Recently, I was asked the simple question of “How would I fix Marvel?”. Rather than gloss over the question with a trademark dig like “fire Alonso”, I decided to do the reply justice and come up with a plan…. a long plan, that is. Seriously…this is really long, maybe the longest I have ever done here.
Frankly, it’s a complicated issue, and I don’t want to gloss over it without substance.
Today’s annnouncement of a god awful sounding “Champions” book only fueled my fire.
A few caveats:
#1 Believe it or not, I admit that I don’t know it all. I don’t have the “actual” sales figures, I don’t know a lot about how Marvel works or the actual particulars of its internal business …but these are my ideas laid to words none the less. I’m not an expert on the industry or Diamond and distribution…I’m just a fan with ideas. So…with that in mind, take this for what its worth.
#2 We have no direct evidence Marvel is actually failing. In fact, far from it. The company’s comics have a large market share, the movies and Disney are a huge cash pot behind them allowing failure in the books to be “no big deal”. Truthfully, if the paper comics mine one potential movie property every 10 years that makes say “One billion dollars” … then they have made more than all the Marvel comic line makes in years. You could argue its some crazy halcyon days for Marvel. Yet we are far from max sales in the paper books. Why?
#3 There are a couple problems with the sales of all paper comics that are industry related and not exactly just Marvel’s fault. I think the notion of direct only market is now a bad idea. Too many shops have closed and there is a snowball effect to a reduced availability to comics. These shops have a very flawed way of selling books and working within a skewed supply and demand model. The internet and digital age have not seemed to help. I wrote about the issues with comic sales here:
Of course there are other things, macro issues, like folks reading less etc…that are all very real.
Honestly though, when you extract Star Wars from the mix and factor in DC’s own shortcomings with the New 52 debacle, the market for superhero books is much closer…in fact with DC’s Rebirth picking up huge steam in sales and reorders, it appears the market share may be shifting more toward equal.
That’s crazy …especially seeing as how the films Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War just banked nearly a billion dollars and DC’s bloated snoozefest Batman Versus Superman just put…well…. everyone to sleep. Marvel superhero comics should be selling at record paces…but they’re not of course. In fact, according to Diamond, unit sales are down or the same from even the period 10 years back. The Alonso era gains from the mini-crash of 2010 have worn off. (again most of this was Star Wars inspired) Now, actual gains could be called stagnant.
#4 I love Marvel. Despite the angst and disagreement…I’m a huge fan. I want to buy this stuff again someday. I hope I will.
So what can be done to fix Marvel?
-The first matter is what I’ve talked about the most. Unify the sub-regions. (and mostly I’ve spoke of cosmic in this blog)
-I’d stick with the old tried and true division of Marvel properties. (IE Cosmic, X men, Avengers, Spiderman/ Marvel Heroes) I’d just make them play together better. This system used to work. The fact smaller compartments of these properties ballooned into 10-15 titles is getting a bit ridiculous.
-Get a central editor for cosmic and stuff like the X line and make it all tie in together. Preferably this editor is the kind of guy / gal who respects continuity, recognizes it as an asset… yet is not a slave to it. New ideas and experiments are OK but we also respect the past and use it to our advantage. This editor needs to be a guy who can tell big egos that they need to fix something or change this and that. Again also a guy who listens to fans, respects them…but, so too, is not a slave to them.
These are the two active problems with how editors/writers are messing with continuity at Marvel:
- Books not matching up or disregarding past continuity. If the past is unimportant or brushed off it makes the repeated action of following, buying and reading serial fiction less required.
- Books not matching up to stuff that is going on concurrently within the Marvel universe. The “Rock Stars” are huge offenders here. Again, it makes following the whole line less required.
Continuity is not some nerdy concept. Guys like Bendis would love for you to think that. Continuity is the quality control of the company’s history. It’s the summation of all the hard work of Marvel’s past. It should be a badge of honor.
-Central editorship is a big one. Currently, I don’t think they are doing a good job. I’ve never seen a more disjointed and chaotic Marvel Universe than under Axel Alonso. Undertaking something like Secret Wars was foolish under such conditions. Look at how Age of Ultron or Original Sin turned out. Disjointed. Sloppy. Unimportant…always a rush to “what’s next”.
