Sunday, 17 January 2010

Help Save S.W.O.R.D. and a word on the state of Marvel Comics.

Well... what an incredible shame it is that we find ourselves here again. It was so recently that I was singing the praises of Kieron Gillen and Steven Sanders' S.W.O.R.D. series from Marvel. #3 came out this week, to be rewarded with the news that #5 will now be the final issue.


Once again marvel have chosen to cancel another ongoing series before the 6 month mark.

This truly saddens me. I love S.W.O.R.D. I love it because it brought Death's Head back into comics, obviously, but also because it actually made me like Agent Abigail Brand. I hated her on Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men. Couldn't get a handle on her.

Kieron Gillen managed to change my mind. This series has really helped find a hook for the character, and has been incredibly good fun to read. From a depressed Lockheed drinking his life away though the loss of Kitty Pryde to the unexplained danger of Unit, an entity helping S.W.O.R.D. but only through the containment of a prison cell.

ifanboy made #3 their Pick of the Week, this week: Click

I honestly do not understand this decision. I really don't.

Gregg Hyatt runs a Blog by the name of NerderyBlog.com, and he is certainly just as disappointed by this as I am. But he is mounting a mailing campaign to Marvel, asking them to reconsider. He's even doing that hard work for us fans of the book by knocking up two alternate pre-addressed .pdf files for you to pick, print out and stick in the mail.

(Boy do I wish I'D thought of that when they cancelled Captain Britain & MI13)

I would urge any of you who have loved this series, or even liked it,to go to his site HERE, follow the instructions, print off and sign a copy, and put them in the mail.

Gillen and Sanders have been doing such fantastic work on this title. I cannot believe this cancellation has come down so soon.


This whole situation with Marvel and cancellations right now deeply concerns me. I think it should probably go without saying that I LOVE marvel Comics. I genuinely do. If it wasn't FOR them I probably wouldn't be reading comics at all, and I have always had an incredible affinity for their characters and stories. My head is filled with so much continuity and concepts which they put there. And I love it!

But that said, this past year I cannot say that the direction things appear to be flowing in at Marvel is something I am entirely happy with, and I'd like to make it clear as to why.

During the first two thirds of the post-2000s (Yes I refuse to call them the 'Noughties') Marvel Comics was a buzz place to be and a great place to read comics. Joe Quesada's new reign as E-I-C brought a much needed revolution to Marvel, and you couldn't help but feel excited about things. They seemed to have a real gameplan, and had a real mission to enrich and build up their 'Universe'.

At this point 'Marvel Universe' titles were practically a brand in their own right, showcasing a number of diverse teams and individual character books, and the creative talent to write these books had been head-hunted from all corners of media to form a whole new generation of writers and artists.

They brought us Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Allan Heinberg, Brian Hitch, Brian K Vaughan and JMS. Big names, and GREAT output.

It brought us new takes on old older properties, such as Bendis' Daredevil and Grant Morrison's New X-Men, and brilliant new properties like BKV's Runaways and Heinberg's Young Avengers, and a there was a commitment, clear for all to see, for trying new things. Like Marvel Next and the Ultimate Marvel line of comics, which weren't just reboots of existing properties for new readers, but new creative outlets to play with them in ways you just couldn't DO with the mainstream Marvel Universe.

Properties like Ghost Rider, Blade and Daredevil all had movies made of them (With varying success). Marvel even got to build up enough creative clout to form their own Movie Studios, giving them far greater creative control over movies using theier characters.

Now though, that this generation is beginning to go its separate ways a little (as is inevitable in comics) Marvel have brought us a whole new generation of writers and artist they are trying to mould into the next big wave of talent.

Johnathan Hickman. Paul Cornell. Rick Remender. Kieron Gillen. Jeff Parker. Leonard Kirk. Steven Sanders. Kathryn Immonen.

I cannot stress enough how happy I am to see those names working for Marvel.

However, whereas in the first third of the 2000s it was practically a given that a new creator would be given a chance to write or draw a monthly ongoing book in the Marvel Universe stable, to help hone their craft and prepare them to take over something bigger some day, in the years 2008 through to 2010 it kind of saddens me to see that this is no longer really the case.

It saddens me that this diverse Marvel Universe, previously a brand within its own right, is no longer... really there. Because aside from Daredevil and Fantastic Four it's almost now entirely gone. The number of books cancelled from this area of Marvel's output in the last 3 years is frankly pretty frightening reading.

Runaways. eXiles. Agents of Atlas. Blade. Doctor Voodoo. Ghost Rider. New Invaders. Captain Britain and Mi13. She-Hulk. Ms Marvel. Arana. New Warriors. Heroes for Hire. Alpha/Omega Flight (Omega Flight got downgraded to a mini, despite the creative team having plans for a first year). Nextwave. Eternals. The Order. Immortal Iron Fist.

And now S.W.O.R.D.

