While many publishers and retailers are concerned about the possible over-saturation of the comic book industry, some comic shop owners think one contributor to the problem is the rash of recent relaunches in superhero titles.
Most retailers like the idea of relaunches — a new #1 issue will usually give an ongoing title a significant boost. But some are questioning the effectiveness of relaunches, asking: How many times can a product call itself new and improved before consumers stop caring?
As Newsarama continues a series of articles examining issues affecting the comic book industry's direct market (with part one examining over-saturation and
The argument for relaunches is that new readers won't pick up a comic book with high numbers, preferring to wait for the story to start over with a new #1.
"Of course [comic book publishers] should always be doing relaunches," said Jesse James, owner of Jesse James Comics in Glendale, Ariz. "New generations continue to flock to the comic book world. Old time collectors are going to collect regardless."
In fact, without relaunches, retailers would see a huge slowdown in new comic book sales, James aid. "Relaunches always work as long as we are partnering up with the publisher and making social marketing a must on each new project," the retailer said.
Believe it or not, they really do work in bringing new readers in," said Bret Parks, owner of Ssalefish Comics in Winston-Salem, N.C. "The downside is explaining to new readers the difference between volumes and also in organizing these book in our back issue bins. But that is really about it."
Customers who complain, Parks said, are usually "few and far between" and still continue to buy the books. "It is a minor inconvenience at worse for long time readers," Parks said, "but really terrific for new readers all around."
But several retailers we surveyed said the sales boost on #1 issues have been lower recently, and they attributed that reduction to the growing number of relaunches from (mainly) superhero publishers.
Ryan Seymore, owner/president of Comic Town in Columbus, Ohio, said relaunches have reached the point of being "an incredibly negative force of the medium."
"DC has had the most success with the reboot tactic," Seymore said, "but by changing from the New 52 to Rebirth within five years has gone through a cycle that has both lost and gained new and veteran fans.
"With Marvel's seemingly annual soft renumbering, they have pushed away more readers with each 'relaunch,'" Seymore added. "I feel that we have reached the end of this tactic's viability."
Some retailers compared the frequent relauches to the little boy who "cried wolf" — eventually, nobody listens or takes it seriously.
"The problem with the constant re-numbering is that each new re-start reduces reader and retailer confidence," said Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics. "There really isn't anything special about a first issue anymore."
"I think it’s gotten pretty tough for relaunches to work as well as they once did," said Matthew Price, co-owner of Speeding Bullet comics in Norman, Okla.
DC vs. Marvel
Many retailers felt that DC's recent relaunches have done much better than Marvel's because they were concentrated around two events — New 52 in 2011 and "Rebirth" in 2016.
"New first issues used to be a big deal," said Charlie Harris, owner of Charlie's Comic Books in Tucson, Ariz. "Marvel has turned it into a gimmick that no longer works. In fact, my customers often tell me that a big number one on a Marvel title means a jumping off point rather than a jumping on one. Customers who were die-hard Marvel fans for decades have walked away altogether in the past few years, frustrated with the constant reboots and the lack of fan favorite characters or the dilution of the same with the countless Spider characters and Iron characters out there.
"On the other hand, DC has had much success with this as the New 52 and the Rebirth both brought lots of new readers," Harris said.
"Some relaunches work," Field said. "DC has done it with strong results twice in the last five years. But I doubt if that would work a third time. I'd love to see some kind of Rebirth initiative with Marvel where the company has a dozen or so 'tent-pole' titles featuring generally recognizable versions of their classic characters. From that, they can do their experimental takes on these characters, and those surely could start from issue #1."
Matthew Price, co-owner of Speeding Bullet Comics in Norman, Okla., agreed that Rebirth's new #1 issues worked well, possibly because there were so few relaunches in the five years since the New 52 reboot.
"I think fans are interested in new first issues, certainly," Price said. "But I think the odds of it working are better if it’s a character or project that’s had a rest for a certain amount of time, as opposed to one month’s #18 being followed by the next month’s #1.
"Comics like The Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man and Detective Comics," Price said, "would be better served, I think, by continuing for long periods of time without relaunching."