

And it goes on from there with many voices echoing this same sense of malaise. (SKTCHD auteur David Harper did follow up with a tribute to writer Jed MacKay as “one of the strongest writing talents in Marvel’s current mix, and someone deserving of the Avengers throne.) But this ennui is widespread. An informal poll of Marvel Rundown writers in the Beat slack revealed a general lack of enthusiasm for Marvel’s current slate similar to those expressed in the SKTCHD piece.

So what is going on at Marvel? Well, let’s start with a look at sales charts, such as they are. As I’ve noted many times, the lack of reliable sales charts is a big driver of the comics industry doldrums,  but ICv2 is doing the hard work of compiling charts from ComicsHub retailers. According to the latest report, here’s the Top Ten comics by units in July. 

1   Knight Terrors: Batman #1 (Of 2)   DC Comics $4.99
2   Amazing Spider-Man #29   Marvel Comics $3.99
3   Knight Terrors First Blood #1 (One Shot)   DC Comics $5.99
4   Knight Terrors #1 (Of 4)   DC Comics $3.99
5   X-Men #24   Marvel Comics $3.99
6   Moon Knight #25   Marvel Comics $9.99
7   Venom #23   Marvel Comics $3.99
8   Incredible Hulk #181 Facsimile Edition (2023 Printing)   Marvel Comics $3.99
9   Blade #1   Marvel Comics $4.99
10   X-Men Hellfire Gala #1 (2023)   Marvel Comics $8.99

DC is #1! Then some such regulars as Amazing Spider-Man (Zeb Wells/Ed McGuinness), X-Men (Gerry Duggan/Joshua Cassara), Moon Knight (that Jed MacKay/various), Venom (Torunn Grønbekk/Ken Lashley) and a Blade relaunch (Bryan Hill/Elena Casagrande). That a reprint of a 50 year old comic lands at #8 is kind of concerning, but all seems normal, and certainly some creators who haven’t been over-exposed.

Maybe that’s the problem. Too normal. Looking at the solicits for the month (heroically compiled by Joe Grunenwald every month) it’s a sprawling mass of variants, minis, crossovers, and reprints. An omnibus of the Fraction/Aja Hawkeye run caught my eye. Maybe it’s just these fractured times (or my own interests) but it’s been a long time since a run on a book got that degree of universal acclaim. Marvel’s recent shocking lack of success in the book market basically backs up that idea.

Marvel’s last big swing was the X-Men reboot led by Jonathan Hickman, colloquially known as HOX/POX, back in 2019. Of course, that was a different world entirely. And prior to that, Marvel relied on a series of annual “relaunches” that were pretty much the same, but had snappy (or repetitive) branding. As I noted at the time:

Adding to the ritual nature of these reboots, the timeline for Marvel’s last 9 months was known 9 months ago. I was informed by multiple sources, the minute Legacy was announced, that it was but a “placeholder” relaunch, and after it came out (and was expected to fail) embattled e-i-c Axel Alonso would be gone and a *new* event would unfold to clear the slate.

Everything came to pass exactly as foretold.

If you’re wondering why waste a reboot/relaunch on a non-starter like Legacy, well, so is everyone else, including retailers who have been complaining bitterly about Marvel’s haphazard business plan for years.

By contrast, DC has only relaunched three times since 2011.

Indeed, relaunches were a feature of the Alonso Era as editor in chief; since CB Cebulski took over in 2017, they’ve fallen out of favor.

Again, purely as an outside observer, you’d have to guess that folks inside Marvel are probably aware of these issues. I have no idea if executive editor Tom Brevoort’s announced move to the X-line is part of that, but the way that all rolled out was curious, to say the least. Brevoort’s initial hints about a big move were launched in his newsletter, with an interesting account:

So I wound up having a meeting with Dan [Buckley, Marvel’s presidentthis week, one in which he told me he was going to ask me to do something that I wasn’t going to want to do, and then proceeded through a combination of need, flattery, genuine admiration, duty and responsibility to get me to agree to take on the specific mission that he was hoping to entice me into. Seriously, I know something about pitching an idea to people, and this was like watching a world class hurler throw a perfect game.

It does sound like Brevoort was dragged kicking and screaming into the X-mansion from that account. But the vague-booking here led to a solid week of wild speculation from the ICC (internet comics community, mostly about Cebulski maybe stepping down as EIC, so Brevoort came clean in a FB post, and later his newsletter:

And while I’m sure that everybody is going to have a million questions about this, I’m not actually going to talk about it for some time yet—both because I have plenty to do in terms of wrapping up my current assignments and handing them over to others but more importantly, because the current X-creators and editors are in the midst of an epic and long-gestating storyline, and it’s only right that the spotlight remain on them. So I ask everybody to be patient for a while—I wouldn’t even have written the above except that I seriously underestimated the cyclone of speculation that last week’s Newsletter would set off. Seriously, there aren’t all that many of you guys, I foolishly didn’t think this would get so big so fast. As usual, I’m the chump.

