New Super-Hero #1s – Jump On or Jump Off?

All-New Marvel

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

Have you though about how marketing drives super-hero comics nowadays? Every time a change happens, it seems to spark a new #1 issue.  There was an article on-line with comic retailers bemoaning the fact that comic sales were waning due to the spate of reboots & relaunches.  They say that the new #1s serve as much as a jumping OFF point for existing readers as they do as a jumping ON point for new readers.

None of this really has a bearing on the intrinsic quality of the comics.  Opinions will differ, they always do, but I am having more fun reading some of the new Marvel titles today than at any point in the past 15-20 years.  For me personally I think Marvel is putting out a lot of great books.  Other people have dropped Marvel declaring it “bad” because what is being published is not to their personal taste.  (NOTE: I’m going to concentrate on Marvel because I’ve tried a bunch of DC’s new titles and there is not much that I care for.  I won’t say that it is “bad”.  All I can say is that it’s not my cup of tea).

 

The thing is….there is a loud minority of people that drop books when any event or reboot happens.  But how indicative is this of the market in general when overall sales still seem to go up.  I have heard many people say they would not pick up and try a book until it had a #1 on the cover because they wanted to get in at the start (even though many #1 issues are just continuations of the previous series, but it tricks people with the #1 fetish into trying a series).  Maybe the sell-thru of these #1 issues is not great and comic retailers are eating a lot of these copies, but sales DO go up.  As long as slapping a #1 on the cover or doing an event results in increased sales for the publisher (and it has accomplished this pretty much every time it’s been done so far) the publishers will keep doing them.

It seems like for every 1 person who drops a series because of a reboot, they sell 2 or 3 copies to someone else…..The dark side of this is many of these sales don’t stick around for very long, decreasing every issue, which is why publishers hit the reset button and restart with a new #1 after a short run a lot of the time.

The elimination of “long time readers” as a concept is something Marvel & DC have been working on (unintentionally, it would seem) for a number of years.  Restarting series so frequently over time has pretty much eradicated the practice of being a long-time reader with the exception of a few die-hard fans.
CONSIDER: I was reading most of the main Marvel/DC books for 30 years straight and when they started rebooting them to new #1s left and right I dropped a great number of them.  I no longer had a complete run to maintain when they ended the volume I had been getting for decades and started over with a new #1.  It helped break the collector mentality that had me back every month buying every single issue just so I “had them all”.
 


Die-hard fans who keep buying their favorite series through all the relaunches are people even MORE die-hard than I was… and I bought more than 50,000 Marvel/DC comics over the course of 40+ years (one at a time off the rack, no bulk buys of long boxes).  But with frequent relaunches they have re-trained me to only buy a book when I like the current creative team/story…..which is actually a GOOD THING…for me.  I would suggest that it is possibly bad for them in that they are no longer getting an automatic sale every month from a reader who is in the habit of automatically buying every issue of Batman or Captain America or whatever month in and month out.
 

The thing is, when I was in my teens and twenties (this was the 1970s and 80s), that’s really not how people I knew read comics. They followed the hero and collected a series. Granted the creative teams were not the revolving door affairs they are today, but most people seemed to be in it for a longer haul. Someone (I include myself here) collected Captain America. Not “Cap by creator X”. Not “Cap until the next #1”. Not “Cap until they kill/depower him. Not “Cap only until they bring in some other guy as Cap”.
Cap 180
In the “olden days” BIG stuff happened and there was no need to reboot the comic to a new #1. And fans pretty much just kept reading the series they were reading in spite of, or maybe because of, the changes.  Occasionally they would even try radically new stuff.

I kept reading Captain America when Steve Rogers gave up being Captain America and adopted a new costume and name (Nomad)…no reboot to #1.

Cap 181
New guy dons the Captain America costume….no reboot to #1
Cap 183
New Captain America killed….no reboot to #1
Cap 184

Steve Rogers back as Cap…no reboot to #1….and I just kept buying it, month after month…  All without the benefit of restarting at a new #1…

 

Now almost every big change seems to come with a decompressed story, each of the story ideas shown above that took an issue or 2 to explore have been repeated now taking years to tell each story beat.  Then there is usually a reboot to a new #1 when each new story beat comes along. The effect is that sticking with a series does not seem to be normal for readers today. Readers have been trained to read a run for a short time and when the creative team changes or a story beat comes along that they are not immediately in love with, they drop the book.  Maybe they’ll come back with a subsequent change, maybe not.  But one thing is for certain, whatever the change was, it will be re-done or undone within 6 to 24 months.

 

Maybe a fickle readership is all for the best. It means publishers have to keep doing stories that EARN their readership.  On the flip side, maybe that’s why publishers are continually making big splashy changes and pandering for attention with deaths, resurrections, costume/gender swaps, and all manner of other things.  Chasing a sound-bite or some other mention in the mainstream media that they hope will draw in new readers (to replace the ones they are losing with the changes).

 

I’m not really sure if it’s good or bad for the comics industry.  Time will tell.  I do know that clearing books off my pull list when I stop ABSOLUTELY LOVING them opens up slots for me to try many new and different comics (in many cases from publishers OTHER than Marvel/DC).  How many people are just walking away from comics altogether when they get tired of Marvel/DC super-heroes?  That is what will really determine the long-term health of comics…  If the comics medium can retain fans and transition them to other types of stories when the fans burn out on super-heroes then the industry can thrive.  If it contracts, hemorrhaging readership, that will definitely not be good.

So do I jump on or jump off??   I’m mixed. Sometimes it’s a jumping on point, other times I use it as an opportunity to drop a book. Over the years I have definitely switched from collecting characters/series to collecting creators/stories.

Hopefully things will work out in a way that allows the industry to thrive.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Bob Bretall (bob@comicspectrum.com)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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