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I thought I was done with this topic. If you read my Picks of the Week post this week, you’ll know how angry I was with this issue; from the way it was market to the issue itself. Well, last night I read Skottie Young’s latest blog, which is about people being negative about the industry, but not giving positive examples of how to improve it. For those of you don’t know who Skottie is, he is an amazing cartoonist and comic book creator, who is currently working on the Marvel’s Wizard of Oz book. Check his site and his work out if you haven’t already; the man can draw.
As soon as I read Skottie’s post, I immediately thought about my PoW post from Wednesday; it really was a negative post with no real positive solutions or suggestions. So, I decided that I would take Skottie’s advice and give some of these positive suggestions on what could have been done different to market Fantastic Four #587: The Last Stand of Johnny Storm.
Many of you already know that Marvel marketed this issue pretty heavily for the last five months or so, letting the comics community know that in this issue, a member of the Fantastic Four would die. This can be a common practice for the death of a major character in a superhero book. Earlier this year, the X-Men’s Nightcrawler and Cable were also killed, and leading up to his death, Marvel solicited that during the X-Men event, Second Coming, that two X-Men would die. This makes sense from a marketing stand point; let readers and retailers know ahead of time that way retailers can order enough books for the readers to find out who gets killed, and how it happens. On the other hand though, when Captain American, Steve Rogers, was killed about 4 years ago, it wasn’t announced in the solicitations and it took everyone by surprise (more on this later).
Announcing a character is going to die ensures sales rise; retailers have to order their books from Diamond months in advance, and if they know something big is going down in a particular issue, and they know that this something big is the death of a character, then they can be prepared for the readers who are going to want to read this issue. If you also read my post on Comics Aren’t for Everyone, you’ll know that I mentioned Marvel EIC Axel Alonso’s view on how readers want to keep up with everything that is going on in that particular universe. It makes sense then that readers would pick up this issue of Fantastic Four so they can continue to be caught up on continuity. Announcing the death then is procedure in the comics community. This obviously isn’t the best method as it gives away a piece of the story well before hand, but the way comics are bought and sold right now, and I don’t have any good ideas for that.
The Infamous Polybag
A lot of fans were taken aback and down right confused when Tom Brevoort announced that issue #587 would be placed in a polybag, thus keeping secret the member who would die. My problem with the polybag is that, as I said in my PoW post, it is an old piece of marketing that was used in the 90s when everything was over the top and every first issue and major event was a collectors item, and is a marketing tool that is made fun of today. Using it now can be seen as a bit of nostalgia, but in a time when readers want comics to be considered more than just funny books and wish that they reached a bigger audience, using the polybag is sort of Marvel telling their fans that they don’t care to move forward, they care that this issue becomes a collectors item and that it sells a lot.
Comics aren’t collectors items any more. Sure you can collect them, but they aren’t going to worth anything in the future, not when they can be reprinted as many times as Marvel wants and can be released digitally. Digitally though is where Marvel should have gone from the very beginning of marketing for this book. Releasing this digitally first would secure that the death remains a secret until its release; fans could even download it early, and as soon as the release date hits, it becomes unlocked. Think about how many people with apple devices, PC’s and Android phones could have read this that aren’t reading comics, and those fans that do have these devices. There are so many more options too when you release this digitally.Have the entire arc available digitally at a reduced price, get people to read the entire story, not just the end of it. Hell, give them away for free, that will really ensure people are reading the whole thing, plus it will highlight to people how stories work on an issue by issue basis. You could even sell and have ready other major comics where characters died, such as Captain America or Nightcrawler, and once the issue has been released, put on some more big Fantastic Four books, especially ones involving Johnny Storm (after writing this I checked my Marvel app on my iPhone, they do have a not of Fantastic Four books featured for $1.99).
Early Release and the Press Release
Last week Marvel quickly turned their lets-keep-this-book-secret-by-putting-it-in-a-polybag strategy to lets-make-this-issue-a-collectors-item by announcing that they would allow shops to sell this issue a day early, and then this week put out a press release telling the word who died. We know what happened, people flocked to a LCS and bought the issue. I’ve given my opinion on this decision, but what would alternatives could there been? If you are releasing the book digitally, why not release it early digitally instead of in the shops? Fans my cry foul to this, but I think a lot of them have cried foul over everything that has happened anyway. And if you are going to spoil it by sending out a press release, why not have the press release tell people how to get it digitally. Think about the press Marvel could have gotten if they promoted digital comics; it could have been great for the whole industry and not just them. Or do the best of both worlds, have the hard copy and digital copy released at the same time.
