By Brian Hibbs

IM 593 REGULAR coverThe solicits for August 2017 Marvel comics have finally been released – the start of “Marvel Legacy” – and I think it is now fair to ask if Marvel actually hears or heard any of the criticism of their line over the last few months.

People have complained about (among other things) the lack of “the real” Marvel characters, about over-expansion watering down the line, about tired creative teams who should be replaced, and about a reliance on gimmicks over substance. And, based purely on the solicitations, Marvel does not immediately appear to have taken virtually any of these points to heart.

Let’s take those more or less in order, starting with “the real” Marvel characters. Now I, for one, find this particular complaint pretty drastically overblown: despite the new consensus of the internet, I would argue to you that characters like Tony Stark, Steve Rogers and “original Thor” are actually really uninteresting characters who have, largely, outstayed their welcome – there’s a reason that these characters keep getting replaced with new versions again and again and again: unless you’re exclusively mining nostalgia, it’s hard to keep these characters fresh and relevant at all. Watch and see: after they come back, some creator will be trying to replace them again within five years. It happens every time.

- Advertisement-

If anything, I think Marvel’s actual mistake was having all of those characters off-stage at the same time – you look around the “Marvel Universe” and you recognize almost none of the characters… well, that’s jarring. But it isn’t true that the OG versions are inherently fascinating enough to freeze them in amber, in my considered opinon.

Either way, that was what people are saying that they wanted: “the real” versions back. But reading these solicits, it doesn’t appear that any of the characters are back in these “Legacy” renumbered comics – yes, it looks like they’re setting up stories where they will come back eventually, but they’re not back here at the time of the actual repositioning itself. Here’s the text for, say, Invincible Iron Man #593: “THE SEARCH FOR TONY STARK Part 1 Tony Stark has vanished! The mystery deepens as Stark friends and foes must decide, finally, who will wield the power of Iron Man! All the contenders are in position, and all the armor is polished. There can only be one Armored Avenger! The path to the most startling Iron Man story ever begins here!”

This would appear to be clearly saying that while Tony is coming back, he isn’t in this comic book. I’m going to assume he’s going to show up again probably just in time for “issue #600”, because: comics. But what’s the reason for a reader who has decided he doesn’t like the current direction of “Iron Man” to jump on here at this “jump on” point? Not only is the comic seemingly not giving them what they asked for, it’s doing so under the exact same creative stewardship that has already driven them away from the book.

Think that is strong words? Well, here’s “Iron Man”’s sales arc over the last while (thank you Xavier Lancel for making the chart, and ICv2 for the numbers)

06/14 Iron Man v6 #28 – 28,027 ( -0.9%)

06/15 Sup. Iron Man #9 – 33,989 ( +6.2%)

10/15 Invincible Iron Man #1 – 279,514

10/15 Invincible Iron Man #2 – 66,664 (-76.2%)

11/15 Invincible Iron Man #3 – 59,069 (-11.4%)

12/15 Invincible Iron Man #4 – 57,639 (- 2.4%)

01/16 Invincible Iron Man #5 – 49,225 (-14.6%)

02/16 Invincible Iron Man #6 – 63,234 (+28.5%) (War Machines)

03/16 Invincible Iron Man #7 – 57,972 (War Machines)

04/16 Invincible Iron Man #8 – 46,520 (War Machines)

05/16 Invincible Iron Man #9 – 49,334 (+6.0%) (CV2)

06/16 Invincible Iron Man #10- 49,141 (- 0.4%) (CV2)

07/16 Invincible Iron Man #11- 49,439 (+0.6%) (CV2)

08/16 Invincible Iron Man #12- 50,571 (+2.3%) (CV2)

09/16 Invincible Iron Man #13- 48,394 (- 4.3%) (CV2)

10/16 Invincible Iron Man #14- 43,888 (- 9.3%) (CV2)

11/16 Invincible Iron Man # 1- 97,713

12/16 Invincible Iron Man # 2- 81,271 (-16.8%)

01/17 Invincible Iron Man # 3- 44,184 (-45.7%)

02/17 Invincible Iron Man #4- 36,600 (-17.2%)

03/17 Invincible Iron Man #5- 38,746 (+ 5.9%)

04/17 Invincible Iron Man #6- 31,561 (-18.5%)

05/17 Invincible Iron Man #7- 28,266 (-10.4%)

Those numbers look awful, the book is cratering and the audience isn’t interested in it, delivering some of the lowest “Iron Man” sales of all time – so why is this specific “legacy” iteration going to be any different?

tilt261-pq1.pngIt isn’t just “Iron Man”, of course – of the twenty-nine “Marvel Legacy” comics on the August order form, only two are entirely “new” series (“Falcon” and “Spirits of Vengeance”), and of those remaining twenty-seven, only a single one has a different writer in place (“Cable”, replacing James Robinson with Ed Brisson… in a move that seems like it was going to happen with or without “Legacy”) than it did two months before. And virtually every one of those comics has a similar sales trajectory.

Keeping the creative teams the same seems… well, strange to me. Marvel has reached a point with its publishing program that it has chased enough readers away that the don’t have a single ongoing Marvel Superhero comic that is not a first issue in the month of June that even sold 60,000 copies. If you told Jim Shooter or Tom DeFalco that, I suspect they might laugh in your face (books that sold under 100k back then got the axe!)

So, if you’re flopping on that level, why on earth would you stick with exactly the same creators in exactly the same iteration of titles? I’m not saying “get rid of X!”, but at least change up who is doing what book to bring some fresh energy in.