That's just off the top of my head, of course. I'm sure there ARE others I have forgotten, but those are the ones which spring to mind. The meat and potatoes of Marvel's entire brand.

It's seems that now pretty much any book which does not fit directly into the X-Men, Spider-man, Hulk or Avengers brands seems to only get any real press attention, advertising or hype from Marvel once the book has already become a dead cert for cancellation. We saw it with Captain Britain & MI13, we've seen it with others since, also.

Sure, books like Agents of Atlas DID get some full-page advertising showing some truly beautifully painted covers, made into and advert for the book.

But I do have to ask... how much does a beautifully painted advert which shows a set of characters who (certainly for the vast majority of) readers of other titles have never even SEEN before really achieve?

Seriously. I would have thought that to actually be a bit of a wasted piece of advertising. Because it doesn't tell a prospective reader anything about the book. Or, indeed, why they should be reading it. There is no hook for the reader, just a pretty visual. And often that is not quite enough.

I would have thought that it was a very similar situation when the John Cassaday cover for SWORD #1 was used as an advert too. It looked fine enough. But it didn't really tell anybody anything about this ongoing series at all. And for a book quietly launched in the background of Marvel's Dark Reign event that was something which the book absolutely needed in order to grab people's attention.

Gone, in the last couple of years in particular, are the editorial pieces placed in each monthly book from Marvel, telling you WHY you should pick up other books. Remember those? We very rarely even see a Cup Of Joe piece, these days.

Editorial pieces, Bullpen Bulletins, and the marvel Checklist page were indispensable parts of any Marvel Comic. Because it was these which told prospective readers what was going on with these new titles, highlighting them, and spelling out why they CAN'T AFFORD TO MISS what's going on? Back in the 90s pretty much ALL of my new purchases were informed by the Checklist page. It's how I heard about what else was going on in the Marvel Universe. Without that I would have only stuck to the properties I knew, the Spider-man and X-Men books of this world - much as it seems most readers out there are doing today.

It might just be my own personal opinion, but I very much believe that Marvel should be forgetting about using covers as full page ads. Modern Marvel Comics rarely have covers which relate to the actual interior of the book as it is, so why anybody should think they'd make a good advertisement anyway is questionable. Instead, I believe they should be exchanging these for a full page feature, words and art clippings, telling prospective readers about the book they are pimping. Because you cannot sell a S.W.O.R.D., or an Agents of Atlas, or a Captain Britain & MI13 on a cover alone. They don't recognise these guys!

Instead they need a HOOK.

They need the premise of the book, it's setting and characters, explained concisely and in a visually appealing form. Nobody should ever expect a prospective reader to go out of their way to find out about a book online. Marvel may put an article up on their website, but I would genuinely wonder what percentage of monthly Marvel readers regularly check Marvel.com? 'Regularly' as in the every new story posted on a daily basis?

I wouldn't have thought it to be terribly high, to be honest. Because, and lets face it, us comic fans tend to be a bit lazy with things like that. ;D It's no crime, but it is the way things ARE. But when we're reading a book we're a captive audience. A one page feature, presented well, will grab our attention. It's really all we need.

And perhaps the the daftest thing is that this something which Marvel used to do very well.

Mavel has switched it's focus in the past few years towards a concentration on event books. I don't really have a problem with that, as I do actually quite enjoy events.
Event books, of curse, pretty much sell themselves. You put a banner on the cover and it will sell because the casual reader tends to feel that the banner means that book is 'important'. They feel they NEED to buy that book, or thy might be missing out. And while they still feel that need they probably will miss out on picking up a new series, with characters they are not so familiar with, in favour of whatever book currently shows the Big Guns fighting in it.

That's not a crime. It's common logic, really. But it is a shame. Because without people picking up these 'unknown quantity' titles they do not survive. In order to change that Marvel really DOES need to give them that reason. To make it plain that they consider them just as important to a reader AS the big books. That's the way it used to be done, but these days it almost seems as if some part of Marvel is happy enough to allow these titles to be seen as something less important. The fa├žade has to be maintained, otherwise the sales CAN only drop.

But what really worries me the most about the current situation is that while the previous generation of new talent at Marvel were given time and space to hone their craft, to learn through doing on monthly ongoing books, for this current new generation it seems to be turning out to be a very different story.

Look back at that list of creators above. Apart from the brilliant Jonathan Hickman (If you're not buying his Secret Warriors book, you should be) how many are still on monthly ongoing books at Marvel? How many have had their books cancelled? How many in recent times before even reaching the six month mark? I mean seriously Jeff Parker has now had THREE ongoings cancelled. His eXiles run was also cancelled at the #3 mark.

