The Fifth Color - How We Handle Crisis

This week on Totally Biased Opinion with No Real Numbers Backing up a Gut Feeling Theater, I'll put on my comic shop clerk hat and say that, as a retailer, there was a drop off of customers reading Ultimatum as the issues chugged along.

Keep in mind, this is not me as a comic fan or as a critic (as laughable as the term is in my case), but for awhile the comic shop I work for sold Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men and Ultimates like gangbusters.  That is, with a loud and explosive beginning; I can recall barely getting my copy of Ultimate X-Men #1 as Marvel's newest set of titles did remarkably well and the speculator market turned its Saruman-like eye on the brand.  Years went by and we continued to put our stock in the Ultimate titles, through the rocky road that was Ultimate Fantastic Four, through the non-existent road that was Ultimate Hulk vs. Wolverine.  Yes sir'ee, if it had word 'Ultimate' on the cover, you could practically call it the 'Gold Standard' by which Marvel Comics could be judged by!

Man, remember those days?

But like a VH1 Behind the Music special, the Ultimate line got overwrought and borrowed too much from their original product and tried the Clone Saga and what once was a lighthearted, easy-to-pick-up line of comics was a confusing, angry mess.  So, the Powers That Be unstrapped Jeph Loeb from his Hannibal Lecter-like restraints and set him loose.  We were told from the beginning that Ultimatum would change everything, kill off characters and that (if I had a nickel for every time I said this) nothing would ever be the same again, so you can't say we weren't warned.  When it, indeed, changed everything and killed off characters in the most action-figures-smashed-together-by-an-eight-year-old way possible, people started to drop the title as well as others in the Ultimate line.

It wasn't that long ago that the House of Ideas made a different big announcement and caused fans to unload a long-running title only this time it was a difference of twenty years of continuity breaking heartache rather than nine.  Oh yeah, we were warned way ahead of time on the dissolution of the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary-Jane.  Quesada had been talking about it for years before and only when One More Day was starting to sound serious did people start to bail.  J. Michael Straczynski was given a job to do and he plowed on through with a storyline he nearly took his name off of, but then again he knew the job was dangerous when he took it.  Readers felt that same danger and since they were paying for it rather than getting paid to write it, beat feet and many a die-hard fan will thump their chest and swear they're never reading that deal-with-the-devil-making spider-chump again.

And yet, Brand New Day came at us with a back-to-basics approach to Marvel's signature character that brought to the fore a lot of the charm and adventure that had us fall in love with Spidey in the first place.  Three times monthly we got fresh ideas with old-school Peter Parker and, Mephisto or not, the book has had a much needed shot to the arm.  New villains, old favorites, a mix of interpersonal drama and four color heroics, this year and some months have been fun.  Sure, not every story can knock it out of the park but on the whole the whole Spidey Team should be toasted for taking a bad situation and setting a standard for Spider-Man stories.

Like some kind of Gold Standard or something, right?  Well, that being said, New Days came and went and our comics were better for it.  Ultimatums, however, are another thing as I've had to coax quite a few customers towards Ultimate Comics: Avengers #1.  Keep in mind, Ultimates 3 didn't do me any favors but some of these fans are new at this whole 'comics' thing; the Ultimate line was originally intended for new readers and people lured into comic shops by the motion pictures.  They were supposed to be more 'realistic' and updated, hip and accessible, and a sudden relabeling and new #1 might actually be off-putting to some people.  I know!  You must forgive them, they're new here.

I'm not surprised that Ultimate Comics: Avengers and Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man had that Brand New Day Touch of easily readability and quick luring action.  Mark Millar at the helm of his book again gave us the same modern day nigh-swashbuckling Avengers he started with and Brian Michael Bendis will probably be writing Ultimate Spider-Man in his own irreplaceable style no matter what Loeb unleashed.  When you think about it, it's the same comic you picked up years ago, just with this fresh coat of paint and a new and clear direction.  Both #1 are good reads and will probably stay that way for another nine years or longer (fingers crossed).

So, to the new comics reader or to the disgruntled old Marvel Zombie, just remember that we break a lot of eggs to make some of the best omlettes.

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