Strange things are afoot at Marvel to say the least. Anyone who’s been paying attention is already familiar with the controversy surrounding the “Hydra Cap,” with ardent fans going so far as to boycott not only the Secret Empire miniseries but all Marvel products. Yesterday Marvel issued the following statement before the release of the first issue of Secret Empire – a statement only released to ABC< which is also owned by Disney.
“With Marvel Comics’ Secret Empire, the forces of Hydra have taken over and, due to the villainous actions of the Red Skull, have manipulated Marvel’s greatest hero, Captain America, and forced him to adopt their cause. At Marvel, we want to assure all of our fans that we hear your concerns about aligning Captain America with Hydra and we politely ask you to allow the story to unfold before coming to any conclusion. Your passion for the Marvel Universe is what keeps us going every day. We want to keep providing our fans with exciting adventures and presenting characters with dimension.
Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, will always be a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe who will stand up for what is right, and Secret Empire will be the biggest challenge Steve has ever faced. What you will see at the end of this journey is that his heart and soul — his core values, not his muscle or his shield — are what save the day against Hydra and will further prove that our heroes will always stand against oppression and show that good will always triumph over evil.”
In all my years as a comics reader, I don’t recall a publisher ever releasing a statement like this, especially right before the first issue. You don’t have to be the Inhuman Karnak to see the flaws in Marvel’s marketing campaign from it. While Marvel is finally taking the negative backlash seriously, it now faces the challenge of playing defense and doing damage control to deal with these offended readers. If people have to be told upfront that the the evil fascist villains will be defeated by Steve Rogers, there’s something very wrong going on.
As much as Marvel is trying to distance Hydra from any and all associations with Nazis, it only seems to be strengthening the connection. It also doesn’t help that whether intentional or not, much Nazi iconography and images have been utilized in promoting the series. The message gets even more mixed when you have the characters in the current season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television show point blankly say that Hydra are Nazis. So of course the story turns into a clickbait article title like “Captain America becomes a Nazi.”
It’s a fair assessment to say Marvel has been rather myopic in its marketing of Secret Empire and somewhat dismissive of the consumer criticism. As someone with a master’s degree in marketing, I’m a firm believer in the Outside-In marketing orientation where you develop a product based on the wants and needs of consumers as well as other information. As opposed to the opposite method, Inside-Out where you create a product based on essentially instinct and stay the course no matter what.
Marvel’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing David Gabriel has said the publisher will be taking a break from big crossover event books after Secret Empire. It will be interesting to see how Secret Empire plays out during the summer, particularly on the retail level.