When it comes to the Marvel brand it has continued to grow stronger thanks to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But for the first time we went a whole year without new content from the MCU due to the pandemic in 2020. This break in 2020 just made fans crave new MCU content even more as both WandaVision and Falcon And The Winter Soldier have providing a greater boom for Disney+. But while the MCU continues to grow strong the same can’t be said about how Marvel has translated it to the success of the comics. More than anything else the release of both WandaVision and Falcon And The Winter Soldier have shown how Marvel Comics has dropped the ball on their publishing.
Before getting into how Marvel Comics has dropped the ball on their comic book publishing let’s first look at how big the MCU Disney+ series are.
DISNEY+ WINS WITH MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE CONTENT
When it comes to WandaVision there is no doubt that it’s weekly release schedule worked in Disney+’s favor as a platform. In January alone WandaVision was the most watched content in any streaming service. As Variety reported in their TVision measuring platform, which measures viewing impressions for any show or movie that is viewed for at least two minutes per session, WandaVision beat out everything in January 2021. That includes popular shows and movies like Cobra Kai, Bridgerton, Wonder Woman 1984, and Disney’s own Soul. It even did better than how Wonder Woman 1984, The Mandalorian, and Bridgerton did compared to their competition in December 2020 during their release schedule.
In addition to that it has been reported by Deadline that the first five episodes of WandaVision had amassed 589 million views on Disney+. That is incredibly impressive, especially when you also consider that it was the only non-Netflix based content that broke into the top 10 in Nielsen’s rankings.
We can even see how WandaVision maintained its popularity over the course of its 9 episode season by looking at search traffic thanks to the Google Trends tool, which lets you compare the popularity of different search terms. For WandaVision I ran a trend search for the show in comparison to other popular content between January 1st to March 28th. The content I compared it to was Cobra Kai, Bridgerton, Firefly Lane, and Justice League. You can see the Google Trends results below.
As you can see Cobra Kai and Justice League peaks on January 1st and March 19th, respectively, do beat out WandaVision’s peaks in search traffic. But when you look at WandaVision over the course of its 9 episode release schedule stayed consistent in terms of popularity over the course of 3 months rather than just at one major peak that lasted a few days. Having that consistency means that it was able to remain in the public consciousness for much longer thanks to the weekly episode release schedule that Disney+ had for WandaVision compared to the binge watch nature of Cobra Kai season 3 and Zack Snyder’s Justice League releases.
When it comes data to The Falcon And The Winter Soldier Disney and TV tracking companies like Nielsen have not released viewer counts for the first two episodes. But we do know that Disney has heavily promoted how The Falcon And The Winter Soldier had the biggest premiere weekend out of all the shows that have been on the Disney+ service. As reported by IGN, this includes the premiere weekends of The Mandalorian’s two seasons and WandaVision. While this most certainly could be all PR speak to build more hype around The Falcon And The Winter Soldier this is not something Disney does for all their streaming content. Disney at the very least sees The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, like other Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars shows, as a key part of their strategy for their Disney+ streaming service.
MARVEL COMICS DROPPING THE BALL MCU HAS PASSED ON?
Which brings us to how Marvel Comics has handled picking up on the success of on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now to be sure the pandemic did impact Marvel’s comic book publishing schedule as we have seen many previously announced releases like Infinite Destinies placed on hiatus, with it only being re-announced on Marvel’s most recent solicitation. So the pandemic, like with every industry, impacted how Marvel dictated their publishing line would go in 2020 and 2021.
That said, all the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows that are on or will be on Disney+ post-Avengers: Endgame was revealed to the public in September 2018, as you can see from this article on Variety. So at the very latest Marvel had since September of 2018, if not sooner, to put together a publishing strategy to reprint key comic book trades for Scarlet Witch, Vision, Winter Soldier, Falcon, Loki, and more.
Instead, we have gotten reports, like on GamesRadar’s Newsarama, that there won’t be a restock of Tom King’s The Vision, House of M, and other Scarlet Witch and Vision comics until April 21st, at the earliest. Though Marvel has tried to make good by saying they are all in on restocking these and other key comic books the damage has been done. As you saw on the Google Trends infographic the interest for WandaVision has already gone down. Even if Marvel can restock stores with new copies trades collecting Scarlet Witch and Vision stories that won’t have the same type of demand than they had during WandaVision’s 9 episode run.
Further showing how Marvel has been unable to capitalize on the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s success is the fact they have not already reprinted Robert Morales’ Truth: Red, White & Black. This is the comic book where we had the debut of Isaiah Bradley, a key character in Captain America’s mythology. As soon as Isaiah Bradley debuted on the latest episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier we should’ve seen Marvel go full promoter mode by announcing new prints for Truth: Red, White & Black. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Instead, the only way to purchase a copy of Truth: Red, White & Black is to pay $884 from sellers on Amazon or get lucky on eBay.
The same goes for collections for Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes. To be fair to Marvel, they did announce hardcover omnibus and other collections of featuring both characters time as Captain America ahead of time. But as that may be seen as a step towards capitalizing on The Falcon And The Winter Soldier debut when you look at the release dates it doesn’t look as promising. The earliest we will get one of these collections on the market is July 14, 2021, for the omnibus collecting Rick Remender’s Captain America run that includes Sam Wilson’s time as Captain America. That means stores will have to wait two and half months after the final episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier premiere’s to get new stock.
Now you can most certainly buy these comics on ComiXology for retail price or read them on Marvel Unlimited. But pushing fans towards digital comic books isn’t an option that is normally promoted because the industry still leans more towards the direct market with physical sales. Also given how much Marvel Comics has never shied away from overprinting, as we see with the dozens of variant covers they print on a monthly basis as incentives to push sales pandemic or no pandemic, there is no excuse for shortages like this to happen.
Marvel had such a great opportunity to drive more comic book sales and further promote the industry. They’ve shown in the past that they will try to use the MCU’s success to attempt to spike sales for their Avengers comic books. We saw that most recently with how Marvel was been consistently releasing new Black Widow comics between 2019 and 2021 in anticipation of the Scarlett Johansson-led MCU movie, even when its release date has continued to get pushed further out.
But instead of doing the same for Scarlet Witch, Isaiah Bradley, and other MCU show characters we are getting stories of how comics are selling out overnight without a plan until much later for reprint. That is not how you maximize the momentum from the popularity of a product. The popularity of WandaVision as well as The Falcon And The Winter Soldier are very brief windows. By the time the new stock of all the Scarlet Witch, Vision, Falcon, Winter Soldier, and other collections are out the interest from the non-hardcore fanbase will be gone.
As a fan this is all extremely disappointing to see happen to not just these Marvel characters but also all the comic book creators. This is a time when we should be celebrating the work creators, like Robert Morales and Ed Brubaker, who worked incredibly hard to craft stories that have inspired the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hopefully this is all a learning experience for everyone working on Marvel Comics business and editorial team. Maybe the new partnership with Penguin Random House for distribution will help in this respect.
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