Smaller titles like SWORD, Agents of Atlas, or Captain Britain & MI13 may review very well, may get critical acclaim, but they are NOT an easy sell to the average comics buyer. The characters are not so well-known, the writers and artists are not as well-known, and they take quite some time to establish a readership. You can't rush that, because you are starting from scratch. Even if you've had a mini series before it - because there's a world of difference between a reader committing to a mini series and a reader committing to buy a book EVERY month for the foreseeable future. A great amount of difference.

A new title needs TIME. It needs two to three arcs of story to establish itself. At least six months of reviews to pick up comments for adverts from. At least Six months of people talking about it online and in comic book stores. At least one trade paperback on the shelves, so that when that prospective new reader asks 'What's like? Do you think I'd like it?' fans or the store owners can hand them a copy and say 'Here! Buy this and see what you think.' It helps new readers catch up and helps generate a fan base which otherwise WILL NOT take shape. Because there isn't time FOR it to take shape. Nor could anybody expect it to.

I love SWORD. And I think that a lot of guys would also love it if they picked it up and took a look. Cancelling the book on #3 is ridiculous. There were people I know who only picked the book up for the first time this week, and added it to their pull list. Guys who don't normally read Marvel. Some guys who were still feeling burnt over Captain Britain & Mi13 (the first book which got them to try Marvel Comics again in over a decade) getting cancelled just when they'd started picking it up in its third arc.

Cancelling books just at the point where people start 'getting' it creates a really bad atmosphere. When a new reader finds a book they like only to find it gets axed they are far less likely to try another. If it happens again, and again, there really is a very genuine chance that it will cause them to swear off buying that publisher's books period. If I were working at Marvel right now it's certainly something I think that I would be quite concerned about. Because this isn't the odd title we're talking about her. The list of cancelled ongoing titles is getting rather large now, ad almost all of them are reviewing VERY well.

And I personally would also have to question quite how long this can continue before the very new writers and artists Marvel wants to attract are going to start being put off by what Marvel is doing. At the end of the day an ongoing book should BE ongoing. As a creator if that's what you signed up for, if that's what you were promised, how would you feel if that deal was reneged on after only 3 months? If it happens more than once would you really want to stay?

I had hoped that Marvel's takeover by Disney would have allowed the company to start giving creators more space to work. Maybe it yet will. But right now It seems not.

And that is very sad to see.

You know, I feel sure that a fair few people at Marvel feel just the same way as I do. I don't want to trash a company who have made me so very happy over the years, and I certainly won't stop buying Marvel in protest. But that, folks, is how I feel about it all.

Am I alone, here?

37 comments:

  1. Yeah, but you can't blame Marvel for pulling the plug if the market just isn't buying the book in sufficient numbers, nor can you blame Marvel for the stunted conservatism of so much of the direct market audience.

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  2. I think that depends, Mark. Marvel kind of are dictating the market itself right now, by the sheer number of books per month they are releasing.

    We currently have 3 separate mini-events going on at Marvel. Siege, War of Hulk and Necrosha in the X-Men books. At the same time that DC still has Blackest Night going on also. There is X-Men 'Second Coming' on the way shortly too.

    Yes, a reader doesn't have to pick them all up. But I guess what I find myself thinking the most right now is that in a market where there is that so much competition primarily generated BY Marvel, why commission new ongoings at all? Readers resources are finite. And if you cannot afford to support those new titles to the same degree you can your event titles then are you not doing the creators a great disservice by offering them something which you know is far more likely to be unworkable than workable, in the first place?

    I don't think that there is a one fix for all here, Mark. But I do feel that while Marvel's intent these past two years has been correct, their marketing and following through with support for new title being put out at the peak of Event Season has been able to match that intent.

    It's not working right now. I feel it needs to change.

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  3. I reckon I agree with all or most of your points. I NEVER check marvel.com; I find it irritating to navigate and uninviting. And covers-as-adverts never get my money because the inner art is almost guaranteed to be entirely different.

    But I'm also absolutely uninclined to pick up SWORD, because what I DON'T want to be seeing more of from Marvel is "hurhurhur ladies are about sexy" and your chosen teaser image.. well. I raise my eyebrow.

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  4. Great bloody article. You pretty much cover it all for me, thanks.

    I am sad to see S.W.O.R.D. go, but maybe all of these cancellations will make Marvel think about adding back ups to other titles. It might be the only fiscal solution they can find, and help them keep comics at $3.99, which they so obviously want to do.

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  5. I should probably point out, Hasoon, that the image above is actually one which Steven Sanders posted up on Comic Book Resources as a joke. It would be very out of character for Agent Brand, but I think he wanted somebody use it for a kind of 'SWORD WANTS YOU!' kind of fan driven campaign. I was tempted to do it myself, at the time, but never got a chance.

    Now knowing that the book has been cancelled I kind of feel a little guilty about that.