Here’s your kicker, for all of these new “Legacy” books, Marvel has set a target number of sales that it expects – and also that gates things like certain variant covers – and Iron Man’s reads like this: “Meet or exceed 225% of orders for Invincible Iron Man #7 [MAR171004] with orders for Invincible Iron Man #593 regular cover” Two hundred and twenty five percent, oy!

Now to be fair, Marvel does often downgrade such ambitious targets in the face of retailer incredulousness, and there are some indications that something is going to happen with these targets as well, but in all official documentation available to me today Marvel is claiming that we should more than double our orders for something that essentially the exact same product as it was the month before. The current lowest percentage for any of the “Legacy” books is 125%. The highest is 250%.

What does meeting that gate get you? Well, again, this is only for now, because Marvel has this nasty nasty habit of changing and adding permutations as we get closer to “Final Order Cutoff” (which sucks because that means as a retailer you have to do your math and calculations multiple times unless you don’t place “initial orders” [which can carry its own consequences, see below]) – but currently if you meet that gate, then you’ll be allowed to order 1) “INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #593 DAVIS LH VAR LEG” (which despite lack of that word in the actual product name is the “Lenticular Homage” Variant) 2) “INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #593 ZDARSKY HOW TO DRAW VAR LEG”, and if you “only” match 200% of your orders, then you get blessed to be able to order 3) “INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #593 TRADING CARD VAR LEG”. This doesn’t include the 1:10 and 1:50 covers. Three of these five covers don’t even yet have art for which a retailer can base a decision upon, either!

But, in short if you don’t order 225% of a previous issue of “Iron Man”, then you are not allowed to order any copies of those two variants. None at all.

Now the Lenticular covers are fairly new – in fact, originally the announced plan was to simply have a “Homage” variant for each “Legacy” book. The one for IM #593 is a call-back to IM volume 1 #150. These covers were originally announced as not being lenticular at all, and, oddly, the lenticular is a replacement and not an addition – there’s no longer a non-lenticular edition of any of them.

But the thing is: Lenticular covers (like those on DC books like the whole “Villains Month” stunt a few years back, or more recently on “The Button” storyline) are very popular with customers, to the point where it is my experience that if the lenticular is available, the vast majority of customers prefer the “fancy” one. And in the case of the Marvel “Legacy” covers, this should be even greater because the Lenticular has the same cover price as the regular edition. From a particular POV, the “regular” cover is now far far less desirable as a result.

But again, you can’t order any copies of the lenticular of “Iron Man” if you don’t order 225% of the regular one.
Another problem: this kind of line-wide stunt really becomes an “all-in, or stay out” kind of program – it simply isn’t rational to think you can carry a few of the lenticular covers, but not all of them. That’s not how audience response works. If you buy-in, you have to buy-in across the board.

You’re not even a comic book retailer, and you see the conundrum, right? If you get 225% of the one you can order the other, more desirable version, but then you lose pretty much any demand for the “regular” edition in the first place, even if you can sell 300% or more of the fancy version. Literally, you are being asked to purchase comics you can’t sell, in order to gain access to comics that you can. While a small handful of people are willing or able to buy multiple copies of the same insides, the largest majority of customers just want a single version to buy.

That’s madness.

Compounding this situation, Marvel has also announced that you can not receive your regular discount on the Lenticular edition – a massive break from decades of business. Instead, your discount is capped at 50%, removing up to nine percentage points of margin from their largest accounts. That doesn’t necessarily sound like much to the lay person, but please let me assure you that those points of margin are where the actual profit (if any!) of selling comics comes from.

tilt261-pq3.png

And let’s compound it again: Marvel is also saying that it can only guarantee orders for those covers that are placed by the Initial Order deadline of August 24 (again, these are books shipping in October) – anything placed after that date, even if it is before “Final Order Cutoff” dates in September runs the risk of being allocated. This gives very little time to figure out what you need, and, in fact, runs entirely contrary to how a significant number of retailers now do business.

When you add these things together, it’s very hard to see how a store can stock the lenticular covers in a way that is profitable, unless their intention is to mark them way up for the aftermarket. In fact, that becomes almost a self-reinforcing principle since it seems clear to me that a significant number of stores in any given market are going to opt out of stocking the lenticulars at all because of the low chance at making a profit in a non-mercenary way. This, in turn, increases the demand at the places that do have them, and nearly guarantees that these comics will be speculator-bait and chum for a frenzy as a result. At least one prominent retailer has already openly embraced such a plan, gleefully saying that he intends to sell these for double cover price to all of the customers the less ethically-challenged amongst will be turning away.

And it’s not like he doesn’t have a point – there’s a clear opportunity to profit here that becomes inherently self-reinforcing.

The question for me always becomes: what is the publisher trying to accomplish? Marvel clearly knows, has known, and probably always will know how to sell a speculator-bait launch or first issue. Look back at that “Iron Man” chart – almost two hundred and eighty thousand copies of that first issue in 2015 on the market for a book that clearly had a long-term audience of less than a quarter of that. That’s all from variants – it had a 1:15, three different 1:25 variants, and what looks like no less than four different “beat this threshold to order any” covers (it was 160% of “Old Man Logan” #1 back then) There was also a one-per-store “party” variant, and a number of store-exclusive covers as well.

So they know how to sell a first issue – and these lenticular are going to sell to the national market like a house on fire because they are speculator-bait – but how do they sell a fourth issue? Marvel kind of sucks at that.

For “Legacy” to be a success (a success that the market needs right now!), Marvel needs their lapsed readers to come back. And the problem that I see is that selling the flash and sizzle as the main selling point is sure to induce a speculator frenzy, but will do very little to bring back the lapsed. We’ve played this song before. Played it to death, and the audience doesn’t want to hear it any more.

