I think everyone has noticed that Marvel has started publishing a number of their books more than once a month. They’ve been ramping up on this for a while, and it’s something I’ve kind of shook my head at, because it’s a desperate ploy to gain marketshare that doesn’t promote sustainability on any level. It’s a cash grab, pure and simple, and when you couple that with the fact so many of their books are creeping up on $3.99, I shudder to think of the long-term effects.
And I can hear you shaking your own head now. Okay, maybe I can’t hear you doing that, but I can imagine the chuckling: “Desperate? Marvel is the number one publisher in comics!” – but I’ll stand by my words. When DC launched their new 52 last September, Marvel didn’t fight back with awesome. They fought back with the only real tool in their shed: more. They’re not increasing the frequency of their books out of generosity, they’re doing it to dominate the market. And in the absence of anything even resembling new, all we get is more.
That’s Image Comics’ Eric Stephenson, writing about Marvel’s recent moves and – worryingly, perhaps, for Marvel fans – making a lot of sense. He goes on to point out the similarity in recent Marvel storylines (“Other characters get the Hulk’s powers. Other characters get Spider-Man’s powers. Other characters get hammers like Thor. Now, if that recent Iron Fist image from an upcoming issue of New Avengers is any indication, a bunch of characters will be imbued with the Phoenix Force. I know DC went green by using recycled paper, but maybe Marvel’s trying to recycle in other ways”) and event structures (“Civil War, House of M, World War Hulk, Secret Invasion, Shadowland, Ultimatum, Fear Itself, Spider-Island, X-Men: Schism, and now, Avengers Vs. X-Men. It’s all-out hero on hero action in the mighty Marvel manner, again and again and again”), and it makes for pretty depressing reading. “These are not serious creative statements,” he says, “It’s more like a bored child reaching into the toy box trying to find new ways to wring some meager enjoyment out of faded old playthings.”
The same argument can be made for DC’s New 52 initiative – especially in the second wave, which removed titles like Mr. Terrific and OMAC which, if not entirely original, were at least something different from the DC norm, in favor of another Batman book and the return of Earth-2 as an ongoing concern, something we haven’t for more than quarter of a century. Less immediate repetition than Marvel, perhaps, but also less room for defending the work with a “This Is What They Want.” Because, as Stephenson admits, Avengers Vs. X-Men may be filled with ideas and characters we’ve seen countless ways already, but it’ll sell, and in far greater numbers that more “deserving” books like Fatale, The Manhattan Projects or Casanova, even though those books all have the same writers as AvX. Is the problem with the comic industry’s obsession with familiarity not the creators – who are doing new work, for the most part – or the publishers – which are, after all, businesses which exist solely to make money – but the readers, who not only indulge in the endless nostalgia and everything-we’ve-seen-before, but do so in such volume that it drowns out other, more original comics that need the attention to survive?
I don’t know. It could be a circular argument (If only more original work was pushed more, more people would know about it, so it would sell better, so more people could afford to do it, so it could be more popular, which would mean it would be talked about more and pushed more, because the ad dollars would see more return on investment, and so on) that leads nowhere. But the more I think about it, the more I think there’s a missing piece in the argument that the Big Two are only interested in maintaining existing intellectual property versus creating some new stuff…