Earlier this year, I laid out how Marvel Comics could streamline its monthly superhero line to just 12 books. This “What If?” scenario involved not just thinning Marvel’s superhero line, but completely rethinking how the company could and should deliver comics to readers. Most of us who want mainstream superhero comics to attract new readers know that the monthly, 20-page, $3.99 periodical has just not been getting the job done. If the Big Two superhero publishers want to increase their books’ audiences, I posited, something big needed to change.
Part of my plan was to condense several of Marvel’s “families” of titles into one, core monthly anthology. Rather than paying $12 a month to follow Iron Man, War Machine, and Rescue, Iron Man fans would be able to pick up one $5-7 book featuring all three of those characters. That way, the Marvel Universe would not contract substantially, fans would get more story for their money, and each character’s stories could eventually be split off into separate (monthly) digital series and trade paperbacks – so those who really want to read about just War Machine could do that if they liked.
I’d planned to follow up on my Marvel article by creating a “reduced” DC Universe before the end of the year … but then DC Comics beat me to it:
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 each week, 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?
In May, DC announced they’re raising the price of their DC Universe books (i.e. monthly or bi-weekly superhero stuff) to $3.99 a pop. Additionally, they said they’re pulling digital codes out of most books, negating some of their previous rationale for the $3.99 price point.
With most Marvel books also set at $3.99 (though still with digital codes), we’ve now entered the $4-a-book era.
And it’s too much. That’s too much money to pay for a Marvel or DC comic.