Why do bad things happen to good fans? Whether it’s atrocious art, ridiculous writing or something else entirely – some crimes against fandom cannot go unanswered. When that happens, it’s time to say“BLAARGH!”
Last year marked the first time in over a decade that Marvel was in considerable danger of losing its position as the number one publisher in the comics industry. The line-wide reboot of Marvel’s closest competitor DC generated quite a lot of attention and interest in their books, which led to Marvel spending most of the latter quarter of 2011 playing catch-up in an attempt to hang on to their dominance of the market. Many hypothesized that the increased competition would lead to an overall improvement of Marvel’s product, but sadly they responded by double-shipping titles, cancelling books they thought were selling poorly, and adding countless event tie-ins and “Point One” issues to their already huge monthly output. Instead of improving the quality of their line, they decided to up the quantity, and incredibly enough, that strategy seems to be working so far.
Last month, Marvel reclaimed its title as the number one publisher, beating out DC by a small margin, and from what we’ve seen so far from advance previews, it seems that Marvel will be sticking to their “more is better” mantra for 2012. This business model is saddening to many comic fans, myself included, who were drawn to their books for the quality of the writing and art. While there are still some great books being published by Marvel today, the overall creative direction of the company has turned off a number of longtime readers who want to see more innovation and less overt gimmicks in the books they buy.
The past year or so has shown a dramatic shift in Marvel’s overall storytelling paradigm. Up until the end of the “Dark Reign” status quo in the pages of their 2009-2010 miniseries Siege, their line featured stories that progressed organically from the stories of their annual event miniseries such as Civil War and Secret Invasion. This mode helped tie most of their books to the overall Marvel Universe and gave their entire line a nice sense of continuity. After the end of Siege, however, Marvel’s attempts at changing the status quo of their line have been sufficiently lacking in originality, creativity, and overall value. Just five years ago, the heroes of the Marvel Universe were at war with each other over a controversial piece of legislature that could change their way of life, and this year, Marvel’s big tentpole event centers around a fight between the Avengers and the X-Men over…well, we’re not quite sure yet, but we think it’s because of something Cable did. Avengers vs. X-Men is being hyped not for the story it’s trying to tell but mostly for the sure to be exciting superhero battles it will contain. That’s all well and good, but without knowing why they’re fighting, why should anyone care? Marvel seems to have forgotten this important aspect of storytelling this year.
Another aspect of Marvel’s current m.o. that I find troubling is its increasingly myopic focus on superhero comics. While I understand that the superhero genre is what put Marvel on the map over 50 years ago, there is no reason why they shouldn’t offer more alternatives to readers who want to read something different. In the past few years, Marvel has provided some wonderful non-superhero comics like their adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books and Stephen King’s The Stand and Dark Tower novels. These books are still being published, but there don’t seem to be any plans to get more books like these on the stands, which I think is a real shame, because they could potentially expand the comics readership as a whole by introducing new people to the medium who may not have prior knowledge of many of their superhero books.
Another disouraging trend I see for 2012 is Marvel’s lack of push for their MAX and Icon imprints. After Jason Aaron’s incredible Punisher MAX series comes to an end next month, the only title left in the MAX line will be David Lapham’s fun but insubstantial Deadpool MAX. When the line launched a decade ago, it provided a lot more varied and interesting line of books than just adult versions of popular Marvel characters, but it just doesn’t seem that Marvel is interested in exploring the potential of the line anymore. The same can be said for their Icon imprint, which enabled some of their most talented creators the opportunity to showcase their creator-owned work. While some Icon books like Brian Michael Bendis’ Scarlet and Ed Brubaker’s Criminal are still coming out (albeit very infrequently), it doesn’t seem like Marvel is giving the green light to many other creator-owned titles, which have led some of their creators to go elsewhere with their new ideas, like what Brubaker and his Criminal co-creator Sean Phillips did by going to Image with their new book Fatale. It seems that Marvel just isn’t open to launching new books without established characters that they already own anymore.
Based on all these decisions, as well as their controversial decision to cancel many of their less high-profile books, the comic company that has prided itself as being “The House of Ideas” has turned itself into the “House of the Bottom Line.” The increased competition from DC seems to have riled up their shareholders and their owners in the Walt Disney Corporation who don’t want to be associated with a second-place company, and instead of giving their readers the best product they can, they are playing it safe and giving us more of what they think we want, which is ironically turning off a lot of their faithful readers who are tired of the same temporary character deaths and overhyped event storylines. Marvel still puts out good comics – The Amazing Spider-Man and Daredevil are two of the best mainstream superhero comics out today – but overall, the product they are set to push onto the comic-reading population just seems like a lot of fluff, which means that I will more than likely be buying less Marvel in 2012 than I ever had before in all my years of comic-buying. Hopefully others will follow suit and send Marvel the message that they need to work a little harder to retain their status as the “King of Comics,” but sadly they will more than likely have a banner year in 2012 giving fans the same stuff they’ve read for years.