View Full Version : Did I Think That Out Loud?!? #1: The New Marvel Age Of Comics

6th December 2002, 01:13 PM
By Jim Lemoine, darkkelf@earthlink.net

The Marvel Comics of today are completely different than the ones we saw just three years ago. As a publisher and as a business, Marvel has made a 180º turn in their revenues, profitability, and critical success. The company has returned from the verge of bankruptcy to short-term profitability, posting record sales numbers, renewed consumer interest, lowered debts, and blockbuster movie royalties. After struggling for years in attempts to juggle an unwieldy mix of books, toys, posters, and failed movie starts, Marvel is focusing on what it's always done best: comics. The results, financially at least, are plain to see.

The turnabout can be seen as a direct result of the efforts of the new regime: Marvel President Bill Jemas and Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada. Their success in purely financial terms is hard to argue with. Between the high sales figures on most of their books and the success of the recent Spider-Man movie, Marvel is doing better than it has in years.

But step beyond the numbers for a second, and you may see a slightly different story. Comic creators such as Alan Moore and John Byrne, both considered by many to be among the finest in the industry, have sworn to have nothing to do with the new Marvel management. Retailers are also angry at Marvel, leading a class-action lawsuit against the company for financial damages caused by late books and misleading solicitations. As if that weren't enough, many readers detest Jemas and Queseda. They miss the old titles that were cancelled to make way for the new Marvel, and they feel disillusioned by the new format of many of the books. In short, they miss the spandex superheroes of old.

Love it or hate it, there has been a huge and fundamental change in core philosophy in Marvel over the past two years. Continuity has been replaced by accessibility. Supply-side economics are replaced with collectability concerns. Franchise "fringe" books (such as the late Bishop and X-Man titles) have been replaced with limited series and hardcovers. Spandex and masks have been replaced by leather and public identities. Face it: this is not the Marvel Comics of 1995.

And if you think the changes at Marvel are limited to Marvel, think again. Marvel remains the most influential comics publisher in the world. Although there have only been faint stirrings thus far, it's unrealistic to think that other publishers won't follow suit. After all, Marvel's getting critical acclaim and financial success from all of the changes. Why wouldn't other struggling publishers follow Marvel's lead? In the end, the leader of an industry dictates the pace and practices of the industry as a whole, and in the comic book world, that leader is undoubtedly Marvel.

Which brings us to the title question posed by this column… so what does that mean for the rest of us? We're not retailers or creators, and most of us weren’t honestly all that disturbed by the cancellation of Gambit... although we were kind of miffed by the premature end of Generation X. Like or loathe the new X-Force, we kind of miss Cannonball, and we definitely miss Colossus. The vast majority of us keep hearing that Captain Marvel and Black Panther are great books... but for some reason, we never pick them up ourselves. We've been reading Marvel for years; we know who the 'Big Three' Avengers are, we know who the first five X-Men were, and we can quote the issue numbers that Wolverine and the Punisher made their respective first appearances.

We are the tried-and-true fans of Marvel Comics.

So what about us?

To answer that question, one first has to understand exactly what the changes have been. Jemas and Queseda's "Marvelution", so to speak, can be broken down into three separate but interdependent campaigns:
· Creative - This campaign includes the initial pruning and revamping of titles, the recruiting drive for top talent to helm Marvel's most popular books, the branching of creative focus, and the move from spandex superheroism to leather "relative realism".
· Financial - This campaign includes Marvel's drastic reduction of its print runs, the company's solicitation strategies, and its recent decision to publish 18 or more issues per year for many titles.
· Marketing - The hardest to pin down, this campaign is Marvel's attempt to portray more of an "indie producer" image through online comics, a more creator-friendly atmosphere (usually), and surprisingly outspoken press releases.

The next three columns in this series will look at each of these campaigns in turn, evaluating the successes and failures of each in order to get a real-world look at how we the readers will be affected... in 2002 and beyond.

Jim Lemoine has worked as a disc jockey, a video game designer, and a leadership consultant. He's been reading comics for 18 years, and he's been thinking too much for a while before that.
Last edited by X-Fan on October 1st 2002 at 02:46 pm