-Support your bread and butter. X-men. Fantastic Four. Make X big again. Giant sized X men #1 saved Marvel. Make Fantastic Four a corner stone of your franchise that you support through thick and thin. Embrace your history. So what if sales dwindle lower than you like. Get folks to come up with solid story concepts like you’ve always done. FIX STUFF…don’t trash it.
-Limit the amount of spin offs from properties to a reasonable level. “Avengers Everything” and “Spider Everything” at some point becomes a problem. This isn’t working anymore. Three or four spin offs are good enough.
-Keep down extravagant retcons or character assassinations. They devalue the importance of stories, characters and followings and harm them more in the long run. You can’t make the history of your line floppy and unimportant. Stuff needs to matter.
–Stop replacing core heroes as a stunt. Stop making these replacements noticeably agenda driven to force feed diversity or an international flare. Honestly, you can do this now and then. Diversity is great. Make it organic and reasonable…just not the onslaught “in your face” overflow we get today. Marvel has been a leader in this field for years. They never should have got so hyper–reactive. If Marvel wants to expand interest to other countries, they should create small lines marketed in these areas ala the old UK line.
-On the current politics of Marvel: tone down the left leaning agenda. As mentioned, this includes the zealot-like drive for diversity and urge to replace core heroes for that sake. It’s gotten out of hand, and it turns me (and others) off. I really think this affirmative action comic engineering just goes to preserve a sort of “culture of enmity” and reminder of difference rather than help to uplift the culture of equality we all want. I don’t like to feel shitty about myself, and I sure as hell am not going to pay someone to make me feel shitty.
Sometimes I feel like Marvel paper comics want to be this niche industry. The folks in control now don’t care about the 50 percent of the country who lean right of center. They think all of those folks are bigots, racists and jerks. They tell you comics are for everybody…but they sure seem to tell you they are “not for you” if you are veteran, Christian or even remotely conservative. Marvel seems like it has written off these folks and instead just wants to find the little enclaves of left leaning potential zombies in all the little urban areas of the world.
Reality check: I know Marvel has always been a little left of center…but it always felt like it was more reasonable and they took the time to ground their preaching in well-molded metaphor. So too, I think the staff had more real-world experience to ground them. Kirby was a Vet. So was Stan Lee. Starlin was a vet. Read old profiles of guys like Jim Sterenko…they had some life experience and lived pretty hard. Too many folks writing Marvel these days that didn’t grow up reading them. “Oh I came late to Marvel Comics” I hear again and again. Damn, there seems to be too many writers who’ve come right from college, hung out in NYC and have no visceral life experience. Frankly, it shows in the product.
–Stop acting like loyal fans are unimportant. Fans drive your business. Treat them well. I can’t stand the tagline that the “stories will sell themselves” no matter who supports you or how you treat fans. This is a widespread belief with Brevoort and Alonso. It’s flawed, pretentious and leads down the silly road of biting the hand that feeds you. “The customer is always right” is a proven mantra of business. Why does Marvel think they are different?
–Don’t shit on 30-40 year old fans. Bad idea. Those fans have kids. Truthfully, those fans have the money, especially when you want to sell 4.99 comics. Those fans often have the car to travel far and wide to the places comics are now only available. We buy/ throw away money on crap like “plush Marvel throws” at Walmart, Nova “mini-busts” to put on our desk at work, posters to put in my boy’s bed room, and party cups for his sixth B-day party. We are the ones who flip the vacation to (Marvel) theme parks and overpriced comic cons that cost fifty bucks to get in. Stop acting like we are a bunch of douchbags living in our mom’s basement. Not to mention these 30-40 year olds are the same guys who will, most intelligently that is, blog, rant and post reviews when your material sucks. (or is awesome and worthy of praise)
-Stop acting like internet buzz is just white noise and irrelevant. You guys listen to fans that knock how you don’t have enough LGBT characters, but you ignore fans who have other very reasonable problems. We detect that bullshit and we don’t like it.
–Stop letting talent leave. Tom Brevoort’s “kiss off” of Robert Kirkman is the stuff of legend. That shit alone should have gotten someone fired. In the last couple years, Greg Pak (who has come back), Hickman, Remender, Abnett, Humphries. Going back further too much has slipped away. I’ve been vocal about how dumb it was letting the entire architects of Annihilation era walk. Guys like Andy Schmidt, Keith Giffen, Andy Lanning and all the great artists went on to do strong stuff for DC. Let’s rethink how you treat “work for hire” guys as well.
