The Comic Book Trade Deadline is Upon Us

What might NBA-like trades look like if comics had them? Let’s find out.

As a massive fan of sports — but particularly the National Basketball Association — one of the most interesting trends of the past ten or 15 years has been how the games themselves have arguably become the second most popular aspect for fans, at best. While there’s joy in the game, the discourse around the play itself is always a battleground, as NBA fans lament unexpected absences of players, the perceived lack of defense, or any number of other topics. That side of sports can earn disdain at times and apathy at even worse ones. But speculating about and eagerly following the draft picks, free agency signings, trades and other transactions that take place? Everyone loves that. It’s the real hot spot these days. That’s because when it comes to those, anything is possible, especially during a week like this, the one home to the NBA’s trade deadline.

Could LeBron James be traded? Will a team make a deal that helps them win the title? Could something absolutely insane and unexpected happen? The answers could be yes, even if each is more likely to be no. And the possibilities weeks like this 12 offer fans can drive them a little crazy, as we all become amateur general managers that cannot help but fire up ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine out of a misguided belief that we can peer into The Matrix 13 and find the deal that will solve everything for the teams we follow.

While other NBA fans are are trying to discover how exactly their team can deal for luminaries like Steph 14 and Giannis 15 without giving up any first round picks or valuable assets, I’m playing 4D chess and considering an even more insane hypothetical. Like, what would a comic book industry trade deadline look like?

That’s a thought I’ve had many times before, but one that I’ve never explored to a degree that I find satisfactory. Until now, that is. With the NBA’s trade deadline arriving in two days, it was finally time to game it out and hypothesize what something like this could look like. That’s why today we’ll be exploring some fake trades that are so explosive Bleeding Cool’s Rich Johnston will be fanning himself at the very concept. But, before we do that, let’s answer some important questions that act as a guide to this theoretical exercise.

Could the Comic Industry Have a Trade Deadline?


Or at least I don’t think it could. Contracts and deals are not set up in publishing the same way as they are in sports. Most people in the industry are freelancers, all of whom would be untradeable assets, in the parlance of sports. Plus, much of it is set up like any regular old job, and you’re not seeing my boss trading me for a new photocopier or something. 16 It’s not how any of this works. And that’s of course to say nothing of the human cost that comes with it. While that still exists in sports trades, the concept is baked into the field. Players always know it’s a possibility. If comic artists or editors or whomever just started getting dealt to other publishers, it would be a nightmarish experience for all involved.

But would it be interesting?

Of course. Why do you think we’re doing this?

Alright, impossible but cool. I can get behind that. So, for the sake of this hypothetical world where comic industry trades exist, how would this work?

In this purely theoretical world, everyone and everything is on the table. Creators. Editors. Executives. Characters. Titles. The ability to execute much larger crossovers. Variant strategies. Whatever. The only restriction is the imagination of the comic book industry’s general manager equivalents. The key, as it is in sports, is to build a deal that works well enough for all involved that both sides accept, which is not always easy. You have to give to get. Not everyone is into that!

That said, because there aren’t always contracts of a determined length in comics outside of exclusive deals creators sign with certain publishers, the majority of creator trades in this exercise will have to be sign-and-trades, in which they sign an exclusive contract or book deal with their current home for the purpose of it fulfilled elsewhere. That’s the only way to offer assurances to the varying trading partners, and to make the trade worth it for those being swapped.

The other note is that because this is the comic industry’s trade deadline, when a character’s rights are dealt from one publisher to another, it’s exclusively their comic rights. Media rights stay at the original house. Those are far too valuable to ever be dealt, if only because how they’re lottery tickets just waiting to be cashed in, or at least in theory. That note was suggested by Comic Book Herald’s Dave Buesing, and it was a good one.

We know how it works now. So, what are you going to be doing?

I’ve created seven fake trades in an effort to lay out what a deadline could look like. Each is designed to be a) as close to believable as possible, b) a very tough decision, and c) representative of the larger comics space. While it’d be easier to just make trades with DC and Marvel, as they have exclusive deals and characters with high awareness, that’s boring. I wanted to mix it up. So, this does just that, with seven trades that involve ten or eleven publishers, depending on how you count them, and 26 assets in total. Each trade comes with a rationale, as well as an explanation as to why each deal would or would not be accepted.

How will you decide if a deal would be accepted?

I won’t. The aforementioned Dave Buesing from Comic Book Herald will. He’s standing in as my very own version of ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, offering an immediate response to the insanity each team (or, in this case, I) have gotten him into. Buesing’s a big hoops fan and someone who thinks about comic minutiae — both on the industry and creative side — as often as I do, so he was a perfect pick. While I’ll be explaining each trade, he’ll be deciding who says no, as well as providing a verdict for each trade – and maybe even making counters to some offers along the way. If it’s Dave talking, it’ll be noted as (Buesing) in the piece. Otherwise, it’s me doing my thing.