While the reasons for the switch haven’t been made public, maybe it’s just a case of a fresh pair of eyes on mutants, or just giving everyone some new assignments to freshen things up.

And a deep-down yearning to freshen things up seems to be where everyone is at on this. Perhaps sensing the malaise, CBR took a stab at giving Marvel some advice, with Marvel Comics Needs New Imprints To Take Better Risks

So the main Marvel Universe might not be the best place to push forward with risky ideas, even though the company did so on occasion in the past. However, imprints have proven themselves to be valuable assets in this department and could provide the key to future success. While companies like DC Comics are being implored to bring back imprints like Vertigo, perhaps this same discussion should be had concerning Marvel’s upcoming slate. Returning and debuting Marvel imprints allow for freedoms that the brand currently doesn’t have.

Lest we forget, it was the Marvel Knights imprint of 1998 that pretty much kicked off the “modern era” or at least, post-sales crash era, of The Big Two. The Ultimate Marvel line was even more brash, with a whole new timeline, before that became just another forgotten morass of continuity.

Of course, Marvel has another problem in all of the yearnings for freshness: in 1998 it was just a comic book company; now it’s the biggest brand in the known human universe, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been driving the entertainment industry for about 15 years. The MCU itself is badly slumping, however, and it’s likely that Infinity War/ Endgame was the highpoint. Loki and Hawkeye might have been much needed distractions when we were stuck at home, but now even Disney head honcho Bob Iger has tapped the brakes.

The comics line has had an uneasy relationship with the MCU from the start. While you might wish for comics that tied in more directly with the most successful film franchise of all time, that idea never really worked, and vague tie-ins in general have fallen into disfavor universally.

A larger problem, and one that people brought up several times when I discussed this topic with them in recent days, is the inexorable ticking clock of demographics. Habitual periodical comics readers are old, and getting older. Younger readers have become accustomed to getting their comics stories in 200-page volumes (i.e. manga tankobon) created by a single creator (though often aided by an entire studio) with a single viewpoint, and a single ongoing story, for a reasonable price between $10-15. Either that or reading them in bite sized chunks on their phone for free or micropayments (generic webtoons.)

The comics periodical is a format whose primary market is comics retailers. Complaints about these newfangled stories by whippersnappers that don’t interest old time readers is nothing but the inevitable dulling of the senses when exposed to the law of diminishing returns.

The executives who run the comics industry are, by and large, an intelligent bunch, by normal standards. They are aware of the issues I just mentioned. But solving them is an ongoing process that doesn’t have an easy solution. You sort of have an industry based on marketing a nostalgia product, and that can’t be changed overnight.

But one part of that solution is creating an environment where new ideas can flourish. Barbie wasn’t Warner Bros. biggest movie of all time because it was a feminist take on a well known toy (although that didn’t hurt.). It landed because people were bored of everything else and they finally got something new.

Since Marvel Knights, both Marvel and DC have become increasingly editor driven in how they present all their stories. In some ways it’s the direct result of their place as cogs in the wheels of massive movie studio properties. I’m told things are a bit looser at DC these days, and Harper noted that in his Marvel piece:

The latter is connected to persistent creative losses at the publisher, as top names like Chip Zdarsky, Kelly Thompson, and Jason Aaron have seen their Marvel contributions wane and up-and-comers like Tini Howard, Vita Ayala, and Matthew Rosenberg have disappeared altogether. There’s been a quiet migration from Marvel to DC and other publishers, with few notable names replacing them. The impact of that brain drain is starting to be felt.

Harper ended where I’m ending: Marvel needs to loosen up and try new things and create an environment where creators can create. Brevoort taking on the X-men isn’t enough. Is there a way to allow more experimentation and new takes on Marvel’s characters? Will we ever see another Alan Moore arrive to stand what we thought comics could do entirely on their head? Would Rachel Smythe taking on the Avengers fix everything? Even the failures of such experiments would probably be more exciting than what we’re seeing now.


