Marvel vs DC: What’s Beef?

January 14th, 2010 by | Tags: , , ,

Here’s an excerpt from a press release Marvel sent out yesterday:

In an effort to provide assistance to comic retailers in 2010, Marvel is offering retailers an opportunity to turn unsold comics into an extremely rare Siege #3 Deadpool Variant!

Retailers – for every 50 stripped covers of the following comics sent to Marvel, you will qualify to receive one FREE Siege #3 Deadpool Variant. The 50 stripped covers can be any combination of the comics listed below and all submissions need to be received at the Marvel office at the address below by Tuesday 2/16/2010. Also included with the stripped covers must be your store contact information including Diamond Account # and email address.

Stripped Covers To Be Sent:
Adventure Comics #4
Booster Gold #26
Doom Patrol #4
Justice League Of America #39
Outsiders #24
R.E.B.E.L.S #10

Ooh, that’s shots fired.

Let’s pull this apart piece by piece, okay? Top to bottom.

First is the timing. This is the first real week of comics news in 2010. Last week was Christmas recovery and fairly light. This week, DC has been slinging high profile announcements left and right. Among other things, they’ve shown off Gail Simone being back on Birds of Prey with some crappy artist, a preview of Jock’s take on Batwoman with Greg Rucka, a look at the Return of Bruce Wayne, and Keith Giffen is getting a Justice League book. Fan-service announcements all, two trying to recapture past glories and two pimping big deals. Add the announcement of Brightest Day, their new biweekly comic and probable spine of the DCU, into the mix and you have a big week just three days in.

This press release is aggressive and instantly controversial, the type of thing that makes people want to argue about it ad nauseam. It’s sharp and pits the two companies right up against each other, upping the ante on the competition between the two companies. It also disrupts DC’s grip on the news cycle in a very major way. At the time of this writing, the Robot6 article on Gail Simone’s return to BoP has 32 comments. The piece on the press release has 107, despite being posted several hours later. Marvel pushed DC right out of the limelight with something that is sure to cause discussion (fights) for days to come.

Second is the subtext of the press release. The first line begins, “In an effort to provide assistance to comic retailers in 2010[.]” Marvel is positioning itself as doing the retailers in the Direct Market a favor by allowing them to trade unsold books for a rare variant that’ll go for big bucks. Essentially, they are saying “We are the good guys. Those other guys did you wrong, but we’ve got your back.”

The subtext doesn’t end there. The books that are part of the promotion have one thing in common: they were all part of DC’s Blackest Night promotion, where ordering 25 or 50 copies of each issue gave retailers the chance to order a bag of plastic rings. That promotion was a huge success for DC, with several books moving as many as thirty-five thousand more copies than they did the month before. They ran the sales charts for November 2009. It left DC holding seven of the top ten spots in the Top 300 sales chart, up from six in October and September and four in August.

Some retailers required customers to purchase a book to get the rings, others treated them like the giveaways they were intended to be and gave them out like candy on Halloween, and others, the worst of the lot, sold the rings on their own. Conventional wisdom and anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that the books stayed on the shelves. The sales charts for December seem to suggest the same thing- once the promotion was over, a few of the books involved lost roughly twenty thousand readers. Past experience suggests that that fall will continue into January. (I’m rounding these numbers off, by the way. To compare for yourself, look at the October, November, and December charts. I’m an English major, I can barely count to ten.)

Now, Marvel is taking a shot at what is basically DC’s biggest sales success in ages, and doing it in such a way that wipes the foundation for that success away. Suggesting that the comics didn’t sell implies that the entire draw for the increased orders were the bags of plastic rings, which honestly probably isn’t that far off from the truth. REBELS is an enjoyable book, but even for a Blackest Night tie-in, it got a huge bump. Comic fans like collecting stuff.

So, top to bottom:
1. Marvel is saying, “DC left you holding a bunch of stuff you cannot sell.” It’s a serious diss, attacking DC’s entire reason for being. Regardless of the quality of the books (I’m fond of REBELS myself), DC needed a gimmick other than good storytelling to sell these comics. If a comics company needs plastic rings to sell comics… well, you do the math on that one.

2. The timing is kicking sand all over DC’s big week. It’s a release calculated to cause controversy, gain a lot of attention, and piss people off. It’s very, very public, and definite shots fired.

