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Monday, September 15, 2014 

If you love Wolverine, you won't buy the story about his curtain call

Vox is talking about the soon to be released Death of Wolverine miniseries, and one of the first lines in this otherwise unobjective article is:
There's more to this than just telling a good, poignant story. And it has to do with money.
As a matter of fact, money has far more to do with it now than good writing. And that's exactly the problem. If they really believed in themselves, they wouldn't go for something long obvious. It's been a while since the Death of Captain Marvel, and today's staffers don't know how to capitalize on the premise used in that well regarded 1982 graphic novel like they did back then.
"It's [death] been done to death, no pun intended," John Jackson Miller, a New York Times best-selling author and curator of Comicchron, a site that tabulates monthly comic book sales, told me. "It developed in the '70s when [comic companies] began aggressively marketing the events of the lives of comic book characters to the people who were most interested in their adventures, the readers."
That's actually tipping everyone else off to the problem - they're only marketing to their established audience, and probably know death isn't something people new to the scene care about. How can they be invested in anything if that's all the publishers can think of doing?
Comic publishers want to sell issues, and, to sell issues, there needs to be "stuff" happening in them: fights, weddings, births, new characters, and, yes, deaths.
Unfortunately, births and weddings have become fewer over the years, and as DC recently - and insanely/laughably - announced, they don't want their cast to have happy lives, save perhaps for a select few. At Marvel, this has already been demonstrated by erasing the Spider-marriage but marrying Northstar to a gay boyfriend of his in the pages of X-Men. Not that it helped sales, because they remained pretty stagnant, proving few care about such a biased step that's been pushed for too long on the public.
The impact of this only grows when these events involve beloved characters. Fights can get old, but fights between two iconic characters are better. Weddings are fine, but weddings between two well-loved superheroes are better. Births are okay, but the birth of Superman is better. And deaths can be page-turners, but not like the death of a iconic character.

"The seminal moment for character death came in November of 1992 — the death of Superman," Miller said.
Oh yeah, some seminal moment alright. It wasn't much of a story to begin with, and Kal-El's demise was the only point they were interested in making. And Miller's wrong in a way about iconics and dearest beloveds being the only kind of characters the readers care about, or whom publishers see fit to kill off. Eclipso: The Darkness Within, Identity Crisis and Avengers: Disassembled, to name but some, have long proven this.
Comics readers knew that Superman, like most dead superheroes, would be coming back, but the mainstream press got hold of the story and hyped it up. This was also at a time when people were really into buying rare comic books in hopes that they could later sell them for for sky-high prices. The hype and swirling media frenzy created a mainstream demand for the book and a record day in the comic industry.

"It's what remains, to this day, the biggest sales day in the medium —$30 million of business was done on that day in 1992, and it was spread over 10,000 comic shops in North America," Miller said.
Wow, that Miller sure only cares about greenbacks, eh? And that's his biggest weakness as a medium representative. No less shameful are the people who bought pamphlets only for the monetary value and never wanted to read the stories and judge the books based on those merits. Something that otherwise goes by here without comment by the author of this piece.
Those sales are what Marvel wants to tap into. However, we're not in the comic bubble of 1992. There have been plenty of iconic superhero deaths since Superman's (Jean Grey multiple times, Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Magik — and that's just X-Men characters alone). And each one of those deaths chips away at the idea that superhero death is somehow final or rare.
That's probably why some of these deaths have taken place more in miniseries than in ongoing ones, because they know it won't guarantee long term sales, nor that anybody will remain hooked. Indeed, depending where a death takes place, that's probably what gives them confidence they can get away with it. Similarly, that's why plenty of minor co-stars have become pawns for slaughter and villification, because they're counting on the audience caring about them far less than the superheroes.
Miller explained that it's rare to find a comic book today that achieves a great deal of value and retains it. There are no $30-million days in the business anymore. What retailers are aiming for are sales spikes (200,000+ issues sold) when a character dies and when he or she returns, plus hopefully some new readers.