    Rest assured inside the pages of SWORD Agent Brand is a much more serious, work-focussed, ball-breaker of a woman. Who may be dating The Best, but refuses to talk about it 'In The Office'. ;)

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  6. Hi Ryan. Back-ups is certainly an option which Marvel have mentioned themselves. It'd be welcome, sure. It seems to have worked fine for The Question, over at DC, as back-up for Batwoman in Detective Comics.

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  7. It would be very out of character for Agent Brand, but I think he wanted somebody use it for a kind of 'SWORD WANTS YOU!' kind of fan driven campaign.

    The fans ain't doing the company any favours then, I guess. Which is a shame, because I'm on my last nerve with the sexy hijinks angle when it's from the official source. Like you I have long-lived love for Marvel for their stories, mythologies, characters, legacy, and it drives me CRAZY that it seems that so many people's first marketing instinct it to try to appeal to "my" loins to get "me" to keep reading.

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  8. Despite the way it might appear up there this actually is a pretty intelligently written book. And an enjoyable one.

    Which is all the more reason that I am sad to see it go. Take a look at an issue next time you're in a comic book store, or a google a preview online.

    But I certainly do sympathise with what your saying, Hasoon. I really do.

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  9. That's good to hear!

    I get my comics by mail at the moment having moved away from my local, but.. yeah, alright, I'll give some previews a look. It'll be out in trade eventually, right?

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  10. Just the one trade now, sadly, but yes.

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  11. Just realised: YES, I can blame Marvel for the stunted conservatism of the direct market audience: them, DC and Diamond, largely. What the hell was I sayin'?

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  12. Mark, are you being serious there? ;D

    There are plenty factors in play to why the market is what it is, right now.

    Diamond do have to take on a fair chunk of that blame also. I still find it amazing that they have a stranglehold on the industry, and can dictate distribution prices as they feel fit to.

    But that is how it is. And Marvel sell event books because it's the easiest way to make money in the short term. And god knows it seems to work out for them.

    My concern is that it's not the way people, creators and fans, have come to expect Marvel to work. And when people see all these smaller titles and newer writers and artists failing, it doesn't look good. Doesn't look good at all.

    It puts fans off buying into monthly books, and creators off working with Marvel I should imagine. To a degree.

    I think that until that market changes Marvel probably should just stick to putting out mini series of new properties. Maybe twice a year if the first run is successful. It never hurt the likes of Hellboy (In fact in that case it actually helped to maintain the quality). That way would offend far less parties, and still allow an expansion of of Marvel's Universe through those stories.

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  13. Here is the preview link for Sword 1, 2, and 3 http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=preview_srch&by=title&for=S.W.O.R.D

    CBR usually puts up all the Previews on their site.

    Jennifer-

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  14. Thanks for the link, Jennifer.

    Seriously, for any of you who have been considering picking it up, but haven't yet, take a look at these previews. See if it's your thing. The first 3 issues are still out there, and the book has another 2 to go.

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  15. Marvel should cut about half of their line and focus on how to get younger kids reading comics. First step, get the price down to $1. No mom of three is going to pay $11.97 for three comic books for here kids.

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  16. Louis does have a very valid point. Yes, to a degree Diamond dictate prices for the industry, but I don't think any of us would deny that pricing is a big factor in Comics.

    I'm a 30 year old adult, with a steady job a home setting, but I'm having to curb my comics pull list this year. If I have to do that I feel pretty sure that a kid who's spending their allowance or asking their folks to buy a few books is going to have to be VERY conservative in the purchases.

    It's probably also worth noting that when S.W.O.R.D. #1 went on sale that issue was priced at $3.99. The rest of the series is $2.99, but as has been pricing policy at Marvel since the launch of Secret Warriors and Agents of Atlas last year ALL #1's are now priced at $3.99.

    For that extra dollar you DO get extra content. Some books have had bios, or rough art sketches. In the case of S.W.O.R.D. #1 it was a back-up story by Kieron Gillen and long time collaborator Jamie McKelvie.

    And it was actually a very good back up story, too.

    But it was an extra Dollar.

    A $3.99 price tag for an unknown quantity book is always likely to put off the casual comics reader from picking up that first issue. They are far less likely to take that gamble.

    And if they don't pick up #1 the odds are they won't pick up #2, either, regardless of whether or not it's a Dollar cheaper.

    If they hear good things about the book though, they may well pick up #3. Sadly, however, as #3 went on sale for this title Marvel had already axed the book.

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  17. I looked at the sales of #1 and #2 on ICV2 - #1 (if I'm looking at the right title) sold 21,988 copies (see www.icv2.com/articles/news/16433.html, #2 15,113. Deathlok hasn't done well either. When a book launch achieves sales that only just see it squeeze into the Top 100, it's not a good omen for its future.

    I'm trying to think of any comic set in space that Marvel has done that has ever done really well (and I'm not talking a sequence of stories set in space in an X-Men book): off the top of my head, I can't. Marvel's Starlord earned a lot of praise but was never a commercial success, for example.

