Comics / Comics News

Marvel Comics – With Great Powers Come Great Responsibilities


By Hervé St-Louis
June 9, 2020 - 07:20

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The Covid-19 pandemic has unearthed the systematic weaknesses and further increased risks for many industries such as travel, retail, education, tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, and of course comic book publishing. In the United States, where until recently there was but one major comic distribution network for the direct market that serves comic books and hobby stores, forced furloughs and state-imposed closures have devastated the comic book industry once more. In reaction to some of these events, DC Comics has reacted dropping the main comic book distributor, Diamond Comics Distributor (Diamond) and relying on two new distributors. Other publishers have extended supports to comic book stores by offering returnability and greater discounts to stores. However, one question continues – where is Marvel Comics, the largest comic publisher in North America? What is Marvel Comics doing to show “leadership” in comics and maintain the sustainability of the industry?

Marvel has offered greater discounts to some of its cheap omnibus books that collect older comic runs. It has reduced the number of comics it is releasing weekly to avoid flooding the market. Marvel has also switched some of its lowest-selling series to digital release only to focus more on best-selling series and making sure they can land in stores. For many, Marvel’s actions have been timid and often criticized by comic pundits. Is Marvel sleeping at the switch?

There is an expectation that Marvel has to do something because it is the largest actor As with anything comic book-related, there is drama and a soap opera drawn where if DC Comics does something, then Marvel is expected to respond or react. Sides are drawn, and much is said and written about Marvel's, timid response to a pandemic that has wrecked the business operations of many industries.

DC Comics was ready to drop Diamond because it had been planning to do so since at least 2019 when it added clauses in its distribution contract allowing it to look for third-party distributors if warranted. It is unsure if Marvel had been doing the same work, having an envious relationship with Diamond as its largest source of revenue. Marvel was already flooding the market with many variant covers and new issues that catered to the collector’s market more than it did to the readers’ market. Many expect Marvel to do something just because it is large.

Some of these expectations for Marvel Comics are also related to its dominant position in the popular film where some of its might and appeal translate to expectations for its comics. Marvel has changed the film industry and thus it is expected to change the comics industry once more. And that is one of the problems.

Marvel has experimented a lot with the comic industry. Distributed by DC Comics, Marvel escaped the eight titles limits in the 1960s and later help foster the creation of the direct market by allocating some comics for the new comic book stores that were popping all over. In 1995, Marvel challenged the distribution of comics by buying Heroes World, a smaller comic distributor that was once its own mail order division. Heroes World purchase meant that Marvel now distributed its own comics. This wreck the comic distribution and forced DC Comics and several publishers to band behind Diamond.

Calls for Marvel to do something are calls for Marvel to act recklessly in a situation where few know what has to be done. Marvel’s own parent company Disney is still unsure about how to go ahead during the pandemic and is also adopting a wait and see attitude. This may annoy pundits who expect action and for Marvel to take on a leadership role in comics. It would seem that Marvel’s is suffering from the old Spider-Man adage crafted by Stan Lee which states that ‘with great powers, come great responsibilities.’

Hervé St-Louis, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Emerging Media at Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, in Canada.

Last Updated: June 9, 2020 - 06:44

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