Sadly, this is NOT an April Fools joke.
Sales for Marvel Comics were down in late 2016 and according to their Senior Vice President of Sales, Print & Marketing, David Gabriel, it appears to be due to the publisher’s focus on bringing more diversity to their line. He stated that sales took a nose-dive in October and November and states that this was an across-the-board drop for all comics, not just Marvel. And that Diamond Distributors reported huge returns on a lot of books.
“There was probably a little too much product going out at that time. We all got a good kick in the ass over that”
He also added:
“I don’t know if those customers with the tastes that had been around for three years really supporting nearly anything that we would try, anything that we would attempt, any of the new characters we brought up, either they weren’t shopping in that time period, or maybe… their tastes have changed.
“There was definitely a sort of nose-turning at the things that we had been doing successfully for the past three years, no longer viable. We saw that, and that’s what we had to react to.”
And a lot of what the publisher had been doing– and seemingly succeeding at– during those three years was bringing diversity to their line. Biracial Miles Morales, the ‘Unlimited’ Spider-Man was incorporated into the mainstream (616) Marvel Universe, where he worked with both the original Peter Parker Spider-Man as well as Tony Stark as an Avenger. Meanwhile Jane Foster replaced the original Thor in his book, Kate Bishop now serves as ‘Hawkeye,’ Asian American teen Amadeus Cho is the new ‘Totally Awesome Hulk’ and African American Sam Wilson graduated from The Falcon to Captain America. More recently, female African-American teen Riri Williams replaced ‘Iron Man’. In addition, Marvel has elevated a number of female characters to headliners, including ‘Captain Marvel’, ‘Spider-Woman’, ‘Squirrel Girl’, ‘Ms. Marvel’ (who is also Pakistani and Muslim), ‘Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur’, ‘Patsy Walker: Hell-Cat’, ‘Spider-Gwen’ and ‘Gwen Pool’, not to mention the all-female team ‘A-Force’. More recently, Latina, bisexual ‘Miss America’ was given her own series.
But was that too much and too alienating to the Caucasian male readers that have been with the hobby for decades?
“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.
“We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.”
Gabriel cited three books that did break out and prove themselves to be successful, ‘Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows’ in which Peter Parker and Mary-Jane Watson are once more married, ‘Venom’ and ‘Thanos’.
HOWEVER, Gabriel later offered a correction of sorts, saying:
“Discussed candidly by some of the retailers at the summit, we heard that some were not happy with the false abandonment of the core Marvel heroes and, contrary to what some said about characters “not working,” the sticking factor and popularity for a majority of these new titles and characters like Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, The Mighty Thor, Spider-Gwen, Miles Morales, and Moon Girl, continue to prove that our fans and retailers ARE excited about these new heroes. And let me be clear, our new heroes are not going anywhere! We are proud and excited to keep introducing unique characters that reflect new voices and new experiences into the Marvel Universe and pair them with our iconic heroes.
“We have also been hearing from stores that welcome and champion our new characters and titles and want more! They’ve invigorated their own customer base and helped them grow their stores because of it. So we’re getting both sides of the story and the only upcoming change we’re making is to ensure we don’t lose focus of our core heroes.”
The “replacement” factor shouldn’t be overlooked. Marvel is doing better with their movies than their comics, but should fans of the films want to check out the books, the fact that key characters like Iron Man/Tony Stark, Steve Rogers/Captain America, Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Thor Odinson and to a degree Peter Parker/Spider-Man have been replaced by people either of different genders, ethnicities and ages may be a deterrent to those seeking the same characters they fell in love with at the cinema.
Then again, it’s been whispered that a lot of these changes are BECAUSE of the movies, as it is expected that Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans etc. will eventually depart the Marvel Studios films. Many have fulfilled their contracts and Marvel (or rather its parent company Disney) are pretty tight when it comes to salaries for its headliners. It’s widely rumored that eventually, someone else will have to play Iron Man or Captain America and that’s the reasoning behind replacing these characters in the comics with mostly younger and more diverse people in their roles.
As Gabriel said, Marvel isn’t abandoning these newer heroes. In fact, the publisher has the ten-part crossover ‘Generations’ coming up, which pairs these newer legacy characters with their inspirations, by a variety of top-name creators:
Iron Man (Tony Stark and Riri Williams) – written by Brian Michael Bendis
Spider-Man (Peter Parker and Miles Morales) – Brian Michael Bendis
Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers and Kamala Khan) – G. Willow Wilson
Thor (Odinson and Jane Foster) – Jason Aaron
Hawkeye (Clint Barton and Kate Bishop) – Kelly Thompson
Hulk (Bruce Banner and Amadeus Cho) – Greg Pak
Jean Grey (young and older) – Dennis Hopeless
Wolverine (Logan and X23) – Tom Taylor
Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell and Carol Danvers) – Margie Stohl
Captain America (Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson) – Nick Spencer
It could have just been the season. The holidays were coming up and traditionally, unnecessary spending decreases during that time. America was a bit in an upheaval over the Presidential election (which coincidentally had a lot to do with gender, race, nationality, etc.). And the economy hasn’t been stellar in many years. It could be a variety of factors that influenced the drop-off in sales late last year. We’ll just have to see if Marvel and the rest of the comic world recovers or if indeed there has been a shift.
Are you a fan of the more diverse characters? Or would you rather have the classic, mostly Caucasian male heroes back in their famous roles?