So Who’s The Bigger Fools? Marvel Comics — Or The Media That Believes Their Hype?
And one need not wonder why the comic book industry is slowly dying.
I’m jumping around the internet late tonight, and I see this ridiculous article on MSN detailing how one of the members of Marvel’s First Family, the Fantastic Four, will die in January. According to Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada, “The beauty of the Marvel Universe is that it is in constant change. Things are always happening, very much like life itself.” And Executive Editor Tom Brevoort is among the voices at Marvel claiming a great significance to the “event”, saying, “It’s a story that will have a transformative effect on these characters — virtually nothing will be the same after the events of this story.”
Just in case you’re not a long-time comic reader like I am, let me save you the trouble of rushing out to your local comic shop to buy the issue, thinking it represents anything more substantial than the continued evaporation of the comic book industry as a medium that’s going to be viable. Everything — and I do mean everything — about this reeks of Marvel’s attempting to drive short-term sales of the book at the expense of the long-term outlook — which shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been following the comic book industry over the last twenty years, since that’s largely what the people in charge of both Marvel and DC have been doing for far too long.
A poly-bagged issue (which Marvel claims is to keep people from spoiling the surprise, but veteran comic people know is designed to tempt people into buying two copies, one to read and another to keep sealed)? That’s a sales gimmick we’ve seen too many times before (remember the “Death” of Superman?). “Killing” off a main character? Well, there was a time when that actually meant something in comics (look no further than the deaths of Gwen Stacy and the first death of Jean Grey), but that was a long time ago — now, death is a tired cliche that both main companies trot out on a seemingly monthly basis, all-but-obliterating its effectiveness as a story-telling device. And the idea that “nothing will be the same again”? How many times do the readers need to hear that tripe until it’s just another case of the boy crying wolf — again?
Enough is enough already. It’s obvious that what the heads of Marvel and DC are doing with the properties they’ve been entrusted with isn’t working — and hasn’t been — for a long time now. Sales are lower than they’ve ever been, and all of the success of the movie and licensing aspects of comic book characters aren’t going to save the publishing wings of the Big Two, since neither is luring new readers into the stores. Neither company seems interested in building a base for the future, instead relying on major “events” and cheap gimmicks (like the death carousel) to sell books (and in turn, crippling the chances of most titles to sell when there isn’t some huge “event” going on in the book).
You don’t have to look any further than this Fantastic Four story to see that in full effect. The book , which I’ve been picking up, has actually been a great read from Jonathan Hickman — but the sales have been less than spectacular. Instead of allowing an audience to build by — gasp — actually telling good stories over a period of time and building an audience (you know, the way they used to do it), Marvel is resorting to the cheap gimmick of “killing” off a main character. Whoopee.
It would be great if the mainstream media didn’t give Marvel (or DC, when they resort to the same crap) the cheap publicity like MSN gave Marvel on this non-story, and it would be even better if someone like MSN would do a story on the dwindling comic book industry, once-thriving but now seemingly headed towards extinction. That’s a lost hope, however, as it’s unlikely that anyone at that media level follows — or cares — about comic books beyond whatever movie opens at number one next summer — the staggeringly bad distribution numbers of most books these days would seem to bear that theory out.
If you ask me, it sounds like a great time for me to be jumping off of the Fantastic Four title — hopefully, what’s left of the readership of the book will join me and send Marvel a message that we’ve had enough. I doubt Marvel will hear it, though — it seems they haven’t been paying attention for the last two decades — why would they start now?