Comics Newsletter

Pressing Pause on Marvel

Jessica Plummer

Contributing Editor

Jessica Plummer has lived her whole life in New York City, but she prefers to think of it as Metropolis. Her day job is in books, her side hustle is in books, and she writes books on the side (including a short story in Sword Stone Table from Vintage). She loves running, knitting, and thinking about superheroes, and knows an unnecessary amount of things about Donald Duck. Follow her on Twitter at @jess_plummer.

I’m tired of talking about Marvel.

I think we can all agree that 2017 was a pretty bad year for Marvel, PR-wise. There was the bomb that was Secret Empire, which tanked their sales, and the fact that they kept doubling down on it with offensive merchandising stunts and bizarre pleas to their audience to put up with them. There was the time their VP of Sales misrepresented retailer feedback to suggest that customers don’t want diversity. They hired an accused sexual harasser as VP of New Media and a white editor in chief who once posed as a Japanese man to get around company policy. Iron Fist was widely panned. NYCC was particularly painful, between canceling their tone-deaf Punisher promotion because of the Las Vegas shooting, and announcing a partnership with defense contractor Northrop Grumman that was canceled almost immediately after loud outcry.

I originally envisioned this article as a piece talking about the latest Nova series, and how much I loved the characters and the action and the coloring, and how everyone should be reading it. But when I started to dig into the series online, I discovered it had already been canceled. (I’d been reading on Marvel Unlimited.)

Okay, I thought. So I’ll write about how Marvel has once again canceled one—no, two, if you count Unbeatable Wasp—great, unique series before giving it a chance to find life outside of the direct market, and how Marvel Unlimited is a great way to find hidden gems but also an endless font of disappointment.

And then Marvel canceled over half a dozen more series with marginalized leads in one fell swoop.

Okay, I thought. So I’ll write about how Marvel needs to do a better job at supporting its POC, LGBT, and female characters (and creators), and recognize that those are the books that are going to flourish in trade and…

…And then Marvel announced Create Your Own, a proprietary fancomic-building app where you can write about Marvel characters! Legally! Oh, but Marvel owns the rights to everything you create. And you can’t include aliens, or killer bees, or gossip, or bare midriffs…or politics, or social issues, or “alternate lifestyle advocacies.” In other words, heteros only.

You guys. I’m so tired.

I’m tired of Marvel making decisions that are simultaneously hateful and astonishingly, thunderingly stupid. I’m tired of analyzing sales figures to counteract their belief that only white men with mid-century names can sell comics. I’m tired of seeing fans scolded by Marvel staff on twitter for not pre-ordering like a good True Believer should.

We’ve sat through a couple years now of Marvel’s bizarre publishing model of (1) saturate the market with every book we can think of; (2) refuse to promote them outside of house ads; (3) cancel hastily; (4) chalk it up to some kind of weird laissez-faire comics microcosm and eat the costs of diminishing returns and lost goodwill. From my perspective, it doesn’t seem to be working, but hey, I’m not looking at their P&Ls.

It’s not that I want to give them a pass for the next boneheaded move just because it’s the latest in a long series of boneheadery. But there’s only so long I can beat my head against a brick wall, you know?

Sure, there’s always DC. But I reject the framing of DC as “the good one,” just as I rejected it for Marvel for the decade prior. It’s the same toxic industry with the same dumb business model, guys. There is no “good one.” (Looking at you, Image.)

I also, I’m sorry to say, reject the “just read indies, they’re doing what you want without the asshattery” framing. Indies are doing amazing work across the board, but what I want is hundreds of superheroes with decades of sprawling, interconnected, nonsensical continuity. I’ve read and enjoyed plenty of indies in my day, but my heart is with the Big Two, and always will be.

So what’s a girl to do?

…Guys, I’m sorry. I don’t have a triumphant conclusion for you here. I’ve been coming up against this problem the whole time I’ve been reading comics—loving the industry’s output and potential but hating its shortsightedness and insularity—and I’ve never managed to solve it. The best I’ve been able to do is call out the bad behavior when I see it—because no one gets a pass, not anymore—and then step away for a while until I feel ready to dive back into the fray.

But Marvel, this is not a good look. There’s a mindset in comics, sometimes, that fans are always angry about everything anyway, so driving outrage is almost as good as driving enthusiasm, and sometimes even better. That may be true, but there comes a point where even the Hulkiest of us just don’t have the energy to be outraged anymore—and I can’t see much potential in monetizing fatigue.

So get your House of Ideas in order, fellas, and let’s give each other a bit of space in the meantime, okay? Because you are straight up a mess right now. And I can always learn to love indies.