OPINION: Marvel publishing moves may signal something better – Part 1

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If you’ve been following the comic and pop culture blogosphere over the last couple of days, you may have seen a flurry of activity about the news that Marvel has cancelled X-23. While a lot of electrons have sacrificed themselves with people talking about Wolverine’s daughter, there are a number of other books that aren’t coming back as well.  But is this the news that signals the beginning of the end of Marvel, or is it news that signals the beginning of something better?

The decision to cancel X-23 isn’t over a perceived dislike of the character or because of editors being let go, but rather due to “budgetary mandates” – this according to Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso.  Though X-23 isn’t in the Top 10 of comics sold in the direct market, it also isn’t at the bottom of the Top 300 list either. In October 2011, X-23 made it to #104, with an estimated 24,043 issues sold.

Ghost Rider will also conclude sometime after February. Ghost Rider hit #113 on the Top 300 list, bringing in an estimated 21,012 issues. Even then, it wasn’t the lowest selling Marvel comic for the month, as several Fear Itself tie-ins fell lower on the list.  While budgetary mandates may be comforting to some, there may be more than meets the eye, such as the rumored increased focus on core characters.

Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive wraps with issue 529 (February), however with Daredevil back, and the interesting teaser that came with the Daredevil #7 sneak peek, it isn’t too hard to predict that Daredevil: The Man Without Fear will return with issue #530.

Interestingly, it looks like T’Challa will go head to head with Kingpin in issue 529, at the same time The Punisher is doing the same thing in the pages of PunisherMAX, which is also ending in February.  At first, news/rumors circulated that the series had been cancelled, however writer Jason Aaron is stating on Twitter that the series is simply concluding the way he intended it to.

There’s no word on how Marvel is wrapping up these four series, but hopefully the final issues are satisfactory to the tens of thousands who are reading those titles.  With news that Marvel has cancelled titles like Victor Von Doom, Alpha Flight, Invincible Iron Man 2.0, and the anticipated Destroyers series before they even hit the stands, some could perceive there is a  huge shakeup happening at Marvel as a direct reaction to DC’s recent market share wins in September and October. But what if there was something else at work?

The early Spring has never been a big time for comic sales, and if Marvel has decided that core characters like Wolverine and Captain America will sell more than X-23, that seems like a good business decision in the short term.  Of course, as time goes on, that game plan will falter as the publisher realizes too much of a single character won’t sustain the company.   Instead, what if the publisher has realized that fans of X-23 and Ghost Rider will stick around for five issues at a time?  It would make more sense to cancel an ongoing and then relaunch later as limited series.

The limited series model is one that has proven to work, just look at Hellboy and Atomic Robo. While each limited builds upon the other, the pressure that comes with an ongoing series that result in the occasional story that isn’t well received is greatly reduced. The creators can take their time to develop a solid story, work on the script and art until it is ready to head to the printer, and then announce the series.  Yes, there may be huge gaps between story arcs, but the end result is the publisher can then use their PR machine to generate positive hype about the limited series and get fans excited to spend their money again. Readers would know the series has a conclusion, and won’t worry about the rug being yanked out from under them five or six issues in, which might result in more new readers jumping on board for a short time.

This isn’t a new idea, as small publishers have been doing this for years, and it may be logical for the big publishers to split their model between an even mix of core titles that fans will always pick up (X-Men, Captain America, Wolverine, Iron Man, Thor, and so on), and a series of limited series that will have a longer shelf life in the stores.

There is also another option for the publishers, and in the next installment I’ll look at what is shaping up on the digital frontier.