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November 17, 2010

Five Quick Thoughts On The Cancellation Of Marvel’s Thor: The Mighty Avenger

image1. Nearly everyone that read it seemed to like Thor: The Mighty Avenger. Apparently, not a lot of people read it.

2. All of the creators involved distinguished themselves on the title, and should continue to find work in part because how well the Thor book turned out. I think it speaks well to comics that facile sales analysis isn't the sole, deciding factor in who gets a job and who doesn't. You and I and they may all disagree on the particulars, but it's clear that making really good comics still matters to this generation of comic book executives and editors in a way that might have been unfathomable -- or certainly more widely open to interpretation -- a couple of generations ago.

3. One thing I hope doesn't happen with the series' cancellation is it becoming fuel for one of comics' cliché engines, such as "This shows the Internet crowd is completely out of touch with the actual buying audience!" or "All-ages comic books will never sell!" or "Comic shops just don't get it!" or "No one knows how to market comic books!" (Marketing being defined as any and all publicity efforts on behalf of a work that sells well.)

Hey, don't get me wrong. Each of those things could be true. It's just that none of them are true simply because someone capitalizes the first letter of every word in a sentence or accompanies the presentation of their theory with clever put-downs and/or multiple exclamation points. There's a limit to what we can know about why something catches on or doesn't, and very often it's multiple factors that drive an industry circumstance. It's worth keeping both of those things in mind when we think about what happened here.

image4. I do hope people think about it. Although I respect where people are coming from when they criticize the chicken-little aspect of obsessing over mainstream comics news stories, I think asking questions serves the overall good.

I have three questions here. The first is that I wonder if low-selling mainstream comic book titles represent a trend that's just now snowballing into a major concern across the board: the Stretch Armstronging of mainstream comics sales. A scant 16 years ago, the thought that any mainstream comic book -- even one with Thor on the cover -- would sell under a certain point of profitability was unheard-of. It took a series of bankruptcies and business closures and strategic shenanigans of legendary quality for mainstream comics lingering on the other end of the sales charts to become a rare possibility. Today things have progressed to the point that a series failure has become a legitimate one with nearly every single comic book out there, no matter the face on the cover or the hands that guide its creation. How does that change what gets green-lit and what doesn't? Is canceling low-selling titles preferable to publishing titles at a loss because of limits in shelf space? Can the Direct Market be made more responsive to the desires of a mainstream comic book company regarding specific titles, or is that a thing of the past? Would we even want that?

The second question I have is I wonder if there's anything a company like Marvel feels like it can do on behalf of certain comic books that fall under a certain sales point. The thrust of how this decision was mourned even by Marvel folks makes me think they can't do much for certain titles. I know I can't think of any applicable strategies with a relative or logical chance for success, which makes me further suspect there aren't any out there that can be employed. That's not a statement with an accusatory element to it, I swear: it's just that I'm interested in the ramifications if we have a Direct Market that's more ruthless and bottom-line than maybe past markets were.

The third question I have is I wonder if it was ever a consideration to take this series on-line? I know that's a pretty handy fan's reaction to anything that gets canceled, and you're more than likely to see people ask this question of this specific comic if there hasn't been a rush of folks doing so already. In the case of Thor: The Mighty Avenger, there are specific factors that would seem to uniquely support such a move. There's a movie coming out next year. Thor's not a character with which a lot of people are familiar. The comic in question recalls but does not emulate/endorse the movie version, so if the project fails it's not a reflection on the film. You have eight issues in the can that apparently very few people have seen. It's a good-looking, charming comic book. The comic shops can't argue you're taking customers away as they've already rejected the book. So why not put Thor: The Mighty Avengers on-line in a Freakangels type set-up (five-page increments, say, and an e-mail blast to Marvel's humongous mailing list whenever a new episode goes up) right smack on the Marvel home page for as many people to read as possible, from the first issue through the originally planned twelfth, and see if there's a positive outcome? I don't say this an accusatory way; I'm sure there are reasons why this is a terrible idea. I'd just love to hear someone run through the whys and why-nots.

5. Lest we forget, most comics fail. Be thankful for the ones you like while you have them.

posted 10:00 am PST | Permalink

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