Never let it be said that Joe Quesada's Marvel Comics is afraid of using stunts to boost sales.
Not that it's terribly likely to be said, not so long as stunts like next week's U-Decide keep rolling out of the House of Ideas. In an effort to stoke up publicity for the less-read-than-it-is-acclaimed "Captain Marvel," Marvel is pitting three series launching (or re-launching) September 18 against one another in the sales department.
"The idea behind it was to give a much-maligned title like 'Captain Marvel,' which was suffering in the sales department, some much-needed attention," Marvel editor in chief Quesada told CBR News on Wednesday. "We thought it was a fun stunt, and help us launch some new books. ... It's three guys in a playground saying that one is better than the other."
The U-Decide stunt plays out over six months, with the last issue of the contest shipping in February, with final tabulations being done after that, and the results of the contest being handed down at either Wizard World Chicago or Philadelphia.
The contest pits a re-launched "Captain Marvel" against "Marville," the first series completely written by Marvel president Bill Jemas and the first Ultimate Marvel series not based on existing Marvel characters, "Ultimate Adventures," which is edited by Quesada.
Should "Marville" get the lowest sales, Jemas will be sitting in a dunk tank at one of the two Wizard World conventions. Should "Ultimate Adventures" get the lowest sales -- it is notably the only book which does not have sales figures inflated by alternate covers -- Quesada will take a pie in the face at the convention. And should "Captain Marvel" get the lowest sales ... well, no one is focusing on that, although it's a good bet that series writer Peter David will at long last lose the battle to keep the series from cancellation.
The contest began with an open letter from David to Quesada, challenging him to better promote the book. Although the exchange was heated and sometimes a little nasty, it ended up bearing fruit: David and Quesada came to an agreement.
"Part of the agreement with Peter David was that if we do this, he gets to launch 'Captain Marvel' with a new #1, but he has to try and make the book more accessible," Quesada said, noting that the series had previously most appealed to the most hardcore Marvel fans and wasn't always very accessible for new readers. The current readership on the book is diehard, but not enough, according to Quesada. "Our lowest selling books ... those are the titles that I get the most letters on. But it doesn't translate to sales. It's a very weird phenomenon."
"Captain Marvel" re-launches with an Alex Ross alternate cover and a shift in focus on the series, looking at Mar-Vell's role as a stranger in a strange land here on Earth.
Quesada's boss, Jemas, is taking pot shots at DC Comics in the pages of his series, "Marville." The parody series -- with an alternate cover mimicking the billboards and advertisements for last year's launch of the "Smallville" television series -- is part of a long tradition of Marvel razzing DC.
"I think 'Marville' can be quite cutting, I think it absolutely can. Is it as cutting as calling them the Distinguished Competition? No. Is it as cutting as calling them Brand Ecch?" Quesada said. The sometimes not-too-gentle ribbing isn't indicative of any hard feelings between the two companies, who famously tracked their intercompany softball rivalries throughout the 1970s in their letter columns. (Neither company fields a softball team to Quesada's knowledge now.) "Personally, on a personal level, I have many good relationships with people at DC.
"On a professional level, I'm very competitive, and I'm going to do what I can to kick their butt every month of the year. Then there's the freelancer part of me that loves the characters that gets infuriated at them, or AOL Comics as I like to call them. ... I'm a non-denominational comics promoter, as long as it moves the industry forward. ... Those folks, they have the power of Time Warner and AOL at their fingertips and they refuse to use it."
Look for a linear story with each issue poking fun at DC from a different angle, with jokes that will be funniest to those who are most familiar with DC's books.
"In some respects, Bill is trying to get a message across through the fact that the book is insular. It's a lot of what we sort of preach against."
"Ultimate Adventures" is Marvel's newest entry into their non-insular Ultimate Marvel line, set in a new universe freed from 30 years of continuity, although at least a passing familiarity with another DC Comics title helps.
"'Ultimate Adventures' is taking the sidekick idea, or the idea of a sidekick superhero, and really taking a hard look at it from this surly kid's approach and what it means to be adopted. You don't even know you're adopted to be a sidekick, and then shit, there you are."
Quesada said writer Ron Zimmerman will be concentrating on the human element that's been a cornerstone of the Ultimate Marvel successes so far.
When all is said and done, Quesada thinks "Ultimate Adventures" is destined for a trade paperback and probably a bright future as part of the Marvel publishing line-up.
"We're really fond of it, and we think the characters have legs. ... It also really gives Chicago its own superhero. I really Chicago, but we've never done anything there."
Hawk-Owl and his sidekick Zippy are the first Ultimate Marvel characters to be introduced without analogues in the regular Marvel Universe. This marks a break for Ultimate Marvel, but it makes sense in the context of the story, Quesada said.
"We needed these characters to live in a place where superheroes weren't common. We needed the idea of the sidekick to be something that was fresh to the world. When everyone here read it, we knew this was instantly accessible material. ... It doesn't hinge on anything, expect that people go 'oh, I kind of get it, it's kind of like Batman and Robin.'"
And if "Ultimate Adventures" #1 doesn't have the fancy alternate covers that the other two books do, Quesada thinks it won't need it in the long run.
"My gut really tells me that, when all is said and done ... I think 'Ultimate Adventures' #1 ... it's going to be one of those incredibly collectible issues. ... When you take away all the cover gimmicks, I think 'Ultimate Adventures' will be the ultimate winner, pardon the pun."
The first issues of "Captain Marvel," "Marville" and "Ultimate Adventures" go on sale September 18.