“You Might Win Some…”

June 15th, 2009 by | Tags: , , , , , ,

Remember Marvel’s plan to release Captain America #600 on a Monday due to mainstream press coverage? Here’s a reminder:

“REBORN #1, by Ed Brubaker and Bryan Hitch, will be receiving nationwide press on 6/15, possibly on par with the media coverage we received during Civil War.

However, this means that the solicit and covers for Reborn #1 cannot be shown before the FOC of 6/11. Marvel will do everything possible to ensure an overprint is on hand to counter huge anticipated demand, but the incentives below and qualifying for free variants will only be available for orders placed before FOC”

In essence, Marvel asked retailers to take a gamble. Open on Mondays, pay extra for shipping, and we will drive customers to your store by way of a big newspaper article. The NY Daily News ended up with the scoop. However, when I say scoop… I’m being sarcastic.

I’m going to put this behind a cut, because I’m sure someone, somewhere, is going to be upset that I’m about to spoil the least surprising reveal since Dick Grayson became Batman.

Steve Rogers is coming back.

That’s it. That’s the big surprise. No movie announcement, no big swerve, no Truth, no nothing. It’s simply that Steve Rogers is coming back to life.

And you know– that’s fine. Ed Brubaker has done a stellar job on the book, and I expect Reborn to continue to uphold that level of quality. My problem isn’t with the story, it’s with how Marvel handled it.

Marvel gambled on a lot of things. The main ones, at least by my reckoning, are these: retailer goodwill and credibility. Their idea was, at its most basic, this: “Order this book huge and we will have your back. The press is paying attention, we’re doing Civil War numbers with this, people are going to come into your store in droves. Stay open Monday and keep your phone charged, baby, because we built it and they’re coming. In droves.” Let’s go over it from the top, though.

What actually happened was that the NY Daily News threw a fluff piece up in their Arts/Entertainment section, way below the fold on the website, alongside news about Susan Boyle (who is apparently ugly, but can sing, so is newsworthy?) and a Ghostbusters videogame. The New York Times has its story up, now, and it’s the first I’ve seen that mentioned the fact that Cap #600 came out today and is in stores now. However, it’s not linked on their front page at all. CNN has its coverage up now, via a text link off the main page reading “Captain America– not so dead?”

It’s not quite the slam bang “Captain America is dead!”-type coverage, Marvel expected, I don’t think. If anything, it is totally eclipsed by the news that DC is going to serialize a strip from Wednesday Comics in USA Today. I’ve seen reports on Twitter of stores not getting any copies, and I believe that Canada didn’t get them today at all. We won’t be able to accurately judge the effect of the promotion for weeks, I’m sure, but retailers have to decide whether a few brief blurbs are going to force fans and non-fans alike into their stores by tomorrow. Retailers who may not have even gotten copies in today.

So– retailer goodwill and Marvel’s credibility. Marvel asked them to take a big risk, throw some money on the table, and reap the rewards. Essentially, it was a “trust us.” They did not say anything about the contents of Reborn until today. It was classified until the release of the article, which was after the Final Order Cutoff date. Marvel only moved the date to tomorrow after some very loud noise made by two prominent retailers, who were understandably pissed about both the short notice and the way it all feels like Marvel undervaluing their retailer partners in favor of doing big deals with the media.

Now, here’s the thing. The promo art has Cap’s star, some chain mail, and Reborn. Brubaker, writer of the Captain America book, is attached. Retailers, fans, and everyone else assumed that it was the return of Captain America. It’s likely, right? However, Marvel’s absolute refusal to talk about the book’s contents turned the non-story into a story. If it isn’t Steve Rogers, what could it be? The most popular rumor had to do with Marvel announcing the casting of Captain America in the movie, possibly as a black dude. Expectations elevated due to the lack of information, and what we got… was exactly what we thought it would be the first time. Steve Rogers is coming back.

It’s kind of like the time Dan Didio said that most people thought Dick Grayson wasn’t going to be Batman (“most people were trying to guess in a different direction”), but this time, people believed the hype.

