On Friday, MajorSpoilers.com’s Head Honcho Stephen Schleicher wrote the following: “Diamond Comic Distributors has announced DC Comics took the top spot once again in September for comics released in the direct market. Is this the sign of a major market change, or is the apocalypse upon us all!?”
Given the reaction of some of my Marvel friends, I’d say the latter. I’ve had to give some the local comics suicide hotline number! Sheesh!
DC’S PERFECT STORM
Yes, comics fans, DC is once again on top of the comics heap this month. That makes, what, three months in a row or so? You all remember the old newspaper adage that says, when dog bites man, that’s not news, but when man bites dog, that’s different, so that’s news? Well, DC is biting Marvel, if you want to employ this saying.
For decades, Marvel has been the “cool” kid in the comics neighborhood, everyone wanting to be on Marvel’s team, hoping Marvel would just only speak to them so they could faint, that they could wear Marvel’s clothes, etc. And Marvel has done a superb job of making this perception happen, from the Merry Marvel Marching Society all the way to today’s kids who say that “the best DC comic isn’t as good as Marvel’s worst comic.” You can’t buy that kind of brand loyalty.
Slowly, however, I’ve noticed the House of Ideas beginning to lose ground, cracks forming in that massive wall. The mutants and Wolverine have faded into the background, the Fantastic Four don’t even have a comic these days, and the event strategy of starting one immediately as another fades, and all taken have their tolls on fans over the last couple of years. Add the fact that Marvel events start with a bang and conclude with a whimper when it comes to sales, and even the most dedicated of Marvel zombie has had to pick and choose what to buy. Several of the bigger Star Wars comics have been concluding as well, and they were a big help to Marvel’s bottom line last year. (The current slow economy hasn’t helped either, by the way, limiting the disposable funds we all have to spend.)
Also, I see more and more people wanting to rely on TV and movies for their comics experience. I don’t need to again list all the films and television programs starring comics characters these days. Even if you have to pay a small amount, it’s of more value than many comics to some. The Marvel movies also have a “sameness” to them all, basically all feeling like they were written, acted and directed by the same people. (Well, I guess, maybe on some levels, they have been.) Still, that causes some people to look elsewhere.
We’ve also seen the same Marvel characters for years now. In order to keep them vibrant, Marvel’s had to make significant changes to some of them, like making Peter Parker the head of a multinational company. (Sorry, that’s Bruce Wayne’s job.) A lot of people related to Peter having to avoid his landlord when the next month’s rent was due. And Wolverine is now “Old Man Logan.” Sigh.
(All this said, please don’t think I hate Marvel or any such thing. I simply prefer DC’s more iconic characters and methods of storytelling. I still buy comics from the House of Ideas, although I do buy a LOT more DC’s than Marvel’s at this point. It hasn’t always been that way, though.)
As Stephen also pointed out in that same article, comics sales numbers have dropped recently, which likely also contributed to this development. I shudder to think what they would have been like if Rebirth hadn’t been taking place!
Given all these factors, DC has been perfectly positioned to be the “upstart” competitor even though they’ve been in business decades longer than Marvel. They’re different, they have classic and recognizable characters, they’re movies aren’t made in a “cookie cutter” fashion (even though some wish there were) and they’re making comics where things really do happen instead of just the illusion of change.
Granted, DCYOU was a disaster. I worried they’d never recover. However, DC learned from the New 52 experience that you can turn things around pretty quickly if you have a product people can get into. And Geoff Johns’ Rebirth concept was clearly one fans liked, and liked a lot. I’ve always thought that getting to the core of a character was a high-power way to write. Hey, Mark Waid showed us that years ago!
WILL THIS TREND CONTINUE?
You can be very sure that deep in Marvel HQ there are long meetings taking place working on how to win back their “rightful” place on top. But will the previous methods make that happen? Could they run multiple events at the same time? Doubtful. What about duplicating all their characters like they did with Thor and Thunderstrike? Nahhh, tried that, almost blew out the industry! Or maybe lower their prices? Well, there are rumors that DC could be considering raising theirs, so that may be wayyyyy premature.
Something to consider is that events such as the New 52 and Rebirth eventually lose steam. I started out very excited about the New 52, bought every single issue for months. But even a fan like me had to pull back at some point. There are a LOT of people (like me, again) buying all the early Rebirth issues, but even I’ve already cut some out. My brother always tells me about people coming into the store he frequents up north to pick up only the latest issue of Civil War II, a miniseries that will be ending soon. After that will be a line of fans picking up ALL the Rebirth books, with not a Marvel issue in sight! Now THAT’S different!
DC has also learned a trick or two from watching Marvel do things over the years. Like having two, count ’em, two number ones for each title? There’s a Rebirth #1, then a regular title #1. I’ve learned over time that Marvel does love their number ones! DC must have noticed that, too!
OR WILL MARVEL BE BACK ON TOP?
As I mentioned, I’m convinced Marvel’s leaders are burning the midnight oil on a daily basis, working on returning to the number one spot. And the House of Ideas has always been good about taking on other companies who, even temporarily, have successfully challenged them.
Sometimes Marvel has taken DC for granted, such as the time the New 52 was starting. I happened to be at San Diego Comic Con the year all that was taking place. Of course, at SDCC, you have to sit in panel rooms hours before the one you want so you’ll be there when it happens. I had to sit through a Marvel art submission evaluation session to get to the DC one I wanted in that same room an hour later. The guy doing the presentation noted that there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm or laughter when he said something, so he asked if there were DC people there. When many in the room admitted they were, the guy said, “Ahhh, the New 52 is just like One Year Later. It’ll all be reset in a month or two. You’re wasting your time.” Then he got back to his presentation.
I wish I had noted who he was so I could see if he had eaten those words, twice now. Oh, well.
Remember that Marvel has the HUGE Disney money machine behind them now. You remember, that monolith/conglomerate that owns Star Wars, The Muppets and other franchises as well as their own Disney properties? Disney’s not going to let something they own be number two! Count on that! (I still think that if Warner Bros. owned as many properties as Disney does, the wretching about them being a monopoly would be deafening! And I live in Central Florida, not far from Disney World, too!)
All I’ve ever wanted is for it to be competitive, for Marvel and DC to bring out the best in each other by having to take each other head on. Would I like for this current Rebirth trend to continue? Of course, I’m a big DC fan! But even the New 52, with lines around the blocks waiting to get in and buy comics from their local shops, eventually quieted down. Even DC has to be considering how to minimize that at this point. In other words, NOBODY at the Big Two is sleeping well these days!
The big question is: Will that DC lessening be enough for Marvel to overcome? My head says, “yes,” but my heart wants, “no.” We’ll see which wins eventually!
What do you think? Should Marvel always be the biggest selling (in fact, maybe the only) company in the biz? Or is it about time DC has earned some time in the spotlight? Share your thoughts below!