    So even though seeing Death's Head was fun, I'm not convinced, despite the obvious talent of the creators, that this book was going to get the kind of numbers that would make it a real contender in the eyes of Marvel's bean counters.

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  18. I think you've got a pretty valid point there, John.

    Yes, Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy have managed to stay ongoing for a couple of years, but they are more the exception than the standard.

    SWORD is not the only recent casualty, of course. Doctor Voodoo, which was launched out Brian Michael Bendis' big 'Who will be the new Sorcerer Supreme' storyline in New Avengers, also recently got axed at #3.

    On paper both titles have been spawned from stories written by big name writers (Joss Whedon in the case of SWORD) but have not pulled the sales Marvel require for their current set threshold.

    Although to meet that threshold right now a book would have to hit the ground running at around 27,000 estimated US sales, and only drop off by 5,000-7,000 over the next couple of issues, to be considered truly healthy.

    It's incredibly unlikely that any book which is launched without a very heavy fanfare from in-house advertising and features could be expected to grab those kind of numbers. And keep them. Everybody loves a story of a book which is kept alive by word-of-mouth alone, but it is a rareity. And especially right now, that's not the market we seem to be living in.

    And much as though creatively it doesn't sound so great I can't but help thing that while we go through these next couple of years of recession if comics buyers are going to be more conservative with their purchasing Marvel may have to start being a bit more conservative with the number of new titles they launch, in order to fit with that.

    We've had 3 titles in the last year which were cancelled at the 3rd issue. If that's the way the market is, then I don't think there actually is room for more ongoing monthlies. It might be best to stick to writing defined length mini series for different characters or teams. Testing the water for a future ongoing if nothing else, but not rushing in without being certain that it's workable on a monthly basis.

    I don't think anybody would disagree that cancelling a monthly title early disappoints all parties concerned. Minimizing the chance of that during these tough times might well be the better option all round.

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  19. Cutting back on titles is, however, unlikely to happen, even if some have failed to 'stick'. The bottom line for Marvel is that it is a publicly trading company (albeit now Disney owned) and, even in a recession, its shareholders don't respond well to the company they're investing in 'reigning in' on its line.

    This is one of the reasons Marvel UK was asked to produce so many new books in the early 1990s, to its ultimate cost, because it simply didn't have the staffing resources to ensure that the high quality of many titles in the original line-up instigated by Paul Neary in 1992 was maintained. The demand was for more, not less, and I doubt Marvel will behave any differently now.

    Also, don't forget that creating a comic these days isn't just about creating a comic: while it's not a good reason to publish - a title should be bought for its own merits - the possibility that a new comic might get optioned as a movie or TV or game project is a strong incentive for a company to try at least some new things and see what happens.

    Publishing a comic for a few issues may seem costly, but for a big company it's a worthwhile investment for a much higher potential return, and, of course, any sales will continue to build the Marvel 'brand'.

    While it's not without fault judging from some of the comments above (I have to confess, I don't pay much attention to the US comics scene these days), to its credit, Marvel has, generally, been about the comics first and other media second, whereas other companies have launched titles with the express hope that they might get picked up by Hollywood - which is now way, to my mind, to run a comics company.

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  20. I know exactly what you mean about the Hollywood optioning. It does seem that some publishers and creators have been thinking of this first and foremost in recent years. And while there are obvious positive factors in getting a movie made from one of your properties, to me anyway, there is a world of difference between Film and serial Comics form. They are two very different media.

    There are things which comics do in a multi issue serial form which no other media can.

    There are things which film can do on the big screen which no other media can.

    Just as there are things which live Theatre does, or serial TV drama, or stand up comedy, which are unique to that medium and will always be done best there.

    I personally feel that to try and think of Comics more in terms of a start out concept for a movie, while potentially profitable, could also be quite limiting, by the structure you're asking the book to be written to fit.

    Thanks for adding your thoughts to this one, John. It's all very well for us fans to discuss these things in theoretical terms, but it's always great to hear from somebody who's actually been there.

    Marvel probably do need to be seen to be putting out new content. Where I have been discussing this elsewhere online over the past six months I have found myself very much in favour of limited series approach for putting out new properties and material.

    This is the approach which Image Comics seems to favour more these days, and the format which Dark Horse have always used for putting out titles like Hellboy and B.P.R.D., whereby there is a fair amount of new material put out for a given property each year, but in the form of shorter finite length series telling shorter stories. This ensures there is always enough material put out each year to be collected as a trade paperback or two, but doesn't lock the property itself into the expectations of a monthly series.

    I think that, to a degree, that was something that was being done with Marvel UK towards the end. Books like Death's Head and Dark Angel remained ongoing. But then you limited series telling specific stories with certain characters, such as Dark Guard or Marvel Frontier Comics.

