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FanBros Analysis: How To Fix Marvel Comics

Hey, folks! As always, this is Mellow Marketer. I am chiming in on the latest problems and controversies surrounding Marvel’s dropping sales numbers and a bit of their volatile response towards that. Before we go any further, I will say that my thoughts are my own and do not represent everyone within the FanBros collective. So, let’s jump right in!:

 

After weeks of controversy involving the VP or Marvel Marketing making a statement that puts the blame of Marvel Comics‘ sinking sales on diversity and women, there has been many discussions as to what is the fault of Marvel and how did we reach this point. We here at FanBros aren’t a fan of anyone thinking that their billion dollar franchise with tons of history(and should be able to print money) is the fault of trying to expand and diversify. But, we are also logical and want to look under this issue using facts, history and charts that explain where your strengths and weaknesses are. So, pull up a chair at the conference table and let’s jump right in:

DEMOGRAPHIC NUMBERS:

Let’s take a look at the demo numbers in regards to women who are viewing comic book movies, taken over at Box Office Mojo in regards to who is purchasing the most tickets to their films:

image from Box Office Mojo

Maybe it’s just me, but that seems like a strong viewership of women attending these films and rising into 2016. So, what happens when we look at the overall scale of numbers(from Graphic Policy) comparing Men and Women in different statuses in their life and how they’ve been purchased within the months of March-April:

image by Graphic Policy

So, now that we’ve used legitimate facts and sources to get the B.S. out of the way, let’s talk strategy.

 

DIVERSITY: THE GOOD & BAD WAY TO GO ABOUT IT:

I wonder if the irony escapes anyone else in the Marvel office that they publish X-Men, a book that has reached tremendous heights in the past in both success and critical acclaim that’s made it a household name, and also has all of the answers as to how to approach the issues of diversity.

The nature of the X-Men has always been about the weight and response of someone who is being attacked for being different. The overall theme of not being understood and attacked for something not in your control. That every mutant has a little good in them and vice-versa, because they weren’t born to be superheroes. They are people. And because the development of these characters weren’t rushed, we received some of the greatest minority characters in comics (Storm, Psylocke, Forge, etc.) Their issues and plights were so individual, that you knew their hopes, greatest fears and their struggling relationships with one another. This also made them stand out from the rest of Marvel so successfully, it became the flagship book for years. And this is a book where every character is represented as a minority.

 

image by womenwriteaboutcomics

There are characters who have had a natural transition into their roles, which happened before Marvel made a franchise wide change, to their books that involved manufacturing this process. We had isolated, intimate stories for Miles Morales and Kamala Khan that were amazing introductions for kids who were entering a universe bigger than them and a fear of not living up to their roles. In both situations, these roles were vacant and weren’t possible to be replaced by anyone else. At the time, Miles was the only character in the (then existing) Ultimate Universe that had the matching abilities of Spider-Man and his transition into the role and costume were even controversial within his own story. Meanwhile, Kamala assumed the role of a character who had been struggling for years and found a way to make it original and her own. There were very few clamoring for the return of the original Ms. Marvel and this felt, not only natural, but an upgrade to a title that had been repeatedly ignored over the years.

But, because of these successes, we saw an over-abundance of characters being replaced in ways that didn’t feel as natural. Steve Rogers’ multiple changes (from old man to Hydra) felt “rocky” to say the least, but by making Sam Wilson/The Falcon the new Captain America, it immediately says that Wilson’s character was always less. By taking a character from his own personal role that he has made special over the years, you’ve shown people that he’s only upgraded because his title is always meant to be that of a sidekick. Which is even worse, when you consider that he is a minority. Giving that character the opportunity to take the responsibilities of Captain America while keeping his own title would have been a powerful transition for the character and his legacy. But, that opportunity has been stripped from him and the moment he inevitably says “I don’t like what this name represents, anymore” and throws down the shield will be almost insulting.

The circumstances surrounding characters like Riri Williams, Jane Foster and even the New Falcon have not felt natural. They feel like a “spitball storyline” made to pander towards these new roles. And much like Sam Wilson, some characters have been “upgraded” to the detriment of their own characteristics and what makes them special. If I would’ve known years ago that Amadeus Cho was going to be the next Hulk, I would’ve never followed how cool they made the character before that. Especially now that those features that made him special have been taken away. And even prior to Riri Williams being introduced, she’s set up with an origin of her intellect that’s already similar to Tony Stark(she’s too smart for any school and her intellect is almost a superpower instead of something that is earned). And there are some characters that are surrounded by so many alternate versions of their replacements, every version of them only feels irrelevant(see: Spider-Man & Wolverine). These characters begin to lose their individuality and get shaped into their predecessors with a costume and palette change.