–Reduce the amount of street level titles.(don’t stop…reduce) Stop letting “Marvel Knights” be the line wide ethos. This means less grim and gritty, less books on ninjas and assassins. Less Kung Fu. Some is ok. Shit man…I personally like some of the stuff. But I’m sorry it is just not as cool as you all think…nor are you pulling it off as well as you think. I see you shovel this stuff down our throats endlessly and it just does not work at the volume you seem to want to push it.
-Swords and Sorcery comic? No interest here? Game of Thrones is one of the biggest shows on TV. Weirdworld was just weird. Try something straightforward and akin to the old Weirdworld. Something like Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord’s Conan. (wait those are three solid items Marvel cast off)
-Reduce the influence of Jeph Loeb in Marvel comics. Stop pushing his stuff like Red Hulk, Sam Alexander Nova, Agents of Shield and other stuff. That shit is all fan rejected…plus one. Deal with it. Ease up on the Inhumans replacing mutants crap. Give me spandex clad Agents of Shield chasing down green masked hydra agents.
–Restart the Ultimate Universe. Get Mark Millar to do a six issue relaunch. Do it. Take it back to pre-Ultimatum / Ultimates three and just pretend everything after didn’t happen. (oh maybe keep Miles Morales around because I know you would have to) That’s crazy, I know… just do it. “Bring Back Ultimate”
-Get comics in kids and young adult hands. Free comic book day sucks and is more a reward for guys with pull lists. I know I was critical of Loeb’s Nova. Mainly there, I was critical of changing the direction of a book that was once for older fans, telling the old fans to screw off, and then changing the book into a zany teen romp that felt like it was for a five year old. I’m not against comics for all ages. Frankly, I don’t think even kids want the hokey stuff I’ve seen Marvel put out. I used to buy Byrne Avengers, Fab Nic’s New Warriors, Englehart Silver Surfer and Grunewald Captain America when I was a kid.
-Publish a line of “all-ages books”. Not a token offering either…I’m talking 10-15 books printed on less expensive stock and with operating costs to where a full length book can be priced at $1.99, sell between 10kand 15k sales and be stable at that number. Don’t make these books some cheap “out of continuity” or generic books… make them count and promote them. Get these books in the non-direct market: Wal Mart, Target, CVS, Drug stores (preferably near waiting areas) Toys R us, even bookstores and newsstands. You may lose money on these books…but it’s a long term investment in advertising and building future fans. Make them colorful books, appropriate for all ages without being cheesy or kiddie. Tie them in to your other books. For these, I’d stick to core characters with the most appeal, IE Hulk. Avengers. Iron Man…etc..
Now, if your argument is what I’ve heard in the past…that “reduced stock” books won’t sell to today’s crowd, then explain to me how Walking Dead sells in Black and White?
-Don’t be afraid to work some fringe areas, characters and teams. Let them linger with low sales. I always use the “catfish example”. (I may have told this before) Up here in my native Vermont, fried Catfish is not available at many stores. I used to go to the Texas Roadhouse to buy it because well, no one else had it. When I did, I brought my whole family. Sometimes I brought guests. We’d spend a good amount of money. I’d go there for my birthday because I liked the dang Catfish and couldn’t get it anywhere else. One faithful day I took my family there and they said that the location had replaced the Catfish for Fish and goddamn Chips. I told the waiter I can get solid fish and chips anywhere in New England why, of all places, would I go to Texas Roadhouse for Atlantic Scrod? He told me sorry, but the Catfish didn’t sell well.
I have not been back since. More importantly, neither has the four people in my family every other week or so… just like I have not been back to Marvel since they axed Richard Rider. When I bought Rider’s old Nova series, I also bought all the tie in’s and Bendis’ Avengers and Aaron’s Thor etc…without Rider…I dropped ‘em all.
Basic sales tells you that niche items with strong but small followings will bring people to your table for your other offerings as well.
– Create “Marvel Stores/attractions” that are impressive and cool destinations. At a minimum, Marvel should make a huge lavish store in NYC within Times Square, have a Mecca flagship location. It should feature a full comic store, coupled with some Disneyland type stuff. Something akin to the “Legoland” concept. You see these smaller Legolands pop up at malls etc. Sell comics there. Sell memorabilia and products. The sky is the limit. Legoland, despite Disney, is actually a decent model for this.
