Marvel has been dominating the news for a couple months now, both because of their massive film releases from Marvel Studios and the Brian Singer X-Films, but also from the huge reboot that is happening to pretty much every Marvel title after Secret Wars ends. This is going to be one of the largest reboots in Marvel history, with almost sixty new #1s that are going to take pretty much every character into the changed Marvel Universe.
While there is a lot to be excited about here, and a lot of hot names associated with the books, why are people questioning the success of Marvel?
While we know that the sales success of Marvel is tied to the history of their characters and not just from their creators, that logic is certainly changing. The new success of the Image Renaissance came from the rewriting of the creator contract that allowed them to more easily publish the books that they want rather than just superhero clones of the Big Two. Now we are seeing superstar creators having mega-hits on Image like the Walking Dead, Saga, Descender, Wytches, and a whole number of others. Even if they are not reaching top numbers, they still have a higher financial yield and are creator-owned as opposed to the “work for hire” at Marvel.
IGN covered this issue in a recent article on what was missing from the All-New, All Different Marvel relaunch, which is missing many notable creators whose following extends beyond their work and into social media personalities.
o an extent, we’ve seen Marvel do that in recent years. Writers like Charles Soule, Jeff Lemire, G. Willow Wilson and Gerry Duggan have become increasingly important to the publisher. Each has a distinct voice and approach to superhero comics. Unfortunately, these gains aren’t keeping up with Marvel’s losses right now. Compared to previous relaunches like Marvel NOW and All-New Marvel NOW, this one has done little to add fresh faces to Marvel’s lineup of creators. The only real surprise with All-New, All-Different Marvel so far has been Agent Carter showrunners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas being tapped to write the new Captain Marvel book. Meanwhile, DC has been very aggressive about bringing in new, unexpected writers and artists for their “DC You” relaunch. Why isn’t Marvel being more competitive on the recruitment front?
The DC You relaunch also was lacking in many of the big names, but this also comes from the fact that there were very few “major” series on this relaunch, and instead a lot of miniseries and tangential titles and small characters. Right now Marvel is notably missing Rick Remender, Jonathan Hickman, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Ales Kot. This is not a surprise really since Jonathan Hickman said he just wants to focus on his creator owned work, such as The Dying and the Dead and East of West. Ales Kot’s work has been popular on Marvel, but it is his extreme and provocative Image work drawing on anarchism and post-modern philosophy to create a direct contrast between what he creates on his own and what he is hired by Marvel to do.
The financial aspect is really what drives the association with Marvel as it used to be that indie and “mature readers” publishers like Vertigo simply don’t pay as much. In the recent Bleeding Cool interview with Scott Snyder, he pointed out that this is just no longer true for titles like his creator-owned “Wytches.” Instead, he actually made more money with this book than he did on Batman at DC, which seems like a complete 180 to the previous understanding of money in comics.
So what can Marvel do? Well they can start by giving more control to creators to get creative, but that is likely not to happen with the way that the Marvel Studios tale wags the dog. Fantastic Four has been dropped, X-Men de-emphasized, and the term “mutant” heading out of fashion as Marvel tries to create synergy with their Cinematic Universe. If Marvel wants to keep their comics relevant in the long-term, then they are going to have to make it attractive for the younger superstar creators to come there and stay there.