But again: who is Marvel trying to attract? If it is speculators, they’re set. But if it is the lapsed reader, creating a speculative product that the market doesn’t have easy and equal easy and simple access to seems like entirely 100% the wrong tack to take.

It seems to me that all the talk of a new direction with “Marvel Legacy” is actually yielding very little change at all – in fact, most of the comics that are going to the same comic they were going to be before this rebranding effort was pitched. Sure, there might be certain storylines that have been pushed back or forward as a result, but there’s not the level of wholesale change that the audience appears to be demanding.

Right now “fancy” covers are trying to cover a multitude of underlying problems with the actual core product.  This is not the first time such a thing has been tried, and I still have vivid memories of the last time when the entire market almost collapsed when the customers woke up one day and said “this is shit, we don’t want this any more”.  I wish I can remember who it was, but I remember talking to a retailer who told me they had built a literal chair out of the leftover copies of “Adventures of Superman #500” they had; with similar stories about just how many unsold and unsalable copies of “Turok” #1 were left over.  Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it, and while I’m hopefully we’ve wised up as a class to not fall down that same rabbit hole again, when I see Marvel’s August plans, added to DC’s August books with foil covers (three), Lenticulars (two) and even a glow-in-the-dark cover I think “Damn, we’re there again, where greed and glitz has overwhelmed common sense.”

That time of the crash and the few years after it was dire for comics, and this time is likely to be significantly worse, as we don’t have a core of books selling at 100k or more to keep things propped up.

I think it will be great for them if Marvel sells a bunch of dollars of comics in October thanks to manipulative processes designed to get the greedy moving – but it won’t mean a damn thing if come January “Iron Man” is back to selling under 40k again because speculator bait never ever has led to stable long-term growing sales.

Until Marvel is willing to think about the long-term steps needed to right their ship they’re going to remain in danger of collapsing the entire market; and there is literally nothing they’ve shown us from “Marvel Legacy” so far that doesn’t literally feel like rearranging the deck chair on the Titanic.

I hope to god I’m wrong; otherwise 2018 is going to suck.

**************************

Brian Hibbs has owned and operated Comix Experience in San Francisco since 1989, was a founding member of the Board of Directors of ComicsPRO, has sat on the Board of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and has been an Eisner Award judge. Feel free to e-mail him with any comments. You can purchase two collections of the first Tilting at Windmills (originally serialized in Comics Retailer magazine) published by IDW Publishing, as well as find an archive of pre-CBR installments right here. Brian is also available to consult for your publishing or retailing program.

61 COMMENTS

  1. That’s the sad thruth.
    Everyone can see the wall in front of them blocking the alley but instead of turningor putting on the brakes, they speed up toward the wall, expecting to make it disapear…

  2. I realize I’m no longer typical, but I had my fill of event-based marketing and gimmick covers a long time ago. The only Marvel titles on my current pull list are Ms. Marvel, Silver Surfer, and Unstoppable Wasp, and I might add Saladin Ahmed’s take on Black Bolt. In every case, it’s the quality of the creators’ work that attracts me, and the fact that these titles rarely do event tie-ins. (My pulls also contain almost no DCs right now. My dominant publisher is Image.)

  3. I’ll grant you Thor, with whom I’m not sure anyone has really had much of a handle on since they ditched Don Blake as an alter ego, but Tony Stark had a pretty nice run in the 70s and 80s as perhaps Marvel’s leading second tier character and look no further than the Captain American movies to see that Cap can be interesting.

    And the difference between what DC did in its most recent relaunch and what Marvel is doing now seems to boil down to DC still being run by people who care at least a little about publishing comics, while Marvel is nothing but an intellectual property warehouse. I mean, DC may keep pushing the Latino kid version of Blue Beetle, but at least they don’t do it with the exact same creators. Marvel still pretty clearly is operating under the Quesada/Marvel Knights-era mindset where editorial sees itself more as enablers of particular creators rather than the people actually in charge of producing comics.

    Mike

  4. It sounds like the kind of thing you can’t do unless you’ve got your customers held firmly by the genitals.

  5. What worked about DC Rebirth was that most of the books were turned over to new creative teams and they actually did reassess the changes in storyline that fans were unhappy about. Marvel Legacy seems like a whole lot of nothing, except for trying really hard to push sales. Without the renumbering and the variants it’s basically “okay, just another month of new comics” instead of “wow, they’re really going in a new direction!”

    @MBunge – How is DC’s Blue Beetle similar to things Marvel is doing right now? Not trying to sound antagonistic, just unsure what point you were making by mentioning it.

  6. Buying 4 titles from the same company sounds like you are a fan of theirs. Must you buy 50 titles to be considered ‘hooked’?

  7. Josue: They’re Aug17 codes, in the Aug previews, so, no, I meant what I said.

    Mike: RE: Cap movies, I find it telling that each one has been *radically* different from the others — WW2 period piece, 1970s government thriller, crossover fight scene. I think this reinforces my point, rather than weakens it :)

    -B

  8. “How is DC’s Blue Beetle similar to things Marvel is doing right now?”

    The new Blue Beetle was obviously an attempt to take an existing intellectual property and reboot it, rather than create a new character. And given how quickly and extensively the new Latino Blue Beetle showed up in other media, it seems almost as obvious there was much corporate as creative input into that decision to reboot, especially since they’ve stuck with the not-all-that-successful reboot in the comics rather than going for the big nostalgia pop and bringing back Ted Kord.

    None of which is meant to imply there’s anything wrong with Latino Blue Beetle, only that the same intellectual property warehouse thinking applies. But at least when DC cancels and then relaunches LBB, they put a new freaking creative team on it because they actually care about trying to make a comic that might sell. That’s a publishing instinct that appears to have been removed from Marvel’s DNA.