    Obviously there wasn't the trade paperback market to consider at that time, but it was certainly the idea I got from Frontier Comics in particular. Each of those limited series was enclosed story in its own right. But other stories, with the characters from each, were told in that Frontier Comics Special. And had things not wound up shortly after that point it would have been easy enough to tell other stories in limited series form too.

    Maybe that was just a coincidence, of course, but that is certainly what it seemed like as a reader looking in. :)

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  21. loads of interesting points here, but perhaps one of the major factors that comic books aren't attracting kids so much is the loss of the newsstand distribution. Back in the '90s, at the height of the speculator boom, the switch was made to the Direct (i.e. specialist shop) Market, with the industry banking on fanboys buying variant covered comics in their thousands. The end result of that is that comic books have to be sought out rather than picked up at a supermarket or newsstand (interestingly, this isn't true of the UK, which seems to have a relatively healthy presence outside of specialist retailers). Its also increased the cost of publishing books as the readership drops off - its quite shocking reading the circulation pages in Marvel's books. Fantastic Four now sells around 41,000 copies. Thats a worryingly small amount for one of Marvel's flagship books.
    I don't know that newsstand distribution could be ressurected, but its certainly worth a thought if comics are to continue to survive. There's loads of other stuff I'm thinking which I'll have to post later as I have to go to work now! bums.

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  22. The central drive of comic books in the UK has ALWAYS been the newsagents' shelves. Although it is exceptionally rare that you find a newsagents over here which stocks American titles. I did used to have one in the town I grew up in, which carried a few US X-Men titles during the 90s, but that was about it.

    In the States I have still seen a few newsstands stocking comic titles, but not a huge range. I do, however, find that kind of understandable. When you think of the sheer number of books released by DC and Marvel alone, per month, it's hard to see how any newsagent could really accommodate them all. But, of course, for many people there really isn't a comic book store within easy driving distance. Newsagents, on the other hand...

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  23. Some things on my brain about all this...

    SWORD has turned out to be a pleasant suprise. would i have picked it up if it didn't have Death' Head in? Probably not. As you state, weak promotion (just using John Cassady's static and oddly proportioned #1 cover) and a lack of information about the book did not sell it to me at all. Particularly as its a book populated with oddball alien cast-offs from around the Marvel Universe (point in case: there's some characters in issue 3 all asking Beast for assistance in not being removed from Earth, but I don't know who they are, or why I should care, if I'm honest).

    Marvel should do more to promote their books through a Cup O'Joe or even just the old Bullpen Bulletins pages - they were full of hyperbole, but they were useful! Even DC, who disappointingly jettisoned their letters pages, managed to retain one page in a book to promote their monthly offerings (and still do!).

    Marvel seem to be going through a phase of throwing any old stuff out there at the moment, and all of it of unquantifiable. I'm not a Marvel Zombie, and I am one of the minority who is actively discouraged by event crossover jamborees (so yeah, not a good decade for me!) There's no context to any of these releases and I've no real inclination to spend hours trawling through web pages to find out information. Thank christ I've a comic shop in OK Comics (quick plug, sorry!), that makes suggestions based on my reading habits and find the time to unearth details about titles Marvel clearly can't be bothered telling us about!

    There's also the numbering issue. I don't mind the use of limited series for second string characters. It seems perfectly sensible to me. What I do find slightly objectionable is this weird shift through a title's run to limited series, or relaunch as a 'first issue', only to pick up the old numbering down the line!

    When this happens, its a clear indicator that all is not well - as recently happened with Ghost Rider (which has had a suprisingly decent run, all things considered) and is rapidly becoming the US equivalent of the old death knell of British Comics merging or cancelling: "Great news chums!"

    I'll leave it at that for now, as its late and I'm not sure any of this is making much sense!

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  24. Yes. "Great News!" never really meant great news, did it? :(

    Numbering is a bit of a bug bear for many fans, Simon. I know what you mean. I'm sure a fair few fans we slightly confused by X-Factor #50 being followed up by X-Factor #200...

    But I guess the idea is to grab people's attention (X-Factor remains brilliant, btw)

    Announcing a series as an ongoing, only to limit its run is never a good move, in my opinion. Nextwave stopping at #12, for example. Or Omega Flight being hyped in articles as an ongoing, only to have it cut back to a four issue mini series at the mid point of Civil War (The event series which was supposed to be launching it).

    It doesn't really benefit any part - Fan, Creator or Publisher.

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  25. Lots of interesting and thought-provoking points there:

    * Rolling events - Civil War rolled into Secret Invasion which segued into Dark Reign and had a vast number of tie-in titles. You don't have to buy them all (and it would be pushing it to do so), they are an excellent springboard for new titles and can be a good showcase for more obscure characters (like a lot of the ones who got an airing during Dark Reign). However, they will tend to focus the general Marvel readership on these titles and other series get squeezed out - if you have a choice between a title that hooks into the event (which might help cast more light on it and enhance the enjoyment of the other series that you are reading which hook into the same storyline) and one that is separate from it then people will go for the former unless they have overwhelming reasons to pick the latter.

