26 Oct 2011

Thought Balloon: All-Winners Squad And The Marvel Miniseries.

By Matt C
I don't often use this blog as a way to provide an opportunity for me to get on my soapbox and start moaning about things that piss me off in the world of comics. Plenty of stuff winds me up, but there are numerous other folks out there who are generally more eloquent than I could attempt to be, and possibly have more clout to kick up the right kind of fuss. Sometimes though, something will come that really gets my back up, enough to think, ‘I’ve got this forum, why not use it?’
The news that has inspired the following rant is the announcement that Marvel’s All-Winners Squad: Band Of Heroes is being cancelled with issue #5 (which was released a couple of weeks back). Okay, so the axe of cancellation falls more often than we may like in comicdom, and there are probably several titles I could list that I wished had been given a reprieve before reaching the chopping block. Those have, by and large, been ongoing series that haven’t garnered a sufficient audience to justify their continuing existence; All-Winners Squad is different in that it was an 8-part mini and so had a definite conclusion. A conclusion it now looks like we’ll never get to see.

Okay, I understand simple economics come into play and that the series had a readership of under 8,000, making it one of Marvel’s lowest selling books, but with reports that issues #6 and #7 were in the can and the final issue was partway completed you wonder what the rationale behind the decision is. Surely finishing it off and having an opportunity to put it out in trade format would be wiser? I don’t know how the bean counting works at Marvel but I’d imagine the creators would have been paid for their work – why not attempt to make some money from it (even if it’s not profit)? And maybe less than 8,000 people have been reading it, but that’s still 8,000 people Marvel have now managed to piss off.

Look, I’m not making any claims that All-Winners Squad was some sort of masterpiece – it was merely a pretty entertaining, if flawed, read. And is there anything wrong with that? Writer Paul Jenkins’ story was perhaps a little too ambitious but the central mystery was certainly intriguing and the jumping back and forth between WW2 and the present day was well handled, the wartime scenes being particularly effective. Carmine Di Giandomenico isn’t one of the big names in Marvel’s artistic roster but he’s a an extraordinarily talented chap and his distinctive style brought an excellent blend of action and emotion to the page. I have a ‘thing’ for period superhero tales, especially those on the battlefield, so even though it wasn’t the greatest thing ever, it was still right up my street.

But Marvel have pulled the plug, and I’d imagine if they were to release an official statement they’d say it was down to poor sales and financial reasons. If I was being controversial – and I’m not saying I am – I might suggest that the reason the last three issues have been canned is because of the homosexual subplot that became very prominent in the last two instalments. Because perhaps some people don’t really want to see that kind of thing in a comic about real men fighting the good fight??

Or maybe the cancellation is part and parcel of editor Alejandro Arbona’s recently announced redundancy?

Or maybe it’s something else entirely.

Speculation aside, Marvel’s decision has me reassessing my comic buying habits. I’m not going to beat around the bush, Marvel’s superhero line has become a lot less appealing over the last six months. Part of that’s due to the success of DC’s New 52, and how that publisher’s fictional universe has now become a lot more exciting a place to spend some time in. Part of it’s down to the direction the core Marvel Universe is heading, especially in the wake of the rather awful Fear Itself, which is a concept Marvel seems to be sticking with for a while longer. Then there’s their insistence on putting out so many books at $3.99 while the page count seems to be reducing on several of them, something that’s made doubly off-putting when DC are keeping the bulk of their books at $2.99. So I’m starting to look hard at what comics I’m getting each month, and if I trim back (which I probably will) I expect to be looking at Marvel’s output first. And, with only the odd exception (something like Red Skull), I think I’ll stop getting any Marvel miniseries going forward.

This isn’t a decision I really want to be making. No matter how much I love DC’s books and characters I’m still a Marvel boy at heart. When I was growing up it was the UK reprints of Marvel comics that were accessible – I rarely saw anything with a DC logo on it until I discovered my first comic shop. Marvel characters are the ones that I’ve stood by for over three decades (yes, I’m showing my age!) so I’d prefer to keep supporting them, be they A-listers or C-listers. But if the publisher is now suggesting with their actions that when you buy the first issue of a miniseries you may not get the opportunity to get the last issue, you have to ask, what’s the point? This isn’t a similar situation to The Twelve where the disappearance of that book from the shelves was down to creators getting distracted by other things, this is Marvel deciding not to offer the readers the opportunity to read the entire storyline they’ve invested time and money in. I used to think minis were a safe bet, where you could be guaranteed some closure, but that doesn’t appear to be the case anymore.

So what’s the way forward? Wait until the trade I guess, - that’s if Marvel deem a miniseries worthy of a conclusion so it can actually be packaged as a trade. But if I’m not buying it in the monthly format, if they’re pushing me (and others) towards trade-waiting, surely the sales will dip more meaning these kind of projects are even less financially viable than before?

A vicious circle then, and a rather sad state of affairs. I don’t really want to be backing off from Marvel like this, and even though it’s highly unlikely I’d ever completely turn my back on them, I’m going to be thinking a lot harder about which of their books I’m picking up going forward. $3.99 seems to be less and less justifiable and miniseries now don’t appear to be a reliable option for those who like their stories to have a start, middle and an end.

Marvel are still putting out some great books and have a lot of truly talented creators working for them but whoever’s bright idea it was over there to cancel All-Winners Squad as it entered the home straight obviously doesn’t quite get the concept of how to engender reader loyalty.

Poor show, Marvel. Poor show.


Joe T said...

Couldn't agree more. I never read this series, but I do find it outrageous that it's been cancelled. Especially seeing as it's a mini series. I personally think it's down to the sacking of the editor-couldn't they find someone to edit the last 2 issues? They managed to find someone for Invincible Iron Man pretty quick!

The only thing that annoys me more than this one is the news regarding the Alpha Flight series. Announced as an ongoing, then launched as a 8 issue mini series, then announced it was to continue as an ongoing due to fan demand, and then cancelled with issue 8? Disgusting.

Something I think Marvel should really seriously consider, original graphic novels. The readership for these books IS there. Due to the economic climate we're in, people "wait for the trade" on a lot of new titles. Simple solution, books that can't make it as an ongoing, should continue in ogn format. Essentially just get the creative team to continue writing as they are, but just realise it as the equivalent of a 6 issue trade on a semi regular basis (whatever the time delay betweeen trade releases usually is) as appose to monthly format

ian said...

Fantastic article Matt, and I agree with you completely on this subject,it's bloody great to see someone having a rant about sodding Marvel these days,don't get me wrong I love Marvel and still collect their comics but like yourself there are quite a few things that are really pissing me off about Marvel these days,and for me personally it seem's that over the past few years Marvel seem to becoming very arrogant and not really caring that much about us fans any more.
Then again Marvel's way of thinking these days could be that we are the number one comic company and we can do what we sodding well like.
I'd really like to know what Stan Lee thinks of the way the comic company he help build is being run.

Ross said...

I wasn't following this comic but I'm surprised that, if indeed the creative was complete on the last few issues, the didn't finish off the run as digital only as there would be minimal production costs. I imagine there is a cut off point where it just wouldn't be cost effective to print and ship a small run of a story.