Marvel Comics is in the middle of having a healthy dose of new ongoing titles revealed as part of their "Marvel NOW!" initiative, some of them relaunches and rebrandings of ongoing series not even a year old.
Which beg the questions - what exactly is an “ongoing” series in 2016?
…and does Marvel actually publish them anymore?
What the term meant in the past of course, were titles that were published indefinitely, in many cases, of course, for decades at time. In Marvel’s case, those were your Amazing Spider-Mans, your Uncanny X-Mens, your Avengers, and … ahem … your Fantastic Fours.
An ongoing series was a title that despite changes in creative and editorial team … despite changes to the main characters or premise … despite changes in publishing trends, the publisher intended for the series to run regularly and indefinitely – there was no planned end to the series in sight.
But does that apply to Marvel’s self-described publishing model anymore? More on that later…
Why Marvel still uses the term “ongoing” isn’t hard to understand. For decades, comic book readers (and retailers) have become conditioned to regard ongoing series as the main cogs of the continuity engine. Through osmosis, “ongoing” simply came to mean more relevant, more impactful, more important. And having covered the Direct Market comic book industry for coming up on 20 years now, Newsarama can testify to the genuine market equity in the term.
Now Marvel and DC (and in particular the former) are also heavily invested in the “event limited series,” but we regularly witness the different reception … the different regard for your standard mini or limited series, as opposed to what’s labeled an ongoing series. Put an “(of x)” in the solicitation title, and unless it’s one of the big publisher’s big events, it just gets regarded differently.
Already this week we saw that even creators are well aware of the market importance of the “ongoing” label. In Monday’s announcement of the new “ongoing” series Thanos by writer Jeff Lemire and artist Mike Deodato, Lemire made sure to clearly communicate Thanos’s format, or at least, what Marvel is labeling its format...
“First off, I loved that this is an ongoing series, not a limited series. That opens up a lot of potential to establish long-term plans for Thanos in the Marvel U."
“Long-term?” Back in the day, Marvel’s original Secret Wars and DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths’s ran 12 issues, but neither was referred to an ongoing series ('maxi-series' was a term that that has gone out of style). Both had a predetermined end.
So the question becomes, don’t most if not all of Marvel’s currently launching longer-form (for sake of discussion) series have predetermined ends by the publisher’s own definition? If you listen to Marvel explain it lately, it sure sounds like that’s the case.
“ I think that the comics industry—certainly, we are—slowly working into a season model that’s not too unlike what we see in our favorite cable TV shows: a seasonal model that offers accessible entry points for new readers and is respectful of long-term fans,” Marvel Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso told Entertainment Weekly at the launch of “All-New All-Different Marvel" in 2015.
One year later, Marvel is now full-tilt into their “season” model, in which popular titles are given new launches when major changes occur, either to the character or creative team, even if the story itself continues into the next volume – and that will likely be the trend for some time, as evidenced by the "Marvel NOW!" initiative.
Captain Marvel, for example, will be relaunched for the fifth time in as many years. So in that environment, what does it mean to say a Marvel series is “ongoing"?
Sure, the adventures of Carol Danvers are “ongoing” and will likely continue indefinitely. But what about All-New All-Different Avengers, which appears it will end its run in September after 14 issues? Or International Iron Man, giving way during Marvel NOW! to a series with a new title and new starring character? Were they ever really “ongoing” series?
That new Thanos title could conceivably hit 12 issues or more before it ends, and could even see a second volume provided the numbers and momentum are in its favor. But with that kind of planned obsolescence – even if the number of issues hasn’t specifically been delineated – in any other environment, it would qualify as a limited series.
(For the record, as per the checklist that leaked Monday, the titleholder for the longest running “volume” of any in-continuity Marvel series come Marvel NOW! will be shared by Deadpool and Spider-Man 2099, both at 21 issues).
But Marvel is still using the language “ongoing series” to describe Thanos, as well as Slapstick and Foolkiller and Solo, etc. Relative quality aside, who likes the odds of any of these series reaching the 30’s, let alone the lofty numbers of previous comic book markets? With the foreordained knowledge that whether they’re well-regarded or not, these titles will more than likely come to a “seasonal” end in the easily foreseeable future, is calling it an “ongoing series” fair game?
To be fair, the Direct Market’s lone print distributor Diamond has no official designation for an ongoing or limited series. It’s simply up to the publisher to choose to identify a title series as having a specific end or not. And how Marvel chooses to market a title to readers is by no means a matter of national security, more of just an interesting trend worth noting.
And Marvel recognizes it may be just a trend, but one they’re willing to exploit for as long as they’re able.
"It’s a recognition of the fact that this is the world we live in now,” Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort recently told Newsarama about their frequent relaunches, explaining as long they have a creative change or story direction to hang them on, the model is currently working.
"As long as we have a shift, we can do it infinitely,” he said.
"Indefinitely"... which, ironically, is another way of saying ongoing.