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Sunday, August 18, 2013 

The weaknesses of both the big two's business tactics

While writing about who would win in a Marvel vs DC battle, Slate noted some of the weaknesses in the modern business models of the companies:
...they used to be more cooperative rivals. After a string of parodic storylines in the '60s and '70s (in which Marvel's Avengers fought the Squadron Sinister—a thinly disguised version of DC's Justice League—and the Justice League returned the favor by battling the Champions of Angor, who were the Avengers in all but name), the two publishers reached a sort of détente. Between 1976 and 2003, there were a string of co-published DC/Marvel crossover comics, in which Superman would meet Spider-Man, or the X-Men would fight the New Teen Titans; Iron Man and Batman even encountered one another in JLA/Avengers. These days, each company makes a great show of pretending the other doesn't exist, aside from the occasional sideswipe. Once DC got into the habit of referring to its fictional universe as the DCU, for instance, Marvel named its all-you-can-read digital initiative Digital Comics Unlimited.

As you'd expect from colorful characters, both publishers have weaknesses that can be turned against them. Marvel publishes more iterations of its biggest titles than Iron Man has built models of his armor, which can make it nearly impossible for casual fans to figure out what to read. So, wait, if I want to check out the series of books where Spider-Man is an African-American/Latino kid named Miles Morales, is that Amazing Spider-Man, Superior Spider-Man, Essential Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Marvel Universe Ultimate Spider-Man or Spider-Man 2099?

(The answer, by the way, is Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, starting with Volume 1. Naturally, Marvel has recently published two different books called Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Volume 1. Miles is in one of them and not the other.)

DC, likewise, has a Batman-ish tendency to alienate its allies and collaborators. Artists and writers have complained of constant editorial second-guessing over the past few years, as sales of most of its superhero titles have spiraled downward. The company burned some bridges with Before Watchmen—a set of prequels to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' perennially best-selling graphic novel Watchmen, produced over Moore's vociferous objections. And the adventurous, creator-driven DC imprint Vertigo was gutted with the departure of its executive editor Karen Berger early this year.
The part about Vertigo being canceled isn't accurate; they're still using it, though maybe not much longer. But they did get it right that DC's editorial has successfully driven away many potentially good contributors for the sake of their aimless, editorially mandated tactics.

And not only would it be difficult for new audience to decide which Spider-books to read, why would they want to spend nearly 4 dollars on even one? In fact, so long as Peter Parker isn't Spidey, who cares to read "Superior" either? Another reason why new audience won't be interested for long is the inherent relaunches at number one, which only appeal to the most naive speculators, and won't have much value down the road.

It's an interesting observation how the partnerships both companies once had fell apart in recent years. Bill Jemas was partly responsible for that, and yet his rivals at DC turned out to be no better. Since that time, team-ups between heroes from different universes stopped, and may never be seen again.

And in the end, it's all a lose-lose situation, as the publishers from both companies are people with terrible judgement, morale and reputation.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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