Any comic book fan knows that the '90s were not the best. Because of how great the '80s were for comics, both in quality and in sales, the '90s stuck out like a sore thumb. There were problems for publishers across the board, but Marvel might have had the most. The publisher had so many problems, in fact, that Marvel nearly went completely bankrupt, and would not have survived if they had not sold off the movie rights to some of their most well-known characters.
Some of the mistakes that Marvel made were so intense that their effects are still being felt today. Some of these snafus are still hitting Marvel where it hurts. Some of them are being felt by comic book fans. Unfortunately, some of these mistakes aren’t just still being felt, they’re being repeated today. Marvel has gotten a lot of bad press in the last few years, and unfortunately some of the most overt reasons to criticize the publisher are being ignored in favor of cyclical discussions over ideological differences between creators and fans. But here are, what we think, are the 15 biggest mistakes Marvel made in the '90s that are still being felt today.
Marvel was so excited by Venom’s hype that they just couldn’t contain themselves. Now we have Carnage. Carnage, aka Cletus Kassady, has been a fun character at times, sure. But boy, did he get stale fast. Somehow Venom’s popularity led Marvel’s editorial staff to greenlight a character’s pitch that we can only imagine went something like this: “Venom, but red and like, way more killing. Also, he’s a total redneck.”
“Maximum Carnage” dragged on for so long, and was almost entirely pointless. Twelve issues that could’ve been boiled down to four or six is incredibly representative of our take on Carnage. He can stay, but we want way less of him than what little we already get. The best thing to come out of the character in his entire history was his most recent horror pulp-esque self-titled series, and even that felt too long.
14 LETTING FILM/TV INFLUENCE THE COMICS
In the '90s, Marvel gave pretty much everything a comic. We don’t just mean there were like, too many Spider-Man titles or something, but that literally EVERYTHING got a comic. Marvel was turning TV shows and pop culture figures into comics left and right. Hip-hop duo Christopher “Kid” Reid and Christopher “Play” Martin (from the House Party movies) were shoved into the Marvel Universe for whatever reason. Married With Children was turned into a comic.
That’s not the trouble we’re having today. Today, it’s the MCU. Books get added and characters are shoved into fans faces as characters appear in movies. The comics don’t have to line up with the films and tv shows. If you ask us, Marvel should let their comics stand on their own.
13 MISTREATING CREATORS
Marvel has ownership of some of the most well-known, iconic characters of all time. All of these characters were produced by the creative power of the respective writers and artists who introduced them into the universe. The profits that these characters bring in? Yeah, actually, Marvel keeps those.
It isn’t really that well-kept of a secret (if you’d even consider it a secret at this point) that Marvel does not allow its creatives to retain rights to the characters they produce. Successful creators are given more opportunities for work, but not a cut of the profits. It’s what led to the foundation of Image Comics. This goes back much further than the '90s, though. Jack Kirby, the father of many of Marvel’s most famous creations never received proper compensation for his contributions to the publisher’s success.
Deadpool was one of the biggest standout characters to come out of the '90s. Created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld, the Merc with the Mouth has been a fan favorite for years. Who would have thought he would come back to haunt us as he does today? Deadpool as a fan-favorite only grew as time dragged on. And with the movie starring Ryan Reynolds? It EXPLODED.
After the extreme success of the Deadpool film, Marvel recognized the cash cow-to be. The publisher’s response to the movie was to flood their line with everything Wade Wilson. Between his main title, Deadpool The Duck, Deadpool and the Mercs for Money, Spider-Man/Deadpool, and the five other ‘vs’ series that have hit stands since late 2016, it was just way too much and this is where it all started.
11 THE CLONE SAGA
“The Clone Saga” brought back Peter Parker’s genetic clone from a story that was originally published in the mid-'70s. No one asked for this character to come back. No one wanted this character to come back, but Marvel decided it was the perfect time to give Spider-Man the “Knightfall” treatment. While it elevated the clout of Kaine, it dragged on for so long that readers just lost interest. Peter Parker and Mary Jane were no longer the focus, and no one really cared that much about the story by its end.
The clone, Ben Reilly is back with a vengeance. After the Amazing Spider-Man event “Dead No More”, Ben Reilly went from being the Jackal back to being Scarlet Spider, and once again has a series. We're not quite sure just how much of an audience the book has, but apparently Kaine is dead again (for like the third time in the same number of years).
10 SWAPPING CREATIVE TEAMS
By now it is pretty apparent that the '90s were not the best decade for Marvel. One of the reasons for this was that the publisher just could not seem to settle on creative fits for their books. This was caused, in part by the intense demands that Marvel had placed on their artists. Marvel was flooding the market, and artists really couldn’t just keep up.
Nowadays, it seems as if Marvel is making the same mistakes. Not only is the publisher cancelling books left and right, before they have a chance to breath, they are still switching up creative teams way too often. It’s hard for certain titles to really develop their own feel, because artists are only being given one or two issues on a title before being shifted onto something else.
9 GIMMICK COVERS
This, again? In the '90s, gimmick covers reigned supreme, and by that we mean “took up way too much shelf space and were entirely too common”. Foil covers and lenticular covers were popping up from most publishers, but Marvel was the most enthusiastic. We had hoped they’d been put to bed, but with Marvel’s recent Legacy relaunch, lenticular covers are coming back with a vengeance.
While some collectors are excited, they’re certainly in the minority. Fans are not impressed, and some retailers are downright pissed. In response to the Marvel’s line-wide lenticular cover series, a group of retailers issued a statement detailing why they are refusing to stock the forthcoming lenticular covers in their stores. The hoops comic book stores have to jump through to stock them apparently just isn’t worth the cost and effort.
