Another Reason Not to Buy Miniseries: All-Winners Squad Cut Short

All-Winners Squad #2

I’m not surprised to hear that Marvel cancelled the eight-issue miniseries All-Winners Squad: Band of Heroes with issue #5. I never saw anyone talking about the title, and it wasn’t even in demand enough to get pirated, from what I could tell.

But I was liking the story, about a young woman hearing about her grandfather’s adventures as part of a wartime unit of costumed heroes. As is typical of some of writer Paul Jenkins‘ retro tales, the story compared our ideals of heroes now with our whitewashed view of history, showing us that things weren’t necessarily better back then. I’m disappointed that I’ll never know what the conspiracy was.

Those who were reading it are particularly disappointed. Issue #5 ends on a cliffhanger. All 8 issues had been written, with pencils done on issues #6 and 7. That link has the covers from those two unpublished issues as well.

If a big comic company has gotten to the point of refusing to complete closed-end stories, that’s just another argument for avoiding serialized comics. (As if $4 for 20-some pages wasn’t enough of a reason to cut back on Marvel purchases.) There’s an implied agreement in soliciting a story as part whatever of eight that purchasers will be able to buy all eight pieces and find out what happens. Backing out of that leaves customers with a very bad taste that might affect future purchasing decisions.

Then again, with promising miniseries like Mystery Men not even bothering to have a satisfying conclusion, maybe that’s too old-fashioned of me. I understand wanting an “open-ended” resolution, in order to potentially set the stage for a spin-off or sequel, but sometimes, it’s taken too far. Marvel likely sees the downside of this cancellation as minimal, since so few addicted readers actually do vote with their wallets.

19 Responses to “Another Reason Not to Buy Miniseries: All-Winners Squad Cut Short”

  1. Joshua Says:

    Sales must have been pretty dismal for them to pull the plug with that much unreleased material already paid for. In effect, what you’re arguing for is for comics producers to take fewer risks and release fewer, safer projects.

  2. Collected Editions Says:

    Marvel should at least have the decency to release the final issues digital. I think it bears repeating: “There’s an implied agreement in soliciting a story as part whatever of eight that purchasers will be able to buy all eight pieces and find out what happens.”

  3. Johanna Says:

    Doesn’t that already describe what’s been happening with the superhero publishers?

    What I’m actually arguing for is that publishers who cut off stories before they complete are poisoning their own well. They run the risk of converting more readers to “waiting for the trade”, which they say isn’t economic for them.

  4. David Oakes Says:

    I gave up on Marvel when they hit the $4 price point. I made an exception for mini-series, because I knew they needed a little more economic incentive, and because they could feature characters I just wasn’t going to get any other way. But if Marvel is not even going to fulfill a limited contract, then I really have no incentive to do any business with them.

    Good timing, Marvel. You almost had me hooked back on Hulk today. Now I can safely leave it on the stand, my consience clear.

  5. Joshua Says:

    Obviously not, or they wouldn’t have tried All-Winners Squad in the first place. Look, if publishers commit to completing stories perforce publishing each story is financially riskier; if each story is riskier then fewer stories get published, because the ones that tank take away more money that could have been used to publish something else. That pushes publishers into aiming for the safest, least common denominator stories. If that’s not what you want, then you should be applauding publishers for taking risks, and trying to convince readers that sometimes not getting to read the end is the price they pay for a more vibrant, diverse line of books. (And if you say it’s not all that vibrant or diverse, that just goes to show that even with the ability to cut losses publishing physical comics is too risky.)

    Perhaps cutting stories short risks converting readers to waiting for the trade, but promising to always throw good money after bad isn’t a solution. That just puts all publishing decisions on the same basis as if all customers were waiting for the trade: the entire project is an all-or-nothing deal. Actually, if “waiting for the trade” isn’t economical, always finishing the series is even worse, since none of the customers who believe that buying the first issue ought to give them an iron-clad option on all the subsequent issues seem to believe they have a reciprocal obligation to keep buying as long as the issues come out. If they did, I dare say All-Winners would have completed its run.

    If I were at Marvel, I’d be exploring something like a Marvel version of Kickstarter: Post a bunch of pitches that creators have made and gather pledges; when the pledges have crossed a threshold that reduces the risk enough (which might or might not be enough to guarantee a profit… that’s something that would require analysis) green-light the project and everybody who pledged gets a copy.

  6. scott (the other one) Says:

    Joshua, you seem to be arguing that it’s the readers who should be taking the risk, by investing in a story that may or may not ever be completed, despite being advertised as a complete story, as opposed to the publisher. It seems to me that the large and financially stable publisher owned by one of the largest multi-international corporations in the world is the one that should be taking the risk.

