New 52 vs. Marvel Now: Which is better?

New 52 vs. Marvel Now: Which is better?*

*Disclaimer: this is not about the quality of the books or the ramifications to the history but about the marketing and prelaunch structure.*

**I was going to wait until one of every new Marvel Now title came out but seeing as it isn’t until February, and it isn’t necessary to read all of them, let’s do this now.**

About a year and a half ago, DC announced the New 52, a “relaunch” that wasn’t a reboot. It was supposed to be a way for new readers to be able to start reading comics and now be bogged down by nearly three quarters of a century of history and stories. The idea was radicle and a huge risk, seeing one of the biggest companies in the industry just restart everything was mind boggling and many people thought it was stupid. That being said, it worked. Comic sales went up, at least for a little while, and more people who were not reading comics decided to give the medium a chance. The success that this move made meant that it was only a matter of time before it was copied by its competitors and it was. Top Cow started Top Cow Rebirth which restarted Witchblade and Artifacts and it also seemed to be a successful move as well. The success of the New 52 started a timer of sorts that counted down until Marvel did the same thing or at least a similar idea and thus Marvel Now was born.

Was the New 52 the only factor in this move, doubtful, companies are always trying to come up with new ways to entice new customers into buying their product, the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it is called has clearly had an effect on the main Marvel Universe (616) with the advent of Nick Fury Jr. (Or whatever his name is.) With a relaunch being an idea there were two ways to take it; one, they could copy DC’s formula and restart everything from one common point, and let it roll; or two, they could simply make a common jumping on point for everyone across all of their books and unify the direction of the main titles. Both of these options have their advantages and disadvantages depending on if you are a new or old reader. The first option is advantageous to new readers, you would only need minimal knowledge about the characters to enjoy the series and it makes jumping in and figuring out what you like a little bit easier but it is disadvantageous as it is a bit of a slap in the face to old readers if their favorite stories are not in continuity anymore or if they characters are not the ones they grew up with. The second option is a bit of a middle ground, being advantageous to older readers because it is very similar to the older universe and everything is still in continuity and the characters are basically the same as they were even if are a little different. This is at the cost of new readers having a little more to tread through when it comes to continuity and what is going on. DC struck the first blow as it is by going with option one, the more risky option and Marvel went with option two, the safer option.

The format of the “jumping on point” that the two rivals are using is not the only difference in the way that these are presented to readers, the marketing campaigns are very different as well. DC used a very large, but relatively clear campaign that highlighted the fact that everything is starting over and is perfect for new readers while staying a fairly hush-hush about continuity, particularly with the more classic Batman stories, but none the less were fairly straight forward about what was going on. Marvel has been very mysterious about what is going on with their titles but fairly straight forward about everything being relatively the same in regards to continuity. Let’s break down what both companies have done to see which strategy is better.

DC started early with their idea and it was fairly clear from the beginning that they had been contemplating this idea for a long time and it was not made lightly. This was evident in the months preceding the relaunch with many of the interviews here on Comic Vine. They took a big risk but they were clear about what was going on. When they released what titles were going to be a part of it, the released them in stages, which is to be expected, and they released many of them by “family,” e.g. the Super-family, the Bat-family, the various Justice League titles, etc. What they did was very easy to understand and very direct: Any title under the regular DC banner is done and will be replaced by these new titles. They even gave it a catchy new name The New 52, which told people what was happening and how many titles there were and that there were enough to appeal to anyone who liked superhero comics. This was a big risk but it potentially had a big reward, it could entice a lot of new readers, it was also announced that the continuity of the DCU was going to be restarting, this was one of the more risky aspects of the plan as it could seriously anger old fans but they banked on the idea that they would at least give a chance to the new titles and it seemed to work well enough. DC didn’t just stop at advertising to regular comic readers who would continue to read their books, they had advertisements on TV and in movie theaters and posters, they tried very hard to get new readers to walk into a comic book store and pick up that new DC book. They also worked in a “hard start” meaning that it all happened in one month. Every title was on the same number and schedule and it came out in week one, two, three, or four. This was a move that new and old readers could get behind as it really didn’t impact old readers and made jumping in and starting a collection for new readers very easy. They had a very big campaign and undeniably it worked.

