The Fifth Color | Now and later with Marvel in February 2014
There just has to be a better way to do this every month. Not only is seeing previews for comics three months ahead of time a little tricky to keep up with and stay hyped for (kind of like finding out your Christmas presents on Halloween and remembering to act surprised on Dec. 25), but it’s also weird in a numbering sense. I know I’ve talked about this before, but Marvel’s Tom Brevoort has been handling some questions on how new NOW! is when there’s a bunch of No. 1 issues on the horizon. Some, like the new Wolverine #1 debuting in February, aren’t even new; the title will continue with its current writer and follow up on the current storyline. When you remember that comics are internally dated months ahead of the date they actually hit the stands, it’s amazing we ever know what is going on in comics.
But back to the numbering issue: Brevoort has talked about this on his Formspring-turned Tumblr account thusly:
The way comics are read and produced is changing, and so too is the way that they are numbered. And at the end of the day, like it or not, it’s the audience that really determines things like this. A new #1 inevitably, invariably increases the sales on a book, whereas a #whatever doesn’t. And the same story with the same art but a #1 will inevitably, invariably sell better than it will with a #30 or a #570 or what-have-you. You’ve shown us this time and again—and so we’re changing the way we think about issue numbering. And really, most magazines and publications don’t carry serial numbering at all, so it’s a stylistic convention of comics going back to the earliest days. I understand the comfort and familiarity of it, but at the end of the day, comfort and familiarity won’t keep the lights on at Marvel HQ.
A little defensive, not that I blame him, and a reasonable point: No. 1 issues just sell better and tend to be the first thing a new comics readers thinks of as the place they should start. The sad thing is that, no matter how popular the No. 1 is, it’s the No. 2 that really determines sales success. If people can’t get the No. 1 issue, then people won’t buy No. 2; if people didn’t like the No. 1 issue, it’s a lot easier to dismiss the rest of the series as you just haven’t invested anything into it, and neither have the company or creative team. It’s just something to roll around in your brain as we take a look into the future here and see what Marvel has planned for February next year. Join me, won’t you?
Nine new No. 1 issues grace our stands this month range from the not-so-new (the aforementioned Wolverine #1) to the surprisingly new (James Robinson now on Fantastic Four). But no one’s here to talk about either of those books; we’re all waiting on Ms. Marvel #1 and the introduction of the Muslim teen superheroine. Diversity should always be celebrated, but I think what really matter the most for Ms. Marvel #1 is the story and a connection to the character for all readers, not just her particular demographic. Her design is cool, she’s going to bring a lot of new eyes to the Marvel Universe, but most of all, she should connect with each and every one of us who’s ever wanted to be a superhero and look up to the heroes we read about in comics — and those of us who have struggled with issues of identity and matching our own wants and dreams with those our parents and loved ones want for us. This is the big deal no matter what her skin color is, so I commend Marvel, I and hope enough people look past that No. 1 issue to buy the rest of the series and make sure the character hangs around in her own title.
If readers don’t catch on, Ms. Marvel will probably go the way of a few others: Fearless Defenders has been officially canceled and, as the solicitations indicate, we’ll also be losing Wolverine and the X-Men and X-Men Legacy. The latter is crushing, but sadly expected, as the book was really too quirky and cool to live. Then there’s the former, as I can’t imagine why we’d lose Wolverine and the X-Men if not for (gasp) story purposes. Normally, regular-series cancellations are due to sales or editorial mandate, but I honestly can see as a reader and a fan of the X-Men that the “Logan runs a school” concept has run its course, if not failed spectacularly. Let’s face it, Logan really didn’t run that school, that was Kitty Pryde’s job; as much of a twist as it was to have “lone wolf” Logan try to handle a bunch of new mutants and carry on Xavier’s legacy, maybe what we’re supposed to take away from Battle of the Atom was that Cyclops won for now in this odd war of who’s more Xavier-y. Maybe the book will be relaunched next month with the Jean Grey University rather than a school. Who knows, but it’s weird to hear of a fairly popular title being canceled and think to yourself, “Well, good.”
We’re also missing Young Avengers, which could have concluded with its End of the Year party in January, or could also be part of the All-New NOW! repackaging process. And that’s why there’s got to be a better way: It’s so hard to make a regular pull list when you just don’t know how long a series is going to last.
Even something as simple as a Wolverine comic, probably one of the easiest characters to sell to the public, can’t keep up a continuing series. I know the argument for renumbering and I do agree that we can’t cling to tradition and expect the ever changing world to revolve around it. But is there something different, something really new we can use in the now to give comics structure from one story line to the next and still keep up the hype of a first issue? I ask you, Dear Readers, should we just date the comics on the front cover and be done with it? Should every story arc be numbered differently? Should other readers just suck it up and handle a triple-digit issue like how it was in ye olde days? Brevoort said it himself, Marvel is changing the way they think about numbering these days and as much as Marvel has taken a chance on different styles, authors and characters, a solution for how we follow comics is something we could really use right now.