Comic Store in Your Future: Marvel’s Fresh Start Not So Fresh?

Posted by March 4, 2018 Comment

Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

Marvel sales have started to recover here. Recent issues of Amazing Spider-Man and Avengers have been blowing out the door. I am very happy with Marvel having one Avengers title and not multiple meaningless spinoffs such as Uncanny Avengers and U.S.Avengers. The one Avengers title may be weekly, though every single issue currently far outsells per month the combined amount of when there were three Avengers titles a month. Less is more. Even though a weekly comic means more issues per month, people seem alright with that as long as it is just one title.

Black Panther — once again, millions of people went and saw a movie based on a comic property. The number of new people picking up any of the various Black Panther comics here in store? Zip. Marvel already feels the need to relaunch the title. Along with recently announced new number ones for Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Captain America, Deadpool, Thor, and most likely more to follow.

How to damaged sales of current titles? Announce that they are ending. That is what relaunching does. Sales went up for us on the current Amazing Spider-Man and Avengers issues here in store without any renumbering. People are picking up the titles. Months from now after their new “first” issues have hit the shelves, we will see how many people join, stay, or leave.

DC seems to want to join in and to hurt their current sales to on two of their titles. Celebrate 80 Years of Superman with Action Comics #1000! People here were getting excited about the 1000 issue of Action Comics. Then DC announced it will be the last issue and they are having another first issue for Action Comics after issue 1000. Now people are not as excited. Another first issue of Superman doesn’t have people excited either. Though by announcing that they are ending both Superman and Action Comics DC has hurt sales on both titles.

Sales for issue #1000 of Action Comics should be good. Though the increase of readership will be unable to get the next issue of Action Comics for a while while Bendis gets his limited series Man of Steel out, and then the next issue will be issue #1.

More people picked up Ragman thanks to him having shown up in The CW’s Arrow. Why did that happen? Because people who were already collecting comics saw Ragman on Arrow and were curious about his limited series. This means people who knew comic books are still being made knew it was an option. Many people who saw Black Panther had no idea the character was based on a comic book, let alone that they had an option of purchasing a comic with the character in it. The Marvel logo for the average moviegoer in their minds is associated with Marvel Studios, not comics. The opening credits to Marvel movies nowadays shows their characters from other movies, and the Marvel logo goes to Marvel Studios, which doesn’t do a thing for comics.

Marvel announced a “fresh” start in May. Great, they need to do something to get readership excited like they used to be, was my first thought. The classic characters are returning.

Then the details started coming in. After years of relaunching and recently even jumping forward in numbering their books, Marvel is going back to renumbering again. Sigh, so disappointing. First issues do indeed have a sales spike for Marvel. Though they will not offer to make them returnable. Of course, I ordered more of the Avengers first issue than of the previous “last” issue. Much to my surprise that the first issue was a jumping off point for some. Fewer people picked up that first issue than the previous “last” issue. I lost money ordering the comic. Which, with it being non-returnable ,was no problem for Marvel. They got my money. I was the fool who ordered their product.

Marvel has stated that other than Star Wars ones, limited series don’t sell. But that is currently all that Marvel publishes. Limited series. By relaunching or renumbering roughly every year, that is all they publish.

Rodman Comics has only been open over seven years, and over those seven years I have seen tons of first issues of Thor, various Avengers titles, Captain America, Inhumans, various X titles, and more.

Over the years, each new first issue of a title averaged fewer sales than the previous first issue — a clear indicator that the first issue well was getting dry. Marvel over the years has had their titles jump forward to celebrate anniversary issues such as they did in the past with Uncanny X-Men #600. There was a sales bump for the issue, and then sales quickly fell back.

Comic collecting is a habit. People often like sets of a comic — issue #1 on up. Breaking up that set can cause a collector to get out of the habit of picking up a title.

For something billed as a fresh start, repeating relaunches seems like an odd idea. Relaunching so often is part of what got Marvel to this point to start with.

Marvel wants to have new readers, but their plans have had the opposite effect. If casual and new readers were confused by Venom’s numbering of #1 through #7 followed by issue 150 just wait till those issues are followed with another first issue. Just last Sunday I had a person who has been a Spider-Man fan for years and is currently getting Venom ask me what happened to the numbering for Venom. Along with asking me, why did Marvel do it? Money grab, I explained.

The Marvel lenticular covers from last year still confuse the heck out of people. The fading to a different issue title and number makes people think they are in the wrong spot in the back issue bin.

This may be shocking, but not everyone follows comic news online — meaning not everyone reads the internet for every scrap of info about comics. The average comic reader gets what they like, follows what is in the printed issue they have bought by reading it, and looks forward to getting the next issue. Pretty simple.

Last year’s Legacy numbering looks to be getting ready to be abandon. Not sure if there really was a Legacy “theme”. The Legacy one-shot sold very well for us. The rest of Legacy? Not so much.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”  Marvel has done the numbers game so often I am just stunned. The short-term gain, it will get them. The long-term, though, sales historically do not hold up. Marvel publishing has no long-term game plan.

A truly new comic that hasn’t been around for a while returning, I think would be good for a first issue, such as finally having the Fantastic Four return. A monthly series that “ends” then has a “new” first issue the following month does not need to be a first issue. That’s just a gimmick.

I keep writing about Marvel’s renumbering. I’d hoped last time would be it, but Marvel surprised me and did it again roughly a year later. I want Marvel to do well. I want to sell tons of Marvel comics. I hope Marvel proves me wrong. I am still hoping 2018 is the year Marvel returns to their sales greatness. Right now, though, I am just not seeing it, sadly.

Show some long-term plans for the comics you publish, Marvel. Show some confidence in your comics. Try to get some Marvel titles to last long enough to actually get to issue 20. The Walking Dead outsold all of Marvel’s various titles in January — their Star Wars titles included, even though just in December a new Star Wars movie was released. The Walking Dead managed to publish over a 100 issues straight without renumbering and still outsells most of Marvel’s output each month.

(Last Updated March 3, 2018 7:18 pm )