This week Marvel announced they were ending the Avengers. This is a comic book series with a multi-billion dollar movie franchise, and Marvel are going to replace it. Think about the magnitude of that decision, for a moment. Consider the dollar value in sales that ‘Avengers Comic Books’ gains from ‘Avengers Movies’. The Avengers will be back at some point, no one has any doubt, but issue 1 of A-Force will be released just 19 days after Joss Whedon’s Age of Ultron movie lands in theaters. At the peak of people’s excitement over the movie, Marvel will present them with the new line up.
Ahead of the Curve
The entertainment industry is driven by consumer trends, and the safest path to profitability is to follow these trends; if something makes money, make more of it. The stock and trade of the big two publishers is intellectual property represented by characters so ingrained in our culture they will probably exist longer than the medium which created them. People like reading these characters and they make money, so the industry is going to keep making them. The publishers are following the trend and, as readers, we’re happy because these are titles we want to read.
It is more difficult to get ahead of the curve; to create something there’s a demand for but insufficient supply. But this is exactly what Marvel are doing in taking this step.
In the same week as announcing A-Force, Marvel also announced that Sana Amanat is to become Director of Content and Character Development. Amanat was co-creator of Ms. Marvel, as well as editor on numerous titles including Captain Marvel and Matt Fraction‘s critically acclaimed Hawkeye. By having her work in this position, Marvel clearly hopes to develop more titles, existing and new, which have this same appeal, readership and quality.
A-Force is being written by G. Willow Wilson and Marguerite K. Bennett, both of whom have a proven history of delivering work that’s high quality and commercially successful. The artist is Jorge Molina, who’s worked on a number of X-Force and Avengers titles. The three people on this creative team tie in several segments of Marvel comic book fans.
Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel are both critical and commercial successes with loyal female readerships. Spider-Gwen was so popular in Edge of Spider-verse she’s getting her own series, as well as becoming a part of A-Force. Black Widow sells well for Marvel, because of strong writing and Phil Noto’s beautiful artwork, less so because of the lead character’s appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These are all strong characters, and by strong I don’t mean physically or that they’re pushing a serious message (although they may be) but that they are strongly portrayed. They are drawn in two dimensions in the comic, but it is the quality of the writing which makes them three dimensional. Gender is a part of the character, but not a part of the story.
Give the People What They Want
47% of the comic book readership is female, but Marvel isn’t producing separate titles to appeal to boys and girls. A-Force will no doubt increase the female demographic readership, but what Marvel can prove here is that boys will read comics with predominantly female characters. They’re not trying to set up ‘Marvel Blue’ and ‘Marvel Pink’ comic series, they want to produce comics which are accessible to everyone, not comics where the gender of the character determines the gender of the readership. You can see them doing this in the current Hawkeye run, where Kate Bishop has as much right to the title as Clint Barton.
The Secret Wars event of this summer will put characters in front of readers whom they wouldn’t normally read. The end of Avengers will feed into A-Force, and I expect a notable percentage of Avengers readers will follow. This isn’t, ‘Avengers for Girls’, this is ‘Avengers‘ with a new line up. Reinventing existing characters and franchises to keep them fresh and relevant is another thing Marvel are consistently good at.
Marvel is a business, and has to make a profit regardless of any social agenda editorial would like to push. The company is launching these titles with female leads not solely because of a belief there should be more and better representations of women in comic books. Marvel is launching them because the people in charge believe this is what their readers want. It’s what we mean when we talk about ‘women in comics’. Not necessarily comic books by women, for women, but comic books where the gender of the character is not the primary focus of the story, and Marvel understands it will be a profitable move.