Is Marvel trying to kill off X-Men?

Image provided by Marvel

You might think so, if you read various commentaries and conspiracy theories kicking around the internet.

You can see why some fans might believe that Marvel is intent to “kill off” the valuable franchise. There’s the oft-reported friction between Marvel and FOX (holder of a long-term license to the X-Men film rights). Comments from senior Marvel editor Tom Brevoort, to the effect that it makes sense to focus the company’s attention on properties where Marvel reaps higher profits, added fuel to the “Marvel hates the X-Men” fire.

How based in reality is that claim, though?

Commentaries have undertaken to measure such things as the prominence of X-Men characters in new video games, new merchandise and representation on Marvel’s web site as “evidence” that the X-Men are now second class citizens in the world of Marvel. Arguing those points is a losing proposition. Video games and merchandise are cyclical. A snapshot at a given moment in time really reflects only that moment. Extrapolating that snapshot into a larger argument about Marvel’s regard for any particular franchise puts you on dangerous ground. Doing so with web site representation is even more tenuous. Web sites are ephemeral by nature and Marvel’s seems to evolve and change frequently.

Some articles have claimed that Marvel is offering fewer X-Men books for sale each month. There doesn’t appear to be less X-Men product on the shelves. Marvel seems to release several issues of X-family titles every week.

Image provided by Marvel

Arguments pointing to lower X-Men sales and the relative dearth of X-Men titles in the top ten sellers over the past several years fall into similar territory. That other books have sold better isn’t “proof” that Marvel doesn’t support X-Men. X-titles still pop up in the top ten fairly regularly. Sales trends are, say it with me, cyclical. The X-Men franchise had a long run at the top of the heap. Some relative cooling was inevitable. And comparing current sales to the speculation-inflated days of the early ‘90s is a non-starter.

Let’s examine the heart of the Marvel/X-Men conspiracy theories. Fans believe that Marvel had mandated a tire iron to the X-Men’s collective kneecap because FOX holds the franchise’s movie rights. Therefore Marvel makes far less in box office receipts and related merchandising than it does off of its Marvel Cinematic Universe properties. Similar arguments have arisen regarding Fantastic Four, whose film rights also reside with FOX.

Image provided by Marvel

It’s not an unfair question. Do movie business realities drive publishing decisions? The publishing arm of Marvel would claim not. Brevoort’s comments indicate otherwise. Marvel’s publishing unit frequently positions product to take advantage of interest generated by characters’ appearances in other media.

The simple fact is, Marvel Comics is part of a major entertainment conglomerate. Disney is expert at maximizing the value of its assets. While conspiracy theorists will likely never find a “smoking gun” directive for Marvel to emphasize Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Inhumans, etc. at the expense of X-Men, it’s not unreasonable to believe the publishing arm has been encouraged to develop those other franchises. The publishing arm of Marvel may generate some nice profits, but those tend to be much smaller than movie and merchandising revenues.

Comic books have become multimedia incubators. Comics develop properties for greater exposure in movies, TV shows, video games and other outlets. But comic books can also benefit from the success of adaptations elsewhere. Guardians of the Galaxy was a fairly strong seller before its movie counterpart hit it big at the multiplex. After the movie success, the monthly series (and its spin-offs Legendary Star Lord and Rocket Raccoon) became top-sellers. There’s a symbiotic quality to this.

That doesn’t mean that X-Men projects are ignored. Marvel had plenty of product on the shelves when the last two X-movies (The Wolverine and Days of Future Past) opened. That included prominent placement on Marvel’s web site, copious collected editions on bookstore shelves and lots of ongoing series. The fact that Marvel receives a smaller cut of X-Men movie revenues doesn’t mean it doesn’t want to maximize the value of that cut.

Image provided by Marvel

Another way to look at the attention paid to Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and Inhumans over the past decade may be that it’s just good business sense to have as many profitable franchises as possible. X-Men dominated Marvel for years. It was the main engine of Marvel’s profitability and received far more of the company’s attention and resources than other properties. But that’s a poor business model. It’s almost imperative for Marvel to pay attention to other corners.

Does that mean that X-Men gets less attention? Probably. But given how disproportionate the attention given to X-Men has been over the years when compared to other Marvel franchises, maybe that’s not only to be expected, but is healthy. Reduced attention to X-Men isn’t intended as a punishment or an attempt to hobble the franchise. It’s just an understandable evening out of finite resources among several franchises.

Marvel seems like it’s made an effort over the past few years to pull the X-Men into the greater Marvel Universe after years of isolation. That isolation wasn’t something that was done to X-Men. That “we play in our own corner of the sandbox” mentality is rooted in the ‘80s, when X-Men successfully franchised into a profitable family of titles. X-creators wanted to focus on the X-Men subculture. They became their own complex, increasingly hermetic world. For a long time, many fans were willing to immerse themselves in that complex world. Over the years, though, the X-Men franchise has assembled such a vast, complicated, impenetrable fortress of story that it almost actively repels new readers.

Image provided by Marvel

So Marvel has made efforts to build bridges between X-Men and the rest of the Marvel publishing line. Fans can quibble about how the X-Men were depicted in Avengers vs. X-Men, but that story put the X-characters square into the center of the Marvel Universe again. And Marvel has kept them there. For years, Wolverine, Beast and Storm were the only X-characters who seemed to regularly interact with heroes beyond the X-franchise. Since Avengers vs. X-Men, there has been a lot more cross-pollination. That’s good for both the X-Men franchise and Marvel as a whole. Where that goes after Secret Wars is unclear.

X-Men may not be the golden child it once was for Marvel. But rumors of its demise seem greatly exaggerated.

Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on April 15, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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