Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Occasional Reviews: Buy Ms. Marvel & She-Hulk!

She Hulk #24
Writer: Peter David
Artists: Shawn Moll & Victor Olazaba

Ms. Marvel #22
Writer: Brian Reed
Artists: Aaron Lopresti & Matt Ryan

The current arcs of She-Hulk & Ms. Marvel are surprisingly introspective and sensitive works in the sense that a lot of attention is paid to the psyche of the superheroines in question. I hesitated to type the last line for fear that unless I wrote "She-Hulk becomes a celestial goddess with the mind of a fetus who is emotionally enslaved by Cosmic Spider-Man" the books might lose that all-important "mass appeal" cachet. And that would be a shame.

Which brings me to a broader (see, I said "broad," I made a funny) point --

I do not believe that superheroine comics that are not simply cheesecake vehicles can survive depending on the "usual" Wizard Magazine reader demographic alone. Comic books starring complex, strong, clothed females need a broader (puns I have a million of 'em) reader base. They need a more vocal reader base. They need a reader base that communicates with the publishers in question & let them know when they're doing it right.

Because the fact is, if books like She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and the current Wonder Woman and Benes-less Birds of Prey fail, they communicate to the publishers that positive superheroines don't sell books. What is even more crucial, if Birds of Prey with its new female artist Nicola Scott fails, or if Wonder Woman with scribe Gail Simone fails, that will also communicate that "women can't sell comics."

Never mind the other factors. Never mind marketing (or lack thereof). Never mind previous successful track records. I'm telling you, that's how it is perceived when the higher-ups have the numbers of sold books in their hands. And in the end, while I think the fact of the gender involved does make things a bit more complicated, it all boils down to those numbers.

But the Ms. Marvel "The Monster and the Marvel" & She-Hulk "Jaded" storylines are the sort of complex, textured character-studies of superheroines that critics complain they don't see enough of. Carol Danvers and Jennifer Walters are active, independent, and hard to pin down. They aren't mentally-fragile Suicide Girls or "full-bodied women" with the brains of newborns.

But hey..."Suicide Girls: The Comic." That would make a lot of money, wouldn't it? I mean, the idea is pure genius. And that's the tragedy of it in a nutshell. As a marketer, I know that "Suicide Girls: The Comic" would sell a million copies. It's a great license for a comic book company. It would get a ton of PR, and sell a million copies. Even if the art was so-so. They could even skip the art and go straight to a fumetti, just use photos and word balloons like those soft-core porn mags from the 1970s.
She-Hulk & Ms. Marvel could easily become cheesecake books on the level of Red Sonja and Shanna the She-Devil and sell a lot more copies. But then you soil these strong characters. Do I think in the past some of the covers of each title were devised to "reach out" to the cliche fanboy Wizard Magazine readership? Sure. Do I think DC's Catwoman has sexed-up covers by Adam Hughes in order to attract that very same readership? Sure.

But see, that strategy ultimately fails because you've enticed the readers with boobies on the cover and then there's no or not enough boobage inside. It's false advertising.

In the end, like I said, it comes down to numbers. Sales. If we do not support books like She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and Wonder Woman now, we cannot complain. The companies have room for only one "superheroine" book each to "carry." And those are currently Spider-girl & Manhunter. Those are good-will superheroine books that are carried by publishers irrespective, to an extent, of sales. They meet the quota. Everything else comes down to numbers.

Only when a comic book starring a white heterosexual male gets cancelled, nobody questions whether white heterosexual males can really "sell" comics.

And that's why, along with the quality of the titles, I'm pushing for Ms. Marvel & She-Hulk. Plus, it looks like Ms. Marvel might be a Skrull according to some solicitations art. And She-Hulk's sidekick is a Skrull. You like Skrulls, don't you? What role will they play in the great "Invasion" event? Ooohhh, don't you want to find out? Captain America might come back! And Irving Forbush!