DC was able to bring in new readers, I know for a fact that I started reading more DC titles because of the New 52. I even had a few friends who started reading DC books because of it. Love it or hate it, DC pulled it off, they were clear, confident and marketed the bejesus out of the idea to gain some more customers and to become groundbreakers in the industry.

On the other side you have Marvel and Marvel Now. This was a bit more reactionary than any Marvel executive will admit, if not to try and replicate DC’s success then to try and make more money off of the Avengers. They took a different approach to the same basic principle; they are doing a soft start instead of copying DC. This is a valid approach to the problem of starting if not the most direct method. Marvel’s marketing campaign seems to be directed primarily at old readers who have been buying Marvel Comics for a while as the marketing campaign has been much more narrow, even non-existent. Marvel’s main approach was releasing a series of black pages with the author and artist’s last names and one (maybe two) words that gives a clue about the book. This was a bit of a risky strategy as it was fairly indirect and was the exact opposite of DC’s approach. It was a risk, and it didn’t really pay off. The cards were confusing and didn’t really let the audience know what was going on, sure it told them what characters are probably going to show up but nothing was definitive, it was murky, it didn’t even reveal the title of the comic. When the titles were revealed, they weren’t in the same format, I remember just seeing a few articles with a few titles a piece that just told the audience what many had figured out and it still didn’t reveal much about what was going on in the series. Where are the TV commercials and the movie theater promos? There are a few posters but they seem to be less wide spread than the New 52 ones. This has all culminated in a rather lackluster release that really has neither gotten people as excited as they could have been. Another gaffe that stems partly from the card format and partly from poor marketing is that some books are being cancelled and some are being renumbered and some are changing names but only some of the changes were highlighted. Like New Mutants is being cancelled, that was not made clear until a while after the original announcement; or Iron Man is getting renumbered and renamed but Uncanny X-Force is only getting renumbered. These things made it difficult for the target audience to understand what is going on.

Some of this also stems from Marvel’s plan for a soft start. Instead of releasing all of their books at once, they release a few at a time over the course of several. This is a nice move, a transition that can let people test the waters a bit before jumping in and that is a good idea but the problem with the soft start, and with the marketing campaign, is that it makes it much harder to know which books are being cancelled, which are being renumbered and which are being renamed. This is in opposition to the hard start that is very abrupt and sudden but puts everyone on equal footing.

One thing that is very similar in the way that both of these relaunches are starting is the lead in. DC used Flashpoint to lead in and provide and answer to why everything changed while Marvel is using Avengers vs. X-Men to use more of a same-universe-but-different approach. This is where the hard and soft start come into play again. A hard start basically means to a creative team: your series is being cancelled so wrap it up by this date because everything is changing. This could be hard on a writer because they could be forced to end a story prematurely and that is annoying as a reader as well. The soft start side steps this problem by allowing writers to finish their story by about this time but there is not an immediate rush. This is a little more pleasing as it also avoids pointless filler from series that ended sooner or their outright non-publication if they finish too soon. Both have their ups and downs but from the idea of a fresh and new beginning, the hard start is the better option in the long run.

Personally I have always considered myself to be more of a Marvel fan than a DC fan but given the way that both companies have handled two very similar ideas in radically different ways, it is clear that DC is the winner. Their marketing campaign for the New 52 was better and it called to new readers as well as old; the use of the hard start was better for their idea of a new universe and easy for new readers to understand. They were clear with their idea and direction and made sure that the potential customer knew that as well, of course they didn’t reveal everything but it was a lot of information none the less. Marvel on the other hand has been much less clear about what is going on with Marvel Now other than the bare bones of the idea and that seems to have been much more of a turn off to readers. Users on Comic Vine seem to be more confused and jaded with Marvel Now than confused and curious as they were with the New 52. It is interesting to see the two companies approach to the same idea but when it comes to which one had been more successful from a marketing and prelaunch structure, DC clearly did it better by being clear and decisive about what they were doing.

*Disclaimer: this is not about the quality of the books or the ramifications to the history but about the marketing and prelaunch structure.*

Agree? Disagree? Please comment on this issue as I am very curious about what other people think about this!