Over the past several years, there has been a decided shift in Marvel’s superhero line, with the on-page characters starting to look a bit more like people in the real world. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in series starring female superheroes, as well as a less pronounced (but still significant) increase in titles starring people of color. But now there are signs the shift is over, and the pendulum might be shifting back toward the white, male superheroes of yore.
Last week, David Gabriel, Marvel’s senior vice president of sales and market, stated in an interview with ICv2.com that retailers have told Marvel, “people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.”
Just to be clear, “diversity” has very little to do with the drop in sales in Marvel’s top 10 books. Only three (“The Mighty Thor,” “Invincible Iron Man” and “Black Panther”) can be considered “diverse,” in that they star a lead character who is a woman or a person of color. The rest are series starring white male heroes or teams made up predominantly of white male heroes. These are Marvel’s traditional A-list heroes, being written and drawn by A-list writers and artists (almost all of whom are themselves white men), and yet they are floundering.
Although Gabriel walked back his original statement a bit the next day, promising, “our fans and retailers are excited about these new heroes. And let me be clear, our new heroes are not going anywhere,” “diversity” is and remains a tempting target to blame for Marvel’s current sales slump. It paints a simple narrative: Marvel tried to reach out to new audiences, but the sales weren’t there. It means all Marvel has to do is shift focus back to its core superheroes and core audience, and everything will be fine.
The problem with that is simple: That narrative is just not true. As I did some digging into comic sales data, a far more complicated story took shape; sales on Marvel’s superhero line have slumped across the board since the end of “Secret Wars,” with only a single ongoing series selling more than 50,000 copies a month to specialty shops. While All-New, All-Different Marvel Now started out strong in October 2015, it quickly sputtered, with many books hemorrhaging sales, especially after DC’s Rebirth relaunch.
One of the major culprits was that the All-New, All-Different relaunch turned out not to be all that new or different, with at least 24 series continuing on post-“Secret Wars” with the same creative team, or at least the same writer. In almost every single case, those continuing series saw dramatic sales drops after their initial relaunch.Keep Reading