  1. I'm a regular reader of Spider-Girl and She-Hulk... I also read the first Manhunter TPB, but didn't get it into it, and I'm giving Gail's Wonder Woman a shot. The only one of those you mentioned that I haven't tried is Ms. Marvel, just because the character doesn't really interest me, and the series seems too closely tied to Bendis' Avengers books which I am not a fan of.

    It's interesting that you bring up Spider-Girl, because the major reason (aside from passionate fan support) it has survived this long is because of strong bookstore sales of its digests. You aren't going to find large enough numbers to support these books in comic shops.

    Of course, with the exception of Wonder Woman and Spider-Girl, I'm not sure most of these books are being marketed for a mainstream audience; as good as they may be, they are often oriented in a very "inside" way, aiming towards fans of the ongoing storylines and continuity. I'm not sure what could change that perception; maybe create bookstore displays to highlight offerings that appeal to female readers? But the content has to match, so that if a reader new to comics picks up any given volume of the shelf, she can easily get into it without having a PhD in the character or preceding storylines.

  2. Although there's a certain amount of trend-following with comic books, I think you give too little credit to publishers in suggesting that they see a female character's book fail and automatically think "it failed because it had a female lead." Sometimes these books fail because they just ain't that great, and most observers in the industry can see that.

  3. Hmm. I started buying Ms. Marvel at the beginning, intrigued by the premise (heroine who's been stuck in neutral due to personal issues decides to get her head out and become one of the great ones). I waded through the unbelievable morass of crap imposed on the book due to Carol being on the Wrong Side of the Civil War...

    ...and dropped the book two months ago (at the end of the extremely tedious Puppet Master 3-parter) because after nearly 2 years the book was still, well, stuck in neutral. And Carol wasn't anywhere near introspective enough about the fact that she hadn't really made any progress at all towards her goals to interest me.

    I'm not sure whether the book just got seriously derailed due to the Civil War BS, or if Brian Reed just wasn't able to establish and maintain a direction for the series, but ultimately I dropped it because it just isn't very good.

    (The art is excellent, though, and I probably bought it for 3 or 4 issues longer than I would have with lesser artwork.)

    BTW, I will respond to Matt Adler's comment above, that Ms. Marvel is barely-if-at-all tied to Bendis' Avengers books (which I can't stand, either), so if that's all that' holding you back, you might want to reconsider. Other than the repercussions of the Civil War, it's really a standalone title.


  5. Well, I can't say it being heavily tied to CW is much of a draw to me either. I guess the one aspect of Ms. Marvel that might be of interest to me are her ties to the Kree. But from what I've heard (bits and pieces about her wanting to be the best superhero and training Initiative recruits), it sounds like more of an Earth-bound take, and one that is deeply involved in the "big event" storylines. The upcoming tie-ins to the invasion storyline (which I fear will be as contrived as Avengers Disassembled and House of M) don't do much to dispel that notion. So yeah, most of the books I get tend to stand away as much as possible from the big events.

  6. Eh, Ms. Marvel isn't so Civil Warish. It is pretty much self contained. I enjoy it.

  7. I would absolutely buy a Suicide Girls comic book. Please, make this happen!

  8. I've said repeatedly that I buy the titles in TPB that I want to re-read. There's not much point re-reading a T&A book. But a well-written book is well worth reading. Not sure whether I'm going to get SG and Shulkie yet (I got fed up of Slott's Shulkie and have never particularly bonded with SG). But I'd gladly buy the e.g. pre-Benes Linda Danvers Supergirl in TPB if someone offered it.

    Anyway, getting back to the core point, I'm not sure what sells as trade paperbacks (which are kept on bookshelves) is the same as what sells as comics (which are often thrown).

  9. I read Sensational She-Hulk when John Byrne was writing it. After a while the quality of the art seemed to suddenly go downhill, and also got excessively T&A for my tastes so I dropped it again. I didn't pay attention to artists, so I have no clue who or when that was - 1989? Long enough ago that it dropped off my radar.

    I'm not usually a Marvel gal, but on your recommendation I picked up She Hulk a couple of weeks ago and was very glad I did. Good book! I've added it to my pull list. Thanks so much for the heads-up!