When it comes to comics and their readership, there have been a few burning questions in everyone’s minds: What constitutes accessibility? What constitutes appropriateness? How do you bring in new readers in an otherwise closed-off industry? One of the answers to that question — at least for me — was the superlative Marvel Adventures lineup. The only problem? Looking at the Marvel March solicitations, it seems like that that all-ages line is going to be a thing of the past, with Marvel focusing on its Super Hero Squad book as its gateway book for young readers.
In certain ways — assuming that the Marvel Adventures line doesn’t get some sort of reboot on its own later on — I can understand Marvel’s rationale. If Marvel focuses purely on the Super Hero Squad — almost as an answer to DC’s equally blocky Super-Friends kids book — it targets fans of the Cartoon Network show (and the toy line that inspired it). Why have two lines designated for the same core audience? Indeed, Super Hero Squad does currently outsell the Marvel Adventures Super Heroes book, with 4,384 copies versus 3,308 copies — so having two competing publications for the same target could be problematic, so why not strike while the iron is hot?
In other ways, however, I can also see it as potential further ghettoization of the young comic-reading crowd. If there’s anything kids hate, it’s being talked down to — and the Super Hero Squad (as well as its Super-Friendly counterpart at DC) does aim for a much younger audience than, say, the David Micheline Spider-Man ever did. The question, to refer back to the earlier one, is this: Why have two lines designated for the same core audience? To play Devil’s Advocate, I would ask — what if there are two different audiences here? One audience that could be inoculated early via the Super Hero Squad, and another audience that demanded a tone that was closer in style to the original source material?
For me, I feel like Marvel Adventures really was the spiritual successor to earlier works of Marvel’s that could be read by kids as well as adults. Growing up in the ’90s, we didn’t have a “kids line” — we had Spider-Man, the X-Men, Captain America (he said, waving his cane around angrily until someone brought him prune juice). Of course, there was certainly some violence back in the day — Wolverine did get his skeleton ripped out — but it was done with a degree of distance that it wasn’t overwhelming to my eight-year-old sensibilities. Things are a little bit different today — and why, I would argue, the Marvel Adventures line filled a necessary niche to Marvel’s publishing lineup.
With the company’s main titles getting more adult in their tone due to evolving storytelling — regardless of the merits of the book, it’s tough to hand out a copy of Amazing Spider-Man to a seven-year-old if Pete’s waking up after a one-night stand with his roommate — Marvel Adventures allowed readers to get a sense of what Spider-Man, at its core, was all about, while nudging away crossover mandates, continuity pains, as well as the edgier swerves of the main book. Even as its take on the Avengers was a bit more cartoony than the mainstream Avengers books — and thus, similar to the Super Hero Squad book — it combined humor, characterization, and action with a look that would allow young readers to “graduate” to the main books.
In the end, what can be done with the Marvel Adventures line? In certain ways, if Marvel decided to reboot it, bringing it “back to basics” is a smart move. What do I mean? When Marvel Adventures was in its infancy, they would print out small trade paperbacks, collecting Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, even the Runaways. One of the many ways companies are looking to expand is via the bookstore chains, and most reliable bit of currency for comics publishers in those arenas are trade paperbacks. Yet while making these trades normal-sized would give them a bit more edge at book stores, another question remains — what do you do about single issues? Do you let them go, and cut your losses? Do you go the original graphic novel route? Or do you focus your energies on the population you know will buy your books, and keep running with Spider-Man and Wolverine, even if you couldn’t hand them to a kid?
At any rate, the answer is unclear. There is a ray of hope, of course — Paul Tobin on his Twitter feed did write that this was “a ‘stay-tuned’ sort of announcement” — but the question of what is the most successful method of youth-oriented storytelling is very much up in the air. (Not to mention all those gorgeous Skottie Young Spider-Man covers. That’s a shame that half the kids in the room might not appreciate how beautiful they all are.) What do you think, Rama readers? Should Marvel Adventures stick around? Or are we living in a Super Hero Squad world?