Future Tense: Marvel NOW!

We love to wax nostalgic at PoP!, but sometimes it’s what’s yet to come that most quickens our nerd pulses. For better or for worse, let’s start the speculation over what’s making us Future Tense

This October, Marvel begins their Marvel NOW! Initiative which is designed to attract new and lapsed readers back to the House of Ideas through a spate of new and renumbered books. While renumbering isn’t a new thing for Marvel, this promises us a new #1 for twenty-two weeks, from October through February. In addition to the renumbering, several creative team changes have been announced: Bendis moving from the Avengers titles to All-New X-Men and Jonathan Hickman leaving the Fantastic Four franchise for the new, bi-weekly Avengers title. While the idea of creative team shake-ups is quite intriguing, I’m wondering what shape the twenty-two new titles will be and how that will affect the publisher’s printing schedule.

Joe Quesada’s promo piece showcases some of the key players in Marvel NOW!

Looking at the October solicitations, Marvel currently has thirty-eight ongoing titles. That’s not counting all-ages books, Max titles or licensed tie-ins. Take out the three Ultimate Universe titles and that takes us down to thirty-five. Of those thirty-five, nine have already been announced as ending: Captain America, FF, Fantastic Four, Invincible Iron Man, Thor, Incredible Hulk, New Mutants, Uncanny X-Men, and X-Men Legacy, leaving us with twenty-six titles left for Marvel to possibly cancel. Out of those, another nine are currently in their first year of publication and most likely won’t be “cancelled:” Uncanny Avengers (which is the flagship Marvel NOW! title), Hawkeye, Winter Soldier, Defenders, Daredevil, Captain Marvel, Age of Apocalypse, Gambit and X-Treme X-Men. Noticeably absent from the October solicits was the Punisher title. However, it was revealed on the Amazing Spider-Man panel at Comic-Con this weekend that the “Punisher War Zone” teasers are for a five-issue miniseries that will end the Greg Rucka/Marco Checchetto run on the title.

It’s debatable as to whether or not all of those nine titles will continue on, even if many of them have gotten big marketing pushes though this convention season (Captain Marvel, Hawkeye, Gambit, Defenders) and some haven’t even shipped yet. If all nine stay “alive” through this February, that leaves seventeen titles Marvel can “cancel” in favor of relaunching with new #1’s.If you’re following along, that means there are at least three more new titles waiting in the wings to be announced.

While the total number of the 616 Universe ongoings may end up being anywhere from thirty to forty titles, given Marvel’s history when it comes to renumbering, we have to wonder how many of those “new” titles will be $3.99 and how many of them will be shipping more than once a month. More than half of the cancelled books were $2.99: FF, Fantastic Four, New Mutants, X-Men Legacy, and one issue of the double-shipping Invincible Iron Man (the final issue, #527, is the same page count of its predecessor, but retails for $3.99). How many of these titles will remain at $2.99 when relaunched?

It’s already been noted that the new Avengers title will be a planned bi-weekly like Amazing Spider-Man, although the title has been double-shipped in the past (the main Avengers book will have shipped fourteen issues from October ‘11 through October ‘12, and the New Avengers title fifteen issues in the same time frame). Thirteen books in October alone will double ship: New, Secret, and adjective-less Avengers; Wolverine & the X-Men; Wolverine; Deadpool; Captain Marvel; Iron Man; Thor; Captain America; Ultimate Comics Spider-Man; Ultimate Comics X-Men and Amazing Spider-Man. Of those 13 titles only Deadpool, Captain Marvel, a single issue of Iron Man and the Point One issue of Ultimate Spider-Man will be $2.99. In terms of actual number of comics shipping for the 616 Universe those double-shipping numbers increase it to forty-eight.

