Martha Thomases: Superheroes Attack New Markets
This is a great time for the business side of American comics. Sales are higher than they’ve been for decades, at least in terms of dollars.
(It’s true that in the 1940s many titles sold millions of copies apiece. Those were different times.)
According to the article cited in the link, only titles featuring Batman and Spider-Man consistently sell more than 100,000 an issue. It’s true that Spider-Man and Batman star in a lot of titles, and comics cost a lot more than they did in the 1940s. Still, superheroes are not the monolithic force in the market that they used to be, and single-issues print copies are no longer the biggest part of the market. Graphic novels account for almost half the sales. Digital is estimated to be at least ten percent.
(I know that these categories overlap. My point stands.)
In any case, I think this is good for the medium. I think more kinds of books, available at more kinds of stores, will attract more kinds of readers. More readers mean more money, and more money means more books. Yay!
By their announcements these past few weeks, Marvel demonstrated that it notices changes in the market and will at least pay lip service to them.
The more high profile story of the two is this one, which Joe Quesada announced on The Colbert Report. Captain America will no longer be Steve Rogers, but instead will be his pal, Sam Wilson, who until this point has been The Falcon. Also, up until this point, he’s been African-American, which I assume he will remain while he is Captain America.
This is not the first time a comic book character has changed his or her race. My first experience was when Lois Lane literally went from white to black. We’ve also had John Henry Irons as one of the possible Supermen, come back from the dead.
For that matter, we’ve had a black Captain America before. I love this book. I wish Marvel’s lawyers had been able to work out the deal for the sequel before we lost Bob Morales.
Does this bring in non-white readers? I have no idea. I don’t even know how they could find out, unless comic book stores now have NSA technology that lets them secretly photograph every sale. However, I think one of America’s great shames is the way we handle race relations, and therefore, this is a rich subject for fiction.
Speaking of difficult relationships, Marvel’s other big announcement is that Thor will soon be a woman. One of my favorite story lines of all time was from back in the 1980s, when Walter Simonson made Thor a frog. To me, this epitomizes what’s great about comics, because in any other medium, this would be ridiculous (and, if filmed, really expensive), but in Walter’s hands, it made perfect sense. Therefore, I hesitate to denounce this new development, although that is my first impulse.
I’m not really up on my mythology, but Thor is, after all, a god. The Norse gods, like the Greek gods, and probably like a whole bunch of other gods, are personifications of primal human emotions and experiences. The only reason Thor has gender is that the Norse decided that thunder and lightning were masculine.
Like the Greeks, the Norse often had male and female deities representing different aspects of the same thing. Ares and Athena, for example, were both aspects of War to the Greeks. Baldur and Freya represented beauty to the Norse in different ways.
In other words, there is no real reason for Thor to be female. And if he’s going to now be she, I would find the storyline more appealing if the character was represented as a woman with a build that is a reasonable counterpart to the masculine representation. The only artwork I’ve seen shows a woman with gigantic breasts (or, at least, a gigantic breastplate) that would be impossible with the muscle mass I assume she has.
Maybe gods get free implants when they transition. Maybe she’s using the space in her armor for snacks.
Marvel has said they want this new female Thor to appeal to women readers. I don’t know why they think women want thunder goddesses with implants. Marvel says women readers will like the strong female protagonist Thor now represents.
This woman reader would prefer a version of female strength that isn’t derivative of a male character. I’d prefer something new and different, something that reflects the kinds of modern experiences that women have. Marvel already does this well with Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel.
Maybe they don’t have enough snacks.