3. Deadpool, as in the cover boy of the “extremely rare Siege #3 Deadpool Variant,” is a copy of Deathstroke. Marvel is shipping a cover with a knock-off of a DC character, one who has enjoyed inexplicable success over the past year, in exchange for stripped DC comic books. That’s just salt in the wound, isn’t it? A cheap shot nestled inside a larger cheap shot?

Marvel’s promotion is cruel. Taking DC’s big win last year and big week this year and upending them in an attempt to put DC in its place is fairly messed up. At the same time, it isn’t exactly inaccurate. Despite DC’s big month, Marvel still won November ’09. It’s definitely a cheap shot, but… it’s kind of funny, isn’t it?

This release is the kind of aggressive posturing we haven’t seen out of Marvel since Jemas and Quesada simultaneously pissed DC off forever and rocketed Marvel back into the limelight. It’s Marvel thumbing its nose at DC and reminding them who has the market share advantage. Basically, Marvel is M. Bison and the gang, and DC is Guile.

Verdict? Ouch.

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25 comments to “Marvel vs DC: What’s Beef?”

  1. I don’t really have anything to add, but I wanted to say that that image made me laugh far harder than it should have.

  2. SO if the DC promotion gave the books an expanded reader base who might not otherwise have read the book, and in the case of Booster Gold, 19K people stayed on for the second segment of the story, it’s a failure? If even 1,000 people pick up on the book in a lasting manner, that’s not bad at all. DC gave away a freebie to people to get them to try a book, instead of just jacking up their prices across the board to make up margins – and somehow they’re the villain eh.

  3. @taters: I never said that DC was a villain. Reread everything I wrote- I said that DC has issues selling comics, which they absolutely do, considering Marvel’s market share advantage. Even in a month where DC ran the top ten, Marvel won overall. Which is ridiculous when you have a company with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Moon Knight was outselling Superman a while back, for Pete’s sake.

    I explicitly say that Marvel’s promotion is a jerk move. It’s reasserting your superiority on someone’s good day by kicking their sand castle over in front of their girl. At the same time, as far as marketing goes, it’s genius. I don’t like it because it’s Marvel beasting DC, I like it because it’s shrewd. It’s “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” for 2010. I only ever had a Nintendo as a kid, but that didn’t stop me loving that marketing scheme. Smart marketing, no matter how mean, is smart marketing.

    I know you think I’m some kind of anti-DC cynic or whatever, but you’re ignoring the fact that I’ve praised Power Girl more than any other Big Two comic this year and consider Jonah Hex one of the most consistently enjoyable books out of either company.

    Marvel vs DC is the boringest possible argument to have about comics. It’s stupid, and I’m too old to buy into a rivalry based around marketing. Anything I’ve ever said that was against DC was based on their quality, Didio’s ridiculous editorial style, and dearth of solid mid-level talent. In contrast, Marvel has a strong mid-list (Gillen, Hickman, Parker, Van Lente, Tobin), a strong art department (New Mutants is a b-list book and has had a couple of stellar artists on it), and an editorial style that allows for better stories than DC seems capable of telling right now.

    And hey, Dark Reign? Still a boring, overwrought, overlong piece of crap.

  4. It’s actually not even that great a promotion on the retailers side. Most people really didn’t have any issues selling there BN Tie-Ins, I think my own shop sold like 70 issues of REBELS within the first 2 days, and that floored me. And the reward for trading in 50 comics is that you get another comic that you can’t sell to people.

    This just seems like an attempt to mock DC and nothing more.

  5. DC’s ring promotion was a very shrewd one as well, and it’s easy to see that not only did it work on the short term, it kept excitement high for their premiere event – and it irritated the HELL out of their competitor, all without acting like a bunch of assholes. For Marvel to couch their promotion as ‘we’re providing RELIEF’ to anyone when they’re flaying their consumer base for an extra buck a book with no extra compensation in the form of pages is *hilarious*. This was just :words:, without even actual value even to the retailers they are relieving. Basically, it was blogger bait. I think responding positively to attempts to manipulate you – and here I mean places like 4L – is a mistake, but you’re right, they did it well.

  6. Y’know what makes this especially devious: If this works for Marvel, they are going to crow so loud. And if it doesn’t work… well, that’s not a strong story for DC to spread. To fight back, they’d have to come up with something else…

    To continue the console wars comparison, maybe we’ll be seeing someone in a Superman costume at the Marvel offices doing their best impression of Crash Bandicoot in the Nintendo parking lot.