    Mike

  9. “I think this reinforces my point, rather than weakens it :)”

    I don’t think anyone would put Steve Rogers in the same category as Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne as far as interesting and compelling characters go. But whether it was teaming him with the Falcon in the 70s, Mark Gruenwald’s inspired run many years later or some other notable high points, you may have to work a little harder with Cap but there’s still something worthwhile there.

  10. @MBUnge: When you say new Latino Blue Beetle, you do realize Jaime Reyes was introduced in Infinite Crisis more than a decade ago and this current volume is his third, right?

  11. There is absolutely NOTHING “boring” or “irrelevant” about the original Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. What’s boring is these repetitive gimmicks that Marvel keeps using with them in lieu of engaging stories. Let these heroes be who they are and find stories that are worthy of them, and you’ll see fans signing on and sticking around. I expect the upcoming Captain America stories of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee will remind us of that–again.

  12. “When you say new Latino Blue Beetle”

    Sue me, I’m old. The Ted Kord Blue Beetle debuted in 1966, debuted in the DC Universe in 1986, then was croaked in 2005. Jaime Reyes debuted in 2006. That makes him “new” to me.

    And the Latino label is because, let’s be honest, the ethnicity of Jaime Reyes is the only reason the character exists. I’m not denigrating the quality of his stories but White Blue Beetle became Latino Blue Beetle solely because DC wanted to add a Latino character to its intellectual property warehouse.

    And the fact that Latino Blue Beetle has already had two series cancelled for low sales and a third that looks soon to follow in just 11 years and there’s no indication DC is going to bring back Ted Kord if for no other reason than nostalgia, seems to indicate that DC values Latino Blue Beetle for the “Latino” more than the “Blue Beetle.”

    Mike

  13. My guess is, DC values the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle because he was front and center in the Young Justice cartoon, a series that is coming back later this year. He’s the most recognizable version of the character to the layperson thanks to that series. He also is a playable character in Injustice 2.

    Also Ted Kord is in the current book as Jaime’s mentor, so he’s already been brought back to some extent, just not the star of the book. Which by the way, the new volume was launched with Keith Giffen as the writer, the co-creator of the character, so they didn’t really stray too far from his initial creative team, in at least one facet.

  14. Here is what I think the reason is for Marvel’s terrible sales and DC’s as well. Yes. DC as well. Look at DC’s sales now compared with DC’s sales at the end of New 52. Done yet? Yeah. Most of the DC books are already at, or below New 52 levels with the rest of the line headed that way fast. Why is nobody talking about this?

    Anyway, the problem with DC and Marvel sales is super-heroes. They are boring. They have been around far too long and any story that could be written using said super-heroes has been told countless times over and over.

    Here is a current example:

    Last night I read Marvel’s Generations Hulk book. Spoiler ahead:

    Out of the blue the two Hulks meet. Within a page or two they are beating the snot out of each other. After a needless and pointless fight they have to stop and team up to defeat another menace just suddenly appearing out of the blue. After they deal with said menace they sit down and wax poetically about the curse of the Hulk. Wow. How original is that. Zzzzzzzzzzz……..

    I was worried that I under ordered this book. Thank God I ordered it just like Totally Awesome Hulk. It is terrible. Like I keep saying, Marvel is not coming back.

    Make mine an Image graphic novel!

  15. The Jamie Reyes Blue Beetle has been a huge flop for DC (partly because of the disgraceful way DC killed Ted Kord off). The extent of his failure can be seen with the way he was rejected on Brave and the Bold, both by fans and by the writers on the show. Campy Aquaman didn’t happen by himself; he rose to be the breakout character because no one liked Jamie; hence why Jamie got downplayed after season one built him up as much as they did and the more popular Aquaman got made the secondary lead on the show. Not to mention the show going out of their way via time travel and flashbacks, to bring Ted Kord into the show.

    That being said, Geoff finally ate crow and brought Ted back/made him a major figure in Jamie’s latest book. Which ironically, has ensured that Jamie’s newest book has been received far far far better than his previous failed runs. Granted, Geoff’s hate boner for JLI is still showing (him continuing the character assassination of Max Lord, forcing DC to run yet ANOTHER random roster generator produced JLA spin-off rather than just freaking giving the JLI their own book) but it shows that DC at least learned from THAT brainfart after repeatedly damaging the Blue Beetle IP. .

    .

  16. How do you combat this as a retailer? Can you combat it? Do you resist and just buy the minimum? Do you take a stand and just not get the lenticulars? Or do you just bite the bullet and ride the storm out?

    Marvel only sees big orders as reward, not blackmail.

  17. I can’t afford comics right now anyway, but I think marvel has gotten to the point where they are just too arrogant to imagine anyone not buying their comics.

  18. Marvel considers their heavy hitters to be things like Thor, Iron Man, Spider Man, Captain America, the classic titles they have had forever. I buy none of these with the exception of the new Spectacular Spider Man which is excellent My Marvel books are things like Squirrel Girl, Nick Fury, Black Bolt and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. For team books it’s Uncanny Avengers and Generation X. See the pattern? For the most part they do their own thing and are great books. The Marvel Universe at large has little, if any effect on them. The main books are junk and will continue to be so until major changes that are never going to come. Marvel has always had some great, wonky fringe books and that’s what I like about Marvel Comics.

  19. There’s nothing marvel can do to make me return to buying their books. the editors/writers at marvel through twitter and their books have made it pretty clear they despise the straight white male readership, so I don’t see why I should keep them in employment by buying their books

  20. As a retailer, all you can do is order the books you can sell. The Marvel policy of basing variants on doubling previous sales numbers on a title has always be asinine. I like that because we tried to push a big new storyline earlier in a series that didn’t pan out, we are extra punished for future books.