I am sure there are a ton of other ways that Marvel could have marketed this book without promoting comics as a collectors medium, as well as spoiling fans, these are just come of them. What are your ideas though? What could have Marvel done differently to promote and sell this book? Did they do the right thing, and I’m the odd man out? Tell me that too.
I’m going to do something a bit different again. Last week I gave you a run down of each book I read, this week I am going to give you my worst then my best, but there is a catch. There was one major release, which dwarfed all others, and that is my pick for worst of the week. If you haven’t guessed what my worst pick is, well frankly, I’m shocked. Before you read, just note that this review/blog gives some major spoilers.
Worst of the Week
Fantastic Four #587: This issue featured the death of the Human Torch, Johnny Storm, and it was a let down and actually made me mad, and not just because of the death. About five or six months ago, Marvel announced that one of the Fantastic Four would die, and then had a count down to that very issue. Then about three months ago it was announced that this book would be polybagged to keep secret who would die. The last time I can remember a polybag being used for the death of character was for the Death of Superman. That book was a big deal. I remember getting two copies of this book, one polybag to collect, which cost my dad $60, and a copy I could read, which I read. A lot. With the announcement that this issue would be polybagged, Marvel was saying that this death was on par with the death of Superman. First I have a problem with that. the Death of Superman was a big deal because Superman is the first superhero, the one who inspired the rest. The Fantastic Four, while the first big book to come out of Marvel in the 1960’s and would set up the direction of the company for the next several decades, is important, but they are no Superman. The second problem I have polybagging this book is that it uses a method of marketing that was highly used in the 90’s, a time in comics that is often made fun of. There is nothing wrong with marketing for an event such as the death of one of Marvel’s biggest heroes, but to use a method that people joke about? I don’t get it. With the industry trying to get new readership, to be more than funny books, they go back instead of forward? I don’t want to say this, but I will. It was dumb.
Now the issues keep coming out when last week, Marvel announces that, due to the new early shipping schedule Diamond has (Tuesdays instead of Wednesdays), Local Comic Book Shops can sell this issue, and this issue only, one day early. Why do they do this? Well it makes the wait that much shorter, but also, when Marvel makes their next move they can take advantage of this early day release. Tuesday the 25th comes, the day of FF #587’s release, and Marvel sends out a press release to the media, which not only include comic book websites, but all major media outlets. What’s in the title of the press release? You guessed it, the character who dies. Can you guess what happens next? that’s right, the whole world (hyperbole, I know) finds out. I decided that I would be spoiled, that I would read one of the many articles being written on the death of Johnny Storm. I would not allow Marvel to dictate how I spent my day online, because I knew that someone on Twitter or a forum, or hell a text message would tell me before I read it. And yes, I saw a tweet that spoiled it. So now I’m not only mad because Marvel decided to make the death not a surprise by announcing that a character will die, and not only because they decided to keep the character a secret by pollybagging the issue, thus reverting to a marketing method that hadn’t been seen in over a decade, but what do they do, they spoil the death themselves so people will rush into a comic book store, buy this historic issue a day before regular release, forgoing the number of sales competitors could get from new readers coming in to buy this ONE issue, but also forgoing any extra sales they could have gotten from their own books. What the fuck was Marvel thinking?!
Today on CBR, I read retailer reactions to this “milestone” issue. A common theme between them was that they saw a lot of people they had never seen before, and a few they haven’t seen in awhile. People were hearing the news of the Human Torch’s death and coming into to get in on the action; after all, this issue could be worth something someday (my LCS sells the Death of Superman, pollybagged, for $25, a book that was released almost 20 years ago). Marvel then has created a hot commodity, a collectors item to be kept for a long time. The problem is though, new comics aren’t collectors items anymore; not like the used to be. Why? Because not only do they release a lot of copies, but we now live in the digital age where these copies can be reprinted however many times, or they can be released digitally, and read on a computer, any smart phone or iPad. That’s right, for those of you who bought this comic thinking it will be worth something, I’m sorry to say, but it won’t be. And what did Marvel accomplish by this bait and switch style manoeuvre? They made some money. Sure they had an influx of regular readers buy this issue, some who will probably continue reading this series, and yea they made some extra money off of people off the street coming in to buy the book because it’s on the news. But what about guys like DC, Image, Dark Horse, Boom! or any other small press publisher? I guarantee you they didn’t get an influx of sales because of this issue; the majority of new people coming into buy it came in a day early.