One of the more recent examples of this was in 2012, when Marvel killed Peter Parker. He returned in April of 2014 and sold a megaton of comics:
And how is this justified? They practically legitimize sales at all costs not based on story value, and ripping off tons of people who inadvertently buy these increasingly worthless charades that are worth less and less retail value every year. But at least they admit today's comics aren't selling gigantic amounts any longer, a loss that can be attributed to the decline in writing merit. So many of these "events" are badly written, often repellent in their structures and politics, and that's why less people are buying the mainstream products year after year.
The top-selling comic for the past year has been Batman, from Marvel's chief rival, DC Comics. For the last two years, Batman has held down a spot in the top five comics sold in North America, according to Comicchron's numbers. Save for major crossover events, debuts, or the aforementioned death and return of Peter Parker, it usually holds the top spot. Batman has the kind of success that comic companies want.
Umm, how come they haven't cited any numbers? Because it doesn't sell much more than 114,000 at the moment, and even that's declining. What, are they scared people will laugh at their comedy of ignorance? When they get to the part about the Marvel movie adaptations, they say:
These movie rights have a direct effect on comic business. Marvel isn't in control of X-Men movies, and it doesn't get the same kind of money from an X-Men movie as it would from a movie featuring characters it fully owns, such as the Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy. Tom Brevoort, Marvel's Senior Vice President of Publishing, has confirmed as much. This June, Brevoort said that investing in properties Marvel doesn't own, most notably the X-Men, isn't the best idea.
Isn't that taking a risk of alienating the studios they sold the film rights to? Put another way, is that a good idea to speak so negatively about the companies who own the picture deals? But then, Brevoort's long proven himself a poor spokesman for the medium, and he really shouldn't be communicating with the audience if all he can do is voice contempt based on his leftism.
[...] In the wake of Guardians' onslaught, a Rocket Raccoon comic was released in July and sold 293,913 copies, taking the top spot away from Batman.

In the same month that Rocket Raccoon got the top spot, the top-selling X-Men title, All-New X-Men, came in at 26th place. The X-Men's loss of dominance begins much earlier, around March of 2006 — two months before the movie X-Men: the Last Stand.
For good reason, honestly. The writing had become so bad over the past two decades, thanks in part to Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza, and even before that, Chris Claremont was stumbling with poor characterization and plotting. Hence, the X-Men's sales figures have been in decline for a pretty long time.

The Rocket Raccoon comic may have debuted in 1st place, but they noticeably don't mention the 2nd issue only had around 56,000 copies published, some of which may be gathering dust in bargain bins along with copies of the 1st issue. If it was a success the first month, it's a failure the next.
While there is a strong feeling among certain X-Men fans that Marvel wants to see the X-Men fail, low comic sales don't benefit Marvel. In Marvel's perfect world, it would see gigantic comic sales and low interest in X-Men movies, because then it would be able to convince Fox to give back the rights. (This is never happening in our lifetimes.) What the company would settle for is a shot in the arm for a middling franchise and new readers.
In that case, why do they persist with such terrible directions and pushing leftist politics that appeal to nobody? That's why, despite what they say, it's enough to wonder if they do want the X-Men to fail. Personally, I don't mind if movie companies want to keep holding onto the adaptation rights, so long as somebody with rationale and the money to afford it wants to buy out the publishing arm and just concentrate on putting out comics with good writing, and capitalizing on any film audience in a good way. As the movie adaptations become far more important to Marvel than the comics, it's brought me to pondering that.
The only comic book character that has died and stayed dead has been Peter Parker's Uncle Ben. Wolverine is no Uncle Ben. If Wolverine is really, truly going to die, then he will really, truly, come back to life in the future.
Suppose one day, Ben Parker does come back to life in the mainstay MCU? But at least they're honest and admit Wolverine will probably return to the living in the near future, if Marvel's still around to publish his return at all.
In fact, the X-Men have a knack for coming back to life. Jean Grey, a character who comes with a long-running footnote about her multiple deaths and future children, first died in 1980, only to be brought back over and over. Kitty Pryde "died" (she was trapped in a bullet in space) in 2008, and didn't return to the comics until two years later. Nightcrawler died in X-Force #26 in 2008 while facing a villain named Bastion, but he returned in 2013. Other X-Men like Magik and Colossus, and even fringe, baby X-Men like Wallflower have all died and come back at various points.
What I want to know is why these heroes and heroines have to die at all? Why can't they emphasize stories where they befriend and help say, people suffering drug addiction and terrorized by the mafia, and how the heroes help them? The villains could be armed with sci-fi weapons too, if that matters. But the X-Men have long been touted as quasi-isolationists, and that's stuck annoyingly with many writers uninterested in more creative storytelling. That's also a serious problem with a lot of team titles - the heroes and heroines only date each other, and few "civilians" are ever brought in. Those who are these days probably get infected with political correctness.

And Jean's death was really only twice, and the second time was really stupid.
As Wolverine's death draws near, Wolverine fans can take solace in the words of Len Wein, who created the character in 1974: "No one in comics is ever really dead, unless you can see the body. And usually not even then."
Unless the company staffers have decided they hate specific characters, as Identity Crisis and Avengers: Disassembled have proven. There's certain ones who've remained dead since then - mainly minor characters - for all the wrong reasons. And that's mostly because they're counting on nobody, neither established reader nor newcomer, to care enough to ask their unjust fate be reversed.

As for the Death of Wolverine miniseries, it makes no difference whether he's resurrected in time or not, I see no reason why anyone should support the book, and that's why I'd strongly urge anyone thinking about buying it reconsider, and if they don't own the older tales with Logan, to save the money for buying those older, better stories instead. There's no need to encourage Marvel and DC to think they can get away with this, and people who really like Wolvie wouldn't want him to just perish instead of the more creative ideas that could be tried out.

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