Robot 6

The Fifth Color | Marvel NOW and again

Marvel Now ad

Coming October 2012

Sadly, I’m broke this week so, no thoughts on The Amazing Spider-Man.

Actually, I have a lot of thoughts about the idea of the new Spider-Man adventure out in theaters this week and a lot more thoughts on the idea of the new … *sigh* Marvel NOW! relaunch happening this October. A lot of thoughts about the need to be popular and successful, and what that means for the little nerd in all of us.

Because it’s very important to remember that when you see a new and younger Spider-Man or a fresh first issue on the stands for a book that was just renumbered what seems like last year, all of that gloss and fanfare just isn’t for us. It’s not for the longtime reader or the devoted fan; marketing rarely takes us into consideration. After all, they have our money. All they have to do is put together a solid creative team with a fresh idea and publish it regularly. And who wants to make it that simple?

Let’s talk about how frustrating it is to organize a comic collection when things get renumbered, and mourn the loss of the familiar, and why we don’t have to rage against the marketing machine after the break.

Okay, so brass tacks: After Avengers vs. X-Men, Captain America realizes (wait, isn’t that will realize? This hasn’t happened yet, it’s all in the future, but yet it’s probably written and scripted but Brevoort was talking in the present tense–ah, my brain!) that mutants have been sort of just “over there” for a long time and he wants to do more. Specifically, Brevoort said:

“Back in ‘AvX’ #1, Captain America and Cyclops had a pointed conversation before fists started flying about how, whenever a threat to mutants has arisen, the Avengers have seemed pretty remote. Cap articulated his position — but in the fallout from ‘AVX,’ Cap and the Avengers, having gone through a bunch of stuff and having walked a mile in the X-Men’s shoes, are feeling like there’s some truth in what Cyclops had to say.”

This is the storyline reason for the Marvel NOW relaunch, and it makes some good sense. After all, if Wolverine can be on all the teams, why can’t everyone else? The Avengers have had a wide variety of members, and they are the coolest kids on the block, so let’s dump those loser slacker teams like the X-Men and just make them all Avengers, right? Why work on making the X-Men a reasonable force in the superhero landscape when you can just give them an A-logo jacket and call it a day?

Did I just argue against my own point? Rats. Okay, so maybe it’s not that great an idea, but it does make sense in marketing terms. You’re consolidating properties, getting fresh ideas to the table without stepping on anyone’s pre-established toes and creating (hopefully) a quick and clean continuity for the all-important new reader. Not to mention the word “restart” sounds a lot like “reboot,” so buzz can be created on a technicality.

Enter the Heroic Age

Coming May 2010

No matter how much I hate and fear change, I can’t be mad at it. To keep raging on against every new change and renumbering relaunch or soft reboot Marvel has done in the past five years alone, I’d have to be gamma-powered. For all the excitement and collectable thrill that a new first issue brings to the stands, comic book numbering is just moot at this point. (Quick side note: maybe we should stop numbering comics altogether and label them by the month they came out in; chaos for the newsstands, absolutely new reader friendly!) Line-wide change or large rebranding or even renaming comics titles is practically commonplace for comic fans. But when you get right down to it, Marvel NOW! is not for comic fans. Big, media screaming change just isn’t for the longtime readers anymore.

The San Diego Comic Con next weekend will be filled to capacity with hundreds of thousands of people, but realistically it is no longer the “comic book convention” it once was. The 6,500-seat Hall H, the most notoriously difficult room to get into during the con, is going to be strictly showing movie and television promotions the entire time. I hate to even bring it up but you, Dear Reader, and I both know that only a fraction of the people who are making the Avengers one of the highest-grossing movies of all time actually read the comic today. All of those people, the ones who bought a pass to a comic book convention who don’t read Marvel comics, all of the people who went to see a Marvel movie but don’t read a Marvel comic, those are the audience for Marvel NOW! Even the announcement is a Entertainment Weekly exclusive for CCI. Out of all the comic book news-covering sites and blogs (especially this incredibly dashing and good-looking one), Marvel went with a magazine with a broad readership.

