Monday, April 2, 2012

Was X-23's Comic Not Expected to Last by Marvel?

There have been a few clues that Marvel wasn't expecting to keep X-23's comic going for long. Which seems somewhat odd considering the first issue went to a second printing. The sales had stayed above the 20,000 threshold too that Marvel has stated in the past is the line on which to expect if a comic stays around or not. (Originally that line was at the 25,000 mark, but they've lowered it within the past decade.)

One of the main things that caught me as odd, was the lack of a letters page title, or even it's own letters page section. While some of the comics that were canceled did have this, X-23 never did. All her fan letters were grouped together with those of Daken, and Wolverine. This did work in its favor a little bit as it kept the page count down, but it did suggest a mild lack of faith in the title's staying power.

On that same order of no letters page, most comics that have a large backing by Marvel tend to have design pages in the back for when new characters or ideas are introduced. Considering some of the ideas presented like Alice, and the "Mystery Woman" among other more nuanced and psychology heavy topics, you would think there would be an expanded back of issue page or two to cover some of this to help better facilitate an understanding with the readership. Again though, this would up the page count which could have been problematic from a cost perspective. Thankfully with ample amounts of interviews and con discussions many of these ideas were fully talked about, but not all the readers may have been aware of these. They may have also not had access to them in their entirety.

Then there was the double shipping. This seemed like a nice gift during the holidays, but it also came across with the timing as a means to push more issues out to speed up the run. This could go both ways. On one side you do have a comic that constantly sold at above the 20k mark no matter how many were released in a month with the loyal fans the character has, but it also raises the amount of pages the artists needed to get done and the speed to which the scripts needed to be finished. Things that could have directly caused mistakes in a prolonged run. This especially seems problematic when considering how much effort was put into the comic. The crew on this comic put in the effort to try and put out the best comic they could. There were zero typoes, and overall the issues were handled very meticulously. Something that could have been hampered with the releases being sped up and forcing the quality to faulter above the bar they already set with future issues at this speed.

There's also the question of past solicits. Often the advertised solicit didn't match the content of the issue(which is starting to become more and more common with many Marvel comics though). Not so much an issue since what we got was better than what was advertised, but it still comes across as odd. There's also the question of the misnumberings in past solicits for the tpbs like Volume three that suggested issue 22 would be the last issue and that issue 21 was going to have a numbering skip. Now granted this could work in X-23's favor. 2013 is the ten year anniversary for the character and would be the prime marketing time to do a large event between August and October. This could do a similiar strategy as Venom did with the 13, 13.1, 13.2, 13.3, 13.4, and 14. In this instance though they could do 22, 22.1, 22.3, 22.4, and 23 with scheduling the issues to coincide with her animation debute for the first, and ending on October 23rd(10/23/2013 with 2013 being an anagram for 10-23 which can be read as X-23). In 2013, October 23rd falls on a Wednesday(comic release day). This could easily be handled as a 2 issue a month schedule to meet the criteria, or even expanded to longer if it were to be handled weekly. That would require the work to be started pretty soon though to meet that criteria and maintain the same cohesion the ongoing had become known for. Starting on such a prospect relatively soon would also eliminate some of the troubles the Venom event was plagued with due to how the schedule was weekly and seemingly barely had the time for the writers to make sure it was the best it could be throughout.

Speaking of solicit troubles, the final issue also had a slight problem in this regard. It was originally solicited as being a 32 page finale. Now I can understand this as well, as what we got was again better than advertised and didn't need the extra pages. Plus trying to force some kind of closure to the remaining plot threads in that small amount of pages may not have been possible. There was just too much to cover. Doing it justice would possibly need its own 3 issue arc or larger. That's not counting some of the remaining stories that were still left to be told. Things like X-23 interacting with Deadpool, X-23 interacting and dealing with Surge's hypocritical stances(maybe Avengers Academy will cover this), and potentially how X-23 could deal with the telepathic presence without it coming across as a quest for revenge. This same revenge quest issue comes up in dealing with Kimura. How do you solve that conundrum without it seeming like X-23 is actively out for blood and becoming the very thing Kimura is trying to turn her into. In either instance it would prove Kimura has been right about X-23 all along. Sometimes the only way to win, is to live a better life without worry of those that try to claim superiority over you. The second you openly admit to thinking you're better than someone or suggest as much or really even think as much, you've already lost no matter how you try to rationalize it. This would negate the character's empathy building that has been constant throughout the run. A character trait that has brought her more humanity than many of the self-involved arrogant characters she's dealt with. It's also something that truly makes Gambit shine in these issues. His lack of judgement and not trying to tell X-23 what to do is an example of friendship, understanding, and compassion. It humanizes both Gambit and X-23 during the run making them grow as characters you can relate to and want to read more of. Characters you can see the how they live to the best they can without condemning others for how they live theirs. They help where they can, but they don't become insulting or need selfworth by claiming superiority over others. They avoid the entire group mentality that plagues team dynamics by claiming trust in each other as the reason. Instead they have a focus on humanity as their group dynamic. Something that's diverse and refrains from such ego trips as everyone is their brother and sister, not just their teammates. Which is pure truth. Everyone is someone's father, someone's mother, their sister, their brother, son, or daughter.

