I was going to make another post about the announcement of Polaris returning in X-Men Blue #9, particularly as I hadn’t emphasized the good of it yet. But there’s something else I suddenly feel an urgent need to post about that I think is actually more important than my personal fandom for Polaris.
Since I started paying more attention to Marvel comics (in 2009, because of Polaris), I’ve noticed how they approach the comic book industry. Some of this is going to sound obvious to regulars, but I’m building toward something.
Marvel puts out a crazy number of events. In these events, they throw out ~major revelations~ about characters and relationships and the status quo of the Marvel universe. A lot of times, these developments piss people off – and for good reason.
The forced Axis retcon on Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver being Magneto’s kids has pissed off fans that want to see the Magnus family get more use. Subsequent storylines added to this fire by going down avenues that didn’t make up for the forced retcon.
When Captain America was revealed to “have always been a Hydra agent,” that also pissed off a lot of people – because it essentially destroyed a symbol of good in the world. Further development into Secret Empire has only made this worse by doing stupid and awful shit like making Magneto into a Hydra agent too.
Here’s the part that matters in this post. Everything above was establishing the scene.
Every single time Marvel does something awful and gets called on it, that was intentional on Marvel’s part (not a random bit of awful by an artist/writer that Marvel didn’t catch), their answer is this: trust us and give the story a chance to play out before judging.
They’re asking readers to withhold judgment until after the whole event is finished. In some cases, this means asking readers to wait until a full year or two has passed. This is asking readers to read issue after issue, sometimes multiple comic books, to “get the full picture.”
There are various ways to interpret Marvel’s behavior here. The less forgiving and more critical way is to assume they’re morally bankrupt money chasers.
But if we decide to be very kind and offer up a substantial benefit of doubt for their sake, then we could also interpret their behavior as myopic nostalgia. People set in their ways, no clue how to do anything different and perhaps too stubborn to even try.
Here’s what I mean by that.
In this day and age, drawing out something like “Captain America is a Nazi” is a BAD idea. That is NOT the sort of thing readers will look at and say “Alright, this is bad but sure, I’ll wait to see where they’re going with this.” Readers today know every single millisecond counts. This is especially informed with the way the internet works. Getting information out there doesn’t take days or weeks anymore (or hours, if big enough for TV). It takes seconds.
A smart company needs to account for this.
One way to deal with it: put out the potentially scandalous bits of storyline and their “satisfying conclusion” all at once. If this means you have to put out the equivalent of a TPB or graphic novel, so be it. The key is that you don’t drag your feet on something as terrible as “Captain America is a Nazi and always was” or “Magneto is now a Nazi.”
Letting a claim like that fester for months or years doesn’t boost sales. No grand revelation at the end of the event is going to make it all fine. “lol Captain America wasn’t a Nazi after all” doesn’t make all that time where Marvel said he was one suddenly go away.
Letting it fester also risks Marvel “fixing” it getting interpreted as Marvel only doing it cause of massive public backlash, not out of any genuine plan they had from the start.
Another way of dealing with it: make the idea run in the background of stories and only reveal it when ready to IMMEDIATELY undo it in the very same issue it’s revealed.
Hypothetical example, let’s say there’s a character whose death would piss people off. But you want them to have been dead for story reasons. Instead of killing them off and leaving them dead for years, simply don’t use them directly in that time, then revive them in the same issue it’s revealed they were dead that whole time. You sidestep the potential outrage of a character death while getting to use it for story.
I’m not saying these two suggestions make up all possible angles, or saying they can fit every situation. Only saying they’re much better approaches to story ideas like “Captain America was a Nazi all along” or “Magneto is now a Nazi.” I personally don’t see how ANY end point could make either of those ideas okay, but if there is one that nobody can imagine, the current approach of dragging it out for months or years doesn’t work. It only makes Marvel look horrible as a company.
Marvel needs to learn how the world has changed in the past couple decades. Their understanding of this seems to have stopped at available hardware/software and the ability to spread ad copy and trailers to people easier, without acknowledging its social and cultural dimensions. Until Marvel figures this out, their sales are going to suffer due to easily avoided mistakes like “Captain America is a Nazi.”