Are you a reader of X-Factor? If you aren’t, would you be if Marvel called it Amazing X-Men instead? At first glance, I’m sure this seems like a stupid question. But guess what. The answer to that stupid question is yes. Some of you would read it if it had X-Men in the title. Marvel not only knows it but seems to be exploiting the hell out of it at the moment.
I’ve commented before on how Marvel Comics has become very franchise-oriented later. Their current publishing plan focuses more on spinoff titles than more independent titles. I’m referring to books like Winter Soldier, Scarlet Spider, Journey into Mystery, Hulk, FF, etc. And don’t get me wrong about this. I probably just named some of my favorite Marvel books. But now, Marvel is going even a step beyond that by essentially giving spinoff books the same titles as their source series.
Case in point is the recent move of Thunderbolts becoming Dark Avengers. It is a purely superficial change as the book is keeping the same creative team. Hell, it is even keeping the same damn time travel storyline that has already gone on for way too long. Yes, some members of the previous Dark Avengers group are joining the cast, but for all intents and purposes, this is the same book that it always has been.
Dark Avengers joins a wealth of other Avengers titles, now. We still have New Avengers, which stopped being new a long time ago. There is also Secret Avengers, Avengers Assemble, Avengers Academy, and just to be a jerk, I’ll name off Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes too. If some rumors are to be believed, there may be either an Astonishing or Uncanny Avengers in the pipeline later this year. Insert annoyed comment about the lack of a Young Avengers book here.
The X-Franchise is no better. How many literal X-Men titles do we have at the moment? Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine & the X-Men, X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, X-Men Legacy. We are going to soon add X-Treme X-Men, which is really just Exiles, and First X-Men to that list. What? Can't they think of any new words to put a big X in anymore?
I realize I’m mostly picking on Marvel here. But that is only because Marvel is mostly guilty of doing it. No, DC’s not innocent. How many Batman titles are there? Batman: the Dark Knight, Batman Incorporated, Batman & Robin. Yet, Batman is actually in those titles too. It’s not like DC is titling Nightwing’s book New Batman or Batwing’s Black Batman. Justice League Dark is more along the lines of what Marvel is doing these days, though. Still, DC just isn’t pulling this to the extent of Marvel.
It works, though. I’m not saying it doesn’t work. I kind of wish I could. I have no doubt that more people read Dark Avengers than recent issues of Thunderbolts. Name recognition is a good draw. The thing of it is that it is also a trick. We are being fooled into reading Exiles by Marvel calling it X-Treme X-Men. But tricks work only in small doses. You get diminishing returns the more times you pull the same trick. When we get to the point that significant portions of Marvel’s publishing line consists of homogeneous blobs of books with either “Avengers” or “X-Men” in the titles, readers are going to tune it out. The brands are going to suffer, because the substance has been leeched out of those brands.
Seriously, who hasn’t been an Avengers in some form these days? And aren’t all mutants technically X-Men now? It is not good for their respective brands to become so diluted as they are becoming. But Marvel’s current course seems to in the direction of going even further with that policy. I'm genuinely surprised we are likely getting a Guardians of the Galaxy relaunch without it being titled Cosmic Avengers.
I could be reading too much into it all, but to me, it gives the impression of a major lack of confidence from Marvel today. Sure, they still beat out DC Comics on the charts. But across the board, their books aren’t doing as well as they used to. I get the need to do something. Yet, what they are doing is a short term solution with long term costs. It reminds me of the ‘90s when Spider-Man was the only seller Marvel could count on, so they milked it to the point of near destruction. Honestly, that franchise still hasn’t really recovered. Marvel spent the past ten years building the Avengers as a dominant franchise. I’d rather not see them spend the next decade tearing it down.