The Marvel Monsoon Versus The DC Drought

Marvel vs DC Comics

Marvel Legacy is on the horizon now, and, with it, Marvel is promising fewer titles and a return of the classic heroes. This seems unsurprising as their attempts to add new heroes and diversify their cast has been met with fan outcries, and their shipments to stores in North America have taken a drop. The mixed responses to Secret Empire probably didn’t help either, as Marvel can’t seem to stop pissing off longtime fans.

I’m actually a little sad about this.

Sure, it would be nice to see Steve Rogers as not a Nazi anymore, Tony Stark as more than a hologram, and the Odinson be prominent once again. Yeah, I do miss Bruce Banner and would like to see him back. I really want a return of the Fantastic Four. The promise of legacy numbering seems to imply that there will be no more soft-reboots or relaunches or whatever it is that Marvel does anytime soon, which is definitely a good thing. I also would like a culling of the major events, even if they have been tracking upward through the last couple of years. (which also challenges the narrative of declining Marvel sales and yes I know these figures are a year old).

But I like the variety that Marvel gives. In fact, I love it. I like that Luke Cage and Iron Fist have their own comics once more. I like that Ant-Man and Spider Woman had their own books for quite some time. I like that the most prominent members of the U.S Avengers are freaking Squirrel Girl, Sunspot, and Cannonball. I like the idea that they have a story for whichever hero tickles your fancy.

Winter Soldier

Before I got picked up by Bleeding Cool, I had a website called the B-List Defender (which is still up and I’m deciding what to do with it). The reason for this is that I love the B-list heroes. My favorite Marvel characters are the likes of Luke Cage, Ant-Man, Spider Woman, Black Panther, Hawkeye, the Winter Soldier and Captain Marvel (the B-list status of those last four is questionable with the movies and all). My favorites from DC are Hawkman, Green Arrow, Firestorm, Mister Terrific, and the Huntress.

Sure, I like Superman and Spider-Man and a lot of the A-Listers well enough. But, give me an option between Heroes for Hire and The Amazing Spider-Man, and the former will be in my hands before you finish the offer.

A lot of people are genuinely bothered by the fact that Marvel is willing to try out a comic for just about anyone under the sun. That really makes no sense to me whatsoever. You’re being given variety. Why is that a problem? No one is making you buy Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. Diversity: it’s not just a word that makes internet comment sections and forums erupt into anger. It also means that there are enough comics for everyone to enjoy.

A common response to that is that they’re hurting their own business by trying this out. And yes, Marvel’s comic sales are apparently down. The fact that a mainstay like Ghost Rider only got five issues before Marvel decided it needed to go indicate that something is up behind the scenes.

Let’s deconstruct that myth of the declining comic sales for Marvel here for a minute. Comichron reported on sales figures for comics of the year recently, and, if you’re talking actual dollars made, Marvel is still sitting pretty with Venom #150 and Secret Empire #1 being the best-profiting comics for the year so far. Yes, actual shipments in North America are down, but that is still just a fraction of the whole picture. However, what you’re seeing is only a fragment of the whole picture anyway when you remember that foreign, trade paperbacks, variant cover, and digital sales are not a part of that Diamond Top 100 list that you’re clinging too like it’s the catch-all argument winner.

By the way, we have actually talked before here at Bleeding Cool about how informative those lists actually are…(they’re not really that informative).

Hawkman

Many people seem to viciously want under-performing comics to die as soon as possible. That was a common response to my Black Panther and the Crew review recently. These people seem to miss the point that a two issue series is really not a lot of data to go on in terms of sales trajectory, and I mentioned that in my review. But, oh well.

Oh, and yes, I do read much of the verbal vandalism that clutters the comment sections. Many of you seem like nice people. The others, not so much. And the people who want the EIC himself to fire me because I’m “bad at writing” can really calm yourselves though.

Anyway, people seemed to want BP and the Crew to burn like it drove the car that killed their dog or something. There’s this vicious need to see this comic fail that seems unrelated to how they feel about the quality of the comic itself that’s a bit baffling.

That’s not the only place either. A lot of the responses to the articles concerning the possible “Fantastic Three” thing seemed to revel in the idea of underperforming books dying. That’s so bizarre. Why? I don’t even want comics that I genuinely don’t like to die. I hated Dark Days: The Forge, but, if this Metal story were killed tomorrow, it would add nothing to my life. I’d actually feel pretty bad for the people who genuinely enjoyed the lead-in to it.

Oversaturation is a concern, don’t get me wrong. I do feel empathy for the comic retailers who have dozens of unsold back-issues of Mosaic because not enough people wanted to buy this comic. However, that is not going to kill Marvel’s comic book division

You want to know the biggest threat to the Marvel Comics? That is the Disney executives who may one day decide to arbitrarily shut this operation down because, even at their best times, comic books make minute chump change in comparison to the movies and the merchandising. Marvel Comics, though I enjoy much of their output, are kind of a barnacle stuck on the bottom of this massive whale that is Marvel Studios and their merchandising divisions.

The same principle goes for DC Comics. Though their movies have not been critical successes in the dark age between Dark Knight and Wonder Woman, they still make assloads of money. Their merchandise sells too. The comics, even though they are doing well right now, are not anything compared to the kind of money WB makes off of the movies, television, and merchandise.

