How to Improve Marvel Comics
Marvel’s well known cracks have begun to show since their last ‘do-over’ in the 2015 Secret Wars story arc. This has since come to a crescendo after the Secret Empire arc that led into Marvel’s newest ‘do-over’ in Marvel Legacy, which demonstrates Marvel inability to understand what their readers want.
Below is a revision of Marvel’s recent history as to how they got where they are as well as my solution on how to fix it based off owning and operating a comic book store, talking to current and former Marvel employees, employees of other publishers, other comic book stores, and readers themselves.
After the downfall the comic industry suffered in the 90’s and filing for bankruptcy, Marvel Comics future was in question. After decades of building characters and storylines, new readers were becoming less interested in comics whose history began well before their time and were un-relatable. The early ‘90’s comic boom was in part due to the rise in speculators and ability to sell gimmicks as a collectible. However, the gimmicks soon faded and speculators got out of the market after they were unable to resell their comics for a profit.
Marvel needed a new direction, and in 2000, they created Ultimate Marvel, later known as Ultimate Comics that would run alongside the regular Marvel series. The Ultimate universe modernized popular characters and teams and started their timelines over with similar, but new storylines to connect with new readers.
They initially created new series for Spider-Man and the X-Men with simple changes. They then reimagined the Avengers, renaming them the Ultimates, and gave them significant changes that was intended to resemble what an Avengers film would look like and less like their original characters. Multiple other characters and teams were given their own series as the Ultimate universe continued to expand.
The downfall began with the 2009 miniseries, Ultimatum, which kills thirty-four characters in arguably the most graphic, darkest series in Marvel Comics history. Sales were poor and it received terrible reception.
Marvel rebuilt their Ultimate universe with new Ultimate Marvel storylines, but interest in the titles waned. Thus, Marvel attempted to rebuild their product once more.
Secret Wars to Now
In 2015, Marvel recreates their universe through an eight-month crossover event to provide closure to the Ultimate universe with the Secret Wars. All Marvel universes collided into one multiverse.
The fallout from Secret Wars included many new characters into the mainstream universe, including Miles Morales (Ultimate Spider-Man), The Maker (an evil Reed Richards), and Jimmy Hudson (son of Ultimate Wolverine). As the two worlds merged, out came one cluster of a universe without continuity, doubles of many major characters, and storylines that were intended for short-term shock value to sell comics. The quality of the writing dissipated as they focused on churning out as many new series as they could handle. Popular characters and teams have had as many as five active comics at a time, including Deadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, and even the recently deceased Logan can be found in 4-5 series at a time.
Marvel over the early years continued to strike gold with new characters from their initial debut with Fantastic 4, Spider-Man, the Avengers, Daredevil and more in the 1960’s, through the Punisher, the Giant-Size X-Men, the New Mutants, Venom, Cable, and Deadpool in 1991. Since Deadpool’s first appearance 26 years ago, most of its popular new characters created have been based on current characters or characters rebuilt into new roles (or both):
- Amadeus Cho (Totally Awesome Hulk)
- Guardians of the Galaxy (Revamped lineup of remodeled characters)
- Gwenpool (a fusion of Gwen Stacy and Deadpool)
- Kamala Khan (New Ms. Marvel)
- Miles Morales (Spider-Man from another universe, now on the current Marvel universe)
- Original X-Men (Young versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Angel, Iceman and Beast brought to the present)
- Riri Williams (Iron Man 2.0)
- Sam Alexander (New Nova)
- Silk (Spider-Man clone-ish)
- Winter Soldier (Bucky Barnes, killed off four decades earlier)
- X-23 (All-New Wolverine)
My point? Marvel has lost all ability to develop new characters. Even Deadpool was copied from DC’s Deathstroke (and yes, some of the original characters were also stolen from DC, but most are original).
Events and crossover events have replaced quality series storylines to incorporate multiple tie-ins to the main story. While events are nothing new to the industry, Marvel has developed 52 events in the last 10 years, including:
• Civil War
• World War Hulk
• Annihilation: Conquest
• Messiah CompleX
• Secret Invasion
• War of Kings
• Messiah War
• Fall of the Hulks
• Realm of Kings
• Second Coming
• The Thanos Imperative
• World War Hulks
• Curse of the Mutants
• Chaos War
• Age of X
• Fear Itself
• Avengers vs. X-Men
• Age of Ultron
• Battle of the Atom
• The Trial of Jean Grey
• Revolutionary War
• Original Sin
• Death of Wolverine
• Time Runs Out
• The Black Vortex
• Secret Wars
• Avengers: Standoff!
• Apocalypse Wars
• Civil War II
• Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy
• Death of X
• Inhumans vs X-Men
• Monsters Unleashed
• Secret Empire
• ‘Til Death Do Us
• Weapons of Mutant Destruction
Another 11 events took place in the Ultimate universe in the last decade as well, totaling 63 in 10 years, or more than 1 new event beginning every two months and sometimes took the better part of a year to complete.
While not all of these events incorporate multiple series, many do. The average comic book fan is unable to afford to purchase all the tie-ins to each event. Most of the events are major letdowns, and if the reader wants to get into the series a few weeks after its beginning, they’ll have to go back and attempt to find all past issues and attempt to catch up. If a fan comes from off the street and asks for the latest Spider-Man comic, not only will they have to determine which Spider-Man they want, which series of that Spider-Man they want, and hope that the character isn’t in the middle of a tie-in series, otherwise, they’ll have no idea what the story is about. This is one reason why few young kids get into comics, as well as people new to comics, and people without a wealth of disposable income.