    If Marvel felt the story was good enough to warrant a miniseries and began selling the first part of the story, Marvel should follow through. Even if the final issues lose money, the trade paperback will almost certainly break even, at worst, within a few years. For a publisher of Marvel’s size, this isn’t a tough decision, or shouldn’t be. This decision is incredibly short-sighted, for the reasons Heidi mentions.

    Personally, if I’d bought the first three or four issues of an 8-issue miniseries and it was cancelled, I’d look at my investment and decide it would have been much better off going to seeing a film or two. And I would never, ever buy another Marvel mini again. Because of their actions, not mine.

    If I were at Marvel, I’d be exploring something like a Marvel version of Kickstarter

    For the largest comic publisher in the world to act like a startup…I just don’t even know what to say about that. I’m a huge fan of Kickstarter, but the point of it is to provide an alternative to large publishers and big movie studios.

  7. Johanna Says:

    I second that, Scott. Comic publishers have gotten away with so little risk for so long (between non-returnable direct market sales and preorders that tell them how much to print) that they seem to have forgotten the “publishing” part of that title.

  8. Joshua Says:

    Scott, that’s easy for you to say, you’re not gambling people’s livelihoods. Money flushed down the drain printing comics that customers have already proved they won’t buy is money not spent paying creators for comics customers might actually want, or paying the fixed costs such as staff and facilities. I don’t see how you can assert that publishing a comic nobody wants and then following it with a trade will “certainly” break even… or that a few years to break even shouldn’t be a tough decision. Every dollar you tie up in unsold and possibly unsellable inventory is a dollar you can’t spend on things like publishing new comics.

    I’m not saying that readers must take the risk that series won’t complete, I’m saying that IF they refuse to THEN they’ll get fewer different comics and the ones they get will be the ones that appear safer. It’s easy to see how that’ll work out: it’s precisely how it worked out for books, movies, and tv (and even there anything that’s serialized is a gamble for the viewers).

    Kickstarter isn’t there to provide an alternative to large publishers and big movie studios–it’s there to match capital to projects in a way that reduces the risk to the creators and the backers. The creators don’t gamble money on projects without knowing the demand, the backers don’t gamble money on products that may never actually get published. Something like that would be the perfect way for fans who claim they’d buy this or that series in a heartbeat to put their money where their mouth is, while eliminating the risk that you’re complaining about that you might start a series not knowing if the publisher would find it worthwhile to complete it. It would be a step towards solving the dilemma that creators need a flow of cash while they work on something, but the publishers can’t take in cash for it until it’s ready to ship.

  9. Johanna Says:

    Joshua, you seem very much in tune with Marvel’s backstock strategy (which is to have none, especially when it comes to books), but I think their approach is short-sighted and damaging their potential for long-term returns.

    Why should Marvel get to take fewer risks, when the deck is already stacked in their favor? What justifies that assumption of your argument? Funding creation until publication isn’t a “dilemma”, it’s the value that a publisher adds. It’s the basic point of their business. If you want to Kickstart all comic funding, and drive the industry based solely on committed pre-orders, why do we need Marvel at all?

  10. Joshua Says:

    It’s not a matter of how the deck is stacked, it’s simple math. For any given budget, you can either try more things giving them each a chance but cutting your losses if they fail, or fewer things and committing to each of them being a bigger failure if they fail. People who value diversity and variation in comics shouldn’t be demanding the “all your eggs in one basket” blockbuster mentality.

    The Kickstarter suggestion is just an idea for how companies might satisfy fan demand for quirky projects. X-Men doesn’t need demonstrated pre-commitment from fans to make it worth a chance on publishing, but a Colleen Coover Hellcat mini-series probably does. C’mon, how many thousands of times have you heard fans lament (or said it yourself) that you’d love to see creator X do Y and you’re sure it’d sell if they only tried? Wouldn’t it be worth an actually enforceable promise to buy it to get it to happen?

  11. Johanna Says:

    No, because I would rather creator X do project they own and want to do, not wish for Creator X on Big-Company Brand Q. And I reject the idea that customers need to bear the risk by preordering. I’m already moving away from that in the regular comic shop system. I want to see what I’m being asked to buy, not trust that it’s going to be good in two or more months.

    Saying “you can’t blame Marvel if you value diversity” is not valid. You keep coming back to that, but most diversity in comics has come from people working against the big monopoly companies, not simply accepting their self-serving explanations. After all, they were the ones who said “creator ownership would never work in comics” (one even claimed it wouldn’t be legal). They have a long history of avoiding risk because they hate it, and of treating readers badly because they’ll take it. This bad acting falls right into that pattern.

