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Marvel’s Futile Chase of Movie Audiences

Comic book movies don’t create comic book readers.

Yeah. I’m kicking this off with a blanket statement that is immediately wrong as all blanket statements are. Including that one.

As soon as I say this, I know some of you will raise your hand and say you started reading a comics after seeing a movie. Good. I’m glad. But my point is that all of you are probably an insignificant fraction of movie-goers. I mean statistically insignificant. Not offensively insignificant. I’m sure you are all very nice.

Ever since this comic book movie fervor began, Marvel Comics has been scrambling for synergy. They’ve wanted to make their comics more familiar to movie audiences to turn them into comic audiences. And often, they have stated how they would be crazy not to do this. But it’s also crazy to do the same thing repeatedly yet expect a different outcome.

Seriously. Why no decent Blade book?Remember that successful Blade series that launched out of the popular Blade movies in the late 1990s? No, you don’t. Because it didn’t exist. But hey, maybe that is unfair. When those movies came out, most of the audience has no clue they were watching a character from a comic book. Also, Marvel seems strangely incapable of producing something as seemingly simple as a good Blade book, but that’s a topic for a while different article. So let’s look at a couple other comic franchises which would be fairer examples.

Early on, the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises dominated the genre of comic book movies. Say what you will about them. I know I personally have hated the X-Men movies. The point is a lot of people watched them, and then, a lot of people did not go read Spider-Man and X-Men comics. Arguably, that could be hard to tell since at the time both franchises were commonly Marvel’s two most popular franchises anyway. How do you go higher than the top of the charts?

Well, you would do that by raising the bar. By widening the popularity gap with all your peers until you are out of the reach of those poor, movie-less properties and franchises. If movies translated into new readers, then logically these two huge movie franchises would have translated into readership surges for their comic counterparts.

That certainly didn’t happen. In fact, both the X-Men and Spider-Man titles have become less popular since the movies. This is even with Marvel temporarily putting the X-Men in movie-friendly black and yellow leather and Marvel bending over continuity to create a bachelor Spider-Man. None of it really mattered. Movie audiences didn’t really care.

Right now, you could look at the comic book sales charts and have absolutely no idea that the Avengers movie has just broken records and become one of the top movies of all time. The impact is just not there. All you would see is Avengers Vs. X-Men doing relatively good for a Marvel event and propping up the sales of some related books. That’s it. This is the same as last year when Marvel geared Fear Itself to capitalize on the release of Captain America: the First Avenger and Thor. There were no signs of new readers from the movies.

This is an era where movies based on comic book superheroes dominate box offices, but this is also an era where the sales of comic books overall are weaker than they were just a few years ago.

Yet, Marvel is still at it anyway. We have the sheer mind-numbing ridiculousness of Nick Fury Jr. to avoid confusing those extremely few movie readers with a white Nick Fury and instead confuse them with a son of the real Fury. We have people at Marvel being quoted as saying, in regard to the new Marvel NOW! initiative, that characters who appear in movies will be getting special consideration for roles, because even those all those people didn’t bother to buy the Avengers series after seeing the movie, they will surely come around months later to pick up Hawkeye’s new book.

I'm sorry. This is just embarassing.
Here’s the harsh truth of it. People don’t want to take a trip to the nearest comic book store. They don’t really even want to go to the trouble of figuring out where that is. Things would be different if we were still living in the days where you could grab some comics at a department or grocery store. They probably will be different when digital comics become the dominant form of the medium. We aren’t living in either world right now, though. We’re in the world that says people have to go into a small hobby store to get a good look and try out current issues of comic books. It’s unlikely to happen at best.

Hey, I’ve been getting comics for 20 years and even I don’t really like going into unfamiliar comic shops.

Hopefully no one also bought the Thanos Imperative.We know when movies based on books come out and do well those books jump up in sales. That’s because all people have to do is click on Amazon. When the Avengers movie came out, sales spiked for trades of the Infinity Gauntlet and Avengers: Disassembled. I’d wager that collections of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run and JMS’ Thor run did pretty well last year. I think Marvel better damn well get omnibuses of Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova ready soon.

Because this is what actually happens. People who see the movies and find themselves interested in reading more go to places like Amazon and buy trade collections. By literal miles, it is more convenient and reasonable than seeking out current issues at a comic book store. It didn’t matter that Marvel put Steve Rogers back in the Captain America costume in Fear Itself in time for the movie. Those people were probably off reading the early Brubaker collections instead. There’s no point in trying to set up the black Nick Fury Jr. Anyone who cares is probably already reading the Secret Warriors omnibus or other collections with the real deal.

Unless it is the unseen digital sales of books that are skyrocket, I see absolutely no reason Marvel should be so hellbent on synergy with the movies. No significant number of people are diving into current comics when the movies come out. Maybe some will find their way to it through reading trade collections, but by that point, the effect of synergy will be pretty lost on them. Are you going to come out of reading Secret Warriors and be happy to see Marcus Johnson usurping Fury’s role in the Marvel Universe? I doubt it..

It would be best for Axel Alonso and company to reign in some of the consideration they’re giving toward Marvel’s movies. By all means, launch books for Hawkeye and the Guardians of the Galaxy to see if the movie exposure helps at all. Things like that are worth trying. But when you start railroading things like Nick Fury Jr. or getting Steve back in the Cap costume to match the movies, you’ve kind of lost perspective.

It doesn’t matter how nice you make your welcome mat if hardly anyone is coming to knock on your door.

Next time, maybe I will hypocritically give DC Comics a hard time for not putting any real effort toward synergy with their television shows.

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