Ever since Marvel Comics started relaunching its titles, I dreamed of the day when original numbering would return for good. That dream is dead.
It’s OK to let your dreams die. There are people who don’t want you to think that way, but they’re likely full of it. Seriously, say your dream is to live happily ever after with someone who doesn’t feel the same way you do about them. Well, if you hold onto your desire to be with them, you’re not a dreamer, you’re delusional and likely to receive a restraining order. So, in that case, you’re better off letting the dream die, turning in your dreamer card and becoming a realist.
For many years now, I, for example, have dreamed of the day when Marvel Comics would kick its addiction to relaunches and return all of my favorite series’ original numbering. And for a time, that dream was realized, thanks to the recent Marvel Legacy initiative. And then, Marvel pulled a “JK LOL” and revealed that Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man and likely everything else would soon be relaunching with brand new #1s.
My dream was dead. And since this upcoming relaunch was announced, I’ve come to the realization this will be the norm at the House of Ideas until the day I die.
Now, to be clear, Marvel’s SVP and Executive Editor Tom Brevoort reassured readers that comics will retain their “Legacy” numbering.
“This isn’t a clearing of the slate–while these new starts will kick off with new #1s, we’ll be maintaining the classic Legacy issue counts as dual numbering on these titles as well,” Brevoort told Marvel.com.
That’s wonderful, but in a video announcing the fresh start, Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada said these new stories are designed to appeal to those who have never read a comic or lapsed fans. Won’t these individuals be confused by the dual numbers? How will both numbers be displayed on covers where real estate is already so precious?
Also, remember when Marvel already did this? Back when it was Quesada who was Editor in Chief? The Legacy number was below the new number in smaller print… and then just vanished from covers a few months later. So, how long will it be this time before we’re told having two numbers was too confusing for new readers, or that two numbers got in the way of artists’ ability to cut loose and create awesome covers? I’m just saying, we know how this ends.The fact that we’ve been here before is what makes this relaunch news all the more exhausting. Also exhausting: Trying to organize your comic book collection when the same series keeps getting a shiny new #1. And hey, say I truly love Marvel Studios’ upcoming take on Captain Marvel. Which of the many volumes of the Captain Marvel comic do I start with? There are literally five first volumes to choose from on Amazon. Oh, and as someone who writes about comics, I have to say, the constant relaunches make researching individual issues a lot harder as well. Just try googling something like “Amazing Spider-Man #15.” Google just goes, “Ugh, come on.”
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Is relaunching an effective strategy in the long run? Well, let’s go back to Amazing Spider-Man, which has been relaunched three times. The first new #1 since 1963 was released in Nov. 1998 and sold 124,903 copies with a cover price of $2.99, according to Comichron. After Superior Spider-Man temporarily took its place, Amazing relaunched again in April 2014 and sold 532,586 copies with a cover price of $5.99. And then, in Oct. 2015, it relaunched once again, selling 245,873 copies with a cover price of $5.99. While there was a jump between 1998 and 2014 sales, that’s a given considering the relaunches took place in two very different comic book landscapes. But the sales drop between the latter two relaunches is quite noticeable.
But hey, maybe it’s a Spidey thing? What about the biggest superstar in the Marvel Cinematic Universe–Iron Man? Well, Comichron states that Tony Stark’s Invincible Iron Man #1 sold 279,514 copies with a cover price of $3.99 in Oct. 2015. Then, when Riri Williams took over the title in Nov. 2016, the new #1 sold 97,713 copies with a cover price of $3.99. Again, that’s a sizable drop. However, it should be noted that Riri’s first #1 was the fifth best-selling comic of the month, while Invincible Iron Man #14, the final issue of the previous volume, was the 64th best-seller of Oct. 2016, with 43,888 copies sold. So, if that’s the kind of shot in the arm Marvel’s looking for, then great. But Riri’s second issue dropped to the 13th spot the next month and #3 landed in 46th place the month after that.
Now, if you click through the months of 2017, you’ll see that Marvel #1s definitely land in the top five–even for characters that aren’t named Spider-Man: Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #1, U.S. Avengers #1 and Iron Fist #1 all landed in the top spot, according to Comichron. So, it’s a great way to get eyes on a new series, but the real trick is keeping readers hooked every month without resorting to more gimmicks. Batman consistently lands in the top five–no new #1s needed. Based on my own feelings, and the feelings of those I’ve talked to, Marvel runs a real risk of running this relaunch gimmick into the ground, just like it’s run so many past gimmicks into the ground.
Marvel gimmicks are so deep underground at this point, the Mole Man’s had it.
Look, Marvel is like a good friend I want to see do well, but continues to make poor decisions. I do think a number of the newly announced series sound interesting, and definitely recall the adventurousness of the first Marvel Now relaunch from 2012. But why the new #1s? Marvel’s the friend who wants to settle down with success for a lifetime, but keeps dating the wrong person. Stop dating someone new every few months and just settle down with the Legacy numbers, Marvel!
Perhaps the scariest feeling is that you know Doctor Strange, for example, isn’t going to stay in space forever. Hulk isn’t going to stay a horror comic for the next 10 years. So, when these stories eventually end, or their creators move on, Marvel will view it as the ideal time to “start fresh.” The next 10 Doctor Strange #1s could feature one fresh idea after another, but for longtime readers, there’s nothing all-new and exciting about going to the comic shop and walking out with yet another #1 issue. Are series at Marvel even capable of reaching #100 anymore? Heck, I’d settle for #50!
I guess what bothers me the most is how Marvel is more focused on these elusive “new fans” than their loyal readers. I don’t need an MBA to understand that you can’t sustain the comics business without a steady stream of new readers. But… just how dumb are these new fans that they need a new #1? Disney didn’t relaunch the Star Wars franchise with a new Episode 1 with The Force Awakens–the movies are out there for new fans to discover, just like I worked to discover the Marvel Universe when I started reading as a kid. New people are always being born, we can’t relaunch everything every year for them.
When you drive past a McDonald’s and the sign out front says “billions and billions served,” you don’t go, “That’s way too many burgers sold, I need a new restaurant that’s more accessible.” No, you go, “Wow, billions and billions served? This place must know what they’re doing!” Maybe new readers would look at Amazing Spider-Man #800 on the shelf and think, “800 issues? Not many series get this far, so there must be something pretty special here I should check out.”
Wishful thinking? Definitely. That’s why I’ve given up on my dream of Marvel abandoning its relaunch addiction. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for a notorious dreamer like myself. It’s better this way, though (specifically for my blood pressure). But at least I won’t be shocked when those Legacy numbers eventually vanish from covers and Marvel announces a fresh start for Spider-Man again.