Human Torch R.I.P.

Here’s an interesting new column:

Talk to the Hat: Fantastic Deaths & Kids Comics by Joe Quesada

Tom Brevoort is interviewed. You can get some insight into how Marvel plans to move forward in the next few years. Sounds like focus groups of 6 – 10 and 8 – 11 year old kids will be dictating the future direction of Marvel storylines.

Brevoort: … Alan Fine commissioned a bunch of focus groups. It’s one of the very rare times in Marvel’s publishing history where we’ve done actual focus groups. But Alan comes from a consumer products background, and this is the way he is used to rolling. So he shook the money loose and said, “We’re going to do some focus groups because it’s important that we bring the next generation of readers in.” Probably over the ten years before that, we lost two or maybe three generations of readers because we weren’t hooking them young enough. And we wanted to learn exactly what kinds of things that particular audience was attracted to.

And without revealing any of the data that came back — because it’s all proprietary, obviously — we learned some very specific things about what a six-to-ten or eight-to-eleven audience wants and likes. If you put all sorts of stuff out in front of them, what are they most interested in and what do they respond best to? That’s what formed the basis and guideline for how we approach these books. But when you’re publishing month after month — partly because of a turnover of people, creators and editors, and partly because of the grind of just getting out issues — you sometimes lose sight of what you’re pushing against. So it’s good every so often to have a little refresher and say, “Hey! Here’re the parameters that we’re dealing with. Here’s what a regular Marvel comic should be all about.” The same thing applies to the younger readers books.

I also found Brevoort’s use of the term “gateway drug” in the interview interesting. I get the impression Marvel has decided they need to work much harder to figure out a way to get little kids addicted to their comic books at a young age. Or is this really just the new Disney influence taking over?

Brevoort’s quote “…we lost two or maybe three generations of readers because we weren’t hooking them young enough” is also revealing. Instead of trying to “hook them young,” maybe if Marvel had focused on producing a few quality key books with some solid storylines instead of hundreds of mediocre comics aimed at a wide variety of different audiences they would have attracted an audience of all ages in the same way Kirby’s books resonated with young and old readers in the 1960s.

Also funny to learn Marvel decided to kill off the Human Torch. I guess every year of so we can expect Marvel to kill a character so they can generate some media buzz for their comics.

Anyone want to take bets on how long the Human Torch stays dead, and what character will die next year. I’m guessing the Torch will be reborn like a fiery phoenix in 18 months (surely there is a flow chart somewhere that has that all worked out) and the next character to die will be… She Hulk. That character always was kinda’ lame… In fact, for all I know she may already be dead. I can’t imagine slapping down 4 bucks plus tax for a comic book, so I have no idea what’s happening in the new version of Jack’s Marvel Universe.

“Single Green Female?” Is this a joke or did Marvel actually publish this?

We should start a “Marvel death pool.” What Marvel character dies next?  It’ll also be fun to see what Marvel character changes ethnicity next. I still say if Marvel really wants some press, change Captain America into an Arab American — that would get them tons of publicity. Then again, that would be a little too gutsy, and might not fly with the 8 – 10 year old focus group.

 In fact, didn’t Marvel actually kill off Captain America a few years ago?

I still have hope for Marvel. I hope they settle with Jack’s family; I hope they embrace Jack’s legacy by promoting his contributions to their company with a tribute film or tribute book; and instead of tailoring stories based on the reactions of focus groups of little kids, or relying on gimmicks like killing off characters, I hope Marvel starts to put out a handful of solid comics each month (instead of 100s of books) that are so good they get people talking. Right now, it looks like the company is going through a transition and it doesn’t appear in the near future current management has an overall vision for how to move forward. Not surprising, no one knows what the future is going to hold for digital entertainment, but if Marvel really wants to expand their comic book reading audience, I think what’s needed is a back to basics approach. Embrace the man who built your empire — Jack Kirby — and focus more on quality over quantity.