Avengers #1 - Heroes Return

You get the idea.

I wish the Point One initiative had worked better.  The idea that there could be a rhythm to comic book reading, with the book before a big story arc being entry level or a one-shot aperitif to whet the reader’s appetite, was a smart one and created sort of a hand up into comic continuity. Sadly, the “full-length, self-contained stories by Marvel’s top creators, laying the groundwork for the next year of storylines” didn’t work as promised; some creators ran with the script, others went off book and wrote what they wanted for a Point One story. Remember the Ultron War that was promised in a Point One? Or when Thor had a Point One by entirely different people than the ongoing creative team? I’m not saying all of them were terrible or that the promise of an Ultron War wouldn’t keep people reading, it just didn’t work. It wasn’t a popular idea for a popular culture fan, it was a reader’s solution for reading books.

The new Amazing Spider-Man reboot isn’t for fans so much as it’s for a new demographic (and for legal reasons). Marvel NOW! is a push for popularity and new readership. Big sweeping changes to draw new fans in that can make an old reader feel, well… pushed out. So what now? Do we all swear NEVER TO READ COMICS AGAIN EVER? No, that’s silly. How about just Marvel comics, then? We’ll just all swear never to read Marvel comics ever again forever.

Even sillier. You see, just because something isn’t marketed toward you or your demographic doesn’t mean you can’t love the ever-living daylights out of it and make it your own. I mean, look at Bronies. A cartoon show marketed toward girls just drew 4,000 fans at BronyCon recently from all different walks of life. You could say first-person shooter video games aren’t marketed to women, but Frag Dolls are a team of professional gamers who obliterate their competition. Even comics have that weird “They’re for kids-no they’re too adult-no it’s all adolescent male fantasy” thing going on. But that doesn’t mean that comics aren’t for everyone.

Ten years from now, who knows? Maybe there will be a Marvel NOWER! or a new Spider-Man on the silver screen trying to learn the same things we saw him learn last time. And sure, we have all heard that story before but it’s a story we all love on a certain level, no matter how they dress it up. The wrapper on the candy doesn’t make it sweet. Now (or should I say NOW!), others will get a chance to love it, too.

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Comments

16 Comments

The Marvel Now thing is just like the New 52. Same rehashed characters by the same rehashed creative teams. It’s a bit like taking a Big Mac, changing absolutely nothing about the contents and ingredients, and slapping a “New and Improved” label on it

But, judging by the number of threads and comments this Marvel Now has generated, people are absolutely wowed by the same stuff with a “New and Improved” label on it

I am a long-time Captain America fan. And I do have to agree, considering how often Cap is written as fighting against bigotry & intolerance in all its forms, he has seldom been written as addressing anti-mutant hysteria or discrimination. I realize the real world explanation is that the X-Men and Avengers books have seldom been connected creatively or editorially. But it is nice to see this oversight addressed in-story, as it were.

I dunno. It’s canon that Cap led the Avengers during the Kooky Quartet days – when Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch were feared not only for being mutants but ex-Brotherhood mutants – not prejudging them and it should give him a bit of a pass on not being political or vocal on the entire ‘overlooking’ of mutant’s plight-vibe.

Seems to me Cap’s always been more a “lead by example” type guy, JMHO.

I cannot buy into the concept of the Avengers, a team which has had several mutant members over the years, being on the wrong end of the issue when the X-Men have had two human members (Longshot & Juggernaut) [I think it’s only two. It’s certainly much less than the Avengers and muties]

Cyclops is wrong. You cannot build an island, fill it with like-minded individuals, then sit there and point the fucking finger.

And I really hope FF isn’t rebooted. While the rising Age of Digital makes ongoing series, in their traditional form, all but obsolete (I predict a future where comics are instead sorted/advertised/sold in a Hellboy-esque fashion of perpetual minis and one-shots), I still have an unbroken run of Fantastic Four going back to #375, which I bought when I was six (I am now 25). I hate to think of yet another “new” run on that book to make the cataloguing of back issues a pain.

