Comic Store In Your Future – Marvel Finally Has An Open Talk With Retailers And All Heck Breaks Loose

Posted by April 3, 2017 50 Comments

car-1Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics, writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

I read the ICV2 article about the Marvel Retail Summit. Quite the surprise. Usually, Marvel leaves something like ComicsPRO or whatever before taking questions and lets DC answer questions and take all the flak.

The comment that the only limited series that sell are Star Wars limited series was odd. Hello, what is Secret Empire and what was Civil War II and all the other events but limited series? If limited series do not sell then the fact that over the years the main Marvel Universe titles are really limited series seems like flawed logic. Almost like that is the problem. Readership now believes when they read a “new” (or rebooted) Marvel ongoing series that it is just in fact just a limited series.

Marvel acted surprised that the reboots were no longer “working”. I for years have been writing for my own store’s newsletter that non-stop renumbering of books were short term answers for sales. Simple fact if every time a title starts over with a first issue and it has fewer sales than the previous title’s first issue with the same characters or characters and it sells less each time than that means the well is running dry. It took longer than I thought but the well is dry for Marvel’s renumbering with first issues. The renumbering for years was showing a downward sale trend on the first issues over the previous time.  Simple math.

As I have stated before Avengers and so many other titles have received the first issue treatment within a month roughly or so of their previous “last issue”  while the story is a direct continuation of the previous issue that even the regular readers don’t understand why there is a first issue. The last first issue I ordered higher thinking that the first issue trick would still work. I did not. It was truly a jumping off point for readership here in store. So yes Marvel still got more issues sold in the short term since I ordered wrong but in the longer term lost readers and sales when I adjusted to the new status quo that was picking up the title. Marvel used to at times years ago let a title get canceled and wait to bring it back.  Now titles I wish would end and stay ended for a least a while simply will keep coming back. Just let Captain Marvel have her own book closer to the upcoming movie. Right now since it has “ended” so many times people lack interest overall.

Artists rarely move the needle was said. Sadly that is at times true. A lot of talent gets lost in the flood of books each month. Marvel no longer seems to have standards. For Marvel, it used to be there was a sold number that a book needed to sell. Now, what is it four thousand copies? Marvel used to always have books in their main line that outsold the lower tier books from other companies. Meaning Marvel had the money and marketing and popularity over other companies. Now somehow despite having movies that millions have seen with their characters they have books selling at the same level or lower than lesser known characters and publishers with a lot fewer resources. That is screwed up.

What I read was a lack of ideas from Marvel for any creativity or ideas on what readers would like to read. With all the shock and events maybe just a good old tale where no one dies and is a break from “nothing will ever be the same again!” NCIS has been on the air for years. Its typical plot, someone does die but that is usually the murder mystery for the show. And some of the main characters on the show have died and left but not every episode is a main character dies! Or goes evil! Or “nothing will ever be the same again!”

Oh no, variants aren’t working anymore. They are not that big of a deal anymore because they have been done so often. Plus the poor people who bought the one in a thousand copy or whatever of say Star Wars 1 or another title for so much learned the hard way that over time with the flood of all the variants coming out the value on them dropped often times badly. In the store I had a person buy all the previous volume’s  variants for the Amazing Spider-Man #1. I did have a lot of copies left over but it was worth it since it was a pretty penny for all the variants. Then this volume’s first issue comes out with all its variants and he wants nothing to do with Spider-Man. He had assumed that there wouldn’t be yet another first issue. Let alone one so close to the one he had invested into. The variants for the most recent one also were not nearly the quality as the previous ones were either. The artists did move the needle on the variants of the previous Amazing Spider-man volume.

Speculators left the comic market before. Oh say, the 90s comic bust?

A part of me wondered about the Generations one-shots Marvel is coming out with. Though I do not get why it has to run while Secret Empire is going on. It is about past characters meeting their newer counterparts.

This got me thinking.

Back (decades ago) when I first seriously started getting into comics I thought one of the main differences between Marvel and DC is Marvel tended to have one version of a character while DC would have multiple.

Meaning there was years ago one Spider-man, one Wolverine, one Thor, one Captain America, one Hulk, one Black Panther, and so on. With some exceptions such as Spider-Woman and She-Hulk. Though for a while at the time I didn’t even know She-Hulk existed. It was weird when I did find out She-Hulk had her own comic. I was like I read how many issues of the Incredible Hulk and never once was there a mention of his cousin let alone about She-Hulk? I somehow missed every issue of her own comic. With Spider-Woman it was a little different. She has what to do with Spider-Man? I even read Spider-Woman #29 the issue where Spider-Man teamed up with her in her own comic to fight the Enforcer and still thought why is she called Spider-Woman? Even though I liked the issue as a kid I still wondered that.