  12. scott (the other one) Says:

    Joshua, going by what Johanna has written, Marvel has already invested an absolute minimum of $6000 in scripts that will never be published, as well as $8000 in pencils that will never see the light of day. (That’s assuming the low end of good but not great page rates for both creators; I have absolutely no knowledge of their actual rates, but would not be surprised if the scripting rate, at least, was significantly higher.)

    That’s 14k they’ve already said goodbye to, and that’s assuming nothing has been inked or colored on those two pencilled issues. Oh, and throw in another grand or two for the covers to the unpublished issues. And, wait, I see that Bleeding Cool says some of #8 was pencilled too. Let’s add another thousand there. If Marvel publishes the full miniseries, they stand a chance of making their money back. If they don’t, that’s at least $16,000 that’s simply gone, and maybe quite a bit more, as well as enormous amounts of hard work from the creators and staff that was essentially pointless (or worse).

    That’s money Marvel is now seemingly guaranteeing it will never make back. But it’s also money that the creators will never now get, as they will obviously not be seeing royalties from a collection that now won’t happen.

    But what’s more, that penciller suddenly had at least a month’s worth of work taken away from him, as well as from the inker, colorist and letterer. But that’s not all: in addition to suddenly having thousands of dollars less worth than promised, the penciller is likely having to scramble to find replacement work. (Assuming the editor did not automatically find him replacement work, as used to be standard practice but which, alas, does not seem to be the case as much anymore.)

    But in a situation like that, finding that replacement work is more difficult, as a cancellation of a mini in progress right now is something of a black mark, deservedly or not. If the creative team couldn’t even make an 8-issue mini featuring Captain America sell, why should I give them something (the thinking often goes), quality of the work notwithstanding.

    So. With this decision, Marvel is hurting:
    1) the fans, by choosing to not let them read the entire story
    2) the creators, by withdrawing promised work and money and possibly damaging their future job prospects, and
    3) themselves, by guaranteeing they will lose money on the project. They are also making future miniseries less likely to be profitable, for all the reasons Johanna laid out above.

    This is a lose-lose-lose decision all around.

  13. Joshua Says:

    @Johanna, I keep coming back to it because it’s the simple truth. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Marvel, or an individual creator. Saying you support Creator X doing a project they own and want to do doesn’t change anything. If Creator X is doing her own stuff and publishing it herself she’d faced with the same choice: she can try several different things and see which if any finds an audience, at the risk of disappointing some fans if something they like can’t continue because not enough other people like it, or she can wait to release things when they’re complete which makes the cost to publish, the opportunity cost of work foregone and the sticker price much higher and increases the risk of going broke if it turns out they’re not popular enough to pay back the money & effort she put in them. Promising that she’ll finish anything she starts so as not to disappoint those fans is likely even worse from her point of view than waiting to release when it’s complete; while she’ll get some cash flow, she’s still out all the time and money on the entire project, and it greatly increases the chance that readers will jump ship in the middle, not to mention the soul-deadening prospect of each issue she puts out putting her deeper in debt. If you really support such a creator, you should encourage her to cut her losses as soon as it becomes evident that readership isn’t building to sustainable levels, not beat her up for failing to live up to the “implied” promise that a series will be finished. Demanding promises of completion or waiting for the trade increases the price of failure, and pushes her into making safer choices of material–no matter how much she might wish otherwise losing a bigger chunk of time and money on a project that went nowhere is going to constrain her future choices.

    What we should all be hoping for is faster, cheaper failure. If something’s going to fail, it’s best if it fails with issue 1… or better, while it’s still on the web and nobody has shelled out money to the printer or paid for an orphan comic.

  14. Johanna Says:

    There is a huge difference between Marvel, a movie-money-making part of Disney, and an individual creator. If we can’t agree on that, than no wonder this conversation is going in circles.

  15. Rich Johnston Says:

    The biggest comics publisher in France – the third biggest publisher or anything in France – has moved into social network fucning of certain projects. If they can do it, Marvel certainly can, selling a fraction of the French publisher’s numbers…

  16. William George Says:

    Yeah, but French publishers didn’t stupidly dive into Fanboy Hell in the chase for easy bucks.

    The industry in North America needs to collapse before the medium can find it’s place in the sun.

  17. JD Says:

    Another angle on this cancellation : Alejandro Arbona, the editor dealing with this miniseries, recently got fired (along with a dozen other Marvel staffers, as part of a questionable cost-cutting move).

    Presumably most of his workload is now being shared by the other remaining Marvel editors, but it looks like this project was a casualty of the event…

  18. Derek G Says:

    I think Joshua misses the point – if Marvel wants us to try something new, then they need to commit to finishing the story. If they cannot commit, then neither will I. I am done buying mini-series, and am gradually moving toward waiting for the trades. If that means they publish less, there are plenty of other options. They have brought this on themselves with their disregard for fans.

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