    * Full page cover ads - flicking through some back issues it seems like a more effective "bang for your buck" could be gained from even a half-page which has a few informative thumbnails and some text (so say you have a new team like S.W.O.R.D. you'd have headshots and some text on how they fit in, building up a rounded picture of the title). Just banging in a cover is a waste of important real estate.

    One you didn't touch on is:

    * Ongoing vs limited series - I can see why CB&MI13 was launched as an ongoing but The Eternals? Capitan Britain has carried a number of series in the past and, as much as I enjoy them, The Eternals haven't. You'd have to bring a seriously impressive 2-year plan to the table to make the idea of an ongoing workable surely? I'd like to see more limited series to help build interest and momentum in a character or team and then an ongoing would launch strongly. Of course, you could argue that a #1 of an ongoing would help boost numbers and people might wonder why they should bother with a measly mini-series but on the other hand you have to make an emotional investment in an ongoing (why they can sustain sales through creative bad patches because readers have faith it'll come back strong) and if you are burning fans over and over again then they are less likely to jump on the next series to come down the pipe because they know it is likely to come to a stuttering halt in less than half a dozen issues. I'd rather see series launched when someone has something interesting to say about the characters and if it gets a lot of interest then it could be rolled out as an ongoing. Another by-product of this is the next big franchise could be lurking out there at the fringes and this approach would open up the opportunity to experiment. After all Deadpool started in a team book before getting a few mini-series and now has... god knows how many series (which seems quite a good way to kill a character but we'll wait and see).

    More in Part 2 (as it appears I have typed too much)

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  26. continued....

    Anyway, what I'm hoping is that this new "Heroic Age" will open things back up again and give other series new room to breath. They are cancelling the various Avengers titles and shaking things up line-wide (which is a good thing as the Thunderbolts seemed to have wandered far from their raison d'etre and Jeff Parker seems to be gearing up to bring the "redemption" angle back in focus). I also notice Incredible Hercules is being cancelled and that is another quality title, however, it appears it is more of a shuffling of titles (as I think we'll end up with a Hulk and an Incredible Hulk title). What I have my fingers crossed for is that by the end of this year or the start of next, we might see some of the much missed titles returning in some form or another.

    So, for example, I did wonder if the cancellation of CB&MI13 might have been a necessary move to allow a bit of tinkering - the name was too clunky but it was too soon to go for Excalibur, I am just unsure if giving Faiza Hussain the alias "Excalibur" makes it more or less likely we might see the team return in some form (possibly as a British Avengers now we have established they can call on most British superheroes to fill the ranks). Equally, it might be wise for a repurposed team to deal with less.. magical opponents - it wasn't a problem for me but was clearly a deal-breaker with enough readers. Perhaps see Paul Cornell teaming up with Alan Davis as a dreamteam...

    I also wonder if this idea of mini-events could work in their favour. This is what DnA have been doing with the cosmic titles and it works nicely - running a couple of series in parallel with storylines that interweave and can spawn connected mini-series for the events (which also again allows them to shine a spotlight on C or even Z-list characters). Hook S.W.O.R.D. into an X-Men mini-event or new Excalibur into an Avengers one or even make them the core titles in their own mini-event (how about a British one, with spin-off Death's Head and... Mortigan Goth mini-series?). The bonus of this is they get an extra promotional boost and are given the feel of must-read titles.

    So I am feeling rather positive about these mini-events and the more open Heroic Age environment, as these might just allow the space and light for new (or returning) titles to grow and flourish. Quite what these will be is something I'm looking forward to finding out. Of course, we could meet back here this time next year and assess the amount of piss that has been deposited on our chips. However, for now, I'd rather be positive about it for now and wait and see what this new age might bring us.

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  27. Apologies for the deletion of the last comment. It appears we were spammed again, and as a result I have had to turn comment moderation back on again. I don't like doing that, but in light of this it's probably for the best that I do for a while. Sorry folks.

    Some valid points there Emperor. Although I do have to admit a certain amount of interest in The Eternals. The Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr series from a couple of years ago was quite enjoyable. But I do have to question the logic in starting a new ongoing on the back of that with a very different artist and writer. I still think that there are places for books about The Eternals or The Inhumans, but there really does need to be a big name creative team behind them in order to sell them. And I still believe, in both cases, that a concept led maxi-series is the way to go.

    'The Heroic Age,' for those who do not read Marvel regularly, is the name which marvel are using for the new status quo they will be starting up with in a few months time. After such bleak events as Civil War and then the villains running the world in Dark Reign this is design to return to more straightforward hero comics. You know where being an actual HERO matters.

    And in that kind of world you would hope that the likes of SWORD and Captain Britain & MI13 might actually stand a far better chance. Who knows? Let's wait and see.