  7. It’s funny, because I’ve heard more complaints about Marvel than DC at the retail level…

  8. @taters: I never said that DC’s promotion wasn’t shrewd. I acknowledged it being their best success in a long time. And yes, it did add a bunch of readers to those books- something that every crossover does right before the drop-off begins again. It’s depressing that like, five books over the past few years have seen increases each month, rather than falling numbers, but that’s how it is. If the books can hold onto as many as 5k of the readers they gained, BN’s rings would’ve been a huge success.

    And of course it irritated Marvel. I’m sure it irritates DC when they look at Marvel’s share. They’re businesses, they’re supposed to compete, and comics is a small enough industry that a little WWF action can go a long way.

    As far as flaying their customer base… people are buying the books, even with the four dollar price tag. Marvel is on top. That says something. They have something people want, and people are willing to pay for it.

    Basically, it was blogger bait. I think responding positively to attempts to manipulate you – and here I mean places like 4L – is a mistake, but you’re right, they did it well.

    I said: “2. The timing is kicking sand all over DC’s big week. It’s a release calculated to cause controversy, gain a lot of attention, and piss people off. It’s very, very public, and definite shots fired.”

    So, yes, I know it was blogger bait. I knew it was when I read it. I also think it’s a funny dick move and a return to a time when comics PR was entertaining and interesting, rather than simply “buy more books, everything is gonna change forever, also we have another crossover after this one.”

    @Liquidben: I really, really hope Didio dresses up as Superman and visits Marvel. That would be incredible. “BOO YAH, GRANDMA!” and all.

  9. I wonder whether Marvel will be equally sympathetic if retailers return the likely to be unsold copies of the nine (yes, nine!) separate Deadpool titles being released in March with their covers removed as a protest about having to speculate on their value? Or the regular covered issue 1 of Captain America: Reborn that were needed to get the five separate variants?

    For me, this comes across as petty and hypocritical, and diminishes Marvel in my eyes.

  10. I don’t hate Marvel, so I’m not gonna hope this ends up like the Genesis did for SEGA, but I will say that even I thought it was a dick move when XBOX rented a barge and sailed past the Paris launch of the PS3.


  11. *edit* strike ‘like the Genesis did’ and replace that with ‘console hardware joint’.

  12. @Lee: “Likely to be unsold” doesn’t actually track– Deadpool‘s sales have been dumb solid for the past several months. The flagship book ships around 50k, while Team-Up and Merc With A Mouth move between 30 and 40k, with pretty reasonable losses between each issue.

    Deadpool, as a franchise, is pretty successful. I don’t get it, personally, but whatever. People like it. And Cap Reborn is consistently in the top 5 books shipped, so I don’t think there’s a lot of unsold bunches of those laying around, either. There’d have been a huge drop-off in sales, above and beyond the attrition that all miniseries suffer from, if that were true.

    So, petty? Absolutely. Hypocritical? I’m not seeing it.

  13. @david brothers: I have to admit that the hypocritical remark was more directed at Captain America: Reborn, although there is the point of unnecessarily over-saturating the market with unnecessary comics during a recession that would be the only reasoning for releasing nine (yes, nine!) Deadpool comics when a couple of years ago the character could barely support himself in a shared title. (And yes, I realise that DC are equally as bad, although they haven’t stooped so low as to offer an incentive to send them their main competition’s unsold comics yet. In fact, don’t DC have a far better policy when it comes to returns than Marvel?)

    Personally, I’m pretty soured by the actions of both big two companies at the moment, and am finding myself reading less of their core titles on a month by month basis. Increasingly I’m seeing DC as a company that exists to support the work of Grant Morrison, JH Willams and Vertigo respectively, the three of which are more than Marvel have to offer at the moment. And unfortunately, it is the lower selling titles such as those released by Vertigo that will be affected by publishing stunts such as releasing nine (yes, nine!) Deadpool comics in one month, as any comic reader’s budget is finite, and the funds to be a completist have to come from somewhere. Although I do wonder whether there is a crossover in readership between Joe the Barbarian and Deadpool?

    All in all, we won’t be able to tell how many copies of the nine (yes, nine!) Deadpool comics will remain unsold by the retailers come March. But I can’t imagine needing a crystal ball to predict that their quality won’t match Joe the Barbarian.

    (Off topic, but can I say how much I usually enjoy your blog and the podcast, btw!-)

  14. @Lee: I remember for a while, Marvel’s return policy was abysmal, to the point where Brian Hibbs repeatedly called them out on it. To even it out, though, DC constantly sneaks in creative team changes at the last minute, well after a book’s orders can be adjusted, which is about as bad. Both companies really need to step up their game as far as retail relations go.

