Why does it seems the people who bitch the most about the state of comics are also the ones who are the most desperate to break in?- C.B. Cebulski (via Twitter)
Therefore, for this post, I will be making a series of points and counterpoints mentioning what Marvel is doing right and what Marvel is doing wrong, playing defense attorney and devil's advocate at the same time. I also will suggest some solutions or compromise that I think would help Marvel improve in each area I discuss. Most of them will be small changes, nothing drastic like some alarmists on the internet that call for the end of the monthly comic or some other equally revolutionary thoughts.
The other day I asked you, the readers what you thought Marvel was doing wrong, and you provided a great deal of interesting comments in return. I found myself writing so much, that in order to properly give the spotlight to every aspect I wanted to mention, I had to break up the answer of what I think Marvel is doing wrong, into several parts. This first entry of this three part series into what I think Marvel is doing wrong will discuss their use of imprints, or lack thereof.
Point - One advantage that DC has over Marvel is the fact that they own two wildly different imprints: Vertigo and Wildstorm.
What I hated the most recently [...] was the rapidly falling quality of the MAX imprint. At first they were comics with adult content for an adult reader. Now - it's still 18+ content, but now its target seems to be boys who've just hit puberty.- Anonymous
However, Marvel does have its own mature line of comics, known as Marvel MAX, which is described as "sophisticated entertainment for a mature audience, with writing targeted at an adult reading level" on their website. No one can deny that the MAX titles make good use of thei R-rating, usually involving plenty of violence and gore, of which the best example is the longest running title for the imprint - Punisher MAX.
The problem lies in the fact that most of the MAX titles involve plenty of the same amount of violence and blood, leading to a group of stories that are very uniform in nature. Just because you can go all out without fear of censorship doesn't mean you always should. This is not to say that the stories are bad or that I do not enjoy reading a bit of ultra-violence, but I would like to see some MAX titles break the mold more often.
An excellent example of such non-over the top storytelling would be Alias, which was one of Brian Michael Bendis' best written titles about the life of Jessica Jones, a former superhero turned private detective who eventually made the jump to the standard 616 line and is now a recurring character in his New Avengers comic.
The true strength of DC's ownership of the Wildstorm imprint is that of video game and movie adaptations, such as the Gears of War, World of Warcraft, and X-Files comic books. These add a sense of variety to your publishing line and the potential to attract new costumers (gaming and movie fans) that would not otherwise get anywhere near a comic book shop.
Of course, Wildstorm is not the only one doing adaptations. Dark Horse has a long history of publishing movie and TV-based comics, such as Star Wars, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Aliens, and BOOM! Studios is currently putting out a new line of comics based on the Disney/Pixar films. Marvel publish no film or video game adaptation comic books (with the exception of a couple of Halo comics), and could potentially be losing customers.
I really want to see more Icon titles. With Vertigo, DC offers to the comic fans a lot of mature reads, but seems like Marvel it´s only interested in keep some of this stars as happy as possible [by giving them their own creator-owned series]. I think they could expand the line without having it stealing sales for this most successful line: the superheroes.- Clucaran
However, it is unknown just how much of a profit this method leads to and it is very possible that, on a month-to-month basis, they prove to be a financial burden rather than a source of revenue.
As I mentioned earlier, Marvel is a business first and foremost, and they must stick to publishing books that benefit them. Even when there is a talented creative team behind a comic, such as Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips on Incognito for the Icon imprint, it will have a hard time reaching sales number reflective of the talent working on it.
There is also the contention that Marvel is not making the money it could be by fostering these creator owned initiatives and would be better served having these creators update one of their characters or working on one of their properties. This would increase revenue for them significantly and could lead to renewed interest in one of their properties that could then be spun off into a movie or television property. None of these new revenue streams would be shared with creators nor would Marvel be accepting a fraction of the money from a creator owned book if they simply did not support a creator owned imprint.
Counterpoint - Other Adaptations
In the past few years, Marvel has been releasing a combination of adaptations and new material based on Stephen King's and Laurell K. Hamilton's works. This move has proven to be quite popular. While the single issues move modest numbers, the collections ended up being one of the most sold products from Marvel last year.