I’m not a retailer. From the outside looking in, though, this doesn’t appear to be half as successful as it should have been. The big hook is exactly what people said it was going to be, making it a surprise only because the classified solicit turned it into a Thing. The short-term notice of the upcoming story caught a lot of retailers flat-footed, and the stunt ship day just means extra shipping charges for a lot of people. That means that it took a lot of work to set it up, and the stunt really needed a grand slam to be worth it. Instead… we got a bunt. We got “Here it is! Exactly what you thought would happen after Cap #25! Two years of Steve Rogers, two years of Bucky, and now Steve’s coming back!”

This doesn’t seem like it should have the impact it needed. Civil War was like an atom bomb. Inescapable and everywhere. Black Panther getting in the paper had my granddad bugging me about Black Panther and who he is. Today’s news seems more like a water balloon. Some stores are closed, others didn’t get it, and others are just outright not participating for very good reasons. I’m definitely interested in seeing how this shakes out over time. All I have to go on are anecdotal reports and the internet, but I get the feeling that Marvel chewed up a lot of goodwill for what, in the end, turned out to be a non-surprise and a less than big deal. It’s looking a lot like Marvel cried “Wolf,” which is something you don’t want when you have to trust them to sell comics. I’m sure the series will sell gangbusters. It was going to do that regardless. The handling of the PR for it, however, seems sorely lacking from this side.

Smarten up, Marvel.

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9 comments to ““You Might Win Some…””

  1. I still just feel the Bucky character didn’t do enough as Captain America for the entire thing to matter at all. Announcing that a black character was claiming the mantle of Captain America would have netted them a ton of press, whether or not the movie character was Steve Rogers. It would have invited direct comparison to current events.

    Then again, I trust in Brubaker.

  2. I can’t help but shake the feeling that Steve Rogers will die again in #601.

  3. Wow, I can fit a keyboard *and* a foot in my mouth. The previous comment should have been, “I’ve got a bad feeling that Steve Rogers etc.”

  4. I have trouble believing Marvel thought that this would be as big as the death of Captain America or Civil War, but there it is.

    Also, as I said to a friend on MSN earlier, poor Marvel, just think of the way the papers will look: “At least one person dead in Iran as government forces open fire on innocents. Protests in the Islamic Republic intensify as the mood becomes grimmer and more desperate. Western world sides with Mousavi and the protesters. Ahmadinejad cracks down on media and other forms of communcation in Iran and expels foreign journalists from the country. Also, Captain America is back from the dead.”

  5. when it comes to announcing stuff in the paper, DC had the right idea today.

  6. @W4:

    isn’t #601 a flashback issue?

  7. Another thing is that during the Bush-era, a Comicbook character designed as a symbol of US values and the American Dream etc. being killed off was symbolic of the perception of America. It got world wide press because it looked like an anti-America thing and we Europeans love that shit. Cap coming back just seems smug because you voted the right guy in for a change.

    Seriously though, killing him off changed 40 years of a pop culture staple, which is a bit of a story. “STATUS QUO RESUMES AFTER BRIEF DETOUR!” is not news.

    Also, with all the flashback stories, Ultimate stories, eulogy stories and Marvel Adventures stuff floating around, there hasn’t been an opportunity to miss Steve Rogers. I for one would’ve liked a bit more Bucky Cap before the inevitable happened.

    All that said though, ‘in Brubaker we trust’ so I’ll be buying the issues and expect to enjoy them.

  8. Valhallahan: “Another thing is that during the Bush-era, a Comicbook character designed as a symbol of US values and the American Dream etc. being killed off was symbolic of the perception of America. It got world wide press because it looked like an anti-America thing and we Europeans love that shit.”

    A bit off-topic: was there really worldwide (or at least European) press for Captain America 25? From your website-address I gather that you’re in the UK, and I’m not really surprised that the British media cared about this, but was it also reported in countries like France, Germany and Spain? I don’t remember hearing anything about that.

    As far as I know, there was no mention of it anywhere here in the Netherlands, but then again, we had nationwide provincial elections on the day the comic was released, so that dominated the entire news cycle.

    Just curious.

  9. Yeah, it was a glib comment, without much to back it up. I guess it was a slow news day over here, ’cause it was in quite a few papers. Not as a main story or anything, but enough so as to be noticable.