8 IMAGE COMICS
After a group of Marvel’s superstar artists collectively quit and founded Image Comics, a superstar brand was born. Now, twenty-five years later, Image Comics is the only publisher with enough of the market to compete with Marvel and DC Comics. Though they are not yet at the level of the big 2, Image Comics effectively launched indie comics into the mainstream.
This is not as much of a mistake that has plagued the public as it is a thorn in the side of the publisher. Fans have gotten so many amazing series from the publisher, that there’s no way Image Comics can be written off as a mistake. But in Image being established, Marvel lost a great amount of its talent, and a chunk of its market.
7 FLOODING THE MARKET
After Marvel’s immense success during the previous decade, they bit off a bit more than they could chew in the '90s. Speculators and collectors had produced a bubble of success in the comic book market. The bubble would soon pop. However, after experiencing that success, Marvel put out a ton of new series, a chunk of which had nothing to do with superheroes, or the extended Marvel Universe. With so many comics on the stands, it started to get very expensive to keep up with Marvel’s continuity. Sales took a huge hit.
Marvel has not learned that much from their mistakes, it would seem. Currently, Marvel has more than seventy titles on the shelves. With the number of crossovers and tie-ins, at a $3.99 to $4.99 price point, it’s almost impossible for the average person to follow even a corner of the Marvel Universe.
6 SELLING MOVIE RIGHTS
By the mid-'90s, Marvel was pretty much bankrupt. This was because of a number of factors, but it put the entire universe in jeopardy. As a way to avoid the destruction of a comic book empire, Marvel began selling off the movie rights to a handful of different studios. Notably, Marvel sold the rights to the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. This kept them afloat at the time, but now, it has come back to haunt them.
Now that Marvel has its own cinematic universe, they’re doing extremely well. They’d be doing even better if they were able to include the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, or Spider-Man in the movies. Luckily, they were able to broker a deal to be able to use Spider-Man in a few of the movies, but they still don’t have full ownership.
5 NOT PRIORITIZING COMICS
Marvel’s owner at the time, Ron Perelman, was thinking big. He was thinking beyond comics when he purchased the company, clearly. Perelman bought up toy companies, sticker companies and trading card companies, with intent to use them to push Marvel merch. Even extremely obscure characters were given their own action figures. Comics were polybagged so readers couldn’t see which trading card was contained within their pages. Marvel’s focus stopped being on comics, and it became a problem.
Now, we’re seeing it again. Marvel isn’t forcing some merchandising plans on their characters, but they are letting comics take a backseat. Finally, the publisher stopped ignoring the X-Men, but they’re still pushing the Inhumans because of the new TV show that no one asked for. Prioritizing film and TV opportunities is why we have not seen the Fantastic Four in their own title in the last few years. Not cool.
4 VARIANT COVERS
Gimmick covers were big in the '90s, but so were variants. Variants are cool, but they’re best used sparingly. If we’re being honest, the only reason so many titles are getting multiple variant covers on each issue is that Marvel was catering to collectors. The '90s were huge for variants across the board, but Marvel ran with it and never stopped.
Nowadays, Marvel is still pumping out variant covers at an ungodly rate. They flood the shelves, and often, retailers have to order high numbers of previous issues to even gain access to order certain covers. For most stores, this means taking an enormous risk that could mean losing a ton of money. It just isn’t sustainable, and retailers know it. Now, if only Marvel would catch on.
3 PRICE RAISING
Ron Perelman was to blame for so many of the entries on this list. The initial plan he had before putting Marvel on the stock market was to raise prices and increase output. Amidst buzz of a drop in quality from Marvel, Perelman’s plan ended up doing the exact opposite of what he wanted it to. Instead of fans shelling out more money to buy more comics, they began dropping off -- pulling fewer and fewer Marvel comics.
Nowadays, we’re still seeing this. Marvel is putting out an unreasonable number of comics at a $4.99 price point. Their cheapest books are $3.99. DC Comics is putting out titles like Batman and Harley Quinn at a $2.99 price point, which is a great way to draw in new readers. It’s not a good look.
2 COPYING DC
DC and Marvel have both copied characters from one another over the years. But in the '90s, Marvel copied DC a great deal. (One of the most prominent instances was Marvel slapping a laugh track behind DC’s Deathstroke and giving us Deadpool.) After DC shook things up for Superman and Batman in “The Death of Superman” and in “Knightfall”, Marvel decided to shake things up for a few of its characters and turn them down a darker path. Unfortunately, their efforts were not as well-received.
After the fiasco that was the New 52, DC turned things around with “Rebirth”. After experiencing a great deal of criticism in the last year or so, Marvel is following DC’s lead once again with “Legacy”. Hopefully, Marvel’s soft relaunch will be as well-received as DC’s “Rebirth”.
1 NEW #1S
After speculators and collectors began snapping up multiple copies of books, Perelman’s Marvel wanted to cash in. First appearances of characters and first issues of series are collectible, so why not introduce MORE characters, and have MORE first issues? Yeah, it didn’t really work too well.
Nowadays, it’s still happening. In the last few years, Marvel has relaunched three times. Post “Secret Wars” we got “All-New All-Different”. Then we got “Marvel NOW 2.0”. Now we’re getting “Legacy”. All of these resulted in new #1s for series. You’d think it’d provide new readers a place to jump on, and it does. But it also gives long term readers a chance to hop off. Sometimes, people are invested in stories, but when a story is broken off and starts anew, they take it as an opportunity to jump ship.
Which of Marvel's past sins is the worst to you? Let us know in the comments!