Playing the Market

By | Tuesday, March 14, 2006 3 comments
I was scanning through Marvel's issue solicitations for June and saw that they've got some books reprinting some of their old Westerns coming out...
Written by STAN LEE
Is the Rawhide Kid really a cold-blooded killer? Why do they fear his guns from Abiline to Tombstone? See how the Kid became an “outlaw” in RAWHIDE KID #17 (August 1960). Plus: What is the strange secret of Matt Hawk? Find out in TWO-GUN KID #60 (November 1962).

Written by STAN LEE
Saddle up, buckaroos! It’s time for the Marvel Masterworks to tame the wild, wild West with the one and only Rawhide Kid! Back before Stan “The Man” and “King” Kirby spun stories of sensational super heroes, they told the tale of a young man who bore two Colt six-shooters and his mission to bring law to the American frontier. After his Uncle Ben Bart was killed at the hands of outlaws, Johnny Bart made it his personal mission to bring justice to the town of Rawhide. Packed full of shootouts and showdowns, renegades and rustlers, guns and girls galore, these Western yarns will be sure to please you in the Mighty Marvel Manner! We guarantee you won’t be able to hold on to your ten-gallon hat when you read the tale of the Terrible Totem, the Kid’s battle against the bank robbing Bat, and the war with Wolf Waco! Lasso your copy today, True Believer!
Collecting RAWHIDE KID #17-25.
Great stuff, to be sure. It's also clearly aimed at trying ramp up interest in Dan Slott and Eduardo Barreto's upcoming Two-Gun Kid story, "Tooth and Claw."
What strikes me as disappointing, though, is that they're reprinting early Silver Age stories, and completely skipping over the Golden Age stuff. Note in particular that the Masterworks book reprints Rawhide Kid #17-25. The first sixteen issues came out several years prior to those. The book was cancelled for low sales, but brought back when Westerns started becoming en vogue again.

Now, to be fair, the stories in those first sixteen issues featured a character who bore little resemblence to the one we grew to know later and trying to sell two different characters with the same name at the same time could be confusing. Except that DC has been doing exactly that with their Archive books for several years now. They have Golden and Silver Age books for Flash, Green Lantern, Superman, Batman... They do have more material to work with, as their characters were certainly bigger and more popular at the time than Marvel's, but I think this is just indicative of the company's two stances. DC seems more willing/able to continue to promote their older material while maintaining their dedication to producing new material. Marvel -- with the exception of a few editors -- seems more keen to cut most of their ties to the past and simply look at what the next big thing might be.

I find that approach somewhat disappointing. As a company policy, Marvel seems more interested in whatever flash-in-the-pan fad might come available next. And while that was certainly how Martin Goodman ran the company back in the day, it wasn't until they stopped jumping on every bandwagon and ran with the superhero genre that they started to really make their mark as a company. I don't want to pin this current approach solely on Joe Quesada's shoulders, but DC is proving that there is a viable business model for publishing new AND old material. I don't think there should be really all that much guesswork involved on Marvel's part. Yes, it would require some upfront capital to print large stocks of books and keep them in circulation for several years, but Marvel's not in the painful financial position it was ten years ago when they first started actively rejecting the idea. Put out a little cash and really go to town with the Masterworks. Let's see more Golden Age Captain America and Sub-Mariner. Let's see more Golden Age Westerns and romances and monsters and every other genre they tried.
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Ray said...

Just a note- Marvel has put out a few Golden Age Masterworks over the last few years, and have committed to doing around 2 a year. It's believed that if Silver Age Rawhide Kid sells well, they'll put out some Golden Age comics. (They've been on a Kirby kick lately- they're finishing Kirby's run in FF this year, and just put out a Sgt. Futy Masterwork.)

DC can afford to put out Golden Age material because many of their iconic characters were around in the Silver Age. For Marvel, only Captain America and Namor (a character that Joe Quesada wants to rest after the poor-selling Namor series done by Bill Jemas) were star characters back then. So it's not the same thing.

I realize that Marvel and DC were in significantly different market positions in the 1940s and '50s, but Marvel still has quite an abundance of excellent GA material to draw upon. I think saying that DC's characters have greater staying power and current marketability is somewhat misleading -- among other things, they're publishing The Spirit Archives, after all, and there hasn't been a new Spirit story in I-don't-know-how-long. We've also got an excellent set of hardcover reprints of 1950's era EC comics, which have no modern counterpart whatsoever.

To say that Marvel doesn't have anything from the Golden Age worth reprinting is a false arguement. Sure, you won't be able to pull the name recognition of Superman or Wonder Woman, but there's plenty of material there.

What about a collection of Venus stories, done like The Batman Chronicles where they reprint them all in publication order?

Or how about a Patsy Walker Masterworks?

How about Strange Tales? Every issue from #1, up through the Steranko's SHIELD stories.

How about a then-and-now series? The Golden Age Ka-Zar compared to the Silver Age one. The Golden Age Hercules compared to the Silver Age one. The Vision, Ghost Rider, The Angel... There were plenty of characters whose names lived on, even if the character themself didn't.

I'm just saying there's a wealth of material to draw upon that Marvel could use like DC Archives for long-term sales. They don't have to limit themselves to the hey-what's-hot-now reprint methodology.

Anonymous said...

Definitely agree, Sean. It's interesting that- at least after Superman stopped beating people to a pulp and Batman laid down his gun- even back in the Golden Age, the companies that were to become DC were known for their friendly, civic-minded all-American superheroes and the companies that were to become Marvel hosted "freaks" and "outsiders". IMO, the Marvel/Timely/Atlas stuff, for the most part, isn't any noticibly better or worse than DC's output at the time. Hell, I'll even go so far as to say that pre-Marvel- much like its successor(s)- definitely had more exciting storylines than pre-DC; show me a National/All-American/etc. comic with a story half as thrilling or hullucinatory as Human Torch Comics #5 (the second one, with Namor and the brainwashed Torch's all-out war on the surface world).

Fortunately, Marvel Masterworks editor Cory Sedlmeier does seem dedicated to not only preserving Marvel's heritage, but also digging up some moldy oldies that haven't seen the light of day in literally generations. Tales To Astonish Vol. 1 (TTA #1-10)- the initial offering in the "Atlas Era" Masterworks line- became the first Marvel Masterworks I've ever purchased, and the presence of Marvel Boy, Black Knight, Patsy Walker, Yellow Claw, and Millie the Model on the Atlas Era Masterworks cover frame coupled with encouraging sales and encouraging comments by Sedlmeier suggests that we will be seeing a very interesting, very wide-ranging collection of pre-FF #1 1950s Masterworks released over the next few years.