Comic Store In Your Future – One Miiiiillion Copies

Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

Back in May Marvel's Editor and Chief C.B.  Cebulski sent this out:

 "The last comic to sell a million copies was Star Wars #1. Which was almost five years ago. I feel it's about time we publish another title that sells over seven figures. And I think I have an idea. . . "

At first, a relaunched Star Wars 1 was thought to be the seven-figure issue. Cebulski said it was not. He claimed it would be a title set in the Marvel Universe.  Then many thought Marvel 1000 was the title that would sell over seven figures, it was not. There was a countdown to announce JJ Abrams and son will be writing a Spider-Man comic though that is not going to come close to a million copies. Marvel is good at over hyping and missing what fans want. Now we are into September and nothing about a comic that will sell over seven figures or what that "idea" really was.

Comic Store In Your future - One Miiiiillion Copies

DC, while not hyping unknown comics that sell over a million copies are not doing much better. Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium was a title that we have/had customers looking forward to. Then more and more details came out about the book. It looked like this would be a younger team. It started to look less and less what Legion fans were hoping for. A majority of our pull customers who put it on their pull lists are in their forties. A few in their thirties. None in their twenties or younger. DC is not getting the word out to younger potential readers and are failing to pull in people that may be interested in a book they are trying to target. After years of waiting for a Legion first issue, one comes out and the Legion is not even in it.  It featured Thorn, a character that was not associated with the Legion before this issue. This comic should have simply have been called Millennium featuring Thorn.  After all the failed rebooting of previous Legion titles and having Geoff Johns write Legion of Three Worlds and making it all work, DC does it again, reboots Legion. Who bought Legion of Superheroes Millennium? Older fans that wanted to see the return of the Legion they knew. Now the Legion fanbase is once again disappointed.  From Guardians of the Galaxy, Yondu has an upcoming limited series coming out. It, of course, has Yondu looking and acting pretty much as the Yondu from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. The number of people we have that requested it on their pull lists? None. Our comic fans may have enjoyed the Guardians of the Galaxy movies though they still want the comic version they know. Another book from Marvel targeting outside of their current customers while not trying to let outsiders know about this book. I understand wanting the fans of superhero movies to get into comics. Though just changing the characters to be as close as possible to their movie versions does not work.  The writer of House of X and Power of X, Jonathan Hickman recently said: "I think one of the big mistakes that some people make at Marvel Comics is that we are reactive to what they're doing in the Marvel films," Hickman added. "We should not be taking our creative cues from the direction they're taking things in the movies. That kind of defeats the point. " 

I agree with that statement a hundred per cent. How much money and time was wasted on trying to make Marvel Comics more like their movies? Even going as far as trying to have the Inhumans take the place of the X-Men in the Marvel Universe. All because Marvel did not own the movie rights to the X-Men.  Over the years how many Inhuman titles were cancelled as Marvel kept pushing the Inhumans over and over again? Bleedingcool ran an article about how Marvel now believes the Inhumans are "toxic".  Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were no longer mutants due to the past X-Men Fox movie rights issue. The TV shows and movies started changing Marvel publishing, making it more confusing and their characters not as popular in print as they were before they were introduced on the big and small screen. Poor Fantastic Four was kicked to the curb publishing-wise for a while due to Fox having the movie rights for the Fantastic Four. Another issue over the years with comics is the confusion writers cause by rewriting previous old stories.

Secret Wars II came out in 1985. Even as a kid I was disappointed in it. Secret Wars, the first one I enjoyed the heck out of. Though as they say you can't win them all. For whatever reason in 2006 Marvel released New Avengers: The Illuminati #3. Which says the Beyonder is a mutant Inhuman and Secret Wars II happened on an Earth he made and was not the real Earth. Basically, saying Secret Wars II did not affect the characters which then created problems. X-Force's Time Bomb was introduced in Secret Wars II. Rachel Summers was given the Phoenix Force by the Beyonder in Secret Wars II. And so on. Most of the readers in 2006 had not read Secret Wars II (a book that came out over twenty years earlier) so why revisit and make it more confusing for the ones that had? Marvel would also do this in the Mockingbird short-lived 2016 series. In West Coast Avengers #23 (again from 1985) Mocking lets the old west Ghost Rider die. He had stopped her from returning to her correct timeline with her fellow West Coast Avengers and drugged her to stay with him. Creepy and wrong for sure. She let him die. Then in Mockingbird #8 published in 2016, the writer changed that. It was handled in such a way Mockingbird thinks of Ghost Rider as her "ex". The issue makes it seem like she cheated on Hawkeye with Ghost Rider. Which seems odd that she would then let Ghost Rider fall to his death. Issue 8 was the last issue due to it being cancelled for low sales, thus any follow up never happened. It left people confused. Myself included.  I am not saying writers need to be a slave to continuity. I am all for trying to bring new adventures for the characters. Though going back and in a writer's eyes "correcting" storylines from decades ago is a waste of time. Over the years most writers when they take on a title ignore the work of the previous writer anyway. So why go back to storylines from decades ago that most likely only a small group of people remember? Then I read this over on Newsarama:

Nrama: That being said, the health of the Direct Market and comic book in general is a perpetual preoccupation. What needs to be improved right now?