-Have a stronger and more aggressive creator owned line. Frankly, it just seems now like a “cookie” for some of the upper crust rock stars like Bendis and Millar.
-Restart the MAX line. There is a demand for this stuff. Make it an outlet for horror, war and crime books. Hard sci fi. Make it a playground of ideas. If it generates one 400 million domestic film every ten years, it will pay for itself.
-Rebuild valued talent from Marvel’s past. Starlin was a start….though it seems they treat him like crap. I’m going to throw out the names like Tom DeFalco, Keith Giffen, Kurt Busiek, Marv Wolfman, and Chuck Dixon, and Ron Lim as some names. This is not about turning the clock back to 1998….but it is about building upward…and to build up always needs a strong foundation from the past.
-I don’t mind the events….but make them (better) and more meaningful. Tie them together and make events have lasting implications (you know like they actually promise to deliver). Something like Age of Ultron had literally no lasting implications. Conquest, Original Sin, Chaos War and Secret Invasion have been all but forgotten. Eventually, these factors have made events seem less important and passable.
Right now it seems like the big “can’t miss” events are just a series of “turns” for whatever “Rock Star” writer is up next (IE Original sin is “Aaron’s event”…AoU is Bendis, etc..) They would be better if they matched up and lead to more developed spin offs with lasting repercussions. Example: how did Bendis “breaking time” have such a nominal effect on Hickman’s stuff? How did Aaron’s “Fury in space” make one lick of sense after Chaos War, Secret Invasion or Annihilation?
-Reduce the roll of Brian Michael Bendis. Give him a couple of solid street level books. Give him Indiana Jones. He’s talented and capable of writing solid stuff within his niche…but he’s not good as an architect of multi-scope properties and he’s horrible with team books. He has a huge problem making his material work in concert with others and his self-centered continuity must be an editorial nightmare. The whole line suffers despite decent sales on what he’s working. Bendis sales are thus a huge façade. His cosmic has been a complete ham-fisted disaster and frankly, so was his Avengers after about issue 15. (Dark Avengers was ok…but it mostly went nowhere)
-Stop reboots or renumbers. Again, they devalue the importance of a property. Variants and limited double ships for flagship titles are fine. Marvel has done these forever and they have worked. But Renumbers are a quick fix and degrade the anticipation for a serialized product. A jumping on point can just as easy be a jumping off point.
Something foul has happened to buying trends. Even Brevoort admitted this recently. Fans are choosing that “jump off” option more and more. They jump ship on bad books quick. This is an aggregate of a lot of issues I have brought up here.
Personally, I never forget, as a kid, how holding something like Action Comics # 600 in my hand felt. To know there was that awesome history behind a book was powerful.
-Don’t underestimate “trade waiting” when evaluating cancelations.
-I’ve spoken of this somewhat already, but get the price of your comics down. I know you have not been able to raise prices for years, and now that you have your going to lose readers. Five dollar comic books hurt the industry. You can’t just will a can of soda to cost four bucks.
-More emphasis on OGN. I’ve seen improvement here with stuff like Starlin’s recent works and Rage of Ultron. Getting the trades in Wal-Mart is good. Expanding Barnes and Noble is also cool. (on a side note I went to B and N recently and it mostly, the trade expansion is the same old selection…just spread out more) Not enough! Let’s get more…Marvel actually does very weak at OGN and trade sales.
-Let’s do a mini-series from time to time. A mini-series made Richard Rider my favorite hero. There’s really no modern Punisher or Wolverine without a solid mini-series. I swear they can still work.
-Stop mothballing crap you buy up. There were some decent parts of the Cross Gen and Malibu’s Ultraverse. Example: Cross gen had two excellent S&S books, Sojourn and Scion…marvel struggles here…hmmm. Also…let’s do something with Marvelman instead of preen around that you own the rights. Meanwhile, IDW buys ROM and Micronauts and basically runs a profitable company with the properties you’ve cast off. Great moves.
-Finally….Fire Axel Alonso! Oops I did it. Yet, truthfully, at this point with mistake after mistake in his past, I have no other answer. I don’t like to see anyone lose their job. I just can’t foresee Marvel comics being the company it should be with him at the helm.