Marvel Might Be in Need of a Fresh Start

The vaunted superhero comic publisher is going through a rough patch. Let’s talk about it.

If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that you’ll see some of most notable announcements from comic publishers hit at the biggest American conventions. That’s for a good reason. Events like San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con are high profile, high awareness ones that attract media attention and the eyes of eager fans. If you’re going to make a dent in the 24-hour news cycle, these are good places to do it at.

Which is what makes Marvel’s recent deluge at San Diego so bewildering: it was all so underwhelming and uninspired.

Whether you’re talking new comics about older eras of Marvel, new comics that maybe just feel like they’re from an older era, new versions of old characters, or a new edition of an aging one-shot structure, Marvel’s upcoming slate felt tired from the jump. And when it didn’t, it just seemed exhausting, like the upcoming “Gang War” crossover between Amazing Spider-Man, Miles Morales: Spider-Man, and four new mini-series — including one starring a character that already has an ongoing which could have tied in to the story. 15 These announcements didn’t build excitement; they made me ask myself a single question.

“What’s wrong with Marvel right now?”

I’m not the only one wondering that. It’s been a common topic of late. Whether it’s creators, retailers, or plain old readers, there’s a simmering sense of doubt and discontent with the direct market’s biggest publisher. In recent conversations about Marvel, words and phrases like “disillusioned,” “unfocused,” and “no identity” were pretty typical. It’s easy to see why when you look at the publisher’s current slate and those recent announcements. While there are good comics in its line, the whole just feels like a mess. The pervasiveness of that feeling has resulted in customer confidence fading, retailer skepticism rising, and general enthusiasm for the publisher waning.

Which is a problem. Obviously. But that extends beyond Marvel itself. If there’s one thing I’ve heard repeatedly from comic shops, it’s that no house has a bigger area of effect on the direct market than Marvel. When they’re up, everyone is up. When they’re struggling, everyone does. Maybe it should be no surprise that the direct market appears to be laboring right now.

This lack of enthusiasm in Marvel isn’t new, though. I wrote about this subject a couple years back, at which point the surrounding vibe was one of boredom, a sense that the publisher was adrift at a time everyone else in the direct market was thriving. Boredom’s fine for Marvel. They can work with that. As retailer Eitan Manhoff from Oakland’s Cape & Cowl Comics put it to me recently, “Marvel benefits from inertia more than any other publisher.” That usually results in fans dutifully buying their books, even if they aren’t excited about it.

Since then, the energy has changed. While Marvel is assuredly moving plenty of units to shops, it’s becoming a tougher sell to others in the direct market sales chain. There’s a growing dissatisfaction with its material and its approach, one that’s hitting even the most religious of Marvel zombies. As one retailer put it to me, there just aren’t “Marvel all” customers anymore, with even its most ardent supporters bristling at the product mix or moving on from titles they’ve read for years or decades simply because interest has evaporated. Faith in the publisher has diminished. With it, habits are breaking — and breaking hard.

And that’s when things become a problem.

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  1. That’s Daredevil.

  2. Many times.

  3. I should say, those stories are purported to exist within those different periods. I have not read them yet, as only Magneto #1 is even out as of right now.

  4. I went deep on this subject in early 2022. It’s not new, but it does seem to be growing.

  5. A good example of this came from a sales list of recent Marvel titles a shop shared with me. 132 items were listed, 83 of which sold ten or more copies. Only two of these nostalgia-oriented titles did. The other seven got nowhere close to that number.

  6. To say nothing of what the movies and TV arm has to work with going forward.

  7. Here’s a quick example of the latter idea. Per my hand count (and minus licenses/nostalgia books), in the last pre-pandemic month of February 2020, only eight writers were writing a single Marvel title. In August 2023, 29 writers are. That’s a huge change!

  8. Both within current continuity and existing within previous times.

  9. I’ve written at length about the current state of variants, so I’m not going to expand on that here.

  10. Including, but not limited to, Daredevil, She-Hulk, Immortal X-Men, X-Men Red, and Doctor Strange, to list just a few.

  11. Including, but not limited to, Incredible Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Black Panther, Blade, and the upcoming Immortal Thor, to list just a few.

  12. President Dan Buckley, Senior Vice President Print, Sales and Marketing David Gabriel, and others assuredly play a part in Marvel’s current path.

  13. And even it is the third iteration of an event one-shot that no one really seems to care about. That’s Timeless, if you couldn’t guess.

  14. Based on the latest newsletter from Marvel’s Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, it seems like Marvel’s President Dan Buckley could be thinking the same thing, with Buckley pitching Brevoort on an “electrifying” new project.

  15. That’s Daredevil.