For several years, Marvel struggled to find its footing in an area of particular interest to readers of mainstream comics: Striking the right balance between introducing diverse new characters and telling stories centered on those who made it one of the Big Two publishers in the first place. This, among other things, resulted in a sharp decline in sales, leaving a painful scar on the House of Ideas’ often-favorable position in the direct market.
That being said, did Marvel’s Legacy initiative succeed in restoring the publisher to its former glory, or is there another factor at play that’s beginning to bring back lapsed readers?
Let’s begin by revisiting the crux of Marvel’s recent sales woes.
For those on the outside looking in, it appeared as though Marvel saw the success of such titles as Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur – each of which had strong Volume 1 sales – and simply decided to double down on this approach across nearly its entire line. As a result, said line was essentially flooded with new #1 issues of books that, in many cases, ended up being canceled before they even reached the double digits. Meanwhile, both longtime readers and newcomers who decided to jump in after seeing the latest Marvel Studios blockbuster found themselves thrust into a landscape that was virtually unrecognizable; Thor was now Jane Foster, the Hulk was now Amadeus Cho, and Captain America was either Sam Wilson or a Hydra agent bent on world domination.
Of course, that’s not to say having women or people of color taking up the mantles of classic heroes is a bad thing. In fact, it’s actually quite the opposite. However, the fact that it seemed to happen to so many of Marvel’s core characters in such a short period of time made what was intended to be a progressive and genuine push for diversity feel to some fans like a hollow gesture; that it came at the expense of all those classic heroes rather than in conjunction with them only served to further alienate other readers who were already overwhelmed by numerous cancellations and relaunches.
To steady the ship, Marvel decided to pull out the big guns, returning to original numbering and bringing classic heroes back into the fold alongside their fresh-faced counterparts with the publishing initiative known as Marvel Legacy.
“The Marvel Legacy initiative is a celebration of everything that makes Marvel the best in fiction, and it’s a signifier of a new era for Marvel Comics,” Marvel’s chief creative officer Joe Quesada said in a statement last April. “It’s a loving look at the heart of Marvel as we embrace our roots and move enthusiastically forward with all the Marvel characters you know and love starring in the biggest, boldest, best Marvel stories. All of which kicks off with the giant ‘Marvel Legacy’ special.”
However, while September 2017’s Marvel Legacy one-shot was well-received and left many readers optimistic about the publisher’s future, this shot in the arm proved to be a few CCs shy of a full dose.
By the time Marvel’s March 2018 solicitations arrived, a number of Legacy and non-Legacy titles were conspicuous by their absence: The Unbelievable Gwenpool, Generation X, Hawkeye, Luke Cage, Iceman, America and She-Hulk. Naturally, readers quickly took notice and began reaching out to the writers, artists and editors of these respective books on social media, and it didn’t take long for them to confirm that each of them had been canceled.
“It is worth pointing out again: Incredible Hulk was cancelled once. X-Men was canceled once. Thor was cancelled once,” Marvel’s executive editor and senior vice president of publishing Tom Breevort tweeted after the news broke. “Being cancelled is not necessarily the end of the story, nor does it necessarily reflect the value of the work.” It does, however, reflect the quality of the sales, because the books that were canceled were among Marvel’s lower-selling titles on Diamond Comic Distributors’ November direct-market sales chart.
So, if Legacy isn’t necessarily the answer Marvel was looking for, what is?