    I would love to order copies of these lenticular covers, but because each renumbered is just the next part of an existing story we know exactly what it should sell. Without the lenticular covers to lure in speculators I can’t imagine selling more than a handful of extra copies, if that. We never charge much above cover price for variant covers these days, unless it is something like a 1-25 or higher. That all you can order books we have always sold at cover price. We might sell out at that, but it is way better that getting stuck with a short box of garbage that may not even sell in the quarter bins.

    Another problem I have with the renumbering, what (for example) Captain America reader is really going to come back to the book that hasn’t already been reading the intervening stuff? And importantly, more so that a new Number One would bring in? At least there new readers know that it is a starting point. I huge big number can be intimidating. I feel that lapsed readers won’t really care about going back to the old numbers out of completionism, because so many numbers just won’t exist.

    I have loved Marvel Comics and characters my whole comic reading life, but the wheels are starting to come off the cart. Something needs to happy, and I just hope it is something that doesn’t hurt the industry. I know my store will be in serious trouble if the current Marvel readership here rebels.

  21. On the money, Mr Hibbs. I’ve been polling customers all day to measure interest in the lenticular covers. Would they be interested in paying extra, or being forced to buy a regular version with the lenticular to offset costs?

    To my surprise, not a single one cared about Marvel’s latest stunt. So, as it stands right now, it looks as if I won’t be bothering to carry any of lenticular variants unless the store natuarally meets the order incentive sales level.

    Add to that the recent revelations about the true purpose of the Aaron/Ribic Legacy book, and interest in Marvel is falling to a new low.

  22. I don’t think Marvel understands the concept of value. Revenue, yes, Profit/loss, yes. But no idea of value. These Generations books are $5 and will be largely inconsequential bridges to Legacy restarts. You might as well just put $5 in a long box, but on the brighter side, you’d still have $5.

    They’re so used to padding out events that they’re constantly creating deliberate arcs that could be told in half the pages. When numbers are this low, you have to WORK to earn people’s money. It’s not just going to fall in your lap, especially when there are so many other options for spending your money.

  23. Yes, please what is the real purpose of the LEGACY book? I too must have missed that. Otherwise thanks Brian for the very insightful article.

  24. AltBrim wasn’t too different from actual Brim, to be honest.

    Anyway, Marvel is a terribly old-fashioned business, totally out of ideas, and pretty unlikely to change formats and strategy with Ike at the helm.

  25. In my own personal view, Marvel isn’t what it was because of who makes the comics. Artists like John Byrne, George Perez, Walt Simonson, Frank Miller, John Buscema, Jim Starlin, Bill Sienkiewicz , Bob Layton, and John Romita Jr. made very visually exciting comics that told stories. Writers like Chris Claremont Steve Gerber,, Bill Mantlo, Jo Duffy, David Michelinie, Dwayne McDuffie, JM Dematteis and others had editors like Roger Stern, Louise Jones, Larry Hama, Mark Gruenwald, Jim Owsley, Ann Nocenti, Carl Potts, Tom DeFalco and Ralph Macchio who knew how to tell stories (all of the ones mentioned, if they didn’t eventually become freelancers, wrote and sometimes drew some titles). Those editors didn’t let the creative talent run freely with the characters and sometimes those talents became disgruntled and quit books. Say what you will about Jim Shooter but his period as Editor-in-Chief oversaw those great periods of creativity. The consistent was helped by having pros like Sal Buscema, Keith Pollard, Ron Frenz, Rich Buckler, Paul Ryan and others who helped make sure that if the superstars didn’t make deadlines, comics still appeared on the newsstand.

    Marvel has editors now who don’t seem to have the same professionalism. Read a letter column in a current Marvel comic and, if not for the bold font, you can’t tell if it’s a fan gushing or the editor. Marvel’s rah-rah ways are part of the appeal and has been since Stan started that kind of conversation method years ago, but there was often reasoned responses to criticism. Tom Brevoort seems to have a “If You Don’t Like It, Don’t Read It.” attitude. Social media doesn’t help when creators get downright confrontational with fans (in most cases it’s 50/50 in the blame area but don’t feed the trolls).

    Mr. Hibbs’ mentions how the books of Legacy are pretty much keeping the same creative teams that fans aren’t buying now. I believe it has a lot to do with the Image model of the name of the writer being the selling point. The problem is that Marvel is using the ideas of 4 or 5 writers whose ideas aren’t appealing to fans Reboots, replacements, crossovers, and gimmicks for a company that keeps seeing sales slip should show the Powers That Be at Marvel that the problems are in the comic books themselves and it’s not necessarily the characters.

  26. I like how everyone is rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic in this thread too.

    I’ll throw in my 2 cents – the major problem that Marvel, DC and the entire Direct Market have is that the price per unit of fun in comic books is way too high. For $10/month I have all of Netflix or Hulu in front of me with more TV than I could watch in a year, or I can go with Kindle Unlimited and have more novels than I will be able to read in a year instead. For less than that (if I pay up front) I can have every Marvel comic that comes out – I just have to wait six months – as well as a library of older Marvel books that stretches back decades to browse through. Again – more comics than I could read in a year if I wanted to. Or I could go and see a movie in the theater with my $10 – 1.5 – 2.5 hours of solid storytelling and a night out might be worth the money up front instead of waiting for Netflix. (And that’s not even getting into the massive bulk of freely available podcasts and webcomics out there that provide hours of entertainment for whatever I want to donate via a Patreon page or even nothing at all).