While I’m very interested to see what creative teams land where and what some of the new titles vaguely teased at SDCC (there has been talk of the Runaways characters showing up in a non-Runaways book and the same has been said for the characters Hickman developed for Secret Warriors), I’m concerned that Marvel NOW!, like the Point One initiative before it, may simply become a way for Marvel to get people to buy the comics they’re already reading more often. Unlike Point One, which is still going on and maintains its $2.99 price point to attract new readers, Marvel NOW! has made no such “price guarantee.” As is often the case at Marvel, when titles are relaunched and/or renumbered it’s often an excuse to raise prices. Case in point, I would be surprised if the Punisher War Zone miniseries doesn’t cost $3.99 as opposed to the $2.99 the title currently costs, as was done with Jason Aaron’s Ghost Rider series and the miniseries that concluded it. Marvel has made it clear that their comics are going to cost what they cost, but the $3.99 price tag in addition to double-shipping seems like a hefty price tag for the reader just so they maintain their #1 spot in the sales charts.

Entertainment Weekly gives us the first look at the new Marvel NOW! trade dress for October’s Uncanny X-Men

Throughout all of this Marvel has made it clear that Marvel NOW! is not a reboot, simply a re-branding designed to bring in new readers. At those prices and shipping schedules I have to wonder how likely that actually will be. Yes, the Avengers movie was a fantastic success creatively and commercially, but will the lay person or lapsed reader really wait until October for a chance to sample what the comics it was based on has for them? It can be argued that the best way to boost new readership is by simply jettisoning the decades worth of old stories and starting fresh. Yes, there would be changes to the existing status quo and many of the great stories of the past decades years would cease to be from a continuity standpoint, but isn’t that worth it to make a no-holds-barred attempt and bringing in new readers? Saying “you absolutely don’t have to worry about all of these other stories” is perhaps the greatest enticement of them all. The fact of the matter is that we’ll never truly see a Marvel reboot as long as they continue to beat the drum of “we don’t have a crisis at Marvel,” their sly,down-the-nose glance at DC’s practice of reshuffling their continuity every couple of decades or so.

Marvel has an incredibly deep roster of talented people and I’m excited to see what they produce, but I do worry that Marvel NOW! will end up being more restructuring of a market strategy rather than a reexamination of how periodical comic book stories are told and delivered to the reader. If we’re going to see a big rush of new and returned readers that’s what needs  to be dealt with now rather than later.

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Who ARE these people!?

Thacher E. Cleveland is a contributing writer & columnist for PanelsOnPages.com, co-host of the Super-Fly Comics & Games PodCast, novelist & comic creator. Originally from New Jersey and previously from Yellow Springs, Ohio, he currently lives in Chicago. You can find him on Twitter (@demonweasel), tumblr, his personal website and even on Google+

Comments (4)

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  1. I completely agree. I really do think that the practice of double shipping a majority of their best selling titles at an inflated price point is the biggest threat to the direct market today. It seems wholly unnecessary. DC still holds the $2.99 price on most of their books and you know they’re making a fraction of the money Marvel is making from licensing and whatnot. It seems really greedy and for as hard as that pill must be to a new reader, it’s the kind of thing that will start to drive away the old readers of they’re not careful.

  2. Eirejack says:

    Dude it’s like with every new event Marvel is saying to artists “How ugly can we make Cyclops’ uniform”

  3. Bigtymin504 says:

    The double shipping is kind of a double edged sword for me. For the books I love it’s welcomed but for some books I don’t feel the need to pay for another issue a month.

    I actually don’t mind paying $3.99 for a quality comic book. Obviously I’d rather pay less, but the digital codes are a big plus for people with tablets so ultimately I think they’re worth it.

  4. I was listening to Earth’s Mightiest Podcast today and them talk about the AvX Versus book where the only translation for the Russian in the fight between Magik and Black Widow was in the AR app and it got me thinking “Is this why I’m paying $3.99 twice a month for some books?” Kind of a bummer.

    Yeah, the accelerated shipping schedule on books I enjoy (like Amazing Spider-Man) is really fun and in my opinion preferable to a bunch of ancillary titles, but I wish that shipping and price point came with the lower tier titles getting more than just a handful of issues before being kicked to the curb, or Marvel using those revenues to explore new and bold things (like Crossgen or beefing up the Icon line).

    Thanks for the kind words about the article, guys…

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