Does Marvel have an Event Problem?

Every comics publisher reacted to the coronavirus pandemic in slightly different ways, both from a content standpoint and when it comes to retailer incentives. It’s a crazy time, so for many publishers – most notably DC, but also houses like BOOM!, Vault and beyond – it’s the perfect opportunity to try out new approaches and aggressive strategies in hopes of helping shops and/or sculpting a better position within the market for themselves. Responses naturally have varied, but they’re trying to find solutions to these new problems in a time that’s desperate for them. That’s commendable.

Like those publishers, Marvel has been looking for answers, but unlike its peers, they’ve doubled down on the tried and true rather than pursuing the new. Just this past week, Al Ewing, Dan Slott, and Valerio Schiti launched Empyre, its latest mega event designed to connect the universe via two of the publisher’s largest franchises in The Avengers and Fantastic Four. Then, in September, the X-Line will unite for the enormous, 24-part “X of Swords” epic, a crossover designed to be a rising tide that lifts all ships. 4 Lastly, King in Black arrives, as Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman are crafting a follow up to 2019’s Absolute Carnage storyline that elevates their larger Venom opus from an event with a lower-case e to one with an upper case everything.

And you know what? That makes sense in the wake of the pandemic. While it’s exciting to see innovation in a time of great disruption, there have been stories across many industries about how nostalgia has been a driver for consumer behavior during this crisis. 5 And in conversations with retailers, it has largely been the most nostalgic of all comic genres – superheroes – that have led the way for customers after the pandemic gap. Combine that with how essential long-term planning is for Marvel – its retreats are typically designed to plot the line out in at least 18-month segments – and it all adds up. It was the plan before, and naturally, it would be after.

But is it the right plan?

I don’t ask that to be coy, either. It’s honestly difficult to tell, especially when you consider that the prevailing theory about how events are bulletproof line leaders that positively impact the titles around them might not be quite as true as it once was. Marvel has long been infatuated with the idea of events as unbeatable sales tools, but are these uber-crossovers as valuable as they once were for the House of Ideas? Or are they yet another concept that the publisher has nearly squeezed the life out of, 6 making its 2020 plan questionable, at best? That’s what we’ll be looking at today, as we try to determine whether or not Marvel has turned one of its best solutions into a problem of its own.

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  1. Well, as long as they have an “X” in the name.

  2. Even oft forgotten collectables like sports cards and memorabilia has seen considerable lift amidst this.

  3. Like variants, for example.

  4. Well, as long as they have an “X” in the name.

  5. Even oft forgotten collectables like sports cards and memorabilia has seen considerable lift amidst this.

  6. Like variants, for example.