Beating a Zombie Horse: Marvel Doesn’t Know When to Stop

You may have seen the dismay over Marvel’s zombie Mary Jane variant cover for the latest printing of the Marvel Zombies hardcover collection.

Leaving aside the sexual politics of the image (and I agree, using the cover of one of Marvel’s few good youth-targeted properties is a bad idea), there are several more reasons to criticize Marvel on this one.

How about, for instance, that the company is trumpeting their fifth printing with yet another different cover? Normal book publishers keep books in print to satisfy customer demand — Marvel tries to create collectibles by swapping the cover images. Look, they acknowledge it:

Like the other four printings of this hardcover–which have all placed in Diamond’s top ten list each month they shipped–it won’t be around for too long.

They have been pulling this gimmick for a year now; the original hardcover was released August 2006. Look at how many more books they sold at $20. Since the 5-issue miniseries was $3 an issue, that’s a $5 bonus for the retailer per book.

What’s next? A book collecting the different Marvel zombie covers from the book collection of the comic series? (They’ve already done the non-zombie variant of the variant.) They can drag this out for YEARS… which leads me to my next criticism. Which is that superhero comic publishers have no sense of restraint.

I don’t like horror movies or zombies, but I did enjoy reading the original Marvel Zombies story, because it was funny to see all the heroes turned into monsters. It was a fun one-off, a world where nothing made sense.

However, Marvel couldn’t leave that alone. They made money and press from it, so they decided it wasn’t just a story, it was a whole new world to cross over with their regular heroes. For example, beginning in Black Panther #28 is a story tastelessly titled “Good Eatin'”:

It’s slobberin’ time! The New Fantastic Four just made a wrong turn on the inter-dimensional super highway — and they’ve landed in the middle of Zombie-verse! That’s right, True Believer, if the Black Panther, Storm, the Human Torch and the Thing can’t come up with the perfect escape plan, they’re going to be the next hors d’ouvres for Zombie Galacti intent on eating the entire universe! Spinning from the pages of the mega-hit MARVEL ZOMBIES!

If it sells, it must keep selling, thinks Marvel. Which misses the point and muddles everything together. It’s snake-eating-tail time, only they’re up to their own stomach. Some things sell because they aren’t part of the multiverse, or whatever they call it now. (Dorian makes a similar point, about what these kinds of decisions say about the company.)

Plus, Zombie Skrulls? How do you have a zombie shape-shifter? That would be the final kiss-off to fans of superhero comic diversity, wouldn’t it? Killing off BP and Storm by having them eaten?

16 Responses to “Beating a Zombie Horse: Marvel Doesn’t Know When to Stop”

  1. Nat Gertler Says:

    “Normal book publishers” will also change covers when they think that doing so will get their book fresh attention, get it brought to fresh eyes, get retailers to position it in the store as new product rather than keeping it in stock and spine out. While there are doubtlessly people buying all the covers (and I’ll admit that multiple covers soaking up customer money has never been my favorite part of the comics business), there are legitimate reasons to use this strategy.

  2. Ray Cornwall Says:

    There’s a corporate culture issue here.

    I’ve bought nearly every Marvel hardcover, and one thing I’ve learned is that the oversized hardcovers rarely come back into print. For example, Morrison’s New X-Men, a critically praised run, was out of print in hardcover for years until they released the New X-Men Omni last year. Just like the comics, the hardcovers were one-and-done. If you wanted the book later, you bought the softcover (if THAT was in print).

    Marvel Zombies is a weird thing. The series sold okay, but the hardcovers sell like nothing Marvel’s ever seen. The price point isn’t awful, and for the extra $5, you get all of the Sudyam covers, rather than trying to hunt them down in the back-issue market. And those covers are part of the charm and the joke that is Marvel Zombies. Everything’s fair game. (And to be fair, this is at least the 2nd cover Mary Jane has been on- the fifth issue spoofed the wedding cover from that Amazing Spidey annual oh so many years ago.)

    Marvel’s not done reprints on the hardcovers before. Heck, they haven’t brought back the out-of-print Masterworks yet, even though there’s a ready-made market for those. So what do they do? They do what they know works- put a new cover on it, just like 2nd prints for comics, and make a lot of money.

  3. The Dane Says:

    Funny thing is: This is the only Marvel Zombies cover I’ve actually thought was all that cool or neat. I think that’s primarily because I’m such a fan of the Mary Jane series; the homage was just a nice touch is all.

  4. Thad Says:

    I was chatting with my uncle awhile back and he joked that he’s going to write his Senator about passing a law to prevent any comic series from going on for more than 5 years.

    While Marvel Zombies hasn’t hit that mark yet, it IS a perfect example of my uncle’s point: there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. Once something becomes profitable, publishers can’t let it be; they need to run it into the ground. Imagine if Watchmen had continued into a 13th issue, a 50th issue, a 200th issue…

    Ultimates was a great damn book when it started because anything could happen; it wasn’t bogged-down by concerns like “You can’t do that, sales will drop!”

    A few weeks back, the Millar/Hitch run of Ultimates finally went out with a wimper. Hitch revealed in an interview that the original plan was to kill off Fury and Iron Man in the final battle, but that Marvel nixed it — Ultimates, now a victim of its own success, has reached a point where there are strict limits on what stories can and can’t be told. The Ultimate Universe is starting to look as stale and predictable as the main Marvel Universe.