While there are many DC comics that I love right now, Aquaman, Titans, Green Arrow, Green Lanterns, Batwoman, Nightwing, and Hal Jordan and the GL Corps, there is still a vacuum, many great former DC regulars that are nowhere to be found.

And, frankly, that bores me.

Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, Stargirl, Captain Atom, Ray Palmer, Firestorm, Metamorpho, Black Lightning, the Demon, Booster Gold, the Legion of Superheroes, the Outsiders, and the freaking Justice Society of America themselves have seemingly just dropped off the face of the Earths.

Yes, some of these people have had miniseries, references, and places in the Legend of Tomorrow comic in the past months. Some of these characters were in Justice League: United a couple of years ago. Some of them are even in those stupid cartoon crossovers DC won’t stop pumping out, and, no, that does not satisfy my need to see them put out new super her titles. None of this really does that for me, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.

“Sticking to the meat and potatoes” seems to be another common response. “No one gives a shit about these characters,” people say. Now, I’m only one person, but I feel like my existence at least opens the door to the possibility that some people indeed do give a shit about the likes of Hawkman, Mister Terrific, the Outsiders, and the Justice Society.

Or, how about the fact that many of these characters have existed for, at the least, a quarter of a century, to, at most, 75 years, and they generally stuck around consistently until the past few years. There is a market for these characters in some capacity, and that market will be willing to part their cash more quickly for a Justice Society book, a Demon book, a Booster Gold book, as opposed to Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman.

Now, I’m not stupid. If Tony S. DanielsThe Savage Hawkman or Eric Wallace’s Mister Terrific sold like hotcakes DC wouldn’t have canned those series. However, like I said, I’m just not convinced that there is no profit to be made in these types of books.

The way DC started off New 52 satisfied me in the amount of B-to-C list characters they had on the market. That’s why I loved it in the beginning. Hawk and Dove were back, Hawkman had his own comic, OMAC and Mister Terrific, two characters who had either never had their own book or hadn’t in decades, were there with their own title. However, DC showed a level of ruthlessness there that I don’t think anyone was expecting. Eight issues in, and they started axing comics in droves in what seemed to be scheduled executions. Remember how much DC loved Animal Man and Swamp Thing for a while because they were sudden hits? Where are they now? The sells dipped, and DC just cast the books aside.

Hawk and Dove

Those last two books also show another point. You don’t know what could turn out to be a massive hit unless you try it. I certainly wasn’t expecting Swamp Thing and Animal Man to have two of the biggest comics of the early New 52. If you just stick to “meat and potatoes,” you may have consistent sales, but you won’t know what else could be making a lot of money.

G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel turned into a smash hit for Marvel Comics, if you want a Marvel example. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur turns out a lot of profit at Scholastic book fairs. Guardians of the Galaxy made mad bank at the movie theaters and has become one of Marvel’s best-selling comic book series. No one could have predicted that. Also, Ant-Man made itself a tidy profit at the box office too.

My overall point is, if Marvel’s recent practices have been a monsoon of titles, DC has been in a perpetual drought since the implementation of Rebirth. There are some titles promised after Metal, but, other than that, DC’s horizon is looking really bare. I’m not thrilled about the idea of Marvel becoming the same.

Luke Cage

If it were a choice between the monsoon and the drought, I would choose the monsoon every day of the week and twice on Wednesdays (it’s a joke about new comic book day). However, I am aware that it may not be entirely feasible. So, what about a middle ground? What about only trying out a couple of new titles every few months? Is that so bank-breaking? Is that why DC hasn’t released a new mainstream comic since Batwoman?

Now, the likely answer there is that no one upstairs at DC cares about the other characters. They see no value in them as intellectual property (IP). Miniseries like Death of Hawkman and Legends of Tomorrow want to float the idea of these characters as valuable IP.

Here’s a parting thought that few think about but was given to me by the brilliant Mark Seifert here at Bleeding Cool: another major inclination for the sales of Marvel and DC comic books is to add value to their IP. Whether or not sales are great, it keeps these characters in the public consciousness. Of course, more popular characters have more IP than the lesser known ones that I love so much.

So, in a sense, the Big Two are not so much selling their characters to us as much as their bosses and shareholders. We can debate sales figures all day, but, in the end, something has to do extraordinarily well in print for it to even be a blip on the radar of these people, who probably haven’t even picked up a comic since they were ten years old. As long as these comics translate into good movies, the comics can do whatever they want. If not, then they can’t.

Marvel IP has proven to be valuable all-around thanks to the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man. DC has a hard time getting theirs off the ground, not helped by the critical bust that was Suicide Squad with some of its relatively obscure anti-heroes. Marvel can make gambles all day; DC doesn’t feel secure in doing so.

There are untapped markets here that could be filled with some of the B and C-list characters. Why should they not try that? Hell, there are readers like myself who would prefer the return of many of those characters.

 

About Joshua Davison

Josh is a longtime super hero comic fan and an aspiring comic book and fiction writer himself. He also trades in videogames, Star Wars, and Magic: The Gathering, and he is also a budding film buff. He's always been a huge nerd, and he hopes to contribute something of worth to the wider geek culture conversation. He is also happy to announce that he is the new Reviews Editor for Bleeding Cool. Follow on Twitter @joshdavisonbolt.