In an unprecedented move over the weekend, Marvel Comics basically admitted to killing characters for sales. Now, let’s not delude ourselves into thinking we didn’t know this already but am I the only one surprised it was finally said so plainly? And publicly?
Well, I guess publicly is sort of relative here. The bold statement was made at the recent ComicsPro retailer summit in Texas. David Gabriel, Senior Vice President of Sales at Marvel said, “As a result of the Fantastic Four sales and media coverage, Marvel is going to kill a main character every quarter.” He then made sure to say, “This is not a joke.”
Granted, the statement was meant to stay in that room, but this is the internet age and if you say something like that it’s going to be talked about. Gabriel also mentioned that this move was not about killing the characters per se but about what would come later as a result of the death. He specifically said that what happens after the “Death of Spider-Man” story happening now in the Ultimate line, would be the biggest media exposure they’ve ever had.
This isn’t the first time a comic publisher has used a death or other major event to gain major media exposure. Marvel did it with Captain America, DC Comics got the major outlets running around like mad men when they announced Batman was going to die and also when he was returning. Of course, not many other publishers have characters popular enough to garner attention from the likes of the New York Daily News or the Associated Press. Dark Horse managed it a while back when Buffy the Vampire Slayer took her short journey into lesbianism but obviously Buffy was known outside of comic books first.
So, ok, you want to sell more comics. I get it. But when you kill off a main character and create this major hoopla around it, sales get a boost but they never stay up. Non-weekly consumers will purchase the comic to see what all the fuss is about or have what they think will be a collectors item, but they almost never stick around to see what effects the death has on the universe as a whole. Wouldn’t the publishers, I don’t know, want to come up with a more permanent fix? When they talk to the media outlets about these big deaths that’s pretty much all that gets said, not, “this character is dying, you should try this, this and this book to read the rest of the story.” It’s a simple flash in the pan scenario. They should use the opportunity to great advantage if they’re going to use it at all.
It could be that these deaths are all taking place during, and effecting, Marvel’s next big event, Fear Itself. Matt Fraction hinted at that being the case on Twitter recently, saying, “’We're killing a character every quarter.’ Waitaminute. FEAR ITSELF runs over THREE quarters. Hmm...” It could be the case, it also could be Fraction hyping his own series. And at least for the time being, DC is taking the stance that “dead is dead” in the DC Universe. I have no idea how long that will last but that proclamation was made after many fans complained about the many resurrections during Blackest Night.
As it stands, there are several "main" Marvel characters who are dead at this time. Cable, Nightcrawler, Jean Grey and most recently of course, the Human Torch to name a few. And we already know who’s going to die next. In the upcoming “Death of Spider-Man” story we’ll ostensibly see…the death of Spider-Man. That’s the death of the Ultimate Spider-Man to be more specific. It will be interesting to see if the customers coming in simply because they heard Spider-Man is going to die will wind up buying one of every Spidey title on the racks because they don’t understand the Ultimate universe.
Regardless, the declaration of killing characters for sales is a major one. We can’t deny it works but we don’t have to like it either.