    I often wonder what the world of comics would be like today if editorial hadn’t nixed The K-Metal from Krypton back in 1940. That was really the prototype for all the comic stagnation that followed — Siegel came up with a really significant story that would have fundamentally changed Superman, and editorial wasn’t willing to make any fundamental changes to a book that was selling so well the way it was.

    And here we are 67 years later and that’s still the prevailing logic in the industry: don’t rock the boat; if it sells, make more like it.

  5. Charles RB Says:

    “Ultimates, now a victim of its own success, has reached a point where there are strict limits on what stories can and can’t be told”

    Which surely defeats the whole _point_ of the line. It comes off like they’re trying to move it towards being more like a ‘classic’ Avengers, despite there already being comics that do that (Marvel Adventures and Classic Avengers). What’s the point in reading a retelling if there’s no chance things’ll be different?

  6. Terrence Says:

    I think the cover choice is weird, because Mary Jane was eaten in the original series, wasn’t she? I’m was not interested in Marvel Zombies, so I don’t know. But I followed one of the links, and I don’t really get this oversensitivity. I mean, one of the core elements of superhero comics is physical conflict, and I don’t see how superhero characters are supposed to avoid danger simply because of skin color or gender or sexual orientation. I don’t want to read a comic where Black Panther is as invulnerable as Superman because of his blackness, as opposed to his power. I agree that the main problem with superhero comics is the characters becoming properties, and if I had grown up reading superhero comics, I probably wouldn’t read them know. But I don’t have problems with business entities doing business things.

  7. Darren Witt Says:

    I don’t know, really, if i should say this, but my immediate reaction to the instant brouhaha about the MJ cover was something on the lines of: “Eh. More of the same. Who cares?” I couldn’t see the point of being outraged at it. Just couldn’t make the hay.

    But. Johanna’s comment is spot on:
    “using the cover of one of Marvel’s few good youth-targeted properties is a bad idea” – a REALLY bad idea, I think.

    I STILL can’t care that much though. Except that the anatomy of MJ bugs me – her face is eaten away and we see skull beneath – but the skull is (can’t find the right description here…) at the same level as her skin. There should be some “step-down” from intact skin to supporting skull. It foolishly bohters me.

    One too many facial reconstruction forensics books, I guess…



  8. Lew Newmark Says:

    I never had the urge to pick up one issue of the Zombie series, and so the idea of Marvel prostituting this title with endless covers really doesn’t bother me one way or another. But, Marvel isn’t the only comic company to do this. I have seen DC, and Image, and Top Cow come out with several different cover editions of a comic, the least attractive being the plain penciled cover editions, that for some reason or other seems to be priced by retailers at astonomical prices( I actually saw a penciled cover of Marvel’s ” The Gunslinger ” issue 5, a Variant cover priced at $75 bucks.No autographs on the cover! My first reaction to the price was to see if I was wearing red slippers and if I happened to be over the rainbow in the land of Oz. And to my disbelief, I wasn’t, so I picked up the regular cover edition. My point here is that like any other product, we the buyer create the market for any given item. If we, the consumer change our buying habits, than the publisher will eventually get the idea. Hopefully.

  9. Nat Gertler Says:

    Just to clear up for you – the “sketch” covers are valuable for scarcity. Retailers can only order one of those for every 75 copies of the title they order (I think they’ve slid the ratio to 50 for the later issues).
    Particularly with something like Stephen King-related works, which draw some pretty serious collectors, there is real demand for the “rare” items.

  10. Barry Says:

    I just don’t get the whole “zombie” thing…

  11. The Dane Says:

    Oh that’s easy, Barry. They’re like dead, but not dead. One might go so far as to say that they are un-dead. It’s presumed, I gather, that this state between life and death is the catalyst both for their tremendous hunger for the flesh of the living and their general lack of motivation for all other aspects of what we commonly know as societal living. I’m not sure that I get the whole connection between un-death and the eating of the living myself (maybe it’s jealousy). So yeah, maybe you’re right and it’s not as easy to understand as pop culture would hazard.

  12. Chris Marshall Says:

    I rather have this HC book in print rather then a limited printing where the book would demand an outrageous price on eBay or at Cons IE Marvel Masterworks. The book is selling well; Marvel knows this and continues to publish it to keep up with the demand. The use of multiple covers also makes it easy for the consumer to decipher what printing it is.
    As far as Mary Jane goes, I think it’s and excellent idea to use such an iconic character and is smart marketing by Marvel. With Spider-Man 3 and the whole “Wash Tub” statue controversy, MJ is hot property right now (no pun intended). Marvel is savvy enough, for once, to realize this and are capitalizing on it.

  13. Johanna Says:

    “Keeping a book in print” and “multiple covers to distinguish which printing” come close to being mutually incompatible.

    Also, I don’t believe at all that Marvel made their new cover choice based on an online brouhaha that came up months after the statue was solicited and has already blown over.

  14. Ray Cornwall Says:

    ‘”Keeping a book in print” and “multiple covers to distinguish which printing” come close to being mutually incompatible.’

    Not when it comes to Marvel’s hardcovers.

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    […] know that people are Marvel Zombie-ed out, but this might have been the best of the bunch. It also launched the regular Army of Darkness […]

  16. skarpethinn Says:

    If you don’t like zombies or horror movies, you are not the one to comment on this, and certainly not at this length (regardless of what you thought of the story itself).

    And for the record – from someone who DOES like zombies (& Marvel Zombies, as well) – that MJ cover is AWESOME (tho Darren does make some good points about the quality of the anatomy).




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