    Or for my $10 I can buy 2.5 Marvel comics. 22 pages each, and unless they are stunning works with some gorgeous art to linger over, I’m generally done with them in 15 minutes. When you consider that that $10 could also buy me 1/2 to 2/3 of a paperback trade collection if I just wait, it looks worse. When Marvel is selling digital versions of those trade collections on Amazon Kindle for $2-10 it looks even worse.

    The cost per unit of fun ratio is out of whack with monthly comics. I don’t see how the current market is sustainable – the cost per unit needs to be around where it is to keep stores at all profitable, but its too high to compete with the new on-demand entertainment world we live in now. It feels like some major change in thinking needs to happen to shake things up and get things back onto a sustainable track, but the two companies who could do it are so hidebound and so tied up in larger corporate structures and corporate politics that I doubt that either of them could do anything very revolutionary to change things even if they could figure out what to try to do.

  27. I wonder if Marvel is tracking those incentive issues.
    How many retailers take the bait, and at what amounts? (If the original order is 5, is it more likely for the retailer to order 12 copies?
    How many retailers aren’t participating?

    (And… I know it’s a pain to analyze, but which variant issues have been the least successful?)

  28. Re: Lapsed readers
    Does anyone print $1 #1 issues anymore?
    It’s October… Marvel could use Free Comic Book… er… I mean, Halloween ComicFest to promote the “new” Marvel. (Have we started numbering them yet, like Marvel-20683.5a?)

  29. There’s a point where long standing continuity does nothing to bring in new readership. How many publishers do nothing but what they did 25 years ago?

    It’s crazy. Marvel isn’t just lacking diversity at a gender, ethnic, and orientation level, it’s lacking diversity of product.

  30. “The cost per unit of fun ratio is out of whack with monthly comics. ”

    While this would appear to be objectively true if you compare comics to TV, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to me as an organizing principle: comics are priced at what they have to be priced at so that creators have the slightest chance of making money. Removing monthly periodicals from any mix will only drive prices upwards.

    Lets not forget that (much of TV) comes into your house for free, and that services like Netflix are still in tends of millions of homes, meaning there’s a MUCH larger pool to subsidize the creation of art.

    You can get “Marvel Unlimited” for some low monthly fee… (though I’ve never directly heard of any creators making royalties from it?)… but if you want a print object, clearly there is a cost attached to that.

    -B

  31. I’m a longtime Ted Kord Blue Beetle fan and I have ZERO interest in the “NEW” Jaime Reyes version. And yeah, I gave the “new” one a try when it originally came out and found the character to be boring. Bring back Ted Kord as the Blue Beetle and to appease the SJW fans keep Jaime Reyes around too but call him Kid Beetle or something like that.

  32. Why is it when I decide to enter the business space, the wheels fall off. I’ve got a comic and games store in Suwanee GA. The game side is breaking even. the comic side is losing it’s shirt. I am transitioning the comics side to be 90% trades. I can’t get customers to look at an image book. But the pick up marvel and DC, take a quick look and put it back down and quietly walk away. My best selling title is My Little Pony. Of course soon amazon will have better prices with free shipping, Auugh!

    Sorry, needed to vent. Thanks for another great collumn.

  33. “While this would appear to be objectively true if you compare comics to TV, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to me as an organizing principle: comics are priced at what they have to be priced at so that creators have the slightest chance of making money. Removing monthly periodicals from any mix will only drive prices upwards.”

    Given the sales levels on most Marvel periodicals, I somehow doubt creators are getting royalties on top of their page rates.

    The thing is Marvel has chosen higher profit margins over volume. DC’s TPB pricing is very close to single issue pricing on their double shipped books (~$2.50 per issue) so that’s one less reason to trade wait. Meanwhile, price disparity between Marvel single issues and other distribution methods are much more significant. DC also has better pricing on thicker collections compared to Marvel ($25 vs $35 for the same number of pages). With DC, I’d pick up TPBs from the local comic shop on a whim. Marvel, I’m more inclined to buy discounted on Amazon.

    And to be honest, the $3.99-4.99 single issue prices are fine by themselves. Not so much when you double-ship your books (either regularly or randomly – random is worse) or try to coerce customers to buy 5+ other books every month with events and crossovers.

    I very much look forward to every single issue of Monstress, Black Monday Murders, I Hate Fairyland, Kill Or Be Killed, Super Sons, Superman and Action Comics. I can’t imagine having to trade wait those. Image titles are all self-contained. Of the above DC titles, the only crossover thus far was between Superman and Action so I haven’t needed to buy any extra books.

    The last Marvel ongoing I picked up was Captain America: Steve Rogers. I’m paying dearly for that decision now with Secret Empire. Since Marvel has already cancelled or will be canceling the books I have left, I’ve stopped trying new Marvel titles because I just can’t afford another event/crossover of theirs.

  34. >>>Given the sales levels on most Marvel periodicals, I somehow doubt creators are getting royalties on top of their page rates.<<<

    Yeah, to be clear, I was talking about page rates. On a typical indy book, I'm not at all convinced that everyone is making page rate. I know more than one creative team where the artist is making rate, but the writer is hoping to earn something off the back of the back end.

    Its a significant problem…. and lowering prices clearly can't solve that one.

    -B

  35. I agree with pretty much everything except the part that the OG characters are boring, outdated and should just go away? To quote the excellent newsarama article and Jonathan Hickman (https://www.newsarama.com/35805-why-marvel-doesn-t-publish-the-fantastic-four-and-what-it-will-take-to-make-them-start-again.html ):

    “Sure, they can be nostalgic, but they don’t have to be. That’s really the brilliance of a lot of the early Marvel characters, they were created by guys wrapping both arms around timeless themes,” Hickman continued. “There are some exceptions to this, of course, but for the most part almost everything Marvel owns is highly malleable and easily exploitable. I’d argue execution is the mission critical element necessary for a Marvel book to succeed.”