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  28. I am quite impressed by the number of responses to this Blog post. It's obviously a subject which has touched a few nerves.

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  29. I think that Disney's buy out will be a bad thing for Marvel and fans in general.

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  30. Hi Archavist.

    I have to say that initially I shared that very concern over the buyout. But that main concern was over moderation of content. I mean if Disney were to tell marvel to moderate their content to be more family friendly that would pretty much destroy the company in eyes of most of its readers.

    But then I was reminded that Disney also own Miramax films, and the ABC network.

    Did Disney try to censor From Dusk till Dawn? Did they stop them putting out Hellraiser movies? Did Disney step in to moderate the content of shows like Lost?

    Well, no. Because at the end of the day corporate though they me be, Disney like to make money. The reason they buy out companies like those above, or Pixar or Marvel, is because under the Disney brand they can't do all that they might like. But through other brands and companies they can get into markets the Disney brand cannot.

    I don't think that it will screw up Marvel. But what I hope it will do is allow them to put out a more varied array of titles for longer, without having to cancel them.

    DC have always had the luxury of Time Warner's money propping up the lower sellers. They've been able to keep books like Blue Beetle, for example, selling for much longer than an equivalent Marvel title.

    So basically if they just continue let Marvel do what they do best, and give them the support to let them DO that, I don't see that they will fail.

    I;d actually be surprised if we saw very much of a difference at all.

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  31. Oh I agree with you about the Eternals (and the Inhumans), I have read most of their outings and feel that there is a tonne of potential in them that has yet to be realised. They also have solid links with various bits of the Marvel Universe and that continuity could be built on to draw in other characters and present interesting directions.

    Gaiman's series didn't really establish a new status quo on the back of which you could have launched an ongoing - it was much more self-contained with a few loose threads left for the next team to pick up. It would have been better for the new team to have a well-defined limited series to really set out their stall and see if enough people were excited about the ideas before launching into an ongoing but I wasn't convinced by what they brought to the table. With the right team, the right story and the right planning/timing this could be a must-read book.

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  32. I know what you mean Emperor. I mean, don't get me wring, I loved Gaiman's mini. But while it reintroduced the characters very well, it did not set them in a specific direction.

    I think that there definitely are many things you could do with an Eternals ongoing, but I think that without a big name recognised creative team behind it it will always be a hard sell. Even the most fantastically crafted story involving these characters has to be able to grab the attention of the reader. Selling a book on the reputation of Creators tends to achieve that easier, these days. It seems.

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  33. Sad but true - there'd need to be some buzz about the team and the title too (as you can't just guarantee you parachute a Big Name in and it'd work).

    It might also need a crossover storyline to launch it, perhaps link them with a "family" of other stories. I keep coming back to this idea but it could help attract attention to smaller titles and give them a big boost. S.W.O.R.D. and The Eternals both have a near-Earth remit, the former has X-Men links and the later has Avengers links (and to other gods) and both could be drawn into Earth-based stories or out to more Cosmic tales. Lots of angles that could be worked for a higher profile.

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  34. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  35. It's been a long time since i stopped buying Marvel comics.
    I used to buy quite a lot of them, and i still read a lot of comics, but
    Marvel comics aren't fun anymore.
    Take for Example Death's Head, boy that guy was really funny. i enjoy
    that sort of things that made comic what they were.
    But today they are so serious that it's really boring. it's like reading a
    storyboard rather than reading a comic.
    And that Disney business, i feel it's affecting Marvel as a whole.
    Marvel's animation studio was doing a great job, but i recently saw the
    latest Avengers show, which i think is under the new administration. and i felt it was simply awful. instead of seeing more breathtaking animation is like watching an amateur production or an animatic.
    makes me feel that those TV show from the 60's. were a lot more dynamic than this, even though they were only drawings slide across the screen.
    I really feel comics are been taken away from both creators and fans.
    comics are now properties, corporate stuff, and they are definitely loosing
    their magic.

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  36. Hi Maitre,

    I certainly sympathise with how you're feeling. I'll be honest, since Marvel kicked off its 'Age of Heroes' I don't personally feel that the books are as creatively rich as they were say in 2005-2008.

    It's one of those transition periods. Marvel has product to sell - namely Movies. Thor, Captain America, and eventually building towards that Holy Grail of an Avengers movie.

    But while I was growing up I was never the Avengers' biggest fan. Those were characters in brightly coloured costumes without the kind of hook I needed as a reader. Captain America, sure. Hero of WW2. Ties to my own Country. But the others? Not as much. Thor's rhetoric sounded ridiculous, and I found guys like Giant/Ant man, Iron Man and Hawkeye a bit daft, too.

    Right now Marvel's focus has become quite insular, in my opinion, putting all of their eggs into that one Avengers themed basket. I'm sure it will change in a year or so, but for now it doesn't quite focus on the characters I want to be reading.

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