Marvel comics have always been the publisher I read the most comics from, and have always been one of the main two companies in the industry- but right now while they’re owning the box office and world of streaming television they seem to be getting their grip on the comic industry pulled away. So is Marvel in trouble?
Marvel have been on my weekly reading pile for the best part of 19years now- thats since I started buying comic books weekly and they always will be with characters like Spider-Man, Daredevil and the X-men to name a few but in recent years (particularly 2016) I’ve found myself buying less and less titles they release and it appears this may not be just me.
When you look at the industry sales- released monthly or through local comic book stores weekly top 10 sellers list the pattern of the past was that about 80percent of the titles would be the Marvel big boys mixed in with the likes of Batman, Justice League, Walking Dead and potentially an independent title like ‘Y: The last man’ however there has been a massive paradigm swing and now it appears that Marvel has lost a large number of these spots and seems to only hold 2-3 of the top ten slots! But what has brought this about, and why have they become a much bigger social presence but lost there hold on the industry they have always dominated?
For me there are several reasons- the first of these is the big one to me and it has to do with the current trend within comics as a while and not just Marvel and this is the ‘Reset’ premise that has sweep through the industry. Marvel has reset/relaunched its product 8events since 2000- that’s a total renumbering of stories and a total change to the Marvel universe and its backstory in some cases once every 2years.
This has also led to a huge amount of crossover events that have ‘supposed’ long lasting ramifications on the universe and characters- such as ‘House of M’ ‘Civil War’ ‘Messiah Complex,’ ‘One More Day,’ ‘Avengers VS X-men’ ‘X-men vs InHumnas,’ and even ‘Secret Wars. This is simple touching the ice berg of the major events, and its this that is helping to compound the problem- there’s too many major events pushing status change only to then be status changed again in less than 12months. We need something to stick- we need a reason to believe that there will be big change and that it will mean something to get invested, simply repeating huge change means it becomes normalised and that isn’t exciting in comic books.
Each of these major event sin recent years has also come with a host of titles being reverted to a new Number #1 issue- and unfortunately its hard to get behind stories that have only run for 12issues (in some cases) before they are relaunched with a number 1 and a new ongoing creative team and story direction. This is evident in the sales numbers, as Marvels new number 1’s on the whole are selling less than some of the well established on going series – and I’m picking up less new number 1’s from Marvel than ever because I have the feeling it will all change again soon so why get invested in new books?! This is something I haven’t previously felt with Marvel- maybe DC at times- but never with Marvel until recently and it would appear across the industry I’m not alone.
Image comics and DarkHorse Publishing for me have really become the main staple of my new titles, they are offering a host of different books that are creator owned and seem to have huge quality and great story direction- however this isn’t anything new either, but my attention seems to have been drawn or pushed more to these titles as Marvel seems intent to push me away. Marvel has really re-focused it comic book publishing in recent years, and while this has given us some great runs such as Dan Slott on Amazing Spider-man it also means they have shifted the focus away from some of the main stay characters that I would read weekly or monthly. A great example of this is the level of X-Men books we now see, this has been my favourite superhero time since I was 7 and that isn’t about to change so to see them go from a few books a week to now 4books monthly has been a huge loss to me- yes at times they were over saturated but they were always exciting. The same can be said for other mutants such as Cable who had a great run during Messiah complex but is now pushed aside along with Hope- who was the sole focus of two major events. This could be argued that the stories had run there course, or it could be argued when you look at titles that have got a new push- Guardians of the Galaxy (several relaunches and solo character titles), Dr Strange (multiple titles), Deadpool (Millions of new titles), Iron Man based titles (Now there’s 4), Hawkeye (Ok this one was amazing for sure) and that’s just to name a few hat it can be easily seen that titles who have characters within the Marvel Cinematic universe are really getting a push.
Now in my opinion this is also hurting Marvel, as the same millions of people who go and see, and enjoy, their movies are not the same people who buy the comic books generally speaking. Many of us hard core comic book fans loved the first phase and beyond because they channelled the characters we have spent years reading and faithfully adapted them in a brilliant manner, but what I don’t want is for my comic books to adapt the characters i see on screen that were based on my comics- that’s a problem for me! And that’s one of the reasons a lot of the new number 1’s aren’t being picked up by me, they are too close to the representations of the movie characters and not the original characters the movie are based on. Don’t get me wrong I love the movie universe, but I don’t want to see it seep into my comic books; I want my books to lead the way and the movies to gloriously adapt the best stories. Imagine if in Infinity War we Suddenly see Captain America turn on the Avengers and try to take the Cosmic Cube for himself as the head of Hydra?! That would be a real shock moment that follows the shocking yet great moment we got this year in the comics- but in all honesty I wasn’t at all bothered by the return of Ultron form the MCU to the Avengers Assemble book and this is the issue. Less focus on their movie universe into comics would be a real treat and return to leading the way.
Another issue for me is that a lot of the Marvel books, feel and look the same right now. The artwork is always great but the artist styles are all very similar- there’s no-one like Jock working on a main title, or anyone like Ben Templesmith drawing a comic book and that somehow makes everything feel a bit samey. When I look at my independent books there all massively varied in art styles from Mignola, Sean Murphy, Templesmith, Fiona Staples to Jock and JH Williams III. There’s something about each of these artists styles that draws me into the books and gets me excited for the next release and to see how they handle there panel layouts and there splash pages- but Marvel seems to have a formula that there sticking too except for one book last year Moon Knight!
This was possibly the best new title from Marvel last year, from Lemire and Shelvey, simple because they broke the mold- they told a strangely ordered and planned story with some great artwork and layouts that were nothing like the rest of the Marvel titles, and surprise surprise it found success. Marvel needs to branch out and produce more variety with its new titles to draw people back in.
Marvel is in no way struggling like it did in the 90’s, there not going to be out of business anytime soon but they are losing a lot of ground to DC (topping the sales charts each month) and the bigger independent publishers (Image, DarkHorse) and they can only afford to do this for so long if they want to try and claim the spot if top publisher back. It’s not an unavoidable situation for Marvel, but they need to make changes now and make them stick- I hate to be so negative about a publisher I’ve followed for most of my life but right now they need a change and a positive one soon.
Despite this I’m not going to jumping off Marvel titles anytime soon- they still produce some great books but I do find myself being pulled away by the mass of talent and titles being offered by others right now and this is only good for the industry as everyone wants more top quality books to read, I just want Marvel to get themselves back amongst these.