Jesse Letourneau

July 6, 2012 at 11:12 pm

I have been reading and collecting Captain America comics since I was 8. So while I didn’t start as soon as you did David, I am now 35, so I have some seniority on the subject. If I am counting right, with the renumbering of Captain America that will make Volume 7 for the Star Spangled Avenger. It isn’t that hard to catalog the books. The older ones go in the front.

Jesse Letourneau

July 6, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Re-reading my post, let me add, the tone was suppose to be, “all will be okay, this crazy renumbering thing has happened before.” NOT “you are an idiot if you are worried about organizing your collection with a new numbering system introduced.”

The question here, though, is exactly how well this initiative is going to address the problems of appealing to a new readership, whether you mean ‘new’ as non-comics readers who liked the Avengers and Spider-Man films or lapsed readers who maybe used to read Marvel but have moved on.

Simply renumbering titles does not solve that problem. You have to change how the comics are written, to be inclusive to new or lapsed readers by passing on important information about the characters within the framework of the stories themselves — whether it’s a monologue that rehashes a particular character’s origin, or a dialogue exchange that explains why this character wants to kill them / take over the world / make it safe for mutantkind, etc. (Too bad we’ve gotten rid of thought bubbles, eh?)

That used to be standard in older comics and nowadays you rarely even get an editorial footnote that refers the reader to a specific issue if they want to learn more. Today’s Marvel comics may be more ‘slick’ in terms of storytelling — no more of those corny and awkward parts where the characters talk about things they already know simply for the benefit of the reader who happens to be ‘overhearing’ them — but get an F for accessibility.

There used to be an old editorial rule of thumb is that every comic is someone’s first comic, and there should be some minor concession to that fact. Having them jump in on a story that has literally been going on, in most cases, for decades, is one thing, but not giving a newbie at least a fighting chance without resorting to an internet connection and a search engine is another.

I can give a couple of examples that are sitting here on my desk. Incredible Hulk #8 guest-stars the Punisher, but at no point is there any explanation of who Frank Castle is. The assumption is, as the reader, you know this information. I do . . . but I’ve been reading Marvel comics for thirty years. I’m not the sort of fan you need to renumber a long-running series for, either.

It was a great comic, don’t get me wrong, but if I took a step back and thought, well, I’m a new Hulk reader because I liked the Avengers film, and I picked up all eight issues and by now I’m probably VERY confused, because at this point I’ve seen Doctor Doom and Red She-Hulk (with little explanation as to who they were, either), as well as a bunch of mysterious new characters who were introduced in the opening story arc. Now there’s this guy with a skull on his chest and he and the Hulk seem to know each other but what’s his deal? Why is he killing these bad guys? I just spent $24 for these comics and I’m having trouble following them. i could look these characters up online, but this whole thing is a) expensive and b) kind of a pain in the ass.

Wolverine #308: Wolverine is up against Dr. Rot, and there’s precious little explanation as to who Rot is and what happened in their previous encounter. Even if I was intrigued enough to want to read that past story, at no point in the comic does it say I could find out more by picking up the second volume of the collected Wolverine: Weapon X series. Pretty simple, just a little caption at the bottom of a panel. (Out of pure curiousity, I opened a new window and went to Wikipedia to see what I could learn about Dr. Rot: nothing, the page doesn’t exist.) Again, I thought the comic was good, but had I not recently read the original story that this one refers back to in trade paperback, I might not have enjoyed it nearly as much. And frankly, if I didn’t know there was a previous story then I probably would’ve thought the writer was doing a poor job by not making it clear what was going on.

If this new push to gain readership is going to amount to anything, the comics have got to be written to be accessible to new readers, period. Both those who have never read a single comic featuring that character and those who maybe haven’t picked up a Hulk or Wolverine or whatever comic in years, but they’re here because the like the writer or artist’s other work, or they heard a lot of buzz about what’s going on in the comic. And sorry, cute little AR ‘helper’ apps don’t count: smartphones or iPads should NOT be a requirement to enjoy a comic. Marvel can make whatever changes to the status quo of the characters they feel will make them appeal to a broader audience, put the most fantastic creative teams on a title: iif they don’t help to educate that new audience, make it easy to follow along, they won’t stick around long.

