“Make Mine Marvel No More!”

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Marvel Comics has a big problem.

I was in my local comic shop today, of which I don’t frequent nearly as much as I used to. I don’t want to say I lost a love for comics, as I recently just plowed through the trade paperbacks of Chew and finished 4 of the end of the series in one night. I feel similarly about Revival and Terry Moore’s Motor Girl. However, it’s been at least three to four years since I stopped making weekly appointments to go to the comic shop on Wednesdays, eager to pick up new books. I mentioned in an earlier post that the way storytelling has gone, I don’t really want to pick up individual issues anymore. That’s certainly part of it, but I’m also consuming a lot less content than ever before.

Around the time I stopped regularly buying comics, I cut ties and dropped the last vestiges of my Marvel Comics reading. EPIC CROSSOVER EVENTS had been anything but epic for me for years, making it difficult to read individual comic storylines (this issue of Amazing Spider-Man takes place after Civil War #4 and continues in X-Factor #17!), and trying to one-up the last with a new “shocking” death or even “shockinger” resurrection. This was hard for me to do. I’d been reading Marvel Comics since I was 10. That all started with a subscription to Amazing Spider-Man that my aunt bought for me for Christmas. If I had to choose desert island top 5 all time favorite comic characters, they would be: 5. Spider-Girl 4. Fantastic Four (I count them as one unit). 3. Captain America 2. Black Cat (way better than Catwoman) 1. Spider-Man.  Marvel meant a ton to me over the years, and if I added up all the money i’ve spent on their comics, I probably could buy myself a new car at the very least.  So it pained me to let them go.

What I heard today was disconcerting to me, because I care about Marvel Comics, and more because of what their mistakes do to the comic industry as a whole. The local shop owner told me that Marvel used to comprise about 48% of their sales, and now they’re down to about 25%. Whoa. That’s a huge drop. And I know that doesn’t mean that people are jumping ship and buying equal amount of titles of other books. The comic book readers like me, are mostly quitting except for picking out a few titles here and there. It’s really sad. Marvel, apparently, has it the worst, as the shop owner mentioned that the distributor comes into the shop, asks how things are going, with a caveat of “other than marvel” and they laugh about the poor sales together.

Now this could be anecdotal for one shop, but it’s not. If you look ten years ago, Marvel led comic sales across the board, every time, hands down, and had for decades prior to that. What happened was laziness, complacency, an unwillingness to learn from business mistakes and a healthy dose of social justice sprinkled in on top of that to seal their coffin.

Marvel went wrong in a few big ways that they need to correct:

  1. Crossover events. I mentioned how they’re just not special anymore. They haven’t been special in a decade. You may get a boost in sales temporarily but it doesn’t do anything for the long term. I hate them. Most readers hate them. We tolerated them for awhile because it looked like Bendis and Co. were doing cool things with the universe, but it turned out there wasn’t much of a real plan there other than to make new crossover events. I pick up a book to read its story. If you want to do a team up whatever with Spidery and X-Men you can make that happen within the confines of the one story and without 50,000 loose tie ins that the writers shoe-horn in. It makes for lousy books every single time.
  2. Variant covers. I was informed that it was recently or is “Venom variant month” where everything has a Venom variant cover. Look, variants were cool a couple of times, when it was special. Once it started happening all the time, it killed collecting. There’s barely any collecting going on now, and that’s your fault, comic industry. Marvel is repeating these mistakes by killing the specialness of such things even more.
  3. Social Justice. It stems from the editorial down to the writers, and they’re al the same lockstep of trying to force a left wing social narrative on everyone trying to relax and read Hulk beating up bad guys in a pure rage. Your overall audience aren’t hipsters in New York City. We’re spread out across the country and are probably split mostly along the way they country’s split. Recognize that. I couldn’t find any book that looked like the iconic characters any longer. Everyone is a gender swap trans muslim whatever gimmick of the month to virtue signal how diverse they are. And it suffers from the same problems as the first two points I made about the industry. When this was done once or twice, it was something different. It was cute. It made news headlines. Marvel got a quick sales bump. They went for that cheap gimmick on repeat rather than maintaining excellence in storytelling. It’s not making something new, it’s using a marketing gimmick for what would have been a single issue of What If? 30 years ago. A bigger problem is it isn’t to evoke the same sense of What If? fun and wonder, it’s 100% completely for the virtue signal. That intent shows through, it annoys people. No one wants it, for real.
  4. Distribution. This is an old problem, but it’s getting steadily worse. Throwing these things in specialty comic shops only or lost on the internet just gets clouded with easier to find, easier to digest content. Not exclusively Marvel’s fault here, but they need to get with a new program. I don’t have an answer here, but someone smarter than me working for Disney probably does.
  5. Not Telling A Story In An Issue. Stories go like this: Issue 1: Thor wakes up, brushes his (or her, or xer or whatever gender this week is popular) teeth. Eats breakfast. Heads out the door. Something happens. Cliffhanger to be continued! That is not enough to get me remotely interested in what’s going on, let alone to remember what happened a month from now to continue it. This is why I’m only buying trades, which hurts sales. I think the last instance I remember where whole stories were told was Tom De Falco’s Spectacular Spider-Girl, the third incarnation of that book. He’s a great storyteller. I miss him on Marvel books. When a book was a book. Cliffhangers ok, but give me a full story.
  6. Resting on the laurels of Stan Lee. There’s nothing new, and that’s nothing new. Really the problem is Iron Man is 50+ years old. And they’ll do their social justice gimmick “what if Iron Man is…. female! Because women and men are interchangeable!” and then, when a movie’s about to hit, they go quickly to revert back to some iconic unchanging Iron Man. Then repeat. There’s no long term investment available for these storylines. Marvel attempted it and succeed to make continuing stories for these characters up until about the 90s, but they couldn’t think of ways to keep them going and maintain continuity. I’m still pissed over One More Day. That was lazy writing. It doesn’t help that readers are disappointing, and any attempt to bring forth something new doesn’t last, but it’s partially Marvel’s fault for letting it get that way, and not really pushing their top talent toward those endeavors. Frankly, I loved Runaways, Arana, Spider-Girl, Spider-Man 2099. Many others did too. They didn’t get a long term commitment or lasting support from marketing or editorial. They were vestiges allowed to exist for a time as an experiment, but they were too little too late. To fix this, Marvel needs to make a real dedicated push and be willing to make a long term plan out of it. It probably involves disconverging the “Marvel Universe” and letting some books be separate, like Image does. I doubt they’ll ever be able to do that.

My last point is my greatest, and the reasoning is that any of these fixes can be done to one or two books, or for a bit. Someone will always come in with an ALL NEW SUPER COLLECTORS #1 and reset it to just these five terrible points on repeat. We know that as the readership, and that’s part of why Marvel’s lost its luster. It needs real creatives, real leadership to take it in a bold and fresh new direction to resolve this. I doubt it’s going to happen any time soon.

I long for the days of someone saying “Excelsior!” once again.

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17 thoughts on ““Make Mine Marvel No More!”

  1. We’ll need new comics, and new publishers, I think. What once was might return from the dead, but I think the web comics and new publishers will take the place of the dinosaurs.

  2. By the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, by the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, may you shun the Sons of Stannish, and stand tall under the Light of the Blessed Vishanti!

    Excelsior, dude!

    It’ll have to burn, but we can rebuild. They can’t.

  3. I’m continually appalled by what I hear has been and is going on in books I used to read regularly.

    I pretty much dumped Marvel within a year after Age of Apocalypse and Mutant X because I realized that was about the pinnacle of what they could do; it was all gonna be downhill from there, as far as the X-books were concerned. I’d already given up on Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, Avengers, Cap, Hawkeye, etc.

    Interesting ideas would show up and barely get a year or two (Force Works), and things would reset.

    I am glad I was in when I was; I caught some serious greatness in the late 70’s, through the 80’s up to the mid-90’s and finally petering out shortly into the new millennium: Secret Wars, Inferno, Mutant Massacre, Rocket Raccoon, Spider-Man 2099, Peter David, Mignola, McFarlane, Jim and Jae Lee, CLAREMONT!

    I’d love to be able to share those stories with my kids, but it’s not likely, and there’s NO chance for a comeback in the near future; possibly ever.
    It’s depressing.

  4. If I’m to read a mainstream tights book, it’s more likely to be DC for me. Not that they’ve done much better lately, but I prefer the archetype school DC has to the relatable characters Marvel generally created. Aspirations over buddies.

    So, you submitting a hero story to Silver Empire?

    • I did. I had a very odd superhero story that is so unexpected conceptually I’ve never been able to sell it, even though it’s certainly a tense, emotional piece. One of my favorite works I’ve written. Hopefully they like it.

