Paul O'Brien lays out the history of #1s and the problems with the increased usage. I don't think there's anything we haven't heard and said before but it's a good summary and there are some insights along the way so it is worth reading.
It got me thinking again about what the problem is, though. By coincidence i happened to be skimming through an article in Rolling Stone about the TV show Homeland and how it's been floundering lately (i guess? i don't watch it.) but until recently it added viewers with every episode, which is the opposite of what every Marvel comic does. Like most TV dramas the show would have a continuing uber-story but people still seem to be able to jump in on any episode and keep watching. That's very unlike modern decompressed comics where you have to read 6 issues for a single story. So the idea that you need a new #1 to convince readers it's a jumping on point seems to stem from that. I don't know that going back to single issue stories is the solution, but better exposition and some sense of movement every issue might be steps in the right direction.
But i think there's more than that. Paul O'Brien mentioned Hawkeye as a series that has bucked the trend and gained readers every issue. But i'll use that as my example of a book i didn't pick up even after it got good reviews. I didn't get on board with Hawkeye because a) i'm not really a Hawkeye fan and b) i'm not a Matt Fraction fan. But i admit that the buzz around the book has been tempting. For me, personally, though, there's a few reasons why i still didn't give it a try:
1) Unsure about ability to get back issues. I initially passed on Daredevil which had a similar buzz, and i made the effort to jump on the series and get all the back issues. But getting those back issues was a real challenge. We tried several stores and eventually i had to put the items on an online store's "wish list" and wait to get notified that they had an issue. Now, the fact that i decided i needed all the back issues in order to jump on probably proves Marvel's point. And of course if not for my own peculiar special needs, i could have waited for the trade (but i'd have to first wait for the Deluxe Hardcover trade, then the Deluxe Softcover trade, and then, if i'm lucky, something affordable). But compare that with television where there are re-runs and even marathons that you can Tivo, plus often the ability to watch older episodes on a website. And the need to get back issues comes from the decompressed story problem. I have to admit that it probably wouldn't have been a problem for Daredevil and probably not for Hawkeye, either. But my general experience has been god help you if you pick up a story in the middle, like when i jumped on to Fantastic Four after Karl Kesel came on board.
2) Fill in art. The big selling point of Hawkeye was David Aja's art, and by the time i was considering jumping in, he wasn't even drawing the book (issues #4-5 were by Javier Pulido). Aja has come back but if you look at the run it's been fairly inconsistent. This isn't the end of the world but it definitely feels like a bait and switch, and with other books the artists don't come back (Uncanny X-Force and the current adjectiveless X-Men come to mind). Maybe it's the equivalent of having really great special effects for the first episode of a Walking Dead season and then having the rest of the season be people talking to each other on a farm. Again, by itself it's not the core problem (Daredevil is again similar here; the artists that aren't Samnee have been doing fine keeping the look together), but it does lessen the appeal especially when the buzz about a book is about an artist.
3) Lack of impact on other titles. This is probably the biggest one for me, and as much as Marvel hates it, for a lot of fans. At the same time i haven't been reading Hawkeye, i have been reading Young Avengers (which features Kate Bishop, who i understand had a prominent role in the Fraction series) and Secret Avengers (which features Hawkeye). And neither book has made any reference (possibly there was an unfootnoted nod in Young Avengers #1) or shown any effects of any of the events of the Hawkeye book. And that says to me that whatever is going on in the Hawkeye book is irrelevant. I'll avoid delving for the umpteempth time into why a book has to be "relevant" for me to want to get it, but suffice it to say a lot of fans feel that way and Marvel knows it or we wouldn't have Inhumanity coming on the heels of Infinity on the heels of Age of Ultron. I'm not suggesting that Hawkeye should have been included in those events. Only that Hawkeye when appearing in other books ought to occasionally make reference to the events of his own series, and let the character development Fraction is doing there inform the character elsewhere. It's really not hard to make me feel bad about "missing" something in another book, which in theory should translate to me starting to pick that book up if it sounds interesting. But if it's not important for Hawkeye to mention in Secret Avengers, it's not important enough for me to care about. Right now Marvel books are so silo'd outside of those mega events it doesn't feel like we are looking at a unified universe or the same characters.
The above definitely turned into a mid-morning ramble and i don't know that i've necessarily hit on the real problem or just used it as an opportunity to vent about my own personal bugaboos ("Aha! Marvel comics aren't selling well? It's because they're doing the things that *I* don't like!"). But i see people saying the reason Marvel needs to keep injecting the #1 heroin is because the quality of their books suck and they need gimmicks to keep people interested. I don't think that's the problem, exactly. I think there are a lot of talented people working at Marvel right now and that the books have a lot of potential. I think that potential definitely fizzles with each new relaunch though. Books start off interesting, drag on and go nowhere, and then get cancelled before a story is completed. And six months down the road, the story turns out to have no relevance or impact on anything, so who cares and why bother reading some other relaunch? But maybe i'll still get excited by some new promotions and try something until i again realize we're going down the same path. And by the same token i'm unlikely to pick up some other book that's getting buzz once i've passed on it initially. These seem to be strategic or editorial problems, not problems with the creative teams.
With that though, the last thing i'll say is that editorial doesn't seem to think there's a problem. Reading the direct market sales charts every month it seems to me like there's a problem. I've quoted Paul O'Brien and Mike Sterling and others who seem to think there's a problem. But when you read Tom Brevoort's tumblr page or interviews with EiC Axel Alonso, they don't seem to think there's a problem. There are secret sales that we don't know about,a nd they are doing well and the reason they structure stories the way they do and relaunch books the way they do is because that's what fans want, which is proven out by the sales. So maybe everything's fine and we're all spilling pixels for nothing (i guess no matter what we are spilling pixels for nothing, because even if there is a problem it's not like anyone looking to me for a solution). But i still wanted to add to the voices saying that increased reboot trend is sure looking like Marvel is getting increasingly desperate.
By fnord12 | February 10, 2014, 11:39 AM |
"But it'd be nice to think Marvel appreciated the need for there to be some content in their numbering - not because of tradition, or because of respect for counting, but simply because any promotional device still needs to convey something in order to have value."
no, wait. forget value. why can't Marvel number their books in a way that makes sense out of respect for counting??!!! cause that's kinda what we do with numbers! ".NOW" is not a numbering system! it's not any system! ARRRGGHHH!!!
Although I'm not quite as hardcore on "what matters" as much as you, I'm pretty close and will definitely pick a good book that has a great effect on continuity over a great book that doesn't. But the definite exception for me is Hawkeye, which is the bees' knees and a truly great piece of work. But I couldn't disagree with what you said about it's "lack of impact on other titles" so I thought it best not to respond. (I can definitely understand your "unsure about ability to get back issues" and "fill in art," although all of the art on Hawkeye has been super great and issues #4-5 by Javier Pulido are not just my favorite issues of the title, but honest to god, one of my favorite Marvel stories ever.)
So I thought it was worth pointing out that during the big *SPOILER* moment in this week's Daredevil #36, Hawkeye totally appears in an airport in the same style as he appears in his own title, which is to say he is beaten to hell and bandaged up all over. And Daredevil #36 is about as important as you can get, continuity-wise.
So that's at least a little impact!
Reference from SuperMegaMonkeyIn my rant about renumberings i mentioned both Hawkeye and Daredevil but for brevity (ha!) i left out an aside where i wanted to say how the funny thing about those books is that their selling point is that they are driven entirely by the unique voice of the creative team. As if that's some innovative new way of producing comics! Read More: SuperMegaSpeed Reviews