Marvel Comics is suffering a historic sales slump — and it's looking to an initiative called "Legacy" to get back on top.
It's hard to believe, given that Marvel dominates the box office and is ubiquitous on TV. But print sales have fallen off the Bifrost, and that has not only Marvel but rival DC Comics worried, not to mention all of America's comics retailers. When Marvel stubs its toe, the whole industry yells "Ouch!"
How did this happen? As they say, it's complicated. You might remember some controversial remarks by Marvel Vice President of Sales David Gabriel, who explained poor sales in March to ICv2.com by saying, "What we heard was that people didn't want any more diversity. They didn't want female characters out there. We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against."
Most people attribute Marvel's big sales slump to other factors — mainly, Marvel's awful marketing practices and its reliance on line-wide "event" stories that require fans to buy books they don't want to get the complete story.
But here's the good news: All of the major changes of the past few years are heading for a reboot. We know this because of "Marvel Legacy" No. 1, a 58-page, $6 book that came out Sept. 27. And it's really pretty interesting.
"Legacy" introduces us to the Prehistoric Avengers — a group that fought a Celestial a million years ago. (Celestials are a gigantic, space-faring race that tends to wipe out civilizations it deems unworthy.) This group — consisting of Odin (before Thor was born), the Phoenix Force (long before Jean Grey), the first Ghost Rider (on a flaming mammoth) and a few other concepts that are effectively immortal — defeated the Celestial, and buried it in what would become South Africa.
Leap to the present, and guess what's getting dug up in South Africa? I imagine it's pretty grumpy. Oh, and we learn something's monkeying with the timeline. A "new" Avenger named Voyager has been added to the team's history, and nobody seems the wiser. Meanwhile, "Legacy" checks in on most of Marvel's major characters. And as you'd guess, the status quo and the original characters made famous by the movies are in the process of returning — even Wolverine, who's been dead for three years. But we'll also have the new kids and, with luck, the best of both worlds.
Will that be enough to get readers excited about Marvel Comics again? "Legacy" is a sharp-looking package with some interesting ideas, but fans have registered fatigue with continual events and reinventions. Worse, "Legacy" will affect every book in the Marvel line, returning some long-running characters to "legacy" numbering ("Avengers" will relaunch at No. 672, for example), but quite a few others will start over with new first issues.
Can Marvel go to that well again? That comes down to execution. Marvel has to decide if its true legacy is imagination and adventure — or events and sales gimmicks. A whole industry is hoping for the former.