In 1963, X-Men #1 cost twelve cents and was 36 pages long. The first ten issues would have cost $1.20 in total and contained 360 pages, whereas the current Marvel Event, Age Of Ultron is “worth” $3.99 and has an average page count of around 32 pages. All that means that, by the end of the event, Age Of Ultron will cost readers $40 for ~320 pages.
As of right now, readers who have yet to give up have spent $20 for fives issues, and the question we have to ask ourselves is: “Is this worth it?” Have the, roughly, 160 pages provided $20 worth of entertainment? But, even before we can broach that topic, there is an implied prerequisite that must be addressed: “Is price a fair variable to judge the entertainment value of a comic book?”
It will come as no surprise that the position this piece takes is “yes,” and the reasoning is simple: the reason comics exist as a product is to entertain the reader, and the price of a comic is the value the market and/or publisher has decided the entertainment inside is worth. As I have argued before, comic book readers need to stop living in a reality where comic books are not a product, where the companies and stores are not in the business of making money, and where the readers mean anything more to the industry other than dollar signs.
If we can think of comics as cars, then this becomes even easier. I drive a 2011 Mazda 3, and I love it. It’s comfortable, fun to drive, has a good stereo, and “feels” like my car. Also, it was the best car I could afford when I needed a car. According to mazda.com, The Mazda 3 can run anywhere from $16,000-$24,300 (I paid something in the middle), and, for the money, I am very happy. No, I am not a “car guy” and I don’t really get most of the tech speak, but, in my research, I found lots of reviews with some version of "drives like a Mercedes” / “the handling of a Lexus” / “the same feel as a BMW.” Now, I’ve never driven any of those cars, but from pop culture I know that these are compliments, comparing this ~$20,000 car to ones that run $40,000 and up. The reviews are basically saying that this car, a product that is built to get me from point A to point B in comfort and security, has many of the same features as cars that cost over twice as much. There is value in that.
Now, reverse the reviews:
- Mercedes C Series ($35,000): Drives like a Mazda 3
- Lexus IS ($35,000):The handling of a Mazda 3
- BMW 128i ($31.200): The same feel as a Mazda 3
All of the aspects of the Mazda 3 that made it so attractive to me now makes these more expensive models look worthless. Why? Because the market/producers have told me that these cars are worth over $10,000 more than my car, so why are they so similar? My review of the Mazda 3 HAS to include whether or not I feel the car was worth the price because, if I don’t, I am saying that a Mazda that drives like an Audi is just as good as an Audi that drives like a Mazda 3 – and that should not be the case.
Were the five issues of Age Of Ultron worth $20? Have you been provided with $20 worth of entertainment? Do you see a possibility of, when it is all said and done, that this will all be worth $40? 10 issues over a four month period means that every other(ish) week a $4 comic comes into your possession that barely moves the story forward, provides no answers, took over two years to make, contradicts the previous event, Avengers vs. X-Men, in the most basic of ways, and provides no real information on when it takes place (who is this Spider-Man?). All I am asking you is: do you think that the $3.99 Age Of Ultron is worth the same as or more than Chew, Prophet, Skullkickers, The Flash, Batman, X-Factor, Uncanny X-Men, All Star Western, Mind MGMT, Manhattan Projects, etc…?
If we do not take price into account, then we are inherently saying that all comics are worth the same, start from a level playing field, and readers should have no higher standards for books that cost more. We're saying that page count / price doesn’t contribute to how we feel about our possessions, how we feel when we look at a purchase and think, I “only”/”can’t believe that I” spent $4 on that comic. I just finished Essential X-Men vol. 11:
- Paperback: 544 pages
- Price: $19.99
- Newspaper stock
And it was totally worth the money I paid for it. Great stories (Muir Island Saga included), looks good on a shelf, and OVER 500 PAGES! Crap, for $20, they could have put this on manila envelopes and I’d still think this a great deal. But, if we do not take price into account when reviewing comics, we are stating that there is nothing to criticize if this same $19.99 only purchased five comics, 32 pages each, with no story to speak of. Hey, at least it’s in color and the paper is sturdier.
Price matters. If it didn’t, then there wouldn’t be “luxury” vehicles, “nicer” neighborhoods, all the comics from Marvel would cost the same regardless of whose name is on the book (character or creator) and regardless of audience (Marvel Universe Ultimate Spider-Man vs. Superior Spider-Man). But they do not because we are told, by price points, what Marvel believes is the better product and, as consumers, they take advantage of our collective collectors’ mindsets when we pretend that price should not be indicative of quality.
Defeatists will say that “comics cost what they cost” and there is nothing we can do. I say comics cost what they cost, and it is up to us to decide if they are worth what they cost. Unfortunately, most are not.
Nothing discussed above touches on the fact that 36 pages in a 1963 comic has "more meat" in it then even a 36 page comic would today, brining up a page count / price discussion that would take up a whole new article.
Is it worth it?