What HAS Worked In Your Past Events:

Both in terms of sales and critical acclaim, it’s clear that Marvel‘s last two great event successes have been Secret Wars and Infinity.

I can also say I’ve been a huge fan of Infinity, even as it was battling the excitement and mystery of the New 52 reboot. While the scale of the story was huge, the issues to get this sprawling story were few and not entirely necessary for all of it. The New Avengers crossover was only passively related to the larger arc of the Avengers and they concluded together smoothly(not counting the birth of The Inhumans invasion that was wedged in there). It was also written well enough for the event title to tell the full story by itself. And because this was so encapsulated to just Jonathan Hickman‘s story/vision, it was tight, strong, hit all of the necessary character beats and still expanded on his strange new characters that were being introduced into Marvel by giving them individual importance to the overall story.

But, the idea of Hickman‘s story having it’s own style and uninterrupted individuality is exactly what caused the amazing success of Secret Wars. Even when the events of the main story started to have issues, the many side stories of different worlds and battlefields that have individual stories and features was something special, simply because it allowed artist integrity and freedom to expand in these micro stories where writers found the opportunity to play in a sandbox with their favorite characters they’ve grown up with. It gave us a level of excitement that we’ve been missing from the major publishers for over a decade.

What Has NOT Worked In Past Events

Axis

Without going too deeply into specific events, we’ve seen issues in regards to events causing major changes to main characters to briefly shake up their status quo. There were several “revelations” in regards to characters from Fear Itself. There’s also the status changes that happened within Axis, that felt so minor, I’m not even sure if some writers remember that Sabretooth was never fully reversed from being forced into being a hero. There’s no substance there to make any of that feel like any more than a marketing ploy. And we are all well past the point where shock value will work on us.

And it’s obviously not that the writers are bad (Matt Fraction[Hawkeye]  wrote Fear Itself / Rick Remder [Uncanny X-Force] wrote Axis). Both writers have genuinely wrote classics under this label within the past ten years and they still make excellent comics today. So, the data only points to an issue behind the scenes where these writers are locked into stories they personally don’t feel invested in. And it is neither their fault, nor the reader’s.

There is a level of gravitas that has been missing within Marvel Comics for a long time. The stakes are low, the threats feel false and everything seems reversible. The moment you hear of Bruce Banner‘s death or Peter Parker becoming rich, the first word that comes to mind is: temporary. By focusing on the branding and value of any particular IP, you have deviated from the possibility of any of these characters ever having their lives or titles genuinely at risk. By turning these characters into financial investments, you have only caused the fanbase to no longer have an emotional investment into the characters. 

How To Right The Ship:

There are three primary things that need to happen for any of these characters or adventures need for them to be taken seriously again:

 

image by Bleeding Cool

  1. Add weight and dramatic tension to events when it is needed: In 2015, you killed off an entire version of the Marvel Universe at the beginning of Secret Wars and barely showed any tension towards how an entire catalogue of these characters felt about ultimately losing their existence and current forms to an unstoppable cosmic events. There’s no longer a sense of intimacy in the tension for these major events.

  1. If Events must continue, focus on smaller, self-contained ones: There was a point when Marvel‘s story became so focused on lower-powered characters that the overpowered ones were sent into space. This included Hulk, Vulcan, Super Skrull, Nova, Namorita, etc. And two writers were left in charge of these misfits and created the classic event Annihilation. This spawned an excellent Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy ongoing and created a cosmic Marvel line that made you entirely forget about any battles on earth. To this day, I still miss this excellent run as the best adventures the publisher offered and the very few signs that it was capable of embracing it’s weirdness. Embrace that a story line can still threaten the fate of the world and not have to be the major flagship title (Remender’s Uncanny X-Force). Or that a story can still be epic and just be an intimate tale among the street heroes of NYC or the younger heroes.
  2. And this one is the most important:

Make One Coherent Event To End All Events:

If I were to suggest one thing to change in Marvel that would immediately turn everything around: Destroy the infinity gems, cosmic cubes and any other tabula rasa item. As long as there are ways to reverse the actions of this universe, there are literally no stakes. Ever. The moment these items are gone and raw, cold, genuine, permanent death is introduced as something more than “a problem you get over in two years”, then we have a story that Marvel has never faced before. The possibility of not returning and acknowledgement among the characters that the rules have changed. Also, for this to be a line-wide event, it needs to integrate into existing stories/not vice-versa. The genuine fear of permanent loss transcends superheroes. That reaches to villains, side-characters, families… It resets the rules and gives us a far more interesting and dangerous playground to explore.

Because, right now, it looks like the more things change, the more they stay the same:

Marvel Comics has a lot of issues(no pun intended). And it most likely will continue to until they decide what they truly are and make a strong stance on that. Until then, make mine… Valiant.

What are your thoughts and opinions on Marvel? Let us know in the comments and @FanBrosShow