While DC had Superman there were also his younger version Superboy and his cousin Supergirl.

Batman had Batgirl and Batmite and even Ace the Bathound for a time.
Green Lantern, of course, was part of thousands of Green Lanterns.

The Justice Society of America were older versions of the Justice League of America.

For me, this made Marvel characters more unique and even cooler to me at the time.

Now flash forward to present day and wow Marvel is completely different. The supporting casts used to be (not always) “normal” people. Now not so much. And now there are two Iron Men, two Captain Americas, and so on.

Present day two different Spider-men are featured in two different comics titles. Mary Jane has now fought alongside Peter Parker’s Spiderman using a hi-tech armor. Does that mean I feel she should play the part of damsel in distress? No strong female characters are good. Just seems odd that someone with little no to training can easily jump into danger like a superhero and keep up. Meaning, say, a cop were to drop his gun and baton and I picked them up and tried to use them. I would most likely make a complete buffoon of myself since I have no police training. And it would be a disservice to police.

Spider-woman and Spider-Gwen are also Spider-Man related. Though Spider-Woman tying in with Spider-Man is kind of like the cousin you don’t really know but found out that you are in fact related to.

Wolverine went from the cool lone mysterious X-Man character to having a son Daken who had his own series. And a female cloned version of him, X-23 who stars in the All-New Wolverine. And currently, the main Wolverine is “dead”.

Thor of course somehow lost the claim to his name because he wasn’t worthy of his hammer. Jane Foster his old girlfriend became Thor. The hammer lifting I understand. Taking your old boyfriend’s name along with his hammer a little harsh. Yeah, I read both titles and still don’t get it. Reading Jane’s adventures is fun at least.

Steve Rogers as Captain America over the years became a little weird to read. Lost in another dimension. Aged to be old, an old man along with Sharon Carter ageing to an old woman who just happens to get stuck in the same dimension but Steve didn’t know about it for years. As a comic store owner answering new people’s questions about why Steve Rogers was now so old with “he was in another dimension” never went over well. Steve went back to his normal age while poor Sharon is still her old age. Steve’s friend Sam Wilson once the Falcon is now Captain America along with Steve. And of course, now Steve Rogers has been a lifelong member of Hydra.

Black Panther has a sister now who had her own limited series. She died. But she is going to be in the upcoming Black Panther movie so she will most likely be back. And the Black Panther will have three ongoing Black Panther related titles soon. I am behind on Black Panther and World of Wakanda. I was reading both of them. Black Panther didn’t feel like Black Panther to me and World of Wakanda wasn’t very interesting I felt. Black Panther I thought had a forced plot with him needing the “Crew’s” help. He is the king of Wakanda for goodness sake. But of course, there needs to be a set up for the third Black Panther related tie-in.

Hulk. Hard to believe there used to be just one Hulk, Bruce Banner along with one She-Hulk, his cousin. In recent years he was shot in the back of the head (not to kill him, though) as Bruce Banner in a weird Hulk series that made little sense. Hulk split from Banner while Banner was the evil mad scientist and Hulk was the good guy for a bit. Hulk was working for S.H.I.E.L.D. The love of Bruce Banner’s life, Betty Ross became Red She-Hulk. Betty’s father General “Thunderbolt” Ross became a red Hulk also. Rick Jones became the super powered A-Bomb for a time. Though now Rick Jones is Marvel’s answer to DC’s old Oracle. He all the sudden is a master computer hacker. Former supporting Hulk character Amadeus Cho is currently the Hulk. Granted Amadeus was always supposed to be one of the smartest of the Marvel Universe so not a “normal” supporting cast character. Hawkeye killed Bruce Banner in the last Civil War. Oh, also Bruce had two sons (not by Betty) Skaar and Hiro-Kala. Hiro-Kala would try to destroy the earth. Yeah, my head is ready to explode from trying to type this all up and keep it brief and without losing my sanity. Hulk will be in the upcoming Thor movie this year so I expect Bruce will be back soon. And there was the young She-Hulk from the future who briefly was in her own series.

The X-Men have had a complicated history for decades. Cable being the son of Scott Summers and Jean Grey but sent to the future and all that. Racheal Summers being the daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey from another timeline. And of course there is a lot more X-Men history I am just going to skip over.

Recently the young time-displaced X-Men from All New X-Men have been revealed to having been replaced by themselves from the point they left and time did it to fix itself. I read it and said what? Since when did time just fix itself? So now we will have two Beasts, two Icemen, one young Jean Grey from the past, one young Cyclops from the past. And of course young Angel with fire wings now.

