Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Marvel, what, what, WHAT are you doing?

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It’s not particularly hard to imagine a beleaguered PR employee at Marvel. A poor guy who has been addressing the series of gaffes about the handling of Marvel’s latest event “epic” Secret Empire, and who finally thought he’d have a few days of quiet while the public who would pay attention to any announcements was busy tracking WonderCon down in Anaheim, CA. What else could go wrong? Nothing else was left except a run-of-the-mill retailer summit. Time to step out for a few beats and grab some fresh air.

Subsequently, it’s also not hard to imagine that this is what he stepped back into.

I was only gone for FIVE MINUTES.

Oh, poor Marvel PR employee.

By now much has been written about the series of statements issued by Marvel’s VP of Sales, David Gabriel. How to try and placate retailers’ concerns regarding weak sales by saying diversity and leading women just weren’t popular, and that limited series were a “death knell” for comics. We also got to hear Axel Alonso, Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief taking shots at indie publishing giant Image Comics, saying that many of Marvel’s creative talent had left Marvel to go and create for Image.

Many outlets and more have run these stories and offered their own insight into what they think Marvel’s problems might be.

We at Fanfinity have our own thoughts on Marvel’s recent struggles. That diversity alone isn’t going to bring in readers when the creative content doesn’t back these characters up. Or that marketing said diverse titles needs to continue beyond the first two issues of the title run. Otherwise, it’s like throwing boiled spaghetti at a wall, no seasoning, no sauce, and only paying attention to what sticks in the first five seconds.

Breakout new generation characters like Kamala Khan weren’t just dumped into retailers and readers laps with the expectation of “here, now you have representation.” Kamala is a breakout character because of the pathos and love poured into her character by the team who writes for her. Furthermore, Marvel kept up with the marketing for the new Ms. Marvel, especially when the first few issues did far better than expected.

More importantly, Kamala had time under the sun before the never-ending stream of events came about, which cut other new characters off at the knees with abortive runs and arcs that had to stop and start and then adapt to the whims of whichever Secret or Civil event was running at the time. Legacy characters struggled to put up numbers for their titles, and this was with decades of reader investment and good will. How would a new character be expected to retain fan interest when readers were never allowed to spend any time with them?

To be more pointed about events, though, we need to discuss the insistence of higher priced titles and number one issues with every reboot/reset from an event. Look. We’re going to spare everyone the economic layout of the land, but it’s worth a mention that wages haven’t exactly risen dramatically for most of the working populace in the United States. For many people, it comes down to a matter of cost. The $5 price tags on the new waves of number one titles become wearisome very quickly.

Trade issues are priced high as well. For a lot of would-be readers, the higher price tags aren’t a matter of preference, but a matter of what they can afford. And Marvel, as of the retailer summit, seems to be intent on chasing the money over finding a price that is more inclusive of their readership. To add insult to injury, readers that do still patronize the brick and mortar stores are not given a digital code for their issues. Instead, they’re offering two “free” titles from Marvel’s catalog, which may not have any interest to the reader at all.

Contrast this to DC Comics’ approach with Rebirth. Many of their biggest titles see two issues published a month instead of one but at a price $2.99. For select titles that have been bumped up to the $3.99 price tag (this is the default price for Marvel titles), DC also includes a digital copy of the issue as well. Instead of delayed releases that have plagued Marvel during their events, nearly every title at DC has been out on time, like clockwork. DC also employs limited runs for fan cult favorites, like Midnighter and Apollo.

These characters may not have the ability to carry a full run, but by allowing them short outings, these characters gain exposure to the larger DC fanbase and can be eased into other group titles or built up to eventually have a full solo run of their own. DC seems to have clued into the fact that Rome wasn’t constructed in a day, and neither are legacy characters.

And then the elephant in the room, Image Comics. Image was founded by Rob Liefeld (yes, THAT Rob Liefeld), after he became disillusioned with how Marvel treated their content creators. The unique model of operation for Image is that creators own their characters, not the publisher. Over at Marvel and DC, the publishers retain the rights. Neither of the big two has spotless records when it comes to how they’ve historically treated their artists and writers, but one can’t help to wonder why there was such a noticeable exodus of formerly Marvel talent to Image over the past few years that Alonso himself tried to use it as an excuse for Marvel’s struggling sales.

Normally, this is where I’d start to wrap this piece up. Marvel bigwigs talk to retailers, blame everyone but Marvel for bad sales, and then act surprised and upset when news of their statements leaks out beyond the retailers” summit.

Oh, if only.

Everyone’s favorite prolific comic writer and architect of turning Captain America into “always a Nazi,” decided to wade into the fray on this starting April 3 and carrying over into yesterday. Nick Spencer went on a hours long tweet spree, arguing with readers and critics alike over the fault of Marvel’s declining sales. Once again, he insinuated it was DC’s fault for multiple issues a month and allowing for issue buy back. Once again, he brought up diamond stats without actually giving stats. And once again, he essentially mansplained to everyone around him why Marvel wasn’t to blame, ending in this lovely gem.

Marvel, the problem isn’t that we’re blaming the “White dude dinosaurs” for the lack of sales. The problem is that whoever is making decisions seems to be okay with alienating readership by confusing schedules, too many events, or pricing them out of your market. The problem is that instead of taking a deeper look at why titles across the board are lagging (and it’s not just diverse titles either, the staple white legacy characters are also struggling), executives seem content to offer scapegoats and odd mutterings about “we need to stop being political.”

Here’s a thought. If you want to get out of political statements, maybe stop forcing Nazi imagery onto your legacy characters and shoehorning an entire event around it. Images, symbols have power. And Nazi imagery, which you can’t divorce HYDRA from, has power. It isn’t a cool motif to use in a vague political commentary. Your words have power, too. And when some of your most important or influential employees go out and flat out state that people don’t want to read about diversity or women, or that you don’t care about pricing out potential readers, well, that’s sending a pretty telling message of its own.

Images courtesy of Marvel Comics

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