Cebulski: Honestly, I don't have an answer for that. I like everything we're doing.

Thud! That is the sound of me falling off my chair. At the Diamond Summit in Vegas this year Marvel had an unmanned booth. It was manned years ago at the previous Diamond Las Vegas Summit. Marvel does not want to hear from comic store owners, the people who buy their comics. Of all the publishes there, only Marvel had an unmanned booth. If Cebulski honestly has no idea on what Marvel can improve on then the comic market is in really big trouble. What do the fans want from Marvel? More Spiderman titles? No.Then I read this from DC:

Dan Didio:  I agree with Jim on a lot of good things. The periodical numbers have been strong for us. Our idea to bring down the number of books, I think, is working for us. It allows us to spend more time to improve the creativity of the material, which is what we feel is important right now. The Young Adult line starting to really catch fire with the Raven book has been exciting for us. I think we've been more than pleased than what we've seen on the Black Label material so far. All those things considered; it's been going well.Graphic novels have been a weak spot for us that we have to address, because that has been such a mainstay of our publishing schedule and publishing plan. If that's changing in any way, shape, or form, whether it's because of lack of interest or because digital is cutting into that business, we're not really sure. We have to explore that a little bit further.

Where my concern comes from is more about the overreliance on nostalgia, speculator marketing, variant covers, and a lot of things that seem to be driving numbers in sales to give the appearance of a healthy industry, but it's not built on the ongoing success of the individual titles in order to keep those numbers successful and maintained. If we're creating these artificial highs on a continual basis, if something pulls that apart, does it break the infrastructure overall, and how do we change these buying patterns in that fashion to build something that is a healthier business going forward?

Jim Lee:  I'll add one other thing. On the digital side, I think it's been pretty flat in recent years, which is a little disheartening.

Dan Didio:  We do these Facsimile Editions where we reprint older issues of comics including all the old ads and stuff. . .  and in some cases, these are selling more than the new comics with these characters.  People are more interested in buying the stories from 30 or 40 years ago than the contemporary stories, and that's a failure on us.

We should be focused on moving things forward, always pushing the boundaries and finding new stories to tell. That's how we'll survive and grow this industry.  I agree with Dan on the last sentence.  Back issue sales for us have grown over the years with people even stating they like the decade-old comics better than the current ones. This is not just an issue with DC; it's also with Marvel. They both at times put out material that is less popular than comics published decades ago. In the comic collection I bought months ago there were a lot of issues of Venom Lethal Protector #1, published back in 1993. We priced it at $14. 99 per copy, it has sold more than new copies of over half of the titles put out this year by Marvel. Mark Bagley was the penciller on that issue of Lethal Protector. This year he was the artist on Spider-Man Life Story, which sold well.  Batman Last Knight On Earth's artist Greg Capullo's Gore Shriek came out in 1986.  His first major published work was on Marvel's Quasar. There has not been a major artist that a new or newer generation could call "their own". Make no mistake as a comic fan for decades I enjoy both the writers and artists that have been working in comics for decades. The characters are for the most part decades old with no new characters catching on. The next generation needs something new and something they can relate to, characters, writers and artists that they can call their own. In 1989, I remember my friend getting Uncanny X-Men #248, the first X-Men issue Jim Lee worked on. Jim Lee, of course, would go on to launch X-Men in a new series.  My friend and I would talk about the latest X Men issue.  For me, it felt like the start of something really cool.  Geoff Johns first wrote Stars and S. T. R. I. P. E.  #0 back in 1999.  He would go on to write Flash, JSA, and many more titles. It felt exciting and neat to be a part of.  Currently, with the flood of new titles each month, it feels challenging to keep up.  Gone are the days of a lot of people getting all the titles from either DC or Marvel.  People are trying to just stay up to date on their favorite character. Marvel hammers their fans so much. I had people who were getting everything Deadpool. Even if he was just on a cover. They could not keep up.  Deadpool had one $9. 99 title which they were alright with but then after it happened again and more and more Deadpool material kept coming out forcing them to stop collecting everything Deadpool. He even became a member of the Uncanny Avengers. So much material comes out it crowds one another out.  Decades ago, it was easier to keep up. Being an X-Men fan over the last few years was tough.  A young version of the original X-Men stayed around too long. So many different X Men titles ended so quickly. Why invest time and money into something that doesn't seem to last? I would like to see Cebulski, Didio, and/or Lee asked what do you think the current readership would like to see?  What do current readers want more of?  What do people want to read about? If they were questions that were not given to them ahead of time, I think they would struggle with answers.

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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