It's been a rough year for Marvel. The House of Ideas has been struggling to deal with both declining sales figures and controversial arcs, although they did begin to fight back in April this year, holding the first Retailer Summit of the millennium in order to prove that they were listening.
That's now led to Marvel's latest relaunch, which kicked off with this week's excellent Marvel Legacy #1. In turn, this superb one-shot will lead straight into a range-wide event in January, "No Surrender," which crosses over three major Avengers titles. And that leaves Marvel with one specific problem. Marvel aren't doing what they said they'd do.
Event Fatigue Is Becoming A Thing
Since the early 2000s, Marvel has been locked in a rinse-and-repeat cycle of Summer Events leading to relaunches that set up the next Summer Event. They've insisted that it worked, given that the comics were still selling. On social media though, a groundswell began to build that fans were becoming tired of this approach. Events over the last year, most notably the poor sales performance, have finally forced Marvel to listen. Event fatigue, they acknowledged, is becoming a thing.
David Gabriel, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, told retailers:
"Hopefully, you guys will be happy to know that at the end of Secret Empire, we do not have any big crossover event scheduled. We haven't even talked about one for 18 months, at the very least. Those will be away for quite a while."
Fans and retailers were delighted, but Marvel's now backing away from that assurance. Speaking to Newsarama, Executive Editor Tom Brevoort clarified that he thinks there are essentially two types of events; line-wide (what he called 'capital-E' events) and ones that only intersect titles within a specific range, for example the Avengers or X-books. He also insisted that he doesn't want to give a timeframe, because plans can change. Marvel's definitely not committing to an 18-month period without any events.
In part, this is probably because this year's Summer Event, "Secret Empire," performed a lot better than was expected. The controversial arc was possibly the most politically-aware line-wide event Marvel has ever published, featuring Captain America taking over the U.S. as an agent of Hydra. Fan reception to the idea was so negative that Marvel even had to issue a statement asking readers to bear with them while they told the story! In the end though, Diamond Sales figures showed that "Secret Empire" was a success. Marvel insiders who are resistant to changing their approach will no doubt be using this as ammunition.
Does Tom Brevoort Have A Point?
Tom Brevoort is right to argue that not all events are created equal. The major events are ones that run through a core miniseries, with tie-in plots essentially taking over the whole line. It looks as though Marvel is (rightly) discontinuing that approach for a while. In contrast though, they're focusing on the smaller-scale events, crossovers between a handful of books. So X-Men: Blue and X-Men: Gold are crossing over in "Mojo Worldwide," while Avengers, Uncanny Avengers, and U.S.Avengers will cross over in January's "No Surrender." It's true that this kind of crossover, which may simply take over a single corner of the Marvel Comics Universe for a month or two, is small fry compared to the capital-E events. But they're still events.
The core problem with depending on events is that, in large part, they're essentially a sales gimmick. Marvel's idea is to encourage followers of one title to pick up the others in order to get the complete story. Their hope is that by doing so, they'll introduce the books to new audiences, and attract new readers. In the past, Marvel has depended on them too much, using them to periodically relaunch the universe.
Focusing in on a single line may be more manageable for readers, but it's still a manifestation of the same problem, forcing readers to buy books they may otherwise pass on in order to boost sales. Launching in January, Marvel's "No Surrender" event will run for sixteen weeks and require readers to pick up at least one issue every week.
Making matters worse, some of these crossovers will be happening simultaneously. If you follow a couple of titles from different lines, you'll need to pick up a lot of books you usually leave on the shelf.
What this shows, quite simply, is that Marvel still isn't thinking outside the box. Contrast this though, with rival publisher DC Comics' panel at #SDCC2017. The panel was overshadowed by an unfortunate debate on whether or not DC had actually said the comic book market was "collapsing." Moving past that, the focus really should have been on the range of innovative approaches DC was taking to fix it. They talked about creating "evergreen" stories, restoring the importance of artists in the industry, and even identifying whole new distribution channels. DC's still taking the traditional approach as well, but they're going a step further and trying out some revolutionary steps to transform the market. We've seen no sign that Marvel is trying to do the same. Instead, their shift to smaller-scale events suggests they're being pretty conservative and resistant to change.
Smaller-scale events aren't a bad thing. Handled with care, they can be some of the best comic book stories of all time. Just cast your eyes to 2007's "Messiah CompleX," 2014's "Spider-Verse," or 2014's "The Trial of Jean Grey." The problem is that Marvel's latest relaunch depends on them for success, and that's a bad move. It's time for the House of Ideas to live up to that affectionate nickname once again.
Do you think Marvel's taking the right approach? Let me know in the comments!