That's grim with one "M," mind you. We will never, ever turn away extra helpings of Aunt Petunia's favorite nephew, Benjamin J. Grimm of Yancy Street. Now that that's clear, we'd also like to add that this is one bit of beef we never thought we'd have to leverage at Marvel of all companies.
Marvel is the fun one. Traditionally, DC Comics has been your go-to purveyor of all things dark, gritty, and joyless. Whenever DC reminds us, once again, that Batman's parents are dead, Marvel is supposed to counter with an alternative caped crusader who hits things with a hammer and loves to drink. Yet in recent months, DC has rediscovered its sense of joy while most Marvel heroes have fallen into infighting, scheming, and political maneuvering. It's as if there's a limited amount of joy in comic books, and no two publishers shall share it.
The Avengers have gone to war over a (kinda bad) allegory for racial profiling in Civil War II. One of the Spider-Men is pretty sure he's destined to kill one of the Captains America (who is secretly evil). Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, one of Marvel's only existing power couples, have split. Daredevil is so guilty and depressed again that he's ditched his classic red costume for an all-black ensemble. Subtle.
Thor might have the worst of it; not only is he now unworthy of his hammer Mjolnir, but he's had an arm chopped off and is now racked with self-doubt.
On their own, some of these stories -- even most of them -- are pretty dang entertaining. Actually watching Thor claw his way back towards self-confidence without a tangible symbol of his "worthiness" to lean on is something else. As a whole, though, it's just not fun to read Marvel Comics the same way it is to watch a Marvel movie. Chock it up to Netflix's grimdark tone seeping into the not-so-funny books, or just our seemingly hopeless reality pressing down on writers everywhere.
Whatever the reason, the overriding hopelessness of Marvel's reality isn't consistent with what's made the its movies into an institution. Some series -- like Silver Surfer and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl -- are colorful, lighthearted exceptions. Yet the timbre of Marvel's mountain of event books is definitely a gloomy one that, so far, hasn't really had a heroic moment of triumph to break through the clouds.
We're not asking Marvel to stop tackling the personal and often global despair of the real world. The Unworthy Thor, Ms. Marvel, and (usually) Captain America use those problems to great effect. We just hope that this dreary chapter in the Marvel U. will end with a definitive win for the goodies. It's what most of us signed up for.
Speaking of that age-old conflict between Marvel and DC, here's a really awkward example of Marvel covering up its slipping standings. In December of 2016, the company reignited the sporadic practice of "over-shipping." Basically, Marvel sent out more copies of several of its series' issues than retailers actually ordered. Inhumans vs. X-Men #0, for instance, added a whopping 50 perfect bump in books to everyone's orders, ostensibly for free.
The immediate downside is that these "free" books actually do affect the shipping costs retailers pay to get them in stores in the first place. While that's a drop in the bucket compared to what the extra books themselves would cost, finding out you're paying even a nominal sum for something you didn't request is lame. Imagine if you ordered a set of new... Electric... Nose trimmer blades, or something, only to find out you'd gotten twice as many as you needed to trim your nose (seriously, it's just an example), but still paid double the shipping.
There are other complaints, too -- shelf space being one of them. Brick and mortar retailers are just that. They're enclosed spaces with finite places to put up product. Even if those shops that received extra copies were certain they could sell the "over-ship," they'd still need to find places to put them in the meantime. Maybe you've never worked at a comic book shop, but if you have, you likely know that clutter is unavoidable and infuriating. Adding to that with bonus books is like getting self-help DVDs for Christmas. Sure, you got a present, but it might as well be a paperweight that doesn't hold down paper very well.
Even this isn't quite the slap in the face some retailers made it out to be. If space is the biggest issue, you can always give the books away for free. A lot of shops did. The worst thing that can happen then is somebody just maybe, possibly, perchance realizes they want to buy books from a series they otherwise wouldn't have given a second thought. Remember that Inhumans vs. X-men was one of the over-shipped books in December, and that turned out better than it had any right to be.
No. The most awkward result of all this is that it makes Marvel books look more popular than they really are. See, comic book sales to retailers are tracked by Diamond Comic Distributors -- the only comic book distributor in the United States. Diamond's monopoly means that the market and dollar shares for comics they track is pretty much accurate. Although that depends on which statistic you're tracking.
We'll skip over the specifics (we read books with pictures to avoid those kinds of details). Suffice it to say that Marvel over-shipping books makes those series rank higher on month-to-month market share than they probably should. That looks great for Marvel on paper, especially since they certainly don't want to be seen as lagging behind DC for the first time in years. Yet it doesn't actually fