My two favorite Marvel books of the week- Rocket #1 from Al Ewing and Adam Gorham and Black Panther and the Crew #2 from Ta-Nehisi Coates and Butch Guice are both pretty prime examples of Marvel’s current publishing strategy and I’m not sure how I feel about it. You may or may not be aware of the uproar caused a few weeks ago when an IcV2 reporter was present for a meeting between retailers and Marvel execs Axel Alonso and David Gabriel where, among other things, the subject of the miniseries was brought up. Gabriel called it the ‘death knell’ for sales on a series (except for Star Wars for some strange reason) with that being the reason that so many Marvel books are essentially planned out as and expected to be minis but are announced to the public as ‘ongoings’ so as not to hurt their sales potential. While that may seem disingenuous, the anecdotal and sales evidence seems to back them up.
Are readers really so gullible that as long as something is marketed as an ongoing, they’ll be more likely to get invested in it? Do they think that when a character like Rocket or Bullseye or America Chavez gets an ‘ongoing’ series that we actually expect it to make it to double digit issue numbers? Rocket #1 comes just WEEKS after the end of the previous Rocket Raccoon series from Matt Rosenberg which lasted all of five (seriously delightful) issues. So why isn’t this issue 6 of that series as opposed to the #1 that it is? It is a completely different concept for the character. Rosenberg’s series was part of the larger ‘Grounded’ arc that saw the Guardians stuck on earth and Rocket being hunted by Kraven, while this new series sees Rocket back in space and pulling a heist with some of his forgotten supporting cast from the Mantlo/Mignola miniseries. Still, that kind of shift in concept isn’t alien to comic readers, so why relaunch? Well, I have to assume that it’s because the 90’s are back in style right now and you know what means- #1’s are selling like hotcakes.
It becomes more of an issue in the case of Black Panther and the Crew. While T’Challa is experiencing a level of visibility in the public eye that he hasn’t before thanks to his (super rad) appearance in Civil War and upcoming solo movie, Crew marks the SECOND spinoff series the character has been given as of late (World of Wakanda being the other). The thing about Crew though is that as I was reading issue 2 of this interesting and well-drawn series, I saw the news that book had already been ‘canceled’. Now, this is in line with the strategy, right? Plan for a 6-12 issue run and if the book pops, then maybe they earn themselves another 4-6 to see how things go. Instead, we’ll probably see another new spinoff starting with another #1 that’ll last about the same amount of issues. But does announcing cancellation alongside the release of #2 even jibe with their general strategy, as they’ve essentially peeled back the facade of ‘ongoing’ by confirming that this series is limited?
It’s hard to say how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ this whole situation is. On one hand, Marvel is kind of actively deceiving readers who are looking to become invested long-term by heavily promoting #1’s of ‘ongoings’ that they themselves are 99% sure will be dead in the water by #6. On the other hand, if you look back over the last several years there’s somewhat of an embarrassment of riches of off-kilter, adventurous, fun books from Marvel. We get things like Foolkiller, She-Hulk, Doctor Strange and the Sorcerors Supreme, Black Widow, Great Lakes Avengers, Howard the Duck, Illuminati, Mockingbird, and of course VISION. It would be a different conversation if what they were producing was all in a house style and lacking vision, but it’s not. They’re giving a platform to unique creators with strong voices (for better or worse) and letting them play around in a sandbox that’s usually distinctly separate from the core universe, and honestly comics are better because of it.