Reborn #1 and Marvel’s “Hard Sell” Tactics – A Step Too Far?

I’m rarely surprised these days by any of the seemingly ceaseless dirty goings-on in the comics industry, particularly the never-ending merry-go-round of hype and sneaky “crossover” tricks that the Big Two (Marvel and DC) use to con us into buying their (mostly rubbish) titles each month. But the latest issue of Marvel Previews contains possibly the newest “low” in a long line of questionable tactics employed by Marvel in their eternal attempts to part us from our hard-earned pennies.

It centres around the first issue of a new, upcoming five-part Marvel mini-series, known only as Reborn, which, apparently, is the next Big Event in the Marvel Universe. Leaving aside the fact that I dislike these Big Events intensely, and avoid them like the plague – they’re so common these days, and mean so little now that they have no real impact or meaning anymore (why the hell can’t we just have normal, decent stories, without everything having to be Yet Another Boring, Bland and Irrelevant Marvel Big Event or Crossover?) – there’s something new about this one that disturbs me like none before it has.

There’s always a certain amount of secrecy involved in the run-ins to these Big Events, as the publishers don’t want to give away too much, too soon. But there’s also always some information available, just enough to whet our appetites or to let us know enough about it that we can decide whether or not we want to buy it. But in the case of this new Reborn mini-series, there’s an incredibly high level of secrecy involved, way beyond anything we’ve seen before. Marvel won’t give us any information. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not the slightest clue what it’s about or who’s in it.

They’re messing with our heads. We’re expected to buy it without knowing anything about it, like we have to take Marvel’s word that it’s gonna be great. Like we’re dumb shits who can’t be trusted to make up our own minds, mindless sheep who will pay up without question for anything that they throw at us. They regard their customers with total contempt, arrogantly assuming that if they tell us absolutely nothing about this new “event”, we’ll all be so overcome with anticipation that we’ll rush out in droves to buy it.

Well, guess what Marvel? No thank you. At least from this particular customer. Some of us have enough intelligence to know when we’re being insulted and manipulated, and I, personally, feel really insulted and irritated when confronted by cynical con-man “hard sell” tactics. And this new Marvel selling tactic stinks. It bugs me, I mean REALLY bugs me, extremely, big time, with lashings of cream on top.

The vile stench of cold, hard, cynical manipulation of comics buyers by the marketing department of one of the so-called “leading lights” of the comics industry is positively nauseating. As a long-term Marvel junkie – I’ve been buying their comics for four decades now, and more than 75% of my $400+ monthly comics spending goes into the Marvel coffers – I find this level of sneaky, underhand, taking-for-granted manipulation of their ultra-loyal customer base totally repulsive. At this moment I’m thoroughly disgusted and ashamed to be a Marvel fan.

And it isn’t just the lowly customers. Marvel are also keeping comics retailers in the dark about Reborn, a fact that shocks and surprises even me. They’re being messed around even more than we are, since they’re expected to pay handsomely and upfront for the honour of stocking a whole bunch of these (non-returnable) Reborn #1 thingies, unseen, and all just on Marvel’s say-so. Well, at least one of these retailers is really pissed off about it (and good fer him).

Yesterday I received this rather interesting email from my friend and esteemed comics supplier Jack Curtinhttp://www.jackcurtin.com (well worth a visit). I’d urge you to click on the link for Savage Critic and have a read for yourselves:

“Those of you who became pals with Brian Hibbs back in the CIS days, might appreciate seeing this… http://savagecritic.com/2009/05/on-marvels-reborn-1.html

Much of what Brian Hibbs says in his article echoes my own sentiments. I recall Brian from my days on the Compuserve Comics & Animation Forum (known as CAF to long term members and ex-members), although he probably wouldn’t remember me, and I’m not one bit surprised he’s taken this stand. He’s definitely one of the good guys, and we need more like him in the business.

On the Reborn #1 thing, Marvel is treating both its retailers and customers with astonishing arrogance and contempt, and it’s absolutely refreshing to see a comics retailer act on his conscience by telling them to sod off, thankyouverymuch, rather than letting greed rule his head. Far too often, single-minded greed is sadly the bottom line for too many retailers out there.

