From the moment Marvel sent out its DC-tweaking press release late on Wednesday afternoon, Siege-for-Lanterns is Topic A at BarCon and in private chatter.
Why? Why did Marvel turn the clock back to 2001-2, when Nü Marvel under Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada delighted in playing Scut Farkus to DC’s Ralphie at every opportunity — calling DC AOL Comics, and so on. Jemas also delighted in getting hostile with retailers. But in 2010, things with Marvel seem so be going pretty smooth with that whole Disney thing and all, so why now? Why such an aggressive in your face move here and now?
The move suggested that retailers were laboring so under the burden of having to order so many copies of lower selling Blackest Night tie-in books in order to get a few plastic rings that Marvel had to come to the rescue, offering a valuable SIEGE tie-in variant of their own. Adding insult to injury was that the returns had to be “stripped” — the covers torn off and mailed to Marvel. Defacing any comic is difficult for most of us, and the psychological damage of tearing apart stacks and stacks of Blackest Night tie-ins might have deep psychological repercussions for retailers.
Returnability in comics is rare enough these days. So why here, why now?
Comics Alliance rounded up some retailer reaction, and it was definitely more “Oh boy, a stunt,” than “Thank you Marvel for rescuing us from DC Blackest Night tie-ins!” especially given that the would have to destroy $200 worth of retail product — the SIEGE #3 Deadpool variant they got in return would have to sell for over $100 to make good on the deal. Here’s Andy Johnson of Cosmic Monkey in Portland, OR
“I think it’s completely obnoxious, but I also kinda love it at the same time. It seems like going out of your way to offend the other company, like a negative ad campaign… I can think of a customer that would want the variant, and it could be a nice way for some people to recoup on those unreturnable ‘Blackest Night’ covers, but it seems like poor sportsmanship. I actually wish Marvel would do something like this with their own titles, like ‘Dark Reign,’ because we seem to have a lot more problems with them than the ‘Blackest Night’ tie-ins. With the economy the way it is, it would be better for companies to focus on quality products than creating hype.”
We talked to one of our retailer pals, who suggested that some retailers were planning to buy MORE of the DC books in order to get the Marvel variant, so sort of a backfire there. This retailer also suggested that the whole thing was purely meant to be a funny dickish move. “Most the retailers I know either chuckled or rolled eyes and moved on — some are going to get a lot of money for the Marvel variant and potentially buy more DC 2nd prints.”
Talking to some of our other inside the beltway correspondents, however, and at DC itself, the mood was more “Who and why??!!” Some people wondered if such a bold, aggressive move wasn’t part of a scheme to find out what retailers were ordering from DC — although perhaps a slightly more low-key way could be found — like asking. It was also suggested that the move – going outside of Diamond’s practices but using their ordering system — might go against Diamond’s policies.
Other observers felt that the move might be some kind of specific retribution against some specific move by DC against Marvel — perhaps a talent or executive poach. If so, it was still a surprisingly strong reaction, especially given the generally business-first tone that Marvel’s publisher Dan Buckley has set in recent years. It was suggested to us that Buckley would obviously have had to know of and offer some approval for the move, so he would need some strong persuasion.
Indications are that Marvel was fully aware of the kind of reaction they’d get. Sean T. Collins summarizes the twitter feed from Marvel’s Tom Brevoort which offers some insight:. Brevoort’s statement:
We heard from a number of retailers who got stuck with books chasing rings and decided to do something. We’re not making any money on the deal, but we are helping our retailer partners during a tough economic time. Making sure that our retailers can keep the doors open if they tied up a lot of cash on inventory they can’t move. We’re doing this because we’re in the business of selling content rather than Cracker Jack prizes. And we need retailers to be able to keep the lights on and afford to order next month’s books. [Marvel won't be accepting trade-ins for unsold Dark Reign and The List books] because there, what we were selling and what the retailers were buying were the books. But DC can if they want to! Retailers ordered those books for the content–that’s part of the job, knowing your clientele. I think smart retailers know how to gauge the interests of their clientele most of the time and order appropriately.
We’re sure there are some oft-suggested OTHER ways Marvel could support their retail partners — like keeping their trades in print, for one — but Brevoort didn’t mention that.
While we mulled over the deeper conspiracy theories over the 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 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.
So yeah, as Brothers puts it in the comments section, it’s kind of just “reasserting your superiority on someone’s good day by kicking their sand castle over in front of their girl.” Blackest Night has been DC’s most successful event in a long time, and they’ve dominated the periodical sales Top 10 — if not the rest of the chart, where Marvel still holds the edge.
DC is still in a state of flux waiting for the announcement of their new publisher, but they’ve had a good week, getting out some long simmering announcements and winning the PR battle. So Marvel just wanted to piss in DC’s Wheaties because pissing in Wheaties is fun. Or as Rich Johnston observed:
Okay, looks like printing those Brown Deadpool rings that was once suggested as a fun response to DC’s Blackest Night promotion got too pricey for Marvel.
This leaves the Beltway types wondering “What’s next?” Is this just the beginning of an exciting, traffic-spiking PR war between the Big Two? (DC has yet to respond but typically does so in more stealthy ways.) As we said, we’ll welcome the traffic such stunts bring, but ultimately, it gets a little sad and demoralizing.
And for those looking to the Jemas era as a role model, eventually even Jemas got reined in by Ike Perlmutter after retailers complained his verbal bullying was just going too far. If there’s one thing all of our Beltway insiders agreed on, it’s that the Siege-for-Lanterns Wheaties piss isn’t the kind of thing Disney likes, so the aggressive era might not last that long.
At any rate, at least the whole thing spawned a really good Hitler video.