That’s all you need to know for us get started. So, let’s fire up the trade machine and get to making some deals!

The Internet Breaks Thanks to This All-Time Creative Swap

DC Entertainment receives: Jonathan Hickman, on a two-year exclusive as a sign-and-trade, along with the rights to creatively direct and publish a new DC vs. Marvel four-issue crossover event on a 70/30 revenue split

Marvel Comics receives: Jim Lee, on a two-year exclusive as a sign-and-trade, to front a new X-Men era and act as the publisher’s new Editor-in-Chief

This trade deadline is starting out hot! That said, while the names here are big, the logic is simple. It’s a classic change of scenery deal. DC’s looking to acquire an architect to create some structure to its line while bringing some energy to it in the process as a complete newcomer to the publisher. On the other side, Marvel changes gears on its upcoming X-Men relaunch and turns to an old friend to help guide them out of the lull they find themselves in.

The only problem is, Lee isn’t just a creator, but an executive as well, and one whose mere presence on a title — even just for covers — is enough to send orders into the stratosphere. While Hickman’s a massive name, Lee is a legend, and DC’s well-aware of the fact that if a volume of Uncanny X-Men launched with brand new A covers from Jim Lee, it’d result in industry-topping sales, no problem. And if DC knows that, Marvel assuredly does.

That’s why Marvel throws another asset into the mix in the hopes of getting this across the finish line. “What if we did another DC vs. Marvel crossover and you get to keep the bulk of the earnings and guide it creatively?” they ask DC execs over the phone. The idea of Hickman writing that event and the surge of interest that would come along with quickly begins to dance in DC leadership’s heads. It’s an appealing idea from both sides, especially because Marvel gets to avoid most of the work and still reap some of the benefits from that DC vs. Marvel event.

But is it enough?

Who Says No? (Buesing): Wow. Wow! David, I have a job. A family. I can’t be sitting here thinking about this trade for the next 48 hours! DC counters with a three-year Hickman exclusive sign-and-trade and Marvel’s Editor Wil Moss…then accepts. 17

Verdict (Buesing): Like a lot of comics fans, I probably underrate the scope of what Jim Lee does as DC’s Publisher, Chief Creative Officer, and now President of DC. He probably negotiates himself an even bigger role at Marvel as a part of this deal to make it worth his while, but let’s take for granted that he’s willing.

For Marvel, this lets them double down on 90s X-Men nostalgia with one of the most experienced people in all of American comics, and given the malaise they’ve been in, the time for a new Editor-in-Chief makes sense. As a fan of the Krakoa Era, this is not what I want for X-Men, but I don’t doubt Lee could be more forward-thinking about a new approach in 2024 than some might expect.

It’s a bigger gamble for DC, with a huge hole to fill. That said, three years of Hickman books will eat up a lot of attention as they re-establish leadership and offer a chance for their HoX/PoX moment. If they thought “Bendis is Coming” was big…just wait until they get a superstar who’s actually at their height.

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  1. Other similar ones include the one when free agency opens and the drafts happen.

  2. The simulated reality from the movie of the same name, not former Phoenix Suns great Shawn Marion.

  3. Curry, the Golden State Warriors’ guard.

  4. Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks’ big.

  5. At least in part because this is 2024 and who uses photocopiers, and if we did, I’d be worth at least two of them.

  6. Editor’s note: I told Buesing after he suggested this that DC was actually where Moss came from before Marvel, and we had a laugh. Wil, you’re going home! Sort of!

  7. That some of the players in the deal ended up being pretty great worked out nicely for the Jazz, as Lauri Markkanen has become a bonafide star and Walker Kessler arguably provided as much value as Gobert did in the first year of the deal.

  8. See: The Detroit Pistons dealing Marvin Bagley III, Isaiah Livers, and two second-round picks recently to the Washington Wizards for Danilo Gallinari and Mike Muscala. That may have been an all-time anti-inertia trade between two moribund franchises.

  9. Property to be named later.

  10. The comic industry trade deadline always falls on the final day of C2E2, making it sort of like Major League Baseball’s winter meetings: the place where deals always seem to happen. And C2E2 makes sense, because it’s in a spot that’s on no one’s official turf.

  11. Editor’s note: I told Dave in response that he needs to read Tom Peyer and Rags Morales’ excellent Hourman series from 1999 to 2001. Don’t sleep on Android Hourman!

  12. Other similar ones include the one when free agency opens and the drafts happen.

  13. The simulated reality from the movie of the same name, not former Phoenix Suns great Shawn Marion.

  14. Curry, the Golden State Warriors’ guard.

  15. Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks’ big.

  16. At least in part because this is 2024 and who uses photocopiers, and if we did, I’d be worth at least two of them.

  17. Editor’s note: I told Buesing after he suggested this that DC was actually where Moss came from before Marvel, and we had a laugh. Wil, you’re going home! Sort of!