Comics / Spotlight

Marvel Comics Is Selfish - A Rant


By Hervé St-Louis
April 25, 2012 - 16:12

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Editor's notes: This is article written a few months ago that graced our Marvel Comics' section's page. We wanted to put something more neutral for casual readers who don't usually care about intestine debates in comic book publishing, so, the article on the main Marvel was replaced. This is the original, in all it's glory and what some people have described as biased.

Marvel Comics’ corporate culture is that of a selfish company. Marvel has a history of making moves that affect many in the industry but truly only benefit Marvel and not its partners or the customers that sustain the entire comic book world. Over decades, Marvel has played this game again and again and never asked for forgiveness with its brash actions that make the company look like it’s run by a an ensemble of juniors instead of the senior management one would expect from one of the world’s most important contents maker. Worse, it seems that Marvel’s new parent company, Disney has no intention of reigning in its hothead child any time soon.

But as the story goes, Marvel is often its own worst enemy and its actions which often look like it will boost the company’s coffers, are usually short term games that eventually backfire and leave more comic book readers disgruntled than before. This is a stark difference with DC Comics’ whose opponents like to characterize as a corporate and conservative monolith, when in fact the publisher has been reinventing itself for decades and truly should be the one called “The House of Ideas.”

Marvel Comics and Marvel Entertainment are not houses of ideas. They are houses of talents. And like many talented people, their focus is on their own limited world view and not on the wider scope. Marvel Comics has had the distinction of often attracting the best minds and talents, only to burn them quickly and let their competitors a few blocks away, DC Comics do something cool with the scorn talent. Jack Kirby created the Marvel universe as we know it today. Without him, there would be no Thor, no X-Men, no Fantastic Four, no Hulk, no Captain America. Yet for decades, the credits to these creations went to another man, Stan Lee, who was at best the scripter and the editor of the features released like a wild fire by Jack Kirby, but not the original spark. Kirby’s world has a blocky visual mind where a story is told as clearly and as simply as possible. This is far removed from the introspection and constant questioning of Spider-man who was drawn by Steve Ditko, yet officially written, like the Fantastic Four, like the Avengers, by Stan Lee. A humble man, Kirby left for DC Comics, where for the first time since his days at Marvel, one could witness the full depth of the worlds he created and the mythology that continues to breathe life to the part of the DC Comics’ universe called the Fourth World. Kirby’s work, whether through the Fourth World saga, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men was about mythology and epic. Spider-man was about morality and coming of age. How could the two strains be conceived by one single genius – Stan Lee?

Yet, after Stan Lee’s departure, Marvel still flourished, attracting a new generation of creators in the 1970s that would refresh its aging universe once more with new characters that were directly aware and involved with the world around them. Luke Cage, Conan, Shang Shi, Howard the Duck, the Defenders, these were not your usual comic books, but only Marvel had the will to allow creators to move on the edge of entertainment and create, again a new mythology that spoke directly with the world of youths reading comics in the 1970s. Kirby had left Earth completely at DC Comics with Mister Miracle, Darkseid and the Forever People, while Marvel incorporated touches from Blacksploitation, the kung fu madness and historical fantasy like Conan the Barbarian in its regular comic book lexicon. The 1970s and 1980s, were probably the golden years for Marvel Comics when it came to the comic book industry. Books were created to sell and entertain an audience and office politics and corporate sagas that would befall upon the company in the 1990s were an afterthought.

In the 1990s, Marvel Comics succeeded in creating a farming system that made overnight super stars of a varied bunch of comic book artists. Yet, Marvel failed to lead this team into greatness and keep them on staff. Instead, the creators, fed up with the farm system at Marvel Comics where creators of talent were commodities used to promote and sell more comic books, left and created their own company – Image Comics. This must be remembered as one of the greatest failure of Marvel Comics. That the upper cadre of their best recruits from the last five years would bail on them and form their own companies when one would expect they were being treated better than most of the hardworking artists and writers there is telling. Marvel’s best assets left and instead of focusing on that, Marvel went into a frenzy to kill all competition. Marvel started to litigate Valiant Comics to get back at its former editor in chief Jim Shooter, it tried to promote another crop of super start creators to take over the void left by the Image Comics crew. Marvel was so selfishly focused on itself, that it bought its own comic book distribution company – Heroes World Distribution to attempt to disrupt the market and further destroy all competition. And then, Marvel went deep into internal strife as factions within the company tried to take control of the media giant.

Lost, Marvel sold important film rights to Spider-man to Sony in perpetuity and forced the rest of the industry to rally behind Diamond Comics as its sole distributor. The disruption destroyed all other comic book distributors at the time, forced many comic book stores out of business at a time when North America's economy was growing. The constant publishing of new comics with “special features” in an attempt to flood the market pushed out a far more valuable commodity than Marvel’s competitors. It pushed out many comic book readers and fans burnt by the constant hype and failure to deliver decent product by Marvel Comics.

Not humble, but certainly defeated, Marvel hired Joe Quesada as its new editor in chief, following a successful revival of the Marvel Knights imprint. Quesada, an artist pushed for some ideas that allowed Marvel Comics to come back during the 2000s, but would ultimately spell doom in the 2010s. Quesada allowed Marvel to grow an important art directing team. In those initial years, the covers of Marvel-produced comics were the most beautiful and well produced in the comic book industry. Again, new talents were sought which contributed many ideas and revamped stagnating Marvel franchises. The production values of Marvel-produced comic books were at the top of the comic book industry and competed with the output of the best design teams of the world.

Yet, at the same time, Marvel’s arrogance against the public, comic book retailers and the rest of the comic book industry grew to an inflated level. Marvel was in the business of publishing collected edition of popular comic book runs so quickly after the original story, that comic book readers would prefer sitting out on new comics waiting for the book collection instead, and hurting comic book retailers’ cash-flow at the same time. At comic book conventions, it Marvel staffers frequently make fun of audiences in panels and generally disrespecting the valuable “fanboys” who paid for the salaries of the Marvel luminaries. Marvel established policies of limiting print runs, forcing comic book retailers to either over order Marvel books or not have enough to provide to readers. Effectively, Marvel made it riskier for their traditional partners, comic book retailers to do business with them. Marvel’s marketing team is so badly run that it allows junior staffers to make important decisions on Marvel’s media relations without any oversight from management. Marvel has been publishing one big crossover event after the other. It has been rebooting established comic book series repeatedly in the hopes of tricking readers into buying “collectors’ worthy” number one issues. Instead, the constant crossovers which disrupt regular storylines and the countless reboots have led to readers’ fatigue and a lack of cohesion. Indefensible price increases, have meant that comic book readers must pick comics more carefully. Yet, Marvel continues to publish one shots aptly named after regular series tricking readers into buying comic books that normally would not leave the editorial desk.

Still, none of the market destruction activities of Marvel matter, as long as the media rights and appearances of its characters in movies, video games and cartoon series continue to hide the malaise and mismanagement of the company from its owner Disney, the latter’s shareholders. The comic book industry which has repeatedly taken a beating from one of the largest comic book publishers in the world continues to forgive and turn a blind eye on Marvel. It’s time Marvel Comics gave back to the comic book industry what it has taken for granted.


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