As for the issue itself; it was alright. I gave it a three out of five on iFanboy.com. This entire arc, which has been separating each member of the four and putting them in a do or die scenario, has been plotted for this particular issue. In the Reed and Sue plot lines, each member figure a way out of their problem in quick and efficient, bordering on deus-ex machina, manner, but it becomes evident very quickly that Ben and Johnny and the Future Foundation are in real trouble with tens of thousands of alien bugs descending on their broken gateway to Earth, and the only way out is the cliched someone must stay behind to close the portal. What would you know, the Thing, who two issues earlier was reverted back to his human form for 24 hours, volunteers his life away. But wait, at the very last second, Johnny decides that he will be the one to stay behind and throws Ben through the portal, sealing himself behind. With thier uncle about to face his death, both Franklin and Valeria barely protest what’s about to happen, they don’t even say good bye. The odd part is this; Valeria, the super smart, almost smarter than her Father, Mr Fantastic, genius, is the one who suggests someone staying behind like it’s nothing. For a girl under 10, she doesn’t seem to worked up about one of her uncles or friends staying behind to be slaughtered by monsters. Franklin has just gotten his reality altering powers back; yup, reality altering. When Johnny seals himself behind, Val suggests Franklin create more time. He can do that you ask? As soon as he received his powers back, he created a universe in the palms of his hands. So ya, he can do that, but Ben says no. You think with a character who has the power to alter reality, he could fix the broken portal, but he doesn’t. Well, what happens next is the death we’ve all been waiting for. As the portal begins to close down, Johnny flames on one more time, ready to take on the bugs, but he gets knocked out. The portal finishes closing as Ben, who in his great upheaval of emotion has turned back into the Thing, then we see him hugging the children. What I missed something you say. Where’s the death? Well, we don’t see it. All we see is the door closing, then a panel of it closed, and that’s it. No last breath, no eye closing, no body, but turn the page and we get the title of this issue, The Last Stand of Johnny Storm. The question arises, did he actually die? I don’t know, but what I do know is, that this is a superhero comic, and in superhero comics, deaths don’t tend to last long. So we get all this build up for a scene where we aren’t sure if a character dies, a character who will probably be back (there are only 12 issues to the 600th issue). All of that, for this? I’m sorry, that is not cool, that is not cool at all.
I could go on a bit more about the issue itself, how the plot was rushed and forced, but I’ve touched on that. I could say that while Steve Epting is a great artist, he isn’t great for this book, well I guess I just did. I will say though that this series will be ending with the next issue #588 (with a year to go to 600 they are cancelling the series?), then a new, different fantastic four series (sans Johnny of course) begins in a couple months. It’s called FF. I’m sorry to say Marvel, I won’t be picking it up, and the Fantastic Four are one of my favourite groups of superheroes, if not my most. Some readers of Hickman’s run may say, Kyle, stick around, this is all part of a bigger story. I know it is. I love Hickman’s SHIELD comic; it has all kinds of crazy ideas floating around, but that’s not why I am dropping this book, and if you haven’t been able to tell, it’s because the way Marvel treated this book, as a side show. I understand that it’s trying to make money, and as a publicly traded company it should be, but when you use ulterior motives to sell your books to people who will only buy this comic, and you do it in such a way that you highlight a marketing tool that is considered a joke in the larger comic community, you are not only telling your audience that you don’t care to push your medium forward, but you re-enforce the publics stereotypical views on comic books and those who read it.
I realize how angry this has made me, and yes it is just a book, but it’s also a book and a medium that I care deeply about, so I am sad this is what makes me stop reading about a family I love. Something funny happened today though. As I was going over this post in my head, plotting it out, waiting in anticipation until I could get my rantings on page (and this has been very cathartic), I heard about this great quote from writer Steve Niles that Robot 6, a blog on CBR posted, and it goes like this: “Can I say something I’ve wanted to say for a long time? If you like something, tell your friends. If you love it, tell the world. But if you hate something, just throw it away, don’t buy it again and move on. We spend way too much time tearing shit down. I just want to try the other direction for a while.” Up until I read this, I was wavering on dropping some books that were alright, but weren’t really doing it for me (two of them I read last night, not including this issue of Fantastic Four). So thank you Steve, I will be dropping several books in the comings months (I will wait for the arcs to be finished, it’s only fair to the story), and apologies Marvel, I think most of them will be yours.
Best of the Week
My Pick of the week for best comic goes to Detective Comics #873, simply because this a great Batman book, but it’s also a Batman book that moves the character and the mythos forward through a form of evolution that seems natural. This arc reminds me a lot of the post Jeph Loeb/ Jim Lee run on Batman done by Brian Azzerello and Eduardo Risso titled Broken City. Scott Snyder and Jock create a gritty and horrifying Gotham and still make Dick feel like he is Batman and not pretending to be him. I read this book last (and read Fantastic Four first) and I am happy I did.