I can’t connect with most cosmic superhero comics. To me, the word “cosmic” is shorthand for visual bombast, overly-complex politics, and extended metaphors that writers and artists rely on in place of crafting compelling characters. That’s why, even with current-best-Marvel-writer Al Ewing attached, I wasn’t sure I was going to love the most recent volume of Guardians of the Galaxy.
However, Guardians 2020 is clever, touching, and most definitely a character piece – while still delivering the bombast and spectacle that cosmic comic fans desire.
Marvel Comics publishes a lot of comic books. In March 2020, Marvel published at least 80 new single-issue comics, the majority of which were set within the Marvel Superhero Universe. If a reader wanted to keep up with the Marvel Universe as a whole that month, they would have had to read 60+ books and spend $240+ to do so.
I’m certain that few (if any) readers did that. And anecdotally, retailers have been asking Marvel to reduce the number of books they publish for years now. 60+ superhero books is (and likely always has been) too many to ask readers and retailers to care about each month. Releasing that many titles that regularly oversaturates the market, cannibalizes sales, and perhaps most importantly, keeps readers from being able to access and understand the Marvel Universe as a whole.
Meanwhile, the Marvel Cinematic Universe releases roughly two new movies and a new TV show each year, and audiences eat them up. They do so because each new MCU installment feels accessible, digestible, and important. Because just two Marvel superhero movies release each year, each remains an event to behold. Because roughly 15 to 20 Marvel superhero comics release eachweek, each has to fight and scrap (or do something exceptional) to get noticed.
Retailers and readers like myself felt this way before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now, it seems Marvel may agree with us. In early May, Marvel announced that seven of its current monthly titles (and one one-shot) would switch to releasing digitally first, before later being collected in print. (This is a bummer, by the way, for the creators who were excited for these books to release in print, the readers who were excited to read them in print, and the comic shops that will miss out on selling physical copies of these books.) Marvel’s print publishing line is now shrinking – so the question now becomes, how much further could it go?