By Don Alsafi. In early 2017, amidst plummeting sales across their line, Marvel announced that they would be taking a break from line-wide crossover events after Secret Empire. Instead, they would be focusing on smaller events in (and between) the different families of titles. In this, they have not been shy, as both recent and upcoming months have been rife with crossovers: Amazing Spider-Man and Venom; Venom and (bizarrely) X-Men: Blue; X-Men: Blue and X-Men: Gold; Weapon X and Totally Awesome Hulk; Avengers and Champions; and, finally, a Doctor Strange event involving his title, Scarlet Spider and Iron Fist. Whew!
With Avengers: No Surrender, Marvel is taking a different tack. In the past few months, they’ve cancelled the low-selling Uncanny Avengers, U.S.Avengers, and Occupy Avengers, and have instead absorbed the teams (and many of the creators) into the parent book, the Mark Waid-written Avengers. No Surrender is thus a 16-part weekly event that, in healthier times, clearly would have been a crossover between those four titles… just without the ignominy of having three fourths of those issues take place in low-selling books. The wisdom in such a plan might be questionable – for reasons we’ll go into below – but the particular approach is, if nothing else, certainly creative.
But when all is said and done, what will be the result? That’s what we’re here to find out. Spoilers ahead.
Written by Mark Waid, Al Ewing & Jim Zub.
Art by Pepe Larraz.
Colors by David Curiel.
Letters by VC’s Cory Petit.
Massive stakes and a massive cast. Let’s get this out of the way: If you’re committed to producing a blockbuster world-threatening event story, Mark Waid has the skills and experience you want to helm it – and the talents of co-writers Al Ewing and Jim Zub have undeniably garnered their own Marvel fans over the last several years as well. Despite kicking things off with a global catastrophe which grows to involve a staggering twenty-eight Avengers, the writers nevertheless take pains to introduce each of them, and deftly utilize the scenes of desperate action to give nearly every one at least a scene in which their inner character can shine.
Considering they only have 30 pages of story to work with, that accomplishment alone cannot be overstated! With varying scenes of disaster and destruction, and a colossal cast to juggle, artist Pepe Larraz has some truly herculean lifting to do, and yet he acquits himself admirably.
The stakes are undeniably huge, as global communications fail, earthquakes and unprecedented tidal waves spring up out of nowhere, and the lion’s share of Marvel heroes and villains – with the exception of less than thirty Avengers – find themselves frozen in place. (Amusingly, our first glimpse of the calamity features red skies, which has traditionally been the signifier of DC’s occasional crises.) Eventually, they discover that these unnatural disasters have come about because the Earth has seemingly been stolen – though it’s anyone’s guess as to where, or how. As the scattered, remaining heroes come together to try to get a handle on things, they’re surprised to find the return of an Avenger they’ve not seen in years – and yet who, in a bit of retroactive continuity, readers have never met before.
Too much of a good thing? Or simply too much? As far as the story is concerned, the creators involved do a decent job at launching this saga. And yet after the sales slump that was seen industry-wide in 2017, readers and retailers can’t help but ask themselves: Is a four-month weekly event really a good idea?
Comic books have traditionally been a monthly medium, and the occasional attempts to increase the frequency beyond that have rarely proved long-term viable. DC’s weekly year-long 52 was the exception – but that also had the cachet of coming from a truly superstar writing team of Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka and (again) Mark Waid, and none of the publisher’s subsequent attempts at weekly series ever yielded the same results. In the past year, DC has had surprising success with moving a number of their flagship books to twice-monthly – but it’s arguable that part of that success has come with their firm decision to keep those more-than-monthly books at a price point of $2.99. Because at the end of the day, they understand that their readership has a limited budget, and will constantly be making hard and practical decisions on where their entertainment dollars go.
This is, perhaps, the underlying (and undeniable) factor which Marvel’s continuing publishing plan seems unwilling to accept. Clearly their hope is that a literally Earth-shaking tale like this one will get people who had not been picking up this book to jump on board. But how many readers had been perhaps enjoying Mark Waid’s Avengers well enough for $3.99 a month… but will then balk at laying down nearly $20 every month, for four months, for that same comic? How many will instead decide that’s more of a financial commitment than they’re willing to put up with, and simply jump ship? (And when readers leave a title, it’s incredibly hard to win them back.) Do Marvel really think the gain of readers who are attracted by the event will, in the long term, outweigh those they lose?
A worrying gamble for comic book stores. What’s worse is that as hard of a decision as weekly comics are for readers – they’re far, far worse for the retailers. When Marvel announced that Avengers was going weekly for four months, many retailers were at a loss as to how they would order this. More copies than usual? Massively less? Remember that comic book stores have to order their books two months in advance of actual publication – which means that, even when dealing with stable factors and coldly scrutinized sales records, the numbers they order for the shelf are always a bit of a guess.
With something like this, though? They could order big, and if the event really is something that attracts a surprising number of eyes, then they’ve got the sales success that they sorely need! (Especially after the industry-wide low sales of 2017.) But if readers give it a big pass – as they’ve increasingly done for events of the past few years – then any stores which sank money into it will find themselves having paid for shelves of dead stock. On the other hand, retailers could instead order conservatively – and again, after the past year, understandably so. But while that tactic is useful for minimizing risk, it’s completely antithetical to fostering the growth comic book stores so urgently need to see right now.
Now, if Marvel truly had faith in this event, they could have overprinted every issue to an impressive degree. If a retailer sells out in week one, they could then reorder the issue and have it back on the stands the following week, when Part 2 comes out! (And so on, and so on.) Sadly, Marvel did not do this, and the remaining copies of Avengers #675 have sold out from the distributor within days of going on sale. A second printing has already been announced – but given the necessary time for retailers to order it (and the book to be reprinted and shipped), Part 1 isn’t going to be back on the stands until the week that Part 6 is out (by which point Parts 2-5 may have disappeared as well). By that point, just who, exactly, is a reprint of #675 going to help?
The right story in exactly the wrong way. You can’t help but feel a little bad for the creators here. The idea to do a 16-part, weekly series is almost certainly a directive that came from above their paygrade, and yet the story they’ve delivered is one that is intriguing, exciting, and bound to be full of mystifying secrets and shocking reveals. If this were coming out at a normal pace, taking just over a year to come to fruition, it could be exactly the kind of epic story that superhero readers often crave.
And yet it can’t be denied that, with the current health of the comic industry being what it is, with more and more accounts of this or that store having cut hours or staff – if not going out of business entirely – that this is the worst time for one of the Big Two to embark on a publishing plan that demands a 300% financial increase not just from the title’s own readers, but from retailers as well (most of whom get by on razor-thin profit margins at even the best of times).
If nearly $20 a month for one title isn’t a dealbreaker for you, Avengers: No Surrender looks to be a well-crafted and exciting epic. And depending on how the readership responds, and how much faith retailers had in Marvel when ordering the book two months ago, you might find stacks of the issue on your comic store’s shelves – or simply none at all (with no more copies coming until the story’s over one-third through).
That’s perhaps the saddest thing of all. This may, in the end, turn out to be a great Avengers story! But the way it’s been positioned is deeply at odds with the stability the industry, right now, needs.
6.5 out of 10