Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Back to (Bronze Age) Basics, Marvel Style

Marvel Comics has recently taken DC Comics to school on sales, but Marvel certainly can’t quite give Spider-Man the “Rebirth” treatment that DC has turned into a license to revive failing concepts.

Scipio over at the top-shelf comic blog The Absorbascon made a clever observation comparing DC’s trend of returning their characters to the Silver Age basics versus Marvel’s recent attempt to do mostly the same thing with Spider-Man. Of course, while DC’s recent moves to bring back their Silver Age stalwarts have clearly been financially beneficial (and generally had positive fan reaction), the court of public opinion (and sales) are still out on Spider-Man’s new status quo. I still think it is a little early to read into sale figures for a change of this magnitude – and it is pretty tough to find comparison average sales figures considering the Spider-Man titles went through a string of events pre-Brand New Day and (in the case of Straczynski's
Amazing Spider-Man) infrequent shipping. Suffice to say that as it stands now, sales keep slipping little by little.

Although the continuity alterations brought on by, well, the unexplainable power of magic, are still widely criticized from a storytelling standpoint, the changes have brought Spider-Man more inline with his Bronze Age status quo. Minus, of course, the still-dead Gwen Stacy.

Poor Gwen. Everyone’s invited back except you. Say “hi” to Uncle Ben for us!

Since then Marvel has put would should be enough star power on the thrice-monthly Amazing Spider-Man, including editor Steve Wacker, Dan Slott, Bob “Back to the Future” Gale, Steve McNiven, Mike McKone, Phil Jimenez, John Romita, Jr. and … Marc Guggenheim and Mark Waid. Didn’t I just write about them? Honestly, besides writers with the popularity on par with Brian Bendis or Geoff Johns (who are busy writing whatever they feel like writing) or superstar artists (most of whom don't have a prayer of doing a monthly title on time),
I can't think of anyone who would bring more attention to the title.

Of course, we all know that the main fault with the Brand New Day revamp was the execution, which left a bitter taste in plenty of people’s mouths and probably prevents more than a few of them from picking up Amazing Spider-Man. This is comic books after all and "magic deal with the devil" is not all that different from "Superman reverses the rotation of the earth" or "giant yellow space bug turns you evil," but the comic book audience as a whole is the type that does not want to feel that a poorly-crafted story is treating them like idiots. Others may be assuming the new status quo is once again temporary and (like Spider-Man’s 2006 unmasking, which had as much chance of lasting as the Death of Superman) will be changed once again. Frankly it seems that bar really poor sales, the Brand New Day status quo is the long-term direction for Spider-Man, and there still is a strong chance of it working out in the long run.

Certainly with the box office success of Iron Man and the planned “movie universe” the time may be right for the “back to basics” approach for other characters if Marvel feels the need to do so. But unless sales on Amazing Spider-Man level out or improve, it may be a very long time before Marvel tries a similar Brand New Day revamp of one of their characters – and considering the fan backlash over One More Day that might be a good thing for Marvel and Marvel fans' sake.

(Obviously I should point out that the whole intent of the Ultimate universe was to clear the slate for every character, yet Marvel has never quite been willing to put the Ultimate universe on the same level of importance as their “main” universe. That appears to be why an unmarried Spidey in the Ultimate books just wasn’t good enough.)

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