The decades of continuity isn’t the problem, but lack of consideration for those who don’t know it by heart is. This material is clearly being produced for an exclusive audience of long-time fans well-versed in the lore, and they wonder why sales aren’t where they’d like. Marketing isn’t going fix that, it’s an editorial / creative issue.

You’d feel better if you ignored this hype crap and read the newest Amazing Spidey issue…

I dont want new readers! They are dumb, many dont even know how to read!

Lets keep comics to ourselves. I dont want the stoopid masses invading my little secret hobby.

This is not anyone at Marvel’s serious attempt at expanding readership. It can’t be. It simply is not possible that adults with working brains could apply themselves to a challenge like that and come up with a “solution” that is so completely a re-tread, paint-by-numbers old-wine-in-old-bottle-with-new-label yawner.

…right?

I am a Marvel fan going back to the 70’s when I was in single digits and I honestly can say that 95% of what they’ve done in the years that Joe Q took over is not to my taste. So basically Avengers Disassembled to AvX are stories that I don’t dig (after buying more Marvel than anything over the years, I’ve been down to 3 titles for a few years now) and if all that crap will be ignored going fresh into a “re-booted” universe then I’ll check it out. It could be good or it could be crap but it’s miles away from the Marvel Universe that I grew up on and that’s okay now because that MU had it’s place and the dog won’t be peeing on it anymore. Of course, if they really wanted to bring people in drop the $3.99 price point….oh yeah they’re still THAT Marvel. I’d be more excited if they relaunched some of the higher ups that make their marketing decisions.

@Shawn
How about a relaunch of BOTH marketing and editorial?

Here’s the thing: The goal is to get new readers to become longtime readers. I was a new reader, once, and then I was a continuing reader, and then I noticed that all the tricks they were pulling that worked so well when I was a new reader stopped doing anything at all for me, and then I stopped being any kind of reader at all. Some people take their entire lives to be disillusioned by the state of superhero comics; it took me about six years. The entire problem with these campaigns is that they shed new readers as fast as they gain them, because you can only pull so many gimmicks for so long before even the freshest of eyes wise up.

@Chris
Then that’s another thing to take into account–maybe getting rid of the more stupider gimmicks.

You know what you don’t hear talked about regarding all of these relaunches and attempts to get new readers – any discussion at all about quality stories. The big 2 have put people in charge of the creative side of comics – people who talk like advertisers, and who seem to have no care for the quality of what is between the covers of the comics

You also have to look at the reality of human nature. If you get a group of guys – who are the “architects” or the main creators at your publishers – and you send them on these “creative retreats” or pow wows, to come up with the next big push for your publishing line, do you honestly think one guy in that room is going to stand up and say “Hey, what about the quality of the stories. What about not strip-mining our characters and our titles just for a quick sales bump – a sales bump that we’ll have to try to recreate with another gimmick 6 month from now anyway”. Nope, that guy would not stand up in that room. For that matter, the guys in charge would not even put a guy like that in the room.

Enough is enough

The Marvel NOW initiative is pretty obviously a quick grab at boosting sales numbers (and profits) for a short time. There is no long-term thinking at Marvel or DC. Mike Leonard and Comment Man are correct in everything they say. The key is to expanding readership is to give high quality, accessible reading experiences at a reasonable price. That is not happening at Marvel or DC. The way to build readership for comics is for the “powers that be” at both companies to begin to concentrate on producing
* clear, cogent stories with plenty of action
* staying true to the characters’ core concepts,
* clear, professional art that tells the story in a dynamic but understandable way
* coloring not muddied up by terrible, dark tones that may look good on a computer screen but are ugly on the printed page
* lettering that can be read without too much effort
* no more writing for the trade – this includes “monologue[s] that rehash[…] a particular character’s origin, or a dialogue exchange that explains why this character wants to kill them / take over the world / make it safe for mutantkind, etc.” These may be a drag to read in a trade reprint of a story arc, but they are pretty much essential for new readers picking up a single issue.

[/rant]

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