Spider-Man Schedules: The Old Way Is Doomed

Maximum Carnage

In terms of sales, Spider-Man satellite titles have seen better days. Avenging Spider-Man just saw its final issue, prior to the Superior Spider-Man Team-Up relaunch. Recent issues were the 79th and 83rd best-selling comic book in May 2013. Part of it could be that the title just didn’t recover from a lack of a consistent creative team between Zeb Wells’s departure, and the Superior Spider-Man relaunch. For about ten months, it was essentially a team-up anthology.

But there is also the perception that events in satellite books don’t matter. One culprit was JMS, who barely referenced events in the other Spider-Man books. Marvel’s subsequent decision to cancel satellite titles and produce more issues of Amazing Spider-Man also reinforced the idea that the flagship was where the important stuff happens, and that any side titles are peripheral.

Due to the major events that happened in JMS’s Amazing Spider-Man (Ezekiel’s introduction, Peter Parker getting a new job as teacher Aunt May learning Spider-Man’s identity, Peter & MJ getting back together, Spider-Man moving in with the New Avengers, Spider-Man becoming friends with Tony Stark, Spider-Man becoming a fugitive, Aunt May getting shot, etc) readers who didn’t like the book still bought it to follow the key developments of their favorite character. The other Spider-Man monthlies did not have this advantage, as events in Amazing Spider-Man just seem more important than events in a “B”-title, which makes readers less willing to miss key issues than they are if they know that events don’t really count, one reason it outsold the other titles by a significant margin.

This also coincided with the rise of the trade paperback market. It’s so common now, but JMS’s run was the first time you could expect every new issue of Amazing Spider-Man to be collected in a trade paperback. This made it more difficult to tie events in multiple Spider-Man monthlies together, as there was a new layer of logistics to contend with. Crossovers would be problematic, unless Marvel collects all the titles as a package, which suggests that the separate books aren’t all that separate.

Even without crossovers, it’s a little bit odd if a TPB of Amazing Spider-Man is interrupted to show the heroes dealing with the consequences of something that happened in a contemporary issue of Peter Parker Spider-Man. It’s one thing when you have a two part Amazing Spider-Man story set around a Spectacular arc that comes out at the same time. It’s another when you’re coordinating between multiple TPB volumes as well. That gets really complicated in a series in which things can change in big ways from issue to issue.

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The comparison was made between the Spider‑Man books and the Batman and Superman franchises, which have survived for more than half a century despite the title heroes starring in several titles. Because Batman premiered in Detective Comics and Superman premiered in Action Comics, and both titles have a rich history of significant events, neither title (assuming the creative teams are roughly equal) is seen as less significant than Batman or Superman. This could be why Detective Comics outsells better titles with more notable creative teams like Batman And Robin and Batman Incorporated.

It is also worth noting that during the “One Year Later” overhaul, DC did not hesitate to cancel the other monthlies (The Adventures of SupermanSuperman: The Man of SteelThe Legends of the Dark KnightGotham Knights) as those books just weren’t as important. The newer titles that survived that culling (Batman & RobinSuperman/ Batman) sold well and had clear identities. As Detective Comics and Action Comics don’t require Batman or Superman as leads, DC was also able to use those books to focus on other characters, with Greg Rucka and JH Williams’s excellent Batwoman run, as well as Paul Cornell’s Lex Luthor spotlight.

The Batman comics in particular have two things that work for multiple monthlies. Story engines in Gotham City and Wayne Industries allow for multiple ongoing plot threads in different monthlies, as various criminal plots (which can usually be restricted to one title each) get Bruce Wayne’s attention. And there’s a consistent cast for Batman to interact with in every story (Alfred and Commissioner Gordon) which allows for passing references to events in other titles.

There were some concerns that the (almost) weekly format of the Brand New Day era Amazing Spider-Man would be similar to what happened to the Superman and Batman books in the 90s, when DC tried to have four different monthly with their own creative teams, supporting cast members and subplots also function as a giant weekly book. The big difference with BND is that each creative team did their storyline before it was the next team’s turn. With the Superman Weekly format, writers were either forced to participate in a lot of crossovers, or to allow for events in three other Superman monthlies to occur between all of their issues. This killed the momentum of longer stories and limited their ability to feature cliffhangers, as no writer could write two consecutive issues of the Superman books. In addition, the creative teams had all the limitations that came with working on monthlies, as each book needed twelve issues an year, preferably with consistent writers and artists.

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This was done in the regular Spider-Man comics as well, notably during the Clone Saga. There was a large stretch on the title was essentially a de facto weekly book, with the same story continuing throughout comics written by different people. Let’s look at Amazing Spider-Man from #386 to #417. The three part Lifetheft storyline from ASM #386-388 led to the four part Pursuit crossover (ASM #389), which changed Peter’s status quo for a little while. That was followed by the Shrieking, one of four stories set at a time when Spider-Man had decided to quit being Peter Parker. At least someone with a subscription to the one book didn’t have to hunt down all four comics in order to follow this one story. Although that would soon change.

Amazing Spider-Man #394 was part of another major crossover, introducing Ben Reilly to the books. That led to an experiment in which for several months, two of the monthly titles followed Peter Parker and two featured Ben Reilly. Peter’s story was told in Amazing Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man, so you had two four part stories with Peter Parker as the lead spread across two titles. Amazing Spider-Man #399 was a crossover as Peter Parker had a rematch with Ben Reilly. Amazing Spider-Man #400 was a mostly standalone story, although there was a major cliffhanger resolved in the pages of another comic book, as Peter Parker was arrested for murder. The next twelve issues (not including the two months the book was replaced with The Amazing Scarlet Spider) were parts of larger crossovers. Amazing Spider-Man #413 and #414 were standalone issues. #415 and #416 were a tie-in to the Onslaught event, with a narrative which crossed several Spider-Man titles. #417 was a standalone. #418 was part of the Revelations crossover that brought the Clone Saga to a close.

There were less crossovers in the intermediate era between the Clone Saga and the 1998 relaunch. Howard Mackie was given the task of writing both Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker Spider-Man, which was a scheduling mess. Half the time stories in one book were concluded in the other. But sometimes this didn’t happen. So it’s understandable why JMS decided to go in a different direction. Beyond being incomprehensible to a new reader, the format made it impossible for Marvel to collect one Spider-Man series in trade paperback form. Marvel does now have several writers working on multiple team books within the same franchise, although that’s a bit different since the books star different characters (even if in some cases, it gets reprinted together.)

There will likely be some Spider-Man satellites in the future. Even a book that’s in the lower part of the Top 100 makes money for Marvel, and it may be more costly to fold that material into the main book (be it Amazing or Superior Spider-Man) because the added cost of following that book could chase away some readers. Satellite titles exist to make the companies more money. It’s based on the premise that readers are more willing to buy a second monthly with Spider-Man or Wolverine than they are to buy the first monthly with Antman or War Machine. So even if Marvel gets rid of most of the satellite books, there will still be supplemental material in some form or another. It’s not hypocritical to increase output of Amazing Spider-Man, while also publishing other material.

Marvel has had two different methods of publishing Amazing Spider-Man since One More Day. Let’s look at the advantages of the Brand New Day method.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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