One Fan's Trials: Joe Quesada & Marvel's Concentrated $ameness

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THIS is YOUR Marvel Universe

In my last column titled Dan DiDio & DC’s Familiarity Cur$e, I had asserted that:

What the last few years have shown is that WE don’t support new super-hero concepts from the Big Two. Everything that has proven successful for these companies recently has been based on cleaning up their key franchises or shall I say “brands”?

…And…

And under Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada’s watch at Marvel, that’s why they have several Spider-Man books for example and many different universes of the same characters published, e.g. Ultimate Spider-Man, Astonishing Spider-Man, Noir Spider-Man, Manga Spider-Man, etc. So not only do you have an ongoing Amazing Spider-Man published 3 times a month, plus main universe mini-series and other Spider-Man books, you get heaps of “alternate” Spider-Men too. We get more of what we pay for. And THIS is what sells.

Marvel takes “familiarity” to the next level with a profitable over-the-top “sameness” that permeates their super-hero titles.

The below image of Marvel’s iconic mascot illustrates my point… yes it is out of context… but there probably are as many appearances or Spider-Man books hitting the shelves monthly. Too much of a good thing?


Spider-Man by the Numbers

June 2010 Spider-Man books, appearances, or “related” books from Marvel’s catalog:

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN # 633 (2 covers)
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN # 634 (3 covers)
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN # 635 (2 covers)
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN # 636 (2 covers)
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN MGC # 546
SPIDER-MAN: FEVER # 3
WEB OF SPIDER-MAN # 9
PETER PARKER # 4
ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN # 11
NEW AVENGERS # 1 (5 covers)
X-MEN FOREVER 2 # 2
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN PRESENTS: BLACK CAT # 1 (2 covers)
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN PRESENTS: AMERICAN SON # 2
SPECTACULAR SPIDER-GIRL # 2
MARVEL ADVENTURES SPIDER-MAN # 3
SPIDER-HAM 25TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL # 1
PETER PORKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-HAM VOL. 1 (GRAPHIC NOVEL-TRADE PAPERBACK)
SPIDER-MAN NOIR: EYES WITHOUT A FACE (PREMIERE HARDCOVER)
MARVELS: EYE OF THE CAMERA (PREMIERE HARDCOVER)
SPIDER-MAN & THE SECRET WARS (GRAPHIC NOVEL-TRADE PAPERBACK)
SPIDER-MAN: JACKPOT (TRADE PAPERBACK)
STAR COMICS: ALL-STAR COLLECTION VOL. 4 (GRAPHIC NOVEL-TRADE PAPERBACK)
THE LIST (TRADE PAPERBACK)
DEADPOOL VOL. 4: MONKEY BUSINESS (PREMIERE HARDCOVER)

I’m sure I’ve missed a few and I understand that the tpbs are “extra”, but that is a lot of Spider-Man output at the expense of books like Darkstar and the Winter Guard. That’s at least 3 books that Spider-Man anchors or is visiting every week. And June is a LIGHT month.

You can do the same calculations though for the following brands of Marvel’s super-hero universe(s). Not all are necessarily tent poles in the way DC has done it, but some brands are both:

Avengers (brand and tent pole)
X-Men (brand and tent pole)
Hulk (brand and tent pole)
Spider-Man (brand and tent pole)
Iron Man (brand)
Wolverine (brand)
Deadpool (brand)

I imagine the Thor and Captain America brands’ offerings will expand once their respective movies get lined up. The Fantastic Four (FF), Punisher, and Daredevil brands’ offerings seem to have declined so it’ll be interesting how upcoming events like Shadowland will impact the last two in particular. Not sure what the deal with FF is nowadays, but the upcoming arc called “Three” seems ominous with a promise of a major death and status quo altering events. That said, the FF seems editorially unimportant and rudderless without a movie on the horizon.


Brand over Substance and a heap of “More of the Same” thrown in

A great example of brand over substance is what calls itself Avengers nowadays at Marvel. So, we have about 5 current Avengers teams in the Marvel Universe (adjectiveless, new, secret, academy, young) with their own titles in the 616 Universe (Marvel’s main super-hero universe) with the exception of Young Avengers which is surprisingly not on the ongoing titles docket with the unnecessary “teen” Avengers role being filled by Avengers Academy. These 5 teams follow the decommissioning of 3 others (dark, mighty, initiative).

Not Avengers

In the end, Marvel hasn’t had a real Avengers book on the shelves until the current Avengers Prime mini-series (issue #1 on the stands now) and that only focuses on the Avengers’ trinity of Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America.

In my opinion, 5 years ago Marvel realized that their old Avengers concept wasn’t profitable, so they decided to change the concept totally. I do not believe it wasn’t repairable though. A good writer could have made the classic Avengers more important to the Marvel Universe and paying fans.

The changes to the team were Marvel’s attempt to do DC’s Justice League of America with the company’s iconic super-heroes with the New Avengers, the team that was assembled after the Avengers were Disassembled. They rebranded what being an Avenger is for the Marvel Universe and are only now giving long-time Avengers fans a bone with a more traditional Avengers book called, um, Avengers. From one flailing book several years ago, to what 5-7 Avengers team books (mini or ongoings or specials) in the summer of 2010.

Wow, it is amazing what 5 years and a guy named Brian can do. Yes, make Avengers a popular and profitable brand, but by virtually throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Now, the Hulk is an example of sameness run amok. We went from 2 green Hulks to a new reality series called Bruce and Jennifer Plus Five. The Hulks that populate the 616 now are:

Green Hulk (Bruce Banner)
Green She-Hulk (Jennifer Walters)
Sons of Hulk (2)
Red Hulk
Red She-Hulk
Sci-fi greenish She-Hulk

I’m NOT kidding. There are that many.

So Many Hulks

I’m sure I’m missing others, but again Marvel went to an old creatively bankrupt standby of doppelgangers to propel the Hulk “brand” forward. Profitable, yes. Unique, no. Now, I think the mystery of “who is Rulk” (the Red Hulk) did intrigue me, but it went on too long and didn’t really need another 4 new Hulks thrown into the overall story. After a really interesting Planet Hulk storyline by Greg Pak, with the exception of Hulk siring so many offspring, this is how they reward him… give the franchise to Jeph Loeb and have Greg fight for scraps?

Last, but certainly not least, is Deadpool. He makes Spider-Man and Wolverine seem like shy spinsters that stay in their own books. Not only is Deadpool everywhere, with others wearing his costume (a Lady, a Kid, a decapitated Head… sameness times 3 and then some) Marvel has also taken to inflating one of its book’s numbering…. um, DEADPOOL TEAM-UP #892 in June 2010??? I get that DC has done their DC One Million books a while back, but that was a contained event. It lasted, what, a month? Keeping this book in the 800s by Marvel shows a lack of respect for creators of the past and current ones. You need to EARN your numbers based on actual output and its quality. Yes, I get that it’s a joke, and it’s the “joke” brand, but come on. It isn’t funny or respectful.

So Many Deadpools

Marvel is also using the character to mock its competition at worst or cash in on DC’s successes at best with Deadpool having a Corps and trying to have a Brown Ring promotion (following DC’s several Lantern Corps, which is DC’s blatant $ameness example, and its multi-colour Rings promotions).

There must be about 5 Deadpool books out monthly not including guest appearances. Really! And that doesn’t include all the variants cover for books he has nothing to do with.

And, yes, ALL THIS STUFF SELLS!


A Concluding Déjà Vu…

Thank you modern fandom! You have contributed to the concentrated $ameness with super-heroes at Marvel. You proved that my formula wasn’t bold enough. Familiarity cubed gets you Sameness. As such, my formula needs updating to reflect the current state of Marvel’s super-hero comics: (Familiarity < Sameness) = Sales, and that Originality = (Cancellation < Don't Even Try) . And with that, the math lesson is over for this week. 🙂

I’ve also been inspired to plan for a “multiverse” column in the future that puts both Marvel and DC in its crosshairs. Can that concept be any more of an example of sameness and familiarity, but does the profit principle hold true? Can a multiverse actually be an outlet for creativity?

Cheers and thanks for reading.

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