Sunday, January 30, 2011

Zombies are not the only cannibals in comics

I realize I'm behind here since comics previews (from the February issue of Previews -- which will be in stores next week) for several of the major publishers have already been presented by the comics press, but I'm going to talk about the January issue of Previews (comics solicited for March publication), and more specifically the Marvel section of Previews.
Marvel is celebrating the 70th anniversary of Captain America's debut in March, and as such they have several comic projects slated to run. And when I say several, I mean a ridiculous number. I'm not talking about comics where Captain America typically appears (such as any of the Avengers titles), I'm talking about comics where Captain America is the titled character.
So lets have a look at that list:
Ultimate Comics Captain America No. 3 (of 4)
This mini-series obviously started a couple of months ago so it may not have been specifically planned to coincide with this 70th anniversary celebration.
Captain America No. 615.1
Marvel promotes this as -- Special POINT ONE issue. START READING with this Point One issue. This would seem to be a jumping-on point for whatever new direction the title is going. New direction you ask?
Captain America No. 616
Marvel's promotion states - It's the 70th Anniversary of Captain America's debut and we're celebrating by beginning a bold new direction. So yes, 'new direction'.
Captain America and Falcon No. 1
This is a one-shot. And yes, the title is correct. I didn't leave out the word The in front of Falcon. That is how they have it listed.
Captain America and Crossbones No. 1
Another one-shot.
Captain America and Batroc No. 1
Another one shot.
Captain America and the First Thirteen No. 1
Yet another one shot.
Captain America and the Secret Avengers No. 1
Yes, another one shot.
Captain America: Hail Hydra No. 3 (of 5)
Another mini-series that was started a few months back.
Captain America: Man Out of Time No. 5 (of 5)
Another mini-series that started several months ago.
For the sake of posterity, I should mention the price and page counts.
Ultimate Comics Captain America, Captain America: Hail Hydra, and Captain America: Man Out of Time are all listed as 32 pages for $3.99
All of the one-shots are listed as 40 pages for $3.99
Captain America No. 615.1 is 32 pages for $2.99 and Captain America No. 616 is 104 pages for $4.99
I should also mention another title debuting this month that will likely impact Captain America. Fear Itself: Prologue. This leads into the Fear Itself event which seems to be centered around the Red Skull's daughter. And given the Red Skull is probably the preeminent villain in Captain America's rogue's gallery, you have to expect Steve Rogers will have a major role in this series.
I neglected to include Captain America Comics No. 1: 70th Anniversary Edition (64 pages for $4.99) since it is a reprint collection. It might be something that interests new fans of Captain America, but if they have to make a choice between brand new material or something created decades ago, they are more likely to go with the new stuff.

So supposing one is a big Captain America fan, Marvel is dumping a lot of product on you this month. Even if you leave out Ultimate Comics Captain America (just because someone is fan of Captain America doesn't mean they will necessarily be interested in the Ultimate Comics version), that is still 9 titles prominently featuring Captain America this month (that also excludes the Fear Itself: Prologue).
That number of comics might actually be a full haul for some readers in a given month.
Nine comics with a price tag of $35.91 (before taxes).
One might also make the assumption that a Captain America fan is likely to follow his exploits in one of the Avengers books as well, so that is another title a reader would be inclined to want to buy.
I'm not here to say it is a bad idea for Marvel to put out this many one-shots and mini-series as part of an anniversary celebration. I am saying that it would have been a lot more fan friendly if they had spread these projects out over the course of three or four months.
Instead of dropping five one-shots in a single month, how about just one in March (since they have two other mini-series already running), two in April (when the final issue of Captain America: Hail Hydra would also be hitting), and the last one-shot in May.
By dumping all of these titles in the same month, Marvel is forcing budget-conscious readers to have to make a choice as to titles they are going to buy. In essence, Marvel is cannibalizing itself. A typical Captain America fan's regular monthly reading list could look something like this: Captain America, New Avengers, Secret Avengers and/or Avengers, one of the Thor titles, one of the Iron Man titles, perhaps Spider-Man or one or two X-Men titles, or maybe one of the Hulk titles. You've got anywhere between five and ten titles there (and obviously it could be even more -- especially as mini-series come into play).
So a reader who happens to be a fan of Captain America and potentially collects between five and ten Marvel titles a month suddenly has to make a choice as to just how big a Captain America fan he is. NINE new Captain America books are hitting in March. Supposing said fan was already buying Captain America and the two mini-series that had already started, he now has to contend with a second issue of Captain American plus five one-shots and how to fit those in his budget with the other titles he usually buys.
What is the reader to do? Skip those one-shots? Decide that one or two of those Avengers books he has been reading but maybe hasn't found quite as entertaining goes to the chopping block? Or maybe it is one or two of the mutant titles that have to go. Or Spider-Man. Or perhaps the Ultimate Comics line. Or maybe those other mini-series or new titles he was considering picking up now get skipped instead.
The fact is, the budget-conscious reader has to make a cut somewhere if he really wants those Captain America titles. And if the budget-conscious Captain America fan decides he doesn't want to make the cuts and thus foregoes those Captain America titles --- then what is the point of dumping them on the market in the first place? The casual fan isn't looking to buy these titles. The core Captain America fan is the one who will be buying them. And if that fan can't afford to add five one-shots to their usual haul in a given month --- who exactly is going to be buying them?
What is the point of a publishing plan that ends up cannibalizing the rest of their line?


Ivan Martin said...

Depending upon the character, this is the kind of thing where I would maybe pick up one of these (whichever I thought was the best), and then look for the rest in bargain bins at comic conventions or at Half Price Books stores.

I haven't seen the schedule, but I'm guessing that these are scheduled so that there will be at least one of these one-shots hitting the shelves each week. And I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the scheduling of the mini-series was arranged ahead of time so that most of them would still have at least one issue on the shelves during the 70th anniversary month. I still recall how Marvel put out at least two 5-issue Spidey/Doc Ock mini-series around the time of the Spider-Man 2 movie, starting them about a month apart, so that both were in the middle of their runs when the movie was realeased.

My most likely course of action with these Cap books is to just not buy any of them. I think Marvel is hoping that by making so many of these one-shots, that people will look at the issue, say "oh, it's just a one-shot, so there will be no ongoing financial commitment or time commitment to buying this book, so I'll buy it." In my experience, this seldom works for very long. It's really just a modern version of flooding the market with new titles to maximize market share and prevent buyers from using any of their comic budget on books from some other company.

skullduggery said...

The problem with that bit of planning is that they have a couple of other dot 1 issues coming out (meaning they have double issues for those books) in the same month, in addition to an assortment of other mini-series and the like.
With people already stretching their budgets to pick up those dot 1 issues, a number of fans are going to be hard pressed to find the dollars to justify spending $4 on an unneeded one-shot. And if they do pick one up, more than likely it means they will be sacrificing some other title they don't have as strong a commitment to (especially if it is a newer title that hasn't had the opportunity to put itself in the the can't miss category yet).