With the release of the March 2018 solicits from Marvel, it fast became clear that a swathe of titles were being cancelled. These were clear either from their complete absence from the solicits, their solicitations sounding very final, or even hints in the cover artwork. Since the speculation began, many of the titles that we speculated had received the chop have been confirmed, and even some that we hadn’t come to speculate on yet.
Books receiving their notice included Generation X, Gwenpool, Luke Cage, Iceman, Hawkeye, and America. For me, as I began to see the scale of books affected, one thing grew disturbingly clear: all the titles involved diversity and representation, either in the characters featured within (nearly all including leads that were female, people of colour, or LGBTQ+) or in the form of the creator voices involved (again, largely women, people of colour, and/or LGBTQ+).
After starting the year with a massive bit of bad press when it appeared as though Marvel blamed declining sales upon diversity and their perceived audience backlash to it, this is not a great look for them to end the year on.
When Marvel announced their Legacy initiative, returning to legacy numbering on issues and returning the classic iterations of many characters, there were some concerned that this would mean Marvel would do away with the more diverse modern characters it had cultivated like Ms. Marvel, Thor, All New Wolverine, etc. But also, characters like Iceman, finally given his own ongoing and fully able to explore the drastically new and different status quo of the character as an out gay man. However, Marvel assured readers that the Marvel Universe was big enough for both classic and new.
Ostensibly, this is absolutely true. The Marvel Universe is sprawling, and from day one has endeavoured to show the ‘world outside your window’. And now that world is more diverse than ever, as more and more kinds of people are given representation and participation in various forms of media and walks of life.
But now, here we are, facing the news that Marvel is doing away with a number of their diverse and new voices in these titles, and notably, is removing the two leading LGBTQ+ characters in the form of America and Iceman.
However, it seems hard to believe that Marvel would just genuinely get rid of diversity and representation in such a callous manner, surely? Surely, any basic PR person could see how that would look bad, or how that looked to markets directly feeling representation by these titles. After all, pretty much all of the titles in question have been critically well received, and enjoyed fervent fan bases. Gwenpool alone was given her own book pretty much solely for the fan reaction to the design of the character.
And after all, Marvel is still putting out titles such as Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur —diverse, representative titles for audiences sorely under-represented in the medium.
Marvel, as well as some of the creators affected, has put it down to sales. As best as I can with information available to me and publicly, I looked into this notion.
It should be noted that these figures are at best estimates, and not concrete, definitive sales; based on the ordering patterns of retailers, and all titles figures fluctuate wildly, month on month.
Certainly, all these titles regularly do not sell anywhere near the amounts that a title such as Avengers or even X-Men Gold does, and certainly not Amazing Spider-Man. But of course they wouldn’t, and one hopes that Marvel doesn’t expect every book they put into the world to sell as such. As nice as I’m sure as that would be, that would be wildly delusional on Marvel’s part. After all, these titles have long established hardcore collectors who would blindly buy each issue of X-Men if it told a six-issue story arc all about good ol’ Charlie Xavier getting some new wheels on his chair, with that nice platinum spinning trim. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it means you can’t possibly hold a new title or character up to comparisons with such books in this manner.
But that is not to say that sales on these titles was bad. Month by month, the majority fell within the region of 10,000 – 15,000 copies, which is a reasonable amount to be selling. Looking across Marvel’s line, this often put them on a par with continuing titles like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
Moreover, this put them generally only a few thousand copies below Ms. Marvel, and generally a few thousand copies well above the sales of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.
During Marvel’s Legacy initiative, including the lenticular covers, Marvel’s entire line saw a massive boost in sales. That included these cancelled titles, with most of them enjoying an immediate tripling in orders for that month. This suggests that if boosting figures was desired, then including them in pushes for advertising within Marvel comics and also in more general media would help attain that, especially if Marvel showed confidence in the brands of the titles by keeping them in on their many sales gimmicks like the lenticular covers.
Ultimately, though, such a move is not viable in the long term. So how is it that their LGBTQ+-friendly, POC-focused, or female-led titles are being ended when others, even as much a part of representation and diversity as these are, continue?
Looking at Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, it could be down to trades sales. It is generally held that these books survive on the popularity of their trades sales, not just in the direct market and local comic shops, but in book stores across the world, too, and tremendously well in Scholastic fairs and the like.
However, with these titles, most had not had their first volume trade out for long, and in Iceman‘s case, it isn’t actually released until January 9th, 2018. When so much of the audience buys their comics in trade format now, including regular trade buyers who do not buy the monthlies or wait for the first collection to make the decision to stick with the series, how then can a decision be made on the continuation of a series before that first trade has come out? After all, many of these decisions will have been made months ago, possibly even with only a few issues out for public consumption. It makes the following ad, which includes a couple of the titles with only a couple of months left in them, seem a tad ironic.
Technically, bookstores generally receive preorder ability of a trade collection even before the direct market. But it is worth bearing in mind that the whole concept of preordering a book, especially months ahead of release, is not as common an expectation from the customer as for other items. As such, a bookstore might not make many orders in that, until the actual release of the book, when customers request the book if not found in store.
In that respect, it would surely require time after the release of the first volume trade to see if trade sales can be the saving grace of a title.
There’s no argument against the fact that these titles were among some of the lower-selling titles on Marvel’s lineup, but they were not the lowest. And there certainly shouldn’t have been any expectation that, say, a solo Luke Cage title would sell as well as a Defenders title, or Hawkeye would sell as well as Avengers.
It’s also worth considering the titles cancelled against those that have still survived. As stated before, month by month this comparison fluctuates — but there were times when the cancelled, diverse, and representative titles were on equal sales or better than currently surviving titles, some of which star classic characters or non-diverse characters. For example, in October, based on the rough figures, Luke Cage just outsold Old Man Logan and significantly outsold Daredevil. In June, Iceman #1 sold more than Daredevil, too, as more readers continued to check out the new series.
If titles like Iceman, Luke Cage, America, and the rest are selling roughly the same or better than even classic characters like Daredevil and Old Man Logan, then why is it that these titles face the chop over the ones following white, cis, hetero male characters?
It’s a bad look, as I say. And in media, as any half-competent PR person will tell you, looks are everything, and the optics here are bad.
With Marvel deciding to release Avengers four times a month and gearing up for a new massive event with the Infinity Stones (after saying they were laying off events for a while, naturally), it gives the appearance that they are not willing to put the work in to market to audiences outside their norm. It gives the affect of “Well, we tried and it didn’t work, so we’ll just give up.”
It seems that their commitment to diversity is ultimately trumped by the commitment to the almighty dollar only, and if this marketing to a singular audience and publishing the same title multiple times a month, then so be it.
This is, of course, hyperbole, and it is unlikely as simple as that and there is undoubtedly more to it. But it’s how it looks, especially to those queer, POC, and female audiences that have just seen creators like them have their titles ended, and characters like them vanish from the limelight yet again.
Personally, I hope Marvel will replace these titles with equally diverse and representative titles and creators, and push even further perhaps. I hope. But for now, audiences such as myself, are left feeling yet again shunned with a cold shoulder.