  1. I won’t get into what I think they should start doing, but there’s a few things they should stop doing (and they’re nothing new – everyone hates these):
    – Chill out with the variants. Remember 2 covers for #2s? That was a good idea. A variant for each letter of the alphabet is a terrible idea.
    – Stop promoting limited series as ongoing series. It insults the reader (also, if it’s a limited series, please give it a unique name. We don’t need three Alien #1s every year)
    – Stop the restarts. Even if you do have a new letterer

    Recovery cannot begin until you admit that you have a problem

  2. Seriously, how do we even recommend comics to new people anymore? There might be several recent series with the same name all starting at #1, each having a dozen or more different covers. It’s confusing for me and I’ve been going to comic shops for decades. How can I describe a series to someone new to it? Comics have long been hard to get into for a lot of people, they don’t know where to start. Now existing readers can’t even help them.

  3. Part of Marvel’s problem is their attempt to recreate their characters to tie into their MCU universe. Instead of creating a separate imprint of comics to act as a bridge between mediums, Marvel has forced the death of a major character (briefly) to make their profile more closely match their MCU equivalent. It’s forced story changes over short amounts of time that leave current readers scratching their heads and lacks necessary appeal to draw in new readers.

  4. Stop hiring writing professionals for other mediums. I like Cantwell, but some of these other established names do not write good comic stories.

  5. Give me C.B’s job. I could put together a team of 5 editors, 10 writers, and 20 artists and turn the entire Marvel line into something exciting and profitable in under a year. No one would bitch about it, they’d just buy it.

  6. Isn’t this all cyclical? It seems I’ve been reading this same “sky is falling” story about comics every 5 or 10 years since the mid 80s. Frankly, DC and Marvel should stop making new product all together and focus exclusively on collections, artist editions and omnibuses of their entire catalog, for history and posterity’s sake if nothing else.

  7. Content issues aside, is the traditional US comic a profitable publishing format any more, given rising print and distribution costs?

    Independent publishers here in the UK who have successfully utilised crowdfunding to publish their books, have seen how the rising costs of producing single issue, US format books is no longer sustainable.

    Cutaway Comics, for example, who publish Doctor Who spin off comics featuring characters from the series owned by the writers, has taken the decision to move to 48-page format books, to give readers more “bang for their buck”.

    In part, they’ve noted the success of manga in bookshops here, but in general the publisher feesl the classic US format comic is no longer a financially viable way to publish their stories.

    Perhaps US publishers are wondering about unit cost, too, and any “revamp” might not be in a matter of changing characters, but changing comic format, to survive.

  8. Dog Man, Raina, manga are super-successful in the U.S. The biggest comics publishers in the world are all manga. They are packaged way different than Marvel or DC floppies. DC is tepidly stepping into other formats, Marvel not so much.

    When Marvel Comics fails, it will be due to failure to read the room.

  9. I have to Point of Order you on the ICv2 chart, and to quote from it: “During the period for which these reports were generated, there were over 125 stores using the ComicHub system.”

    There are ~3200 DM accounts. A sample of 125 of them really isn’t statistically meaningful in my opinion.

  10. I don’t think they are interested in fixing their problems because that would rock their boat. I think it was on this site a year ago or soago I made a comment on one of your articles and some DC staffer called me old and claimed they were making more money than ever.

  11. As someone who stopped buying floppies in 1994, I can testify that the problems today still are, in order :
    1/ bad writing/pacing.
    2/ stiff non-dynamic art.
    which combine into incompetent storytelling.

    Back in the Bronze Age, anyone working in comics could write a complete story with a beginning a middle and an end in 12 pages.

    So :
    3/ no more “events”
    4/ remember that what Frank Miller and Alan Moore did in 1986 was satire, not a template for regular comics.
    5/ adopt the European BD business model, one Batman story in graphic novel form per year (preferably a good one).
    6/ or adopt the Japanese Manga business model, weekly serialisation then massive volumes for a low price.
    and finally :
    7/ make sure that your entire history worth of books is constantly in print at a reasonable price (Print on demand does that for you).

    that’s not hard at all.
    ’nuff said.

  12. The person above has some of the worst idea’s for the American Comic Book , that I have read in ages. The answer is simply give someone who loves the medium , the keys and let them drive the car. Jim Lee has done wonders for DC and the company morale in the publishing division. And it reflected in their increased output (and near-record profits)

  13. Here’s why. “Gang War”.

    Or “Secret War”. Or “Heroes Reborn”. Or any other storyline in the past few years that is simply a modern adaption of PAST STORIES. There are no new ideas.

    1) Event Driven- not accessible
    2) Expensive- too much per issue for as little dialogue as there is
    3) Retro- see above, doing a “Gang War” storyline in 2023 because they did one in 1988 is ridiculous
    4) Reboots- Another issue 1 for this or that character- it’s too much, and it’s too hard to generate excitement for this next volume

    They need a complete Editorial change. They need a marketing campaign to make Marvel Comics more accessible, available and affordable. Commercials, different avenues. No more rebooting a series every year or two. Less variant covers. These are very easy approaches.

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