The rocket-fuelled, ever-increasing growth of the superhero genre has been one of the most substantial evolutions in the history of cinema. In modern times, the bulk of the most lucrative box office performers are comic book adaptations, and although Fox and Warner Bros. receive their fair share from the money tree, #Disney has risen above the competition thanks to their enterprising partnership with Marvel Studios.
Since 2008, the #MCU has grossed an obscene amount of cash, with total box office takings of $10.4 billion. #Marvel has been responsible for transferring the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor into household names, repackaging them into figureheads of billion dollar film franchises.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that with such big profits involved, the impact of cinema's most fruitful source is only having a positive impact. After all, comic book sales are increasing, and audiences previously viewed as unreachable or unmarketable have a new vigour and appetite for the likes of Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy or Black Panther.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the unrelenting stream of interest trickles its way into the comic book industry. And to some extent, you'd be right. However, that's only half of the story; while the thirst for superheroes has never been greater, our familiar heroes never more in demand, like any industry saturated with cash, there are both winners and losers.
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X-Men Comics Could Be Suffering Because Of The MCU
Chris Claremont has been a writer for the #XMen comics for 15 years. He was responsible for helping to create the likes of Mystique, as well as providing the catalyst for #Wolverine to become one of the biggest characters in the world of comics. His work helped to turn a series on the brink of cancellation into Marvel's premier franchise.
However, Claremont believes that the rise of the MCU has had a direct, negative impact on the X-Men series, a series which has seen declining sales in recent years, and is, admittedly, some distance from those days of leading the way. In an interview with Bleeding Cool, when asked about the X-Men readership decline, he said:
"That has nothing to do with comic sales, that has everything to do with the fact that the film rights are controlled by a rival corporation.
"I guarantee you that if 10 years ago, when Marvel was approached by Disney, if the X-Men film rights were owned by Marvel Studios and not Fox the X-Men would probably still be the paramount book in the canon."
As well as identifying film adaptations as directly influencing the performance of comic books, Claremont believes #Fox has "no interest in the comic books." He also believes that Marvel has actively reduced the input into the world of the X-Men, due to the lack of a symbiotic relationship between source and movie adaptation because of Fox's ownership (see: money). He added:
"I think the corporate publishing attitude is: 'why would we go out of our way to promote a title that will benefit a rival corporation’s films when we could take that same energy and enthusiasm and focus and do it for our own properties?'"
A Comic Coincidence Or Inhumane Treatment?
It is a grand claim which does contain truth. Of course, it's almost impossible to uncover whether Marvel are actively neglecting titles that belong to Fox. However, industry trends are compelling and help to unpick Claremont's rationale. Ultimately, the argument is based on the fact that, on a business level, Marvel has grown from comic book publisher to successful multimedia franchise.
While this enhances the comic book properties Marvel weave into the MCU (in conjunction with Disney), those owned by Fox could become low-priority, as Marvel are unable to capitalize on the unified approach. The argument is enhanced by the fact that, shortly before the release of Fox's maligned 2015 Fantastic Four movie, Marvel scrapped the long-running comic book series altogether.
In another potentially devastating blow, Marvel appear to be priming the #Inhumans —a race of superheroes similar to the mutant X-Men — to not only perform well in the comics, but become a bigger part of the MCU, evidenced by their recent inclusion in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Kevin Feige's confirmation of their involvement for Phase 4.
For the conspiracy theorists out there, recent storylines suggest Marvel were seeking to kill off mutants and replace them with Inhumans, with the death of big-hitter Wolverine and the introduction of Terrigen Mists, a substance responsible for creating Inhumans and, coincidentally, causing disease in mutants.
Outright Geekery provide a detailed and insightful breakdown investigating both of the issues mentioned above. While they show the decline of comic book sales for Fantastic Four made the cancellation a justified business decision, it's impossible to prove whether the said decline was due to a deliberate lack of creative investment by Marvel.
Their report also revealed that X-Men outperform the Inhumans, although the data only covers five months of sales. Looking at the data, Outright Geekery admit it's impossible to rule out Marvel pushing the X-Men to the fringes and prioritizing Inhumans due to movie ownership, claiming:
"Although the Fantastic Four effect has been dismissed via logic and data-driven facts, and this mythical rivalry between film studios manifesting itself in comic books has been laid to rest using basic math and business concepts, it still doesn’t necessarily mean that Marvel comics isn’t changing tactics to coincide with a status quo found in a different medium. But ultimately we get to decide."
But, Wait... Comic Book Sales Are Rising
There is one problem facing the claim that the MCU (or DCEU for that matter) is having a negative impact on the comic book industry: Comic books are an anomaly, one of the only forms of print media with increasing sales. A report by CNBC revealed the readership of comic books increased by 11% in 2014. In comparison, newspaper circulated decreased by 17%.
Furthermore, according to figures posted on Comichron, June of this year saw a 42% increase on the same month five years ago, as well as a 15% increase from 15 years ago. Big names such as Civil War II No. 1 sold 381,737, while DC’s Batman No. 1. sold 280,360. That's not to mention the success of another Fox owned franchise, Deadpool.
However, the figures are misleading. The number of sales for comic books only include sales made to retailers, purchased in readiness for demand. These issues could, in theory, end up gathering dust on the shelves of comic book stores. The numbers also don't include details on direct consumer purchases.
Interestingly, back in January this year, Bleeding Cool also reported that those very retailers, those responsible for the statistics used, were concerned at the drop of both Marvel and DC comics. So much so, comic book store owner Cliff Biggers claimed that they were "seeing the worst falloff of Marvel and DC sales in the store’s 38-year history."
The truth of the matter probably lies somewhere between both extremes. While superhero movies aren't necessarily destroying the industry, the monopolization of Marvel and their changing attitude toward their business ventures is channelling interest into the big hitters, which has an impact on both new creations and those out of favor or owned by other movie studios.
Interest in the comic book world garnered from overspill from the multibillion movie industry is, of course, welcome. But it's also important for corporations like Marvel to remember those who fell in love with characters on panels as opposed to the big screen, and give the medium the love it deserves, away from the politics of ownership rights.