With C.B. Cebulski replacing Alex Alonso as the new Marvel Editor-in-Chief, it’s worth looking at the steps the company can take to regain their mojo. Some of Marvel’s franchises aren’t doing too well (The Avengers and X-Men, the books that might be regulars in the top ten under ideal circumstances) and are in need of some kind of creative overhaul/ new direction (and they’re probably getting it, too.) However, there is one intangible that is difficult to plan in advance, but that is typically found in a successful comics company. It’s another reason Alonso’s out the door: there isn’t something unexpected connecting with fans enough to light sales charts on fire, and perhaps help elevate other titles. We don’t have an unexpected hit, the book that’s doing better than expected.
In a piece on 1980s Marvel, it was mentioned that New Mutants was Marvel’s second best-selling book when Bill Sienkiewicz came on board as artist. That isn’t a brand that we associate with high sales now (it was relaunched as X-Force in the 1990s, which to be fair was one of Marvel’s best-selling titles then too.) There have often been times when something that wasn’t Spider-Man or the X-Men sold quite well. (Punisher in the 90s, The Millar/ Hitch Ultimates, The Ultimate Fantastic Four, Dark Avengers, Jeph Loeb’s Hulk,)
In 1969, Amazing Spider-Man was Marvel’s one book in the top ten. A little behind in twelth place was the Fantasric Four. And just behind in thirteenth place was Thor, Stan lee and Jack Kirby’s other title. At that point, the Avengers and the X-Men were outsold by The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Daredevil, and Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos so this isn’t a new development.
There is one additional series that has helped Marvel in its darkest times, saving the company from bankruptcy in the 1970s, and serving as the most popular ongoing now: Star Wars. But it’s not as helpful, since it’s in its own world of books, and not going to have much impact on Iron Man or Punisher as a series in a shared Marvel Universe that can provide guest starrs or reverberations in other tittles. As an aside to the aside, I’m pretty sure that with the success of Rebirth and Doomsday Clock, Marvel is trying to see if there’s any way to bring Star Wars characters to the Marvel U. I don’t endorse the idea; I just think it’s being discussed.C
There is the point that Marvel might’ve snuffed out potential hits through immediate overexposure like when Coates’ Black Panther got two spinoffs before the first arc finished. Brian Hibbs summed it up in Tilting for the Windmills.
People who say the new audience inherently don’t want super-heroes or don’t want periodicals are fundamentally wrong. They just don’t want them in the way they’re being offered.
With “Black Panther”, it was tons of new faces, diverse faces, genuinely excited about comics. And they were vibing on it… until Marvel saw it had a hit on its hand, and decided to push out “Black Panther: World of Wakanda”, and then “Black Panther: The Crew”. And this new audience began to leap off in droves because they don’t grasp (or want) Marvel’s publishing plan.
Seriously, our sales drop-off on “Black Panther” is significantly worse than similar titles and launches, and you can see the deflection points accelerate as the additional titles are released. Less is more when it comes to entertainment and branding – something that I said all the way back in my ninth column in 1993 – which is mostly just copying something that Joe Brancatelli said back in 1976 (!) (We’re just about to move our website, so I’m pretty positive that link is going to break in a week or two…. If it 404s when you read this try a search on “Hibbs Tilting Brancatelli”… or email me!) Adding a second “Black Panther” title doesn’t double your sales; instead it causes x% of Panther readers to walk away instead.
The same thing happened with “Doctor Strange”, when “Sorcerors Supreme” launched, the same thing happened when Marvel published two different “Squirrel Girl” issue #1’s in a single year, or when they expanded “Guardians of the Galaxy” into like six books or more a month – the new audience? The ones who have been freshly minted this decade? They don’t understand Marvel’s publishing plans.
They’re not looking for a LINE of comics… they’re looking for a comic. That new young woman who is buying “Squirrel Girl”? For the most part she’s not looking for five more female heroines to go along with it. That’s not to say that maybe she couldn’t be convinced to buy five more comics (she can!), but they have to be different flavors. They emphatically don’t want a line, like we did when we were kids.
This all has to be carefully managed.