On more than one occasion, when I’ve used Chasing Amazing as a soap box and stand on to yell about some of the undesirable qualities of the comic book industry – its overuse of “special edition” issues marking new characters, deaths, variant covers, gimmick covers, etc. – I’ve had a few people private message me and ask why do I take these kinds of things so personally? As a collector who aims specifically to own every issue of Amazing Spider-Man, why should I care if Marvel wants to releases five different, impossible-to-find variant cover editions of ASM #600, or if they want to add Spider-Man to the roster of The Avengers or the Fantastic Four? How does any of this keep me from achieving my goal? Unless I’m some kind of psycho-obsessed completist, my collection is my collection, and I’ll be the first to admit that even with the 16 or-so issues to go in my quest, my collection is pretty damn awesome.
But I do care. I care because sometimes, the comic book industry, between the way they overhype their product and the way they manipulate retailers to only carry a certain amount of product, just makes it so damn hard to go to the store and buy the comic book you want to read.
Case in point, the mainstream hysteria surrounding the “new” Ultimate Spider-Man – the half-black, half-latino, multiracial Spider-Man who has replaced Peter Parker as Spidey after Peter’s death in the “Death of Spider-Man” issue of Ultimate Spider-Man #160 last month. While I don[‘t collect USM, I had been checking out the series and its follow-up, Ultimate Fallout: Spider-Man No More, in large part because as a long-time fan of the Spider-Man character, I was curious to read what Marvel was going to do in this storyline. Regardless of the fact that Marvel’s “Ultimate” universe is a “different” setting that the “Amazing” Spider-Man universe I collect and usually blog about, I’ll sheepishly admit I was having some fun reading these recent Ultimate issues. Plus,I figured it would be a good measuring stick to see what direction Marvel might head-in if they ever decided to kill off the “Amazing” Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
The most recent issue, Ultimate Fallout #4, which revealed the identity of the “new” multi-racial Spider-Man hit comic book stores on Wednesday. I typically try to avoid comic book stores on Wednesdays because they tend to be a bit chaotic so I was unable to get to my usual place until Friday. And of course, given the vast amount of mainstream attention the new Spider-Man received upon its release, by Friday, all stores were apparently sold out, with the “possibility” of a second shipment coming sometime next (this) week.
This is of course, great news for Marvel, because it means they’re probably turning around a serious profit on these issues and considering how comic book sales in general have been in decline, any kind of mainstream attention is a good thing. But as a reader – even though not a regular one of the Ultimate universe – I have a hard time accepting any of the reasons why two days after a comics release I can’t find a single copy of it in any stores.
I’m sure the mainstream media attention given to the issue sparked some casual readers or even non-readers into comic book shops to pick up a copy, but don’t you think both the retailers and Marvel anticipated some level of uptick and ordered additional copies on released day last week. So why the lack of product?
Well, journey over to eBay, and I can find a handful of people already putting a copy of this issue “in Near Mint condition” up for sale between $15 and $40. And while I doubt these people will get that much money for this comic, never underestimate the possibility of some poor schmuck wanting to catch on to the latest trending topic and paying through the nose to get something NOW, rather than risk waiting for the mysterious next shipment and never getting it.
I hate, hate, hate the idea that a comic book that came out days, weeks or even months ago is truly “collectible” – and as I’ve discussed in the past, over the long-term, none of these comics rarely ever do end up worth anything. Yet, despite this reality, I think it’s a safe bet that a number of “collectors” went into comic shops last week and picked up multiple copies of Ultimate Fallout #4 because the world is still filled with people who are bitter about the fact that their mothers threw out their shoe box of Mickey Mantle baseball cards, or that they cut all the coupons out of their first appearance of Wolverine copy of Incredible Hulk.
Comic books that end up being worth hundreds and thousands of dollars today can be grouped into two categories: a) comics that came out decades ago during an era were comics were not collectible and thus not preserved or protected in any meaningful way; and b) newer comics that were so thoroughly ignored when they first came out, that only a small number of issues were ever printed (see the Walking Dead series). A comic book that has a first printing of more than 100,000 issues and is generating a ton of mainstream media attention like the death of Human Torch or Captain America, or the Spider-Man/Barack Obama crossover? That’s not going to be worth much more than the cover price in a few years time.
So instead of punishing the people who accept this and just want to read these new issues within the first week of their release but who can’t get to the store the DAY the comic comes out, why can’t publishers just make sure there’s more than enough product going out to meet the initial demand? And why can’t retailers clamp down on people buying multiple copies of comics on their first day (one to read, one to save, one to sell)? Because going for that short-term cash-grab and capitalizing on the hysterical “gotta have it” mentality of people just creates bitterness from hardcore and casual fans of the genre. The casual guy is going to feel burned when he discovers he can’t make any money from his comic book, and the hardcore fan is just going to consider the publishers and retailer a bunch of sellouts.