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  6. I think there is an argument for not making huge ongoing series if writers can’t come up with stories to support that series. Watching Tony fall off the wagon again because the writers have run out of ideas is irritating.

    Better I think is to make each run of comics like a book told in graphical format. For example pick up a Conan book, translate it to a 12 issue comic series, then end that series. Obviously you want writers capable of producing their own stories not just using other people’s, but you get the idea.

    If you can’t think of a story for that character, give him or her a break. Write a story for another character. Bring in the first character as a guest, so your readers know they’re still around. World build. Astro City is one of my favourite universes because Kurt Busiek and friends don’t try to force a character to always be doing something. They have a universe full of stories to tell, even of the uncostumed people who live their daily lives in a city of superheroes, and because they’re good writers, and because they don’t try to do too much, every story I’ve read of theirs has been good.

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  8. See; I think #3 is the biggest problem by far. It’s so big, that all of the others are somewhat irrelevant compared to it. If they fixed #3, then the others would be problems. But #3 is the headlights turned on bright shining right in your eyes coming at you on a dark night so badly that you can’t see anything else.

  9. I stopped reading years ago, probably right about when Marvel made Bendis their main writer. The crossovers were definitely a major factor – I had bills to pay and didn’t care to jeopardize that so I could read some comics I probably wasn’t going to enjoy anyway. I still love my reprints of the good stuff from the Silver and Bronze ages, though.

    Looking at Marvel from afar now…it looks like total chaos to me. Seemingly every character has multiple versions running around in the same continuity. The X-Men have apparently doubled-down on characters from multiple timelines, which is one of the first things they should have squelched. It’s far worse than whatever confusion DC claimed their multiverse was causing before Crisis.

    The idea of being a superhero at heart is that it’s a fantasy in which no one realizes your true potential – it’s basically a very singular, individualistic thing – but what I see increasingly from Marvel and DC is that being a superhero is kind of a slog not much different from real life. “With great power comes…great responsibility!” has been replaced with, “So you’ve got superpowers? So what, so does everyone else. Report to academy, do your homework, get a job, get your government-mandated superheroing license, shut your mouth and do what your elders tell you, ROOKIE!”

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  11. Best comic crossovers I can recall were the Predator ones ‘cuz the nature of them allows for a self-contained arc) and the WildC.A.T.S/Aliens one where anyone that died actually stayed dead and it affected some future thangs going forwards.

    Image, now there’s some guys that knew how to handle crossovers.

    also Andy your last line is pretty funny. I’ve been playing a game called Beat Cop (exactly what it sounds like) and I think you got it right there. Marvel’s been riding on the “I have X powers that means I can shoot beams of X” train too long. No innovative power uses. No interesting seemingly useless powers becoming deadly. (well parodied on Family Guy when Meg can only grow her nails btw, haha)

    Worse for Marvel, they’re trying to do this in an Internationalist Internet age. If someone doesn’t read DC, they’ve well and sure been spoiled on better power usage by various manga here and there (7 Deadly Sins, Jojo, Locke the Superman, Speedgrapher, heck there’s a whole bunch)

    When it was just against DC, it wasn’t so bad, DC would have to slip up sometime, and then you get those bouncy readers back, but the competition is too varied now, and too GOOD. And yet, they’ve remained stubbornly static on writing style.

    Look at all the FUN DC characters have with their powers. That bit with Superman shaving with his heat vision, or Wonder Woman stealing ice cream for a delinquent child. In Marvel they would get a stern talkin’ to from their local Xavier type about ‘treating their powers with respect.’ They are just too set on this “mutant powers as guns” analogy that culminated with Civil War. So now you have a bunch of no-nonsense no-fun-guy heroes who treat ‘superheroing’ as a “beat cop” job, like ALL of them, when DC only has Green Arrow and Batman doing that. And so you’re stuck writing “reactive drudgery” like “villain does this, superhero must stop them, SUDDENLY SJ CRISIS, 4 pages of moralising, beat bad guy, go home and hang up uniform.” They quite literally are superpowered ‘beat cops’ (I thought we had Savage Dragon if we wanted that.) These damn millennials can’t see the world that exists beyond their own desks and tv shows (hence all the crappy Star Wars/Harry Potter comparisons to every single policy flying around) so they have no creative fuel when they eventually hobknob their way into a creative position.

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