The Cap is out of the bag, finally, as it was revealed — both by some mainstream media outlets and Marvel’s PR department — that Captain America (the “real” one, Steve Rogers) is going to return. The “Reborn” title we’ve been hearing about is actually Captain America Reborn, and it’s set to begin July 1. The New York Daily News ran a piece on it, as did CNN. Marvel’s handling of the solicitations for both Reborn #1 and this week’s Captain America #600 raised the ire of many retailers, and understandably so, as stores weren’t given as much information as necessary to facilitate advance ordering.
In the wake of Monday’s reporting of the Cap resurrection story in the mainstream media, retailers have expressed further frustration. Brian Hibbs, owner of San Francisco’s Comix Experience, laments that some news coverage seems to make no mention of Cap #600, in which the resurrection/revival story gets underway. Consequently, he says, the demand for the special issue doesn’t seem as strong as it could be.
Comics commentator Todd Allen — a post entitled “Captain America and the Botched Promotion” — also seems to criticize the publisher for failing to convey the connection to this week’s comics shipment. He says:
“The article plainly says the good Captain will be coming back next month, not today. We’ll see if there’s sufficient foot traffic generated today to justify Marvel telling shops to order more copies of this issue or whether the retailers complaining they didn’t find out about the scheduled publicity quick enough to up their orders are relieved they didn’t.”
While one could argue that critics are pointing the finger at media outlets as well, it’s safe to say the bulk of the bile is reserved for “the House of Ideas.” I agree that this promotional effort didn’t go exactly according to Marvel’s plan. And I think that’s probably a good thing, to a certain extent.
The reason that this didn’t go according to Marvel’s plan is simple: while it was the publisher’s plan, it wasn’t executing it. Marvel doesn’t — and shouldn’t — have any kind of editorial control over what the various reporters, editors and producers involved in presenting the information write and say. Sure, the comics publishing house clearly struck an arrangement (specifically with the Daily News) and embargoed the story, but as to what details were emphasized, it’s just not Marvel’s place to dictate or approve.
Industry insiders and followers may therefore be driven to fire some critical volleys at various journalists for omitting important information (or at least info they perceive as important), but the fact of the matter is that the media coverage of this “news story” isn’t aimed at retailers or comics readers. It’s meant as a curiosity for a wider audience made up of people who may or may not have an interest in pop culture. This kind of news feature isn’t so much meant to inform so as to divert.
Sure, Marvel’s hope (and that of retailers) is that the story will move product, and yes, the journalists who’ve written about Cap’s return are no doubt aware of that particular goal. That doesn’t mean they have to share it.
As a reporter for a daily newspaper, I am often urged by the subjects of my news coverage to emphasize certain facts above others. I’m also urged to emphasize certain non-fact-based opinions over others. I’ve spoken with representative of non-profits who practically begged me to include a seemingly unending laundry list of sponsors. I’ve had criminal defendants beg me to omit certain details of their cases.
In some cases, I’ve included the urged information or omitted those feared facts, but it was never because it was requested. As a rule, I included what I felt was needed to tell the story. Sometimes, length limits dictated what made it and what didn’t. There are a number of factors that come into play — some ideological, some practical… even some personal.
From a big-picture perspective, this misstep could actually serve Marvel and other super-hero comics publishers well, if they’re able to discern the lesson or lessons to be learned from it. The limited interest/reaction in the Cap story could be attributed to: (a) apathy toward the Captain America character in the general populace, or (b) an awareness, even among non-comics readers, that super-heroes always return from the dead, explaining a much-ado-about-nothing reaction.
Marvel’s got a much bigger Cap-related endeavor in the works that could benefit from this Q-rating test run: a major motion picture. The First Avenger: Captain America is slated for release summer 2011 and is a vital component in the Rube Goldberg machine that is Marvel’s media plan for the coming years.
So there’s that lesson to be learned. And, of course, that one can’t count on a manufactured media report to provide the promotional payoffs one has promised business partners.