There's also the question of how the comic was treated by fellow Marvel staff. We had mild amounts of double speak from EIC Axel Alonso when talking about the choice to end the comic. On one hand he praised the comic and the character rightfully so, on the other he perpetuated the sales were under the marigin needed for it to stay afloat in what comes across as a mild offhanded and unintentional insult to it. As the numbers show though, X-23 did stay above the threshold needed to stay afloat. Now granted he was also speaking of Daken when that mildly derisive remark was made. Something that does pan true for Daken's comic as it lost focus and cohesiveness once he made that trip to LA during Bucky's trial. Granted much of that I guess could be rationalized due to how his quest for revenge in the name of his mother was denied him, but I'll leave that to anyone who wants to try and analyze Daken's behavior. This site is mostly focused only on X-23, and to have those two compared and condemned within the same breath is mildy insulting when X-23 was able to stay above the threshold while Daken rapidly couldn't. There's also the question of how defensive the male Marvel staff in the past seems to get when questions of how female employees have been treated and how this compares to female characters that male creatives want to attempt to craft into a female following(which is what makes me wonder if there was some kind of internal kerfuffle when Daken was going to get the axe but X-23 could have gotten a stay of execution). I have no knowledge to this other than the Gail Simone and Bendis public tiff that arose awhile back. So I cannot speak on this subject. It has come to my attention rather repeatedly that there are more women interested in comics, and have creative potential that can be tapped, so I do tend to lean on the idea that maybe it's not the fact there are few who apply to do it anymore. I see it more as a lack of actively seeking the appropriate talents for the titles in question or the appropriate avenues to generate buzz. This also includes a personal friend of mine who gets a kick from yaoi moments in Marvel. Something that immediately made me want to point her towards the Bleeding Cool take on the AvX event to help get her more excited about the event. Sadly by the time I had gotten around to linking her to those stories, a certain male Marvel editor stepped in and complained about what could have actually been a marketing gimmick that could appeal to some female demographics. This could be part of a larger issue of men trying to dictate what they think a female readership wants, but this is an issue that's outside my scope. It is an issue that needs to be talked about though. It's also not the first time that male pride and ego has created issues to Marvel public relations in how they've treated their readership/customer base. Something that does need to be curtailed and if it is, could help bolster the brand to better heights. If these stories pan to be true, I find it personally hard to want to support writers like Bendis or anything Wacker is attached to as an editor. Which is a shame because I've been wanting to talk about the new direction for Captain Marvel for awhile now(loving the new costume and emphasis on the Air Force). As it is, I may pass on it entirely. These kinds of interactions make everyone look bad and do lose much needed sales as well as prospects on new creatives who may not be comfortable working for companies that have these public personas. Thankfully this is where X-23's creative team shines. They were always courteous to fans, respectful, and all around from many accounts a joy to hear from and engage.

There are also hints of points that Marvel tried to push this title forward, and having X-23 appear in the Superhero Squad Show and the comic referenced in it was a good start, as was having X-23 included in Marvel vs Capcom 3 video game. The pretty strong marketing of her addition to Avengers Academy was also a good move. Sadly though, the positive moves don't outweigh the potential negative. These perceived negative moves could have hindered the exposure the positive gave.

I've probably missed a few other details that could be used as proof about this overall idea that X-23's comic was expected to faulter. One of which that's also harder to pin down of course is the type of readers there were, but to analyze that kind of data would mean compartmentalizing what the readership was expecting and desires from an X-23 comic which is a topic I'd rather not dive into anytime soon with what I've personally heard from various fans in other circles about why the character is one they want to read and see more often. I enjoyed the comic as a challenge to those perceptions, but in a male dominated market, it's hard to expect a comic that goes against the grain to last. I have no statistical data to back it up, but X-23 seems to have done well in the female demographic as well as other areas of the readership besides her diehard fans.

Sadly those numbers only seem to be slightly above the threshold for cancellation. Could this be a marketing problem? Possibly, since those same readerships that might have been interested in the comic may not have been aware it appealed to their sensibilities. That problem falls on everyone, myself included. Better marketing would have helped to make awareness of the comic known to those that would enjoy it, but we can't count on just Marvel to handle that. We need to spread the word of mouth too. This kind of grassroots buzz was starting to build though, and if this blog's statistics are any indication, the sales were nearing a point of rebounding back upward as interest was growing(more and more hits are coming in worldwide from google search results, which I also get to see what keywords caused them to come here). The cancelation announcement though may have killed that interest for those who were about to check it out. Why get vested in something you know is about to end no matter the positive things you've heard is the typical mentality there. Hopefully they still gave it a chance as the last issue especially went out on an interesting note, but such an early announcement of cancelation may have been the harbinger of X-23's doom. The Venom event could have led to a spike in the readership alongside those already starting to get interest in checking it out. Plus the Venom event among X-23 fans may have caused a huge spike as they were desperately ready for further adventures where she's handled well. If the decision was held off a little while longer at least, the sales data could have been interesting. Now that's not to say the numbering couldn't be salvaged for later marketing potential as suggested above(which would suggest prolonged hiatus, never canceled, which is an interesting marketing stunt in itself). Overall though sometimes the longer a comic lasts, the more fans it picks up because it reflects a comic that Marvel has faith in and won't cancel on them mid story arc. Something that shows that Marvel is supportive of such endeavors. Something that wider audience recognition would also help create. Now if only there was a way to create that kind of mass appeal, mass recognition, and mass awareness(okay, this one I blame on Fox)...

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