It’s not a question of whether or not retailers will shift all the copies of Reborn #1 on the shelves. It’ll probably sell by the truckload. Rather, it’s the principle of the thing, and we need far more people emulating Brian Hibbs, retailers sacrificing a few sales and customers a refusing en masse to buy this particular title, just to let Marvel know in no uncertain terms that they can’t treat us all like shit. Most importantly, we have to make darned sure that this despicable new sales tactic they’ve employed does NOT become accepted industry practice.

Boy, do I hate these Big Companies… Speaking as a customer, I myself will definitely not be buying Reborn on principle, whether or not it might be my cup of tea (probably not, being a Big Event thing), and despite the fact that I usually like the work of both Ed Brubaker and Bryan Hitch. Even if I really, really want to have it, I’m still sticking to my guns and refusing to buy it, either in comic book or trade paperback form, precisely and solely because of Marvel’s new selling tactics.

Nor will I buy ANY other Marvel title employing the same approach. And if they adopt it as a general marketing tactic, I will boycott their entire range – and believe me, I do not say this lightly, since I’m a die-hard Marvel fan and the bulk of my comics spending goes on their products. But I’m sure there are a lot of deserving indies and small press titles out there who who be glad of a larger chunk of my monthly $400.

In my case, Marvel’s new “hard sell” has backfired, badly, and I reckon (at least I hope) it’ll also backfire with a sizeable percentage of the customer base. When I read the Reborn entry in the current Marvel Previews, my only thought was “BASTARDS!!! They can take Reborn and stick it where the sun don’t shine”. I make a point of reading Previews each month solely to get information on upcoming releases, so I can make up my own mind on exactly what I’ll be ordering. Marvel’s refusal to give any information whatsoever about Reborn prevents me from doing just that, at least in the case of Reborn. So I won’t be buying it, simple as that.

I really am quite livid at what I see as Marvel’s latest, and possibly most blatantly cynical and arrogant attempt to hook and reel in the Marvel Faithful. Most of the obsessive Marvel Lemmings will most likely just behave like crack addicts, and buy this thing in droves, so Marvel will see the new approach as being successful, at least in terms of sales. But I’m sincerely hoping that enough of the more discerning general readership may just see through this cynical marketing ploy, and that there’ll be some kind of backlash.

We badly need a lot of retailers and readers to do the Right Thing for once, giving Reborn #1 a well-deserved raised middle finger, and sending an emphatic message to Marvel that they really should quit messing around with their customers and retailers, the people who have made them what they are.

If this doesn’t happen, and, unfortunately, there’s a strong chance that it won’t, since most comic fans are mindless sheep – no offense intended to the more intelligent and discerning minority, nor to the younger readers, who haven’t yet learned about the cynical side of the comics industry – I anticipate lots of bad shit descending upon us down the road a bit if Marvel continues on this path, and DC and others start to follow in line.

It looks like a certain greedy company has forgotten the very stark and costly lesson provided by the implosion of the industry back in the ’90s. But remember this, Marvel. Piss off enough customers, and history might just repeat itself. Biting the hand that feeds you is not a good long-term business practice.

I’m sincerely hoping that many, many more retailers will follow the brave lead set by Brian Hibbs, and refuse to order Reborn #1. For once, please, think longer term, beyond the extra bit of money you’ll bring in for the few weeks that Reborn is the new Big Event on the block. Take a stand, ‘cos even if it costs a few bucks now, it may just cost a heckuva lot more in the future if you don’t. Send a loud, clear message to Marvel that the Direct Market should never be abused in this way, and that this kind of behaviour simply will not be tolerated. My most fervent hope is that this cynical, underhanded game-playing blows up completely in Marvel’s greedy face.

Did I mention that I hate these Big Companies? They’re a lot like the Ferengi in Star Trek: The Next Generation and DS9. To them, Profit is God, and they’ll use every low-down trick in the book to bleed us dry. If they’re allowed to, that is. The Big Guys really do need the occasional swift, hard kick in the nuts to bring them right back down to Planet Earth. Be warned – apathy and mindless subservience to Marvel now on the part of retailers and collectors will reap lots of pain for all of us later on down the road.

It takes guys in the industry like Brian Hibbs to bring this sort of thing to the public’s attention, to get us all to sit up and take notice, because most people are, lets face it, apathetic and easy-going at the best of times. So a big Thank You to Brian, and, come Friday night, when I’m in the pub with my mates, enjoying the music of a decent local rock band, and imbibing a few glasses of the old liquid pick me up, I’ll make sure to take a minute or two out to toast Brian’s good health.

I wish there were a lot more like him in the comics industry.

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