I enjoyed the young versions of the original X-Men. All New X-Men was fun to read. I assumed that it would not be a long term situation. One issue showed that when the young Cyclops almost died in the current timeline that the old one faded away and the timeline would be changed. For some reason, that issue seems to mean nothing now.

That’s just a brief write up about the various Marvel characters. My head hurts trying to keep that all straight. People used to say DC had a more complicated and confusing history. Marvel now beats them on that front. This doubling of various versions of characters seems unnecessary and confusing. Now when talking about Jean Grey we have to say the young Jean Grey from the past stuck in the present and not the one that is dead? If someone says the Beast was cool in that issue. Oh, which one?

If just a few of these characters were going through all this it wouldn’t be as big of a deal. But with most of Marvel’s bigger names having so much baggage it does make me wonder is it is dragging Marvel down.

I am just going over the various Marvel characters as I type this figuring that most people already into comics will read this and already know at least a little bit about the characters. Imagine trying to explain this all to a potential new comic reader.

Marvel has gone through a lot over the years. The doubling of characters using the same name. The various events. The various versions of the Illuminati. The end of the Ultimate Universe and so much more. Their heroes not really being heroes. I mean really Doctor Strange wanted to sell his soul to a demon for more power?  Is it too much? Is it now a barrier for lapsed readership? For new readership? For current readership?

In short as a retailer I don’t think Marvel is by any means riding off into the sun set. DC after DC You was written off taking a pounding but made a surprise turn around with Rebirth. I personally feel Marvel has been doing things their way for years and are trapped in their mindset. The whole it’s not our fault isn’t going to help anything. As the industry leader, lead. Being in the lead gives Marvel a heck of an advantage. As a small store owner, I can’t just say sales are down, oh well not my fault. I have to brainstorm and try things and not be afraid to fail. Some of my ideas that I thought were to be truthful pretty weak turned out to be great. I often say that if an idea doesn’t work we just won’t try it again. Or if we do learn and modify it.

I have learned to keep coming back to the basics. Sell. I have gotten distracted before by having free gaming events. Helping others with their events and so on. Marvel ask for some of that movie money to invest into your comic line. Get people interested in reading your comics. It’s not like all the customers are gone. Leave behind the variants and gimmicks. Currently, the people that were into Marvel getting into those are indeed gone here in store for the most part. Scottie Young (an artist) does still have a following for the covers he does for Marvel. Cosplay variants and Hip Hop variants are dead here.

What do I hear a lot in store about Marvel? I want to see Captain America being Captain America again. Meaning being a hero. Thor being Thor. Not self-doubt Thor. And so on.

This has also been written about on Bleeding Cool already. Mark Waid who writes for Marvel and has had a mad on for DC for awhile chimed in on twitter:

Waid Wondercon F-5 @MarkWaid

It is to David Gabriel’s enormous credit that he somehow chooses, every day, not to put his fist through Jude Terror’s smug-ass face.

Marvel editor Tom Brevoort then followed Mark’s lead.

Tom Brevoort @TomBrevoort

@MarkWaid There’s a reason that guy uses a pseudonym. I assume it’s because even he doesn’t want to take credit for the drivel he says.

Wow, if it isn’t an article saying how great Marvel is then how hurt can one get?

I look at this and think, these people are just burying their heads in the sand. There are issues with the comic market. Avoiding or deflecting criticism isn’t the way to go.  It’s the internet guys. You both use it to hide behind it with all your twitter comments. It’s nothing you would ever say to a person’s face.

Make no mistake I have met David Gabriel. If he were to sucker punch someone odds are it would hurt. He is a big guy. By big, I mean in shape. But does he really need people speaking for him?

As a small store owner who also writes for Bleeding Cool, criticism is part of the game. There is a reason I don’t have a twitter account. The whole stick to the basics. Instead of trying to prove myself right to someone over the internet I sell. Has anyone ever during an internet fight said you know what your right and I am wrong? No, it’s just a bunch of people arguing endlessly.  I do not personally wish anything bad to happen to anyone.

Again as a retailer, I see Marvel with all the tools and leadership they need. That is why I get fired up. Just change the mindset and shake things up. By that I mean quit following what has been done before over the years and get selling to people who want to read your product.  I have faith in comics. People want to be entertained.  If the rumored 2018 Marvel changes are true, then that is great. It might be awhile but it is a plan.  I am not calling for anyone’s head or job or saying someone should get punched. If there is going to be punching maybe we should have a group get together for a boxing match and have it be for charity. I can wear a T-shirt saying I am Jude Terror. I am confident I could hold my own with Mark and Tom. David not so much.

(Last Updated April 3, 2017 7:49 am )

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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