As I type this, lots of both first-print covers of Captain America #25 are selling on eBay for 50 bucks or more. Say what you will about speculators and comics retailing, but the success of the “Death” of Captain America — both in terms of sales and publicity — is undeniable. And from a personal perspective, I’m pleased to see that the new storyline boasts glimmers of real strengths, of being sustainable beyond its connections to Civil War. Once the dust settles, it’s a safe bet Cap #25 — with its two first-print editions and already announced second printing — will clock in with impressive sales numbers, perhaps even topping 200,000 copies, I’ll wager.
Retailers should be celebrating, as Marvel ensured strong availability of this surprise event with a generous overprinting, and mainstream media coverage reportedly drove non-comics readers to direct-market specialty stores (rather than big-box bookstores) in search of the “landmark” issue. However, I wonder if Marvel’s timing and marketing of the Death of Cap wasn’t something of a misstep. The bullets that struck Cap down struck some other Marvel heroes as well.
Cap #25 was released March 7, and comics fans and mainstream customers alike flocked to grab a copy. But in the media furor and mad scramble to snag a copy of the initially underordered comic, other notable Marvel releases may have gone unnoticed by the direct-market fanbase. Though I didn’t care for the first issue, also released March 7, Mighty Avengers, since its announcement last summer, had been billed a significant title for Marvel. Writer Brian Michael Bendis had pulled off a sales coup with his relaunch of the property three years ago with New Avengers, so it stood to reason that this new sister title, also penned by Bendis, should stand out as a major moment for the publisher this quarter.
But nobody’s talking about Mighty Avengers. Comics conversation last week and this week revolves around Cap and King Leonidas.
It’s easy to see why the public’s imagination has been captured by Cap #25; it promises a change in the status quo for a decades-old icon. That change will no doubt prove to be fleeting, but for now, it’s got tongues wagging. But it’s also not the only ripple in the Marvel status quo that was revealed March 7. In Fantastic Four #543, writer Dwayne McDuffie and company introduce a new lineup for the team. With the Black Panther and Storm’s addition to the team (as Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman depart), half of one of the best-known super-hero teams is now black. One could argue that this is of greater cultural importance than the non-death of a fictional character.
But nobody’s talking about FF. Word on the comic-oriented street is about big box-office takes and Colbert Report segments.
The timing of the release of Cap #25 seems to have served to allow Marvel to eclipse itself. It’s a shame the publisher didn’t delay the book until this week, March 14. Why not get CNN and ew.com writers going wild for the Sentinel of Liberty’s dirt nap and steal the spotlight from Joss Whedon and Dark Horse’s release of the new, printed eighth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? With the changes to the Fantastic Four and Cap’s death, Marvel could have taken charge of two news cycles rather than just the one.
Perhaps the most surprising move on Marvel’s part was to rob readers of the suspense and mystery of Ed Brubaker’s new, popular storyline in Captain America. As others have noted online, Bendis’s script for Civil War: The Initiative — a promotional one-shot for Marvel’s new titles and Civil War spinoff storylines, also released March 7 — Ms. Marvel tells Spider-Woman that Cap isn’t dead, that he’s alive and undergoing life-saving treatment in secret deep in the recesses of a government prison for super-humans.
Back in 1992 and 1993, when DC “killed” Superman, everyone knew the Man of Steel would eventually return, but DC wasn’t foolish enough to give away the end of the storyline the same week it began. Readers were able to delve into such strong aftermath plotlines as “Funeral for a Friend” and “World Without a Superman” before the long road of resurrection got underway.
Kudos to Marvel for keeping the events of Cap #25 a secret so long. The marketing and business success is no doubt something Marvel staffers and execs are relishing right now. But that celebration should be tempered with the realization and acknowledgement of missed opportunities as well.