Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spider-Woman: Motion Killed The Comic Star

Short on the heels after the cancellation of Ms. Marvel, the only other remaining Marvel comic headlined by a female character, Spider-Woman has gone on indefinite hiatus. This is specially bitter considering that March, Women's Month, has seen the end of two book with woman leads, in definite contrast with the message that Marvel has been trying to push for it's female characters. The difference between the two titles is that they were canceled for different reasons, and that Spider-Woman had a motion comic attached to the title, which was part of the reason it met an untimely end. Hit the jump to see more.

To Motion or Not To Motion

Spider-Woman has gone on hiatus because producing the motion comic has proved to be a more taxing experience than artist Alex Maleev ever expected. Brian Michael Bendis has mentioned that as the writer he obviously did not feel the strain as much, because he could switch gears and write other projects, but that for Maleev it felt like triple the amount because of all the extra work that he had to do for the animation department to be able to produce the motion comic. This is a perfectly understandable reason for an artist to want to take a break, and Bendis clearly wants to only collaborate with Maleev, so the title goes into a hiatus rather continue on with another artist.

And let us not forget that this has been Bendis' dream project for who-knows-how-long, a title that has been rumored, hinted at, and promised for years. The fact that it finally came out last year, only to end seven issues after the fact makes the whole situation more underwhelming and disappointing. I made my opinion of this motion comic experiment quite clear when I reviewed the first episode of Spider-Woman, but the impression I get from other readers of the series is that most would have preferred for Maleev to have stayed on the book for longer rather than concentrate so much time on the motion comic. Of course, that's the impression I get from the comic readers, for all I know the people that only watched the motion comic are equally fervent about wanting the artist to come back for more.

What's done is done, obviously, but what about when (if?) the title comes back? Will there be more motion comics of Spider-Woman in the future? More importantly, was it successful venture for those involved?

Who Helps Who?

We obviously don't know what kind of numbers the Spider-Woman motion comic moved, as neither Marvel nor Apple are probably going to be posting the number of downloads any time soon. We know that the episodes spent time at the top of the sales chart, so there definitely was some interest in it. What we do know for a fact, however, is that the motion comics has not done the comic series any favor in terms of sales. Spider-Woman debuted with around 50K units sold, dropped down to 37K by the second issue, and by issue six, it had a readership of slightly above 26K. It makes sense in a way, that most people are not going to pay twice for the same material in different formats, so the sales of the comic book went down as time passed. In this case, the comic book was the auxiliary material, and the motion comic was the main dish. The motion comic was probably watched by thousands more than the comic, but it did not translate into higher sales for the single issues.

"But what about the trade, Matt? Surely that will sell!" Ahh, good point. Casual readers might decide to forgo the single issues and just wait for the trade, with "wait" being the key word in that sentence. The final episode of the motion comic aired, according to Hulu (and feel free to correct me if I am wrong), somewhere around October of last year, while the trade does not come out until...uh, there's actually some conflicting information on that front.

Marvel's official catalog has the following listed:

"Spider-Woman: Agent Of S.W.O.R.D. (Graphic Novel-Hardcover) With Motion Comic DVD" and the description says "Includes a Special Bonus DVD of the Spider-Woman Motion Comic! Collecting SPIDER-WOMAN #1-7." The list price is $29.99 and it says that it will be in stores in May 19, 2010.

Searching in Amazon turns up two different items, with differing page count, release date, and content:

"Spider-Woman, Vol. 1: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. (Hardcover)" and the description says "Collects Spider-Woman #1-4. 120 pages" with no mention of the motion comic anywhere. The list price is 24.99 and it says it will be in stores in April 21, 2010.

The other item is:

"Spider-Woman: Agent of S. W. O. R. D. (Paperback)" and the description says "Collects Spider-Woman #1-7, and Spider-Woman #1 motion comic. 200 Pages." The list price is $29.99 and it will be in stores June 16, 2010.

In any case, back to my original point, all of those release dates are either six, seven or eight months later than the final episode of the motion comic. If a casual reader finished watching all of those episodes any time last year, decided to check Amazon to see if there were any collections of the thing, you can be sure than none of those showed up, as they hadn't been solicited yet. This is not like a movie, that people will come back and actively seek out when it is out on DVD or Blu-Ray, or whatever. Most people would probably assume that it would not be collected in any form.

