Has the comic book been betrayed by the Earth’s mightiest heroes? It’s a sad question to pose after probably the most geek filled comic book extravaganza the world has ever seen with the opening of The Avengers movie and Free Comic Book Day all happening in the same weekend. Comic book fans worldwide have been celebrating universally like never before, gathering at the multiplex and local comic shops in droves, dressed in their favorite comic book swag and costumes.
Free Comic Book Day itself has become a huge annual event, now in its tenth year it attracts over a million people to comic shops more than double the number from just five years ago. Comic fans and potential comic readers can’t resist the offer of free comics and continue to make this promotion a growing tradition. This is a good opportunity to point out that comics here at CO2 Comics are free to read EVERY day so if you are sill wallowing in all the free comics you acquired this weekend, just remember the buzz does not have to wear off!
Marvel Entertainment could not have picked a better weekend to launch The Avengers movie, especially with all the comic book love in the air generated by Free Comic Book Day. The Avengers could have been released in the dead of winter and still been a mega hit. A bona fide blockbuster, The Avengers will be the Titanic of all superhero movies and may even give that sunken barge a run for its money. Though I might be giving them too much credit for something that could have been a wonderful coincidence, it was sure nice of Marvel to remember its roots and tie into the comic fans’ big day and make it tremendously more special before they throw them to the curb.
I know I sound like an insufferable old bore but as much as I love super heroes, I realize that I loved the medium of comics even more. For me, comics are a visual medium of incredible creative freedom and opportunity. It is one of the few mediums where the reader can relate directly to the literal and visual expression of a lone creator without the influence of a long list of production personnel, editors, actors, etc. Comic books, graphic novels, comic strips, all mean a lot to me just for this reason and I would love for more people to be aware of these wonders of the medium. I would love to see comics everywhere, read by everyone.
So why wouldn’t I expect this Avengers movie to be a huge vehicle to promote comics? Isn’t Marvel in the business of selling comics? Surely they would seize the moment. Right?
I was just in my local Walmart, you know, America’s Store. It’s being reconfigured, fittingly for this blog post, into a Super Walmart and right in the middle of the store is a huge cardboard Marvel kiosk featuring Thor, Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America leaping across a city skyline. Marvel Mania! On the display was every Marvel video you could imagine, Spider-Man, X-Men, Woverine, Electra, you name it! There were cartoon videos, even the old Bill Bixby Hulk videos, a video candy store of everything Marvel.
Then it hit me. There was Marvel merchandise in every department. The toy aisle was loaded with Marvel action figures. There were Marvel hats, shirts, pants, shoes, even underwear. Marvel PEZ dispensers, floor mats for cars, posters, greeting cards, fabric and more only began to round out the list of everything that could bear a Marvel logo in Walmart. Everything except… comic books.
What?! Comic books aren’t good enough for Walmart?! Marvel doesn’t have enough clout to get comic books or graphic novels into Walmart?! Do comic book shops have some exclusive deal that I’m unaware of to prevent comics from being sold at Walmart?!
Outside of comic shops apparently, Marvel doesn’t even think comics are worth giving away. Here’s a website that has a long list of all the premiums that Marvel is using to promote the movie from action figures, to cups and cars but you never find a comic book used as a promotional item. Why? How can comics be such a great medium to have spawned all of these great characters only to be shunned by a company that built its empire by exploiting this magnificent sequential art of words and pictures?
I have a theory. Marvel fears the comic book. Marvel views comics as a threat because they are too easy to make and distribute. They know from experience. Comics abound on the internet, nearly anyone can publish and sell online. Anyone can create the next big comic book sensation. Just as Marvel dethroned DC in the sixties with their ragtag reinvention of the superhero, toppling juggernauts like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, even the mighty Avengers are vulnerable to a new character birthed in the pages of a mild mannered comic book. I’m sure the powers at Marvel and Disney see different shades of green every time they hear the name Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, four megastars that climbed out of a sewer in the slum of a black and white independent comic book.
When I was researching the use of superhero parodies in the porn industry for my blog post Seduction of the Ignorant I discovered that that industry is struggling to stay afloat, beaten by easy access to porn on the internet, cheap homemade porn their most threatening competition. Porn producers have turned to expensive, special effect laden parody productions that are harder for the average Dick and Jane to make in their bedroom studio.
Marvel Entertainment is doing the same thing. They are focussing now on marketing their IP through blockbuster films budgeted in the mega millions. They have corralled the hardcore comic book fan into a niche market that can barely support sales figures that would have been an embarrassment thirty years ago. They have willfully created an atmosphere that has forced competition to meet suppressed quotas to even be considered for distribution into this niche market.
DC has taken full advantage of this abandonment of the comic market by Marvel with their onslaught of the New 52. They too are actively boxing out the little guys by flooding their IP into the comic market but they realize that comic books have the same power they always had and they are redesigning their universe and working out the bugs without risking millions on a film that could flop at the box office.
If you are a fan of comics, support your local comic shop, explore the internet for great new comics like the one’s here at CO2 Comics and download those comic apps for your mobile devices. Keep an eye out for the next big sensation to be created in comics and don’t be surprised if it does not come from marvel or DC. Be vigilant comic fans because despite the rise of the superhero in cinema, comic books are still the bastard child of the entertainment industry and even the Avengers betray them.