    Marvel tried to replace their characters with fresh new faces that they thought were more relevant to today’s world. They have had some success in doing so, but I would argue the success was in spite of these new characters being “replacements”, not because of it. Not to mention the billions of dollars the MCU movies have made thanks to these “tired” and “boring” characters.

    The issue was and always will be with the execution. All due respect to Bendis, but it became clear very early on he had no interest in writing Tony Stark’s Iron Man. Is it any surprise that his run on Iron Man with Tony Stark was uninspired and, well, bad.

    I wouldn’t buy Marvel’s excuse for floundering their flagship IPs so easily…

  36. P.S. Not to mention it is very easy to retreat familiar territory with replacement heroes. Have the heroes fight the same villains and tell basically the same stories from a slightly different point of view Wolverine fight the Brood, Enemy of the State II, Planet Hulk II, etc. It’s definitely a lot easier than creating new challenges and evolving the characters mythology…

  37. For the critics of the “floppie” becoming obsolete…I’ve been a customer at my LCS for almost 30 years (I did have a period where I quit buying comics for a few years) and I want the comic book industry to be strong. The owners are friends to most of the customers and they Conduct their business in a welcoming atmosphere. Through that good faith, they survived the crash in the 90’s but Marvel and DC need to be strong so that people come in and discover Image, Dark Horse, IDW, Boom!, and other companies. If you like digital, fine, but I hope that the physical comic stays the dominant format so that they, and other comic shops who help provide a sense of community among fans, will continue to thrive.

  38. >>That being said, Geoff finally ate crow and brought Ted back/made him a major figure in Jamie’s latest book. Which ironically, has ensured that Jamie’s newest book has been received far far far better than his previous failed runs.

    I’m sorry but the current run is miles below John Rogers’ run. It was smartly written, a fresh new take on teen legacies (which at the current state of Post-IC Teen Titans, sorely needed). It didn’t just focus on Jaime, if focused on the entire fucking legacy going back to the Charlton Comics bringing the freaking Peacemaker as his mentor to bringing in the Garrett Legacy. How Rogers handled the over arching story of the Reach was brilliant, every issue and storyline was building up to one penultimate arc where the Reach’s master plan gets fully realized

    >B-but it was cancelled >_ Bring back Ted Kord as the Blue Beetle and to appease the SJW fans keep Jaime Reyes around too but call him Kid Beetle or something like that.

    Why yes, and let’s call Wally Early 20s Flash too, and call Guy Ginger Green Lantern, Kyle Artist Green Lantern, and John Black Green Lantern, fuck let’s call Hal the Dumb-Ass Lantern since he was a big one back then (The sheer amount of times Hal punched himself in the face is too much). Christ, Jaime is called Blue Beetle because he inherited the legacy. And me being a fan of him has nothing to do with him being a PoC. He can be the fucking split image of Hitler’s vision of the Aryan Race for all I care, I liked the character because of how John Rogers wrote him as a reluctant successor to a mantle he himself wasn’t sure he wanted (Something majority of non Rogers’ Blue Beetle Books seem to miss). This is the fucking guy who beat Eclipso Jean Loring because instead of turning into the most powerful version of himself controlled to fight his friends, he transformed into this idealized version of him in the future of him as a dentist (And who doesn’t? They make six figures a year)

  39. I think when the internet dies, eons from now, I’ll miss these little petri dish mb-style comment sections.

    so much, the Brimstone identity crisis, the Blue Beetle wars…

    I’m drawn to comments that talk about/touch on the blandness of the content at Marvel. I mean I’m no different than the next 40some American male depressive but there’s a real problem with how exhilarating, scratch that, whether or not these Marvel Comics are all that exhilarating anymore.

    For me it’s something about how funky and strange the Source Material used to be compared with Marvel Comics having the same gravitas nowadays as a brochure for a coloring book. But that’s just me, right? They’ve been making these things for longer than I’ve been alive, they know how to do this by now, this probably isn’t anything wrong with Marvel?

    idk. I get the containers people are putting their Marvel grudge in: your anti-PC versions, anti-oldtimers, anti-floppies, anti-$3.99ers, anti-market manipulation and there’s something to each of those. But man is reading most Marvel Comics these days just a slog.

  40. “Yeah, to be clear, I was talking about page rates. On a typical indy book, I’m not at all convinced that everyone is making page rate. I know more than one creative team where the artist is making rate, but the writer is hoping to earn something off the back of the back end.

    Its a significant problem…. and lowering prices clearly can’t solve that one.”

    Unfortunately, there’s just too much product now. Variants (often higher priced) tempting fans to buy multiple copies of the same book (which will never be read) just adds to the problem.

    I do wonder how many “coins” comiXology Unlimited or Marvel Unlimited have managed to cobble together. Amazon pays out ~$17 million per month for their Kindle Unlimited/KDP Select program (indie books). That doesn’t include the amount that Amazon pays out to traditional publishers.

  41. Flipped through GENERATIONS HULK today. Thirty pages of story. It was poorly drawn and the colors were exceedingly dull. Most of Marvel’s current crop of artists need to buy a copy of HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY.

    LL

  42. @Tim

    That’s correct. DC sells their biweekly books for $2.99. The 3D variants have a $3.99 cover price but are open to order.

    I wish Marvel had just taken the same approach with their 3D variants (open to order at slightly higher price). Somehow though, I feel like they just want a single cover price so they can boast about their high rankings in the Diamond charts as opposed to DC’s case where the 3D variant was listed separately from the normal covers.