This is a motion comic, one that was probably watched in between a couple of other shows, and one that probably has long been replaced by other shows. The iTunes store has plenty of options for customers to choose from, and once their attention is gone, gaining it back becomes increasingly difficult as time passes and the customers' attention has switched to something else. Sure, some might come back later and find them, but the window of opportunity for bigger sales had passed, and fewer viewers will have bought the collection than if it had been solicited earlier.

The real catch, however, is that the trade couldn't be solicited earlier because the comic book series was still going on, the final issue didn't come out until this month. In the end, the real question is whether Marvel is in the business of selling the motion comics or selling the regular comics. Trying to sell both, out of the same material, seems like a conflicting business move, hurting potential sales from both.


If they MUST produce both a motion comic and a print comic, I think the best solution would have been to produce the first seven issues of Spider-Woman as an original graphic novel instead, one that would have been ready shortly after the motion comic was finished, in order to capitalize on the viewers to cross over and purchase it. Otherwise, they are going to end up with fatigued artists, diminishing sales in the single issues, and a lack of "buzz" when the collection finally does come out, like it happened to Spider-Woman. Then again, maybe they made enough of a profit from the motion comic download sales that it really does not matter if the collection or the single issues sold. What do you readers think? Were you following the series through the motion comics or the single issues? Or were you waiting for the trade?

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Brandon Whaley said...

I personally found this book to be a snoozefest in either format. The story they've presented in the 4 issues I've read could have easily been covered in 2 issues. Nothing really has happened. So while the dual-format has definitely hurt sales, for me at least the glacial pace of the story was the end of my interest. That, and I just don't like Maleev in my superhero comics.

Klep said...

I followed the comic through the motion comic, which was making its way to hulu some time after its intial release. Even so, I was able to watch the last episode some months ago, well before the comic itself finished coming out.

It seems to me this is a matter of poor release planning. If they wanted to sell and promote both things, they should have held publishing it at all until they knew they could release both the motion comic episodes and the comic issues in such a way that they each would start and end close to the other. Instead, this has felt really dragged and and has sucked any momentum from the project.

Aaron Kimel said...

I think one interesting question will have to go unanswered: how long could Spider-Woman have lasted if Maleev had developed some superhuman endurance and persisted with the project? If one looks at the precipitous sales drop from issues 1 to 6, you can't find yourself terribly optimistic that this title would have lasted through another story arc before cancellation for lack of sales.

By comparison, Spider-Woman #6 ranked 70th for comic sales in February. Ms Marvel #50 (now cancelled) was 72nd. Incredible Hercules #141 (now cancelled) was 73rd. Nova #34 (at least a six month hiatus) ranked 79th. GotG #23 (also at least a six month hiatus) ranked 80th. Cable #23 (cancelled at #25) ranked 63rd. If all those books are now gone (or soon will be), there seems little reason to think that Spider-Woman would have persisted much longer.

Anonymous said...

Spider Woman, especially the Jessica Drew version just isnt an interesting character. That has to contribute to why the comic failed. Bendis himself has stated his love of the character has to do with her hair? Really, so thats why he is putting her on the Avengers and she got her own series. To me it was doomed to fail, Marvel has handed the keys to Bendis (for better or worse depending what title youre talking about) and he has brought his obession with Jessica Drew to the forfront. Just turns out shes a lame character and nobody is really all to interested in reading about her.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

I wouldn't go so far as to Jessica Drew is a lame character, but perhaps Bendis isn't the right person for her. Perhaps Rucka is, or BKV would be, who knows. I think she needs another go with someone else. Seems like Bendis thought he could completely replicate his DD run by having Maleev along and it just didn't work, sadly. I'd still pick up the title if another, decent, creative team hopped on board.

I also think that poor Bendis has simply had everything go to his head and that's why Siege is bloated and splash pagey too, he just thinks he can do it and we'll buy it, and we do...

Daryll B. said...

This isn't actually looking good for Marvel's celebration of Women's Month....ugh

Eric Rupe said...

The long time it took from the comic to come out from the time Marvel originally announced the fact that there would be one and the fact that Spider-Woman was a Skrull did a lot more to kill interest in the series than anything Bendis specifically did the comic itself. Granted, I haven't read Spider-Woman but the series had a lot of expectations from readers and there was no way it was going to live up to those given the delays and Skrull reveal.

Joslyn said...

I Missed this news. Being a fan of Bendis and Maleev collabs in the Netherlands I was waiting for the trade cause the motion comic is not available on iTunes in Holland. So now I get the dvd and the HC at the same time for a better price.

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