Furthermore, Marvel has also been releasing comic book adaptations, under the banner of Marvel Illustrated, of classic novels, such as Moby Dick and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. While these have not proven to be as commercially popular as the Dark Tower or Anita Blake comics, it certainly provides some variety into Marvel's line-up.
This tactic of adapting well-known books with extensive universes could open up whole new markets for Marvel and they should keep exploring it. Could you imagine how popular a Harry Potter or a Twilight comic could be if Marvel pursued either property?
Solution - A Mission Statement for Marvel Imprints
I wasn't aware that [the Marvel] MAX [imprint] was still around.- Sebastian
The problem with the imprints is that there is very little distinction among them and the content in them could easily belong to any other one. For example, Moon Knight is just as relentlessly bloody as a MAX title and Brubaker's Captain America could easily be considered a Mature Content title. Not for it's violence or sex, but for the complex and layered storytelling. If Marvel wants the imprints to survive, there needs to be a clear distinction between them.
MAX Imprint: Concentrate on horror and fantasy comics and should slowly distance itself from superhero comics. This is how Vertigo got started and is now a very prestigious imprint, almost a synonym with "mature comics" and the graphic novel market. Unseating Vertigo from the top of this market would be quite a feat, but is obviously not an achievable goal at the moment.
The MAX imprint should put all of its effort into just creating new and compelling characters or series. Ideally, it should focus on creating new characters, but that leads to a whole new problem. Popular characters, such as The Hood, the Squadron Supreme and Jessica Jones, become victims of their own success and are absorbed into the larger Marvel Universe. Stricter use of these characters should be in place, and they should avoid using them outside of the imprint.
Icon Imprint: Leave it as is. Currently, it is only being used as an output for creator-owned projects of writer and artists that have signed a Marvel exclusive contract. Marvel, as a business, doesn't really have an need for creator-owned projects.
At the same time, with such prolific writers signed on to Marvel, like Matt Fraction, Rick Remender, Jason Aaron and Jonathan Hickman, the Icon imprint could easily become more used in the future.
Marvel Illustrated: Keep publishing adaptations of books, but concentrate on more modern material. While there's no doubt that there are fans of classics books, like Pride and Prejudice and The Illiad, there is probably a bigger market in adapting newer cult favorites, like the works of Chuk Palahniuk, Douglas Adams, or Kurt Vonnegut.
Of course, these more modern stories are not part of the public domain and, therefore, would be harder to get the rights to adapt. A nice medium would be to adapt the works of writers, like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, who are fan-favorites in the science fiction genre and popular enough to draw people in, but whose works are already in the public domain (or soon will be, in the case of Wells). Additionally, they should definitely get a logo so we can easily recognize which titles fall under the imprint.
Marvel Knights Imprint: I quite enjoyed the evolution of this imprint over time, which is now used as the place to publish out-of-continuity or continuity-light miniseries about popular Marvel characters. This imprint is a nice parallel with the now deceased All-Star imprint from DC .
The problem with the Marvel Knights imprint is that if these creators are being used on out-of-continuity tales, they could just as easily be used to raise the profile of Marvel's regular titles. For example, the current Old Man Logan storyline, by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, could have easily been a Marvel Knights series. However, by putting it on the ongoing Wolverine title, Marvel has garnered both a critical and commercial success and increased the sales of an already high selling title. I would not be surprised if this imprint is used less over time, despite believing Marvel should actually use it more often.
Ultimate Comics: It's hard to say what should be done about the Ultimate Comics imprint, because it is in the middle of a reinvention. I, like many people, quite enjoyed the early years of the Ultimate Universe because of how simple it was.
Over the years it degenerated and became extremely convoluted, completely leaving behind the ideals on which it was created. Make the Ultimate titles simple and without crossovers, so they will be easily accessible to the non-comic reading public at large, who is the target audience of this imprint.
That is all I have to say about what I think Marvel is doing wrong with their imprints, and what possible solutions there could be. Be sure to check back on Wednesday for the next part, where I discuss Marvel's business practices. In the meantime, tell me, what do you think Marvel is doing wrong AND right with their imprints?