  43. Brian, I believe another poster asked and I’d love to hear the answer too – could you realistically just opt out of this nonsense for one or both of your stores and just order what you normally would of the regular covers? I just read an article on Bleeding Cool highlighting a store that is doing that very thing. In my opinion, Marvel continues to be very destructive to the industry and people need to just say no and stop the enabling.

  44. I don’t think we’ll be participating, either — we won’t qualify for many of the covers without ordering more than I think that I can sell, and if you can’t buy all the way in, there’s not a ton of point to it. Also the minus seven points of discount is a pretty huge slap in the face.

    But I’m still a couple fo weeks from final decision.

    We’ve had a policy for at least five years (maybe longer) of not “stretching” for variants whatsoever.

    -B

  45. You know the difference between the “New Latino Blue Beetle” and what was has been doing is this: DC didn’t basically use the new character to insult, abuse, and ridicule existing fans if they didn’t enthusiastically support the character 1000% from the get-go.

    Marvel doesn’t take fan complaints seriously, and right from the opening of this article it seems clear that a LOT of people in the industry (shop owners included) don’t take the complaints seriously either.

    In the main this is a great article but it apparently has to be front-loaded with four paragraphs of virtue-signalling about how the author doesn’t agree with those evil Neo-Nazis online who dislike Riri Williams.

    Sure there have been many iterations of Iron Man, Cap, and Thor. Sometimes they were replaced; sometimes Cap became “The Captain”; sometimes Thor had different human aliases. But the spirit of the character was always there, and even when Rhodey took over for Tony, Tony (the real Tony, not an AI) was a part of the book, and Rhodey went on to become his own character who could stand on his own.

    Contrast this to Marvel over the last few years. Half the time the comics read like the writers’ Twitter walls. You don’t like Jane Foster Thor? You’re a misogynist like stupid Absorbing Man. I actually like most of these books, but if you can’t see how the creators are actively pushing readers away due to their own guilt-tripping coercive behavior, I dunno what to tell you. It’s so incredibly obvious that Marvel is an echo-chamber of stubborn smugness, a cult-like atmosphere in which no one is allowed to have a contrary opinion, and if someone doesn’t like Nick Spencer’s take on Secret Empire, why, that just means they’re the profane, unenlightened masses.

    Marvel people treat skeptical fans the way Scientologists treat people who have qualms about L. Ron Hubbard’s omnipotence. It’s a toxic bullying environment full of incredibly thin-skinned people who are hypersensitive to the slightest criticism. This comes out in their work. Marvel comics read like they’re written by people with emotional problems who would burst into tears and get violent if someone told them they spelled a word wrong.

    Yeah, the ordering thresholds are ridiculous too and most of this article is informative as always, but again you’re missing the underlying psychology of what is going on here and how insulting it is to have to wade through the opening rationalizations about what fans don’t want. It’d be like reading an a study about inner city poverty that starts off by talking about intelligence tests or something. Totally insulting and beside the point for what you’re trying to investigate.

    Signed,
    Someone who doesn’t even like Tony Stark that much

  46. Dan, if it helps your world view any, I’ve, as a store owner never ever ever had anyone tell me that they are dropping Marvel comics (or specific titles) because the characters have been replaced. I’ve only ever heard that online ever.

    What my customers tell me is that they think the comics are too expensive, too slight, and too dull — they don’t like BENDIS on Iron Man… whether he’s writing about Tony Stark or Riri Williams. Our sales are about the same either way.

    *shrug*

    -B

  47. Alleged resistance to diversity is the least of Marvel’s problems. Regardless of which Thor, Hulk, Ghost Rider, or latino lesbian powerhouse they’re pushing at the moment Marvel’s books are badly written, poorly drawn, monochromatic,
    flimsy, and overpriced. Other than that they’re doing great.

    LL

  48. On bringing lapsed readers back to Marvel–not sure it could ever happen for me. I don’t like the new characters, the constant love fest with one political party, the SJW atmosphere. No book is published for action and adventure, only for political posturing. They’re boring (at least from the detailed reviews I have seen online). I’ve heard the rumor that Marvel would prefer 6,000 of the “right” readers to 100,000 of the “wrong” readers (anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders). Not sure if that is true, but their actions and books certainly bear it out.

    I’d love a quarterly, oversized Marvel book about the traditional Marvel heroes, in their traditional costumes, fighting supervillains. C’mon, Marvel, what do you have to lose?

  49. Nearly everyone in charge at Marvel publishing needs to be replaced with a younger generation who recognize what’s gone wrong. I don’t believe old-timer cynics like Brevoort or Quesada can “see the light” about what they’re doing wrong. And I don’t think they’re capable of becoming what they are not, no matter how crushing the market pressure becomes Squeeze a lemon, only lemon juice comes out.

  50. “Christ, Jaime is called Blue Beetle because he inherited the legacy.”

    Not that anyone is still paying attention, but Jaime is called Blue Beetle because DC wants him to be called Blue Beetle. Just like he’s a Latino because DC wants him to be a Latino.

    I used to think of Peter Parker as real…when I was a child. I’d love it if Marvel would produce a Spider-Man book where I could turn off parts of my brain and still think that way. But I’d still want to be able to turn my brain back on and analyze the character as a creative and economic construct without reacting as if anything said about the character were a personal attack against me and what I like.

    Mike

  51. DC had the balls to admit Rebirth is an apology, marvel entirely misunderstood why fans liked Action/Detective Comics returning to original numbers & decided to do that with nearly every series when they haven’t changed anything on the inside.

Comments are closed.