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Overthought Bubble #17: Nostalgia for New Readers

Written by Gavin D. on Tuesday, March 01 2016 and posted in Columns

Overthought Bubble #17: Nostalgia for New Readers

Reliance on the past prevents readers in the future.

This year sees three events already announced from the "House of Ideas" that is Marvel Comics: Avengers: Standoff, Civil War 2, and Apocalypse Wars. Two of the aforementioned Super-Mega-Crossover-Go-Wow-Yay events also happen to align with the films. Civil War 2 kicks off with a Free Comic Book Day release 6 days after the release of its corresponding film Captain America: Civil War, and Apocalypse Wars begins in March, two months before Fox's X-Men: Apocalypse. The timing is unmistakably synergetic, and in theory it could be valuable for bringing in new readers. But this theory has not previously panned out for marvel, and readers have not stuck around. Despite the direct synergy of these two films, readers are not likely to keep up with Marvel.

Let's step back for a moment. Marvel has often planned to align their comics with their movies in someway to bring in new readers. This is nothing new. Dan Slott said back in 2014, "You're going to have a major motion picture coming out. There's going to be ads everywhere, there's going to be toys in toy stores, and Spider-Man on t-shirts. There's going to be a general awareness of, 'Hey, look,Spider-Man!' So how could you not ride that wave? It would be negligent not to. This is a massive franchise that's been around for half a century, and you always want to bring in new readers, and try bringing people into comics... [F]or the industry to thrive, we need new readers coming into the mix. A big summer blockbuster is going to be a whole new generation's introduction to this character and this world. So it's great that, potentially, there's going to be an all-new Amazing #1 there for them." Will these events bring in readers as Slott says? History says no. At the time of this quote, Marvel had ended Superior Spider-Man, wherein Doc Ock became Spider-Man, to replace it with Amazing Spider-Man, where Peter Parker returned as Spider-man. This event was set to line up with the release of Sony's Amazing Spider-Man 2, and while the premiere issue sold over 500,000 issues, the book's sales would immediately drop 400,000 issues the following month.

We could blame this on variant issues, uneven promotion, and LootCrate type boxes which artificially inflated the sale of the first issues, but I want to focus on something else. I want to focus on the accessibility of these books. Those who did not know Spider-Man beyond the films were probably busy wondering why the Peter was not married to Mary Jane, why Peter suddenly had a billion dollar tech empire, who this new girlfriend was, and why she's talking about the moles surround Peter's genitalia.

And these two synergetic events, Civil War 2 and Apocalypse War, may each require a substantial amount of backstory to explain common questions that readers may have. So even if 10,000 new readers begin the book, they will likely stop before the second issue. Beyond the previous Spider-Man example, there has historically been a substantial drop off between issues 1 and 2, and when readers are confused by the story why would they bother sticking around for issue two?

In the case of the aforementioned events let's examine what is needed to have the complete understanding of someone who has read comics for the past 30 years. Civil War 2 is probably the easiest to dig up information on, seeing as the character Apocalypse goes back to 1986 and thus has more history. You will want to pick up the Civil War and Civil War: Frontlines to have a basic understanding of the previous event. Then you'll want to know why Tony Stark didn't learn from the first time so you'll want to read Iron Man: World's Most Wanted to learn about Stark wiping his own memory. Oh! You'll probably wonder why Captain America is back after being shot by Crossbones, so pick up Captain America: Reborn. We can buy all these trades on Amazon so given the time of this writing that would cost you $77.64. That's all you need to prepare yourself for Civil War 2... Unless you need to understand why Miles Morales in there in which case you'll want Miles Morales: Spider-Man, to understand who he is, and Secret Wars, to understand how he got there. That runs your total to $125.23. I think that's pretty basic, with a little extra curricular to understand Miles Morales... Of course it looks like Captain Marvel will play a major role so let's get you a Kelly Sue DeConnick book to help you understand the character. That puts your total at $139.44. They could save $120 using Marvel's subscription application, Marvel Unlimited, but that is assuming the public knows about it (which is a big assumption).

The actual level of prerequisite knowledge for these events is unknown at this time, so my numbers are mere estimate. From the sound of the solicitations, Apocalypse Wars will not be avoiding the history of the X-men and their foe. Apocalypse is the same threat in 2016 as he was in 1986, only now there's young clone Apocalypse also. Interviews regarding Civil War 2 suggest that the event actually has very few ties to Civil War. So new readers may be able to save that $139.44, but that then brings the question, if Civil War 2 isn't directly related to Civil War why would you give potential readers the impression that it was? Why would you slap a "2" on something that is unrelated to the supposed original?

The decades of history make comics fun, but it also creates a barrier for new readers. If Marvel wants to bring people in it would have to somehow avoid the 70+ years of history that the company has established, but they seem to be intent on relating every event back to a previous event. It's as if they're selling nostalgia to new readers, and that just doesn't make sense.

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