Tuesday, January 18, 2005

What's 'Next'? Don't ask me

Looking over Marvel's "leaked" solicitations for April (via Fanboy Rampage, naturally), I'm still puzzled by the "Marvel Next" moniker. It was touted as a way for the publisher to promote some of its new "teen-focused" titles to their "core readership," but solicitations don't reflect that.

I realize I grumbled about that last month, but this time things get even more confusing. According to the original press release, Arana, Livewires, Runaways, Spellbinders, Young Avengers and X-23 would be the first titles to launch under "Marvel Next." However, as I previously pointed out, only Spellbinders was listed under the banner in the March solicitations; the other five books were scattered throughout the other imprints.

For April, Spellbinders gets bumped to the "Marvel Heroes" section, where it joins Livewires, Runaways and Young Avengers. Meanwhile, X-23 is moved from "Marvel Knights" to "X-Men," while Arana remains under "Spider-Man."

So what qualifies for the "Marvel Next" treatment? The rejiggered Amazing Fantasy #7, and the first two issues of the relaunched Power Pack miniseries, originally set to debut in February as part of the defunct "Marvel Age" line.

The initial idea behind "Marvel Next," at least as it was explained in late December, is a solid one -- certainly better than the ill-conceived "Tsunami" line-that's-not-really-a-line. The "young heroes" or "next generation" angle carries through the titles with little effort and, perhaps more importantly, without obvious editorial heavy-handedness. But where's the follow-through? Where's the "promotion" to the "core readership" that publisher Dan Buckley heralded not even a month ago?

Maybe I'm nitpicking; after all, they're only solicitations. But if Marvel has any hopes for the supposed "Marvel Next" books to outlast those launched as part of "Tsunami," "Marvel Age" or "Necromancy Month," the promotional push needs to begin with cohesive listings for an initiative that can be easily explained to retailers and readers. Follow through with well-designed shelf talkers to reinforce the branding, and offer incentives to comics shops to prominently display the line.

Then, instead of launching a second wave of books a month after the imprint debuts, give the core titles some time to establish themselves. (The current practice of rapidly expanding a new line until it implodes hasn't been working all that great. How about giving the wait-and-see approach a whirl?)

The inconsistent solicitations make it clear that Marvel doesn't understand the purpose of "Marvel Next. If the publisher doesn't get it, how can we expect the readers and retailers to do any better?