For Marvel, it is the best of times. It is not necessarily the worst of times either. For many in the industry, the latter may appear that way. Marvel’s film studio is arguably producing the most lucrative cinematic franchise out there right now, with seventeen successful films on their belt so far, with over twenty more planned for the future. Three of them, including this month’s “Black Panther,” along with May’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and July’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” are hotly anticipated pictures.
Their biggest competition for superhero movie supremacy are either being bought back, such as Fox’s “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four” properties or are being commercially and critically overwhelmed, case in point Warner Bros fledgling DC comics film series, especially after last year’s disappointing “Justice League.”
It seems Marvel can do no wrong, as impregnable as the Hulk himself. Not really true if you look at their native property of comic books. The situation’s reversed in regards to Marvel and DC’s success. D.C. has had better comic sales than their competitor with notable hits involving Superman, Batman and a crossover special event known as “Doomsday Clock,” bridging the standard DC comic universe with the acclaimed “Watchmen” universe. Marvel on the other hand, has a had rough year in 2017, a breaking point for many.
Their most successful addition the prior year was Marvel “Legacy,” a long-awaited restructuring of their comic universe, with many old favorites returning to the spotlight after allowing for a more diverse range of replacements for Captain America, Iron Man, and so forth. As of now, the first issue has been the biggest hit, selling 305,427 copies (Comichron). Most other series have financially fallen flat, many of those series will be retiring next month, including “Luke Cage,” “America,” “Generation X,” “Hawkeye,” “She-Hulk” and “Iceman” (Hollywood Reporter). Some comic lines, however, are ending because their storylines have been finished, such as Christopher Hastings’ (“Dr. McNinja”) “Gwenpool.” It should be noted that in recent years, the number of concurrent Marvel series numbered over 60.
I took to Palm Beach County’s comic stores to see what the brick and mortar managers thought of Marvel’s ironic comic crisis. One store was Tate’s, located at the Boynton Beach Mall and the other was Past, Present and Future, located in West Palm. The first question I asked was if both of their stores had suffered noticeable drops in sales for Marvel’s series. Anthony Alphonso of Tate’s stated “Not really. Honestly, if it’s happening, as far as I know when it comes to cancelling their series, that happens every few years or so, that’s not that unusual.” Sal Ciano and Talia Eskmenshay of Past, Present and Future had similar thoughts reflecting the relative success of Marvel with Eskmenshay stating” Marvel “Legacy”’s helped a little bit recently in sales, but DC’S definitely taken the lead.”
Ciano believes that he “doesn’t think the comics industry is doing very well at all right now. I would honestly say it’s a 50-50 split, it’s really just the people who are coming and going on these titles. With big releases like DC’s ‘Metal’ and ‘Doomsday Clock,’ we’re seeing more from DC now because there’s always a tie in, a new event going on.”
Ciano also pointed to Marvel’s “Legacy,” “Wolverine” and “Mighty Thor” titles as being successes against the other failures. Ciano cements his thoughts on the matter with “It’s not a case of people liking DC over Marvel, it’s what is currently happening. It’s like a soap opera. Whatever’s the big thing, that’s what they’re watching.”
One controversial point of contention involving Marvel and their perceived lack of success has been their expansion of diversity in characters and series, relating to ethnicity, race, religion and sexual orientation. We now have a teenage Muslim Ms. Marvel, a Black-Hispanic Spider-man and a lesbian Hispanic teenager from an alternate reality that goes by America, both her real name and her superhero title. What’s been more disconcerting for the reader-base is how they sometimes replace the mainstays of Marvel. A young Black woman has taken over for Tony Stark as the new Iron Man, calling herself Ironheart. Wolverine is replaced by his clone daughter, Laura aka X-23 and so on. Is diversity a problem for the comic shop managers?
Alphonso responded to the query: “I mean, that’s a little unusual for Marvel, but not unusual in comics. I mean, how many Robins there’ve been picking up the mantle, the Flashes, like take the first, Barry Allen and transfer over to his sidekick Wally, and then that’s that for a little while. Honestly, any changes made in a comic book I’m okay with as long as the story’s still good.”
Eskmenshay and Ciano’s response was little different. The former considered it “not detrimental, everyone was doing it at the same time, people thought it was a (diversity) takeover. It happened so quickly. I appreciate what they did.” The latter thinks “Honestly people didn’t give those (new) characters a chance.” I touched upon the possibility that some, perhaps only a few of the negative responses on the racially and sexually diverse lineup of characters had a racist or bigoted viewpoint. Ciano considered it “not racism, but fanboyism. If they change what’s familiar, they get upset.”
All in all, while both parties admitted the industry at large was in financial trouble, their own local businesses are doing fine, all things considered. They appreciate Marvel taking risks, but were more critical of how they executed those risks, namely the dangers of quantity over quality. I myself have actually read through some of their recent efforts thanks to Marvel Unlimited, a mobile app which lets you read Marvel’s fifty-year plus lineup of comics. Series like the aforementioned “Gwenpool” and “All-New Wolverine” are quite good even great in my opinion. Perhaps appreciation and sales numbers would be higher if Marvel Comics realized the wisdom of less is more. In time, I think they will.