    I’m personally reading the fewest number of Big Two comics I’ve read since… well, probably since I was eight years old and didn’t have money to buy my own comics. I’d add Palmiotti, Gray, and Conner into the list of people DC exists to support, but I feel similarly to you. I disagree as far as Marvel goes, though. While DC has a small handful of powerhouses, they’ve got very few quality midlist writers/artists, while Marvel’s practically bursting at the seams with just the Periscope Studios folks alone.

    The thing about completism… is that Marvel’s fault, or the fault of the reader? Marvel saw that Deadpool could suddenly support a series, so they immediately started work on running that into the ground– a tried and true tactic that pays off short term and sometimes has long-term benefits. If people are buying, I can’t fault them for selling.

    And yeah, I agree that Joe the Barbarian is going to be better than whatever Deadpool books come out that month (I read it already, it’s good). But at the same time, as much as I wish it weren’t so… quality doesn’t win. Tony Daniel writes and draws a bad crossover and is handed the reins to Batman. Ed Benes keeps getting high profile work. We just had an entire issue of JLA that was an extended attempted rape scene. Greg Land is pulling a steady paycheck off Uncanny X-Men. Mark Millar is popular. And so on. The market gets what the market wants, and the market wants Deadpool.

    I wish the market wanted Flex Mentallo or Joe Casey’s Youngblood or anything Darwyn Cooke wants to write, but it is what it is. If I ran a comics company, it’d go out of business within three months.

    But we’d all have cheap copies of Absolute Flex Mentallo and Absolute Wildcats 3.0 volumes 1 and 2. And it would be worth it.

  15. @david brothers: It really shouldn’t be necessary for a stunt like this, and I guess I’m just using the returns policy as a symbolic representation of my souring of the big two, rather like your own.

    The audacity of this stunt should at least make me make me laugh, but I can’t help but feel soiled in a way that’s very hard to explain exactly how.

    And can I add Absolute Plastic Man by Kyle Baker to that list? (Well, it made my Top 10 comics of the last decade!-)

  16. Don’t forget that apparently DC is starting to go after Marvel artists with exclusive deals. First the yhave Finch (which while I don’t like his art too much, is a definite get),and a big name has apparently already promised to jump ship when he can to work with Morrison on something.

    this is very likely not going to result in happy people at Marvel.

  17. So wait…does that mean that Bendis is Sagat?

  18. @Nathan: Artist poaching is something Marvel has perfected- before the end of Seven Soldiers, they’d tapped what, five or so of the artists there? I think they got everyone but Doug Mahnke, JHW3, and Cameron Stewart. It goes both ways, basically.

    @OnimaruXLR: Considering that I’ve heard two stories about his daughter poking him in the eye… yes. It fits surprisingly well.

  19. @david brothers: I’m aware of that, but it’s been a while since Marvel has been on the receiving end of it.

    also if I may put my apologist hat on, Daniel was saddled with notes from a half dozen writers and told to do a cohesive story despite never actually being a real writer, only like 3 people would have pulled that off. but that’s neither here nor there.

    also was Casey’s YB really that good? I’ll have to look into it then since I avoided it cause it was YB

  20. Marvel didnt love DC.
    But Disney hates Warner.

  21. “REBELS is an enjoyable book”

    indeed, you’d think a book where the protagonist is an unrepentant asshole would be annoying after a while but it hasn’t yet.

  22. […] Variant,’ is a copy of Deathstroke…That’s just salt in the wound, isn’t it?”: David Brothers takes a look at Marvel’s weird 50-DC-books-for-1-variant-cover promotion thingee, and finds cheap shots within […]

  23. […] Siege-for-lanterns move, it seems David Brothers has the most likely solution, in a past entitled Marvel vs DC: What’s Beef? First is the timing. This is the first real week of comics news in 2010. Last week was Christmas […]

  24. This is a dick move any time of the year, but hey, DC makes substantive announcements both for the event fans and the “oh, I loved that book!” types like me. So if you like the big superhero shops at all, DC is DOIN’ STUFF in an effort to give you books you’ll like. Marvel is sitting in the back row, making fart noises with its armpits during the speech. “Hey, lookit me!”


  25. […] brothers Marvel recently released the Deadpool variant cover to Siege #3, the one that’s tied to their promotion involving Blackest Night covers. Here it […]