How to Fix It
First, simplify the series to around 20 titles and give about 75% a long leash while giving new series opportunities to thrive. The larger team series’ should be given bi-weekly series runs, while the individual character runs and short-term series should be given monthly runs. The short-term series will continue as long as they maintain success in the market, but have a shorter leash. As one series is discontinued, new series can take its place. The series’ listed below are what should be given first crack at a series. What series would I create?
- Avengers – Captain America, Falcon, Iron Man, Hulk, Giant Man (Hank Pym), Vision, Ant-Man, and Wasp.
The Ultimates – Nick Fury, Black Widow, Hawkeye, War-Machine, Winter Soldier, Spider-Woman, Quake, Hercules, Maria Hill, and Mockingbird. Combines remaining Avengers with SHIELD members. SHILED has been disbanded/defunded after the Standoff! arc incidents and the main members form their own team with other members of the Avengers.
- X-Men – Includes all mutants, including Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Marvel’s America finally gets their way and gives (deports) the X-Men their own territory on a US-owned-island. All villains are forced to live on the island too. The island is ruled by a tribal government, with different tribes following different leaders who clash.
- X-Force – Cable and a combination of Marrow, Hope Summers, Boom Boom, Cannonball, Domino, Fantomex, Feral, Forge, Rictor, Shatterstar, Siryn, Sunspot, Warpath, and Wolfsbane. Story is from another prospective on the X-Men series. There’s too many storylines to go around for there to be just one X-title.
- Fantastic Four – The original lineup with occasional appearances by She-Hulk.
- Defenders – All Netflix characters, including Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, as well as Patsy Walker, Elektra, Colleen Wing, and Misty Knight. The Punisher will make an occasional appearance, but he will primarily stick to his own series.
Guardians of the Galaxy – Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, Groot, Mantis, with occasional appearances by Yondu, Angela, and Moondragon.
- Champions – Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man (Miles), Nova (Alexander), Hulk (Cho), Viv Vision, Ironheart, Spider-Gwen. The younger/legacy characters in their own team.
- Captain Marvel – Including Alpha Flight
- Spider-Man – A Peter Parker solo series focused on his battle with his traditional villains
- Thor – Sticking closely with Norse mythology, Thor battles the horrors of the nine realms.
- Doctor Strange – Stand-alone series
- The Punisher – Stand-alone series
- Moon Knight – Stand-alone series
- Deadpool – Stand-alone series
- Black Panther – Stand-alone series
- Inhumans – All Inhumans included in the series.
- Spirits of Vengeance – Ghost Rider, Blade, Hellstorm, Man-Thing, Red Hulk, Ronin (Maya Lopez), Cloak and Dagger, Morbius, Brother Voodoo, and Werewolf by Night. A darker side of Marvel with characters who’ll come and go throughout the series.
- Thunderbolts – Silver Sable (as leader), Baron Zemo, Atlas, Songbird, Moonstone, Fixer, Crossbones, Hyperion, Nighthawk, and Whizzer. Marvel’s answer to DCs Suicide Squad, the Thunderbolts have had its share of success, despite containing a large number of unknown characters. With the right writing, Thunderbolts can continue to succeed.
- Namor the Submariner – Stand-alone series
- Annihilators – Quasar, Silver Surfer, Blue Marvel, Beta Ray Bill, Gladiator, Ikon, Cosmo, Stardust, and Adam Warlock. GOTG may have the market targeted in the outer world, but there’s still plenty of galaxy with plenty of villains to fight.
Gone are the Original X-Men (O-5), Silk, Old Man Logan (return Logan as Wolverine and Laura Kinney as X-23), Kobik, Captain Hydra, Weapon H, Brian McAllister (Barf), and Negasonic Teenage Warhead.
If characters in a team need a few issues to themselves, no more than a 4-issue miniseries per character over a two year span.
Note: Star Wars is separate from this list as while they are published by Marvel, they are not a part of the Marvel superhero universe.
- All titles will maintain continuity among one another at the same period of time. Example, if the Avengers defeat the Red Skull and put him in prison, the Ultimates can’t see the Red Skull walking down the street a month later, unless he is released from prison.
- The same goes for characters timeline continuity. If the Hulk gets a butterfly tattoo on his lower back, it cannot disappear a few issues later without explanation.
- If a character dies – they’re dead for good. No resurrections.
- Crossovers events are to be kept to a minimum. No more than one every two years. Occasional series crossovers are fine, if kept to a minimum.
- Take the reins off characters. Too many characters are kept safe with kid’s gloves on. Fans love flawed characters (Punisher, Deadpool, Wolverine, Gambit, Moon Knight, Venom, etc.). Most new characters are overly vanilla and boring to read.
- No more holding comic book stores hostage with variant covers and minimum ordering to boost sales. All variants should be allowed to have an infinite number as the store wants.
- No more than one variant cover per issue. Variants should be for truly special covers. Too many variants look worse than the original.
- No gimmicky covers. Lenticular covers, holographic cards, trading cards, pullout posters, and other gimmicks should be eliminated. They’re short-term sales boosts, but diminish the product overall.
- Comics should cost $2.99 for a standard issue, $3.99 for larger issues.
- Use cheaper paper. Don’t need high-glossed paper for all comics.
- Go black and white for some issues, such as the Spirits of Vengeance.
- Add another page or two of ads.
- Allow added time before releasing comics to trade paperbacks. Wait at least a year because many people wait for the TPB to come out shortly after the series finishes.
- Give new writers and artists the opportunity to show what they can do instead of sticking with stale writers and artists whose names readers know. Also, give them the freedom to write how they want and draw how they want. If you give them time and freedom and they fail, move on from them.
- Writers should only work on one project at a time. Many great writers are able to write multiple monthly comics and be great at it (Cullen Bunn, Jeff Lemire). But eventually their best ideas are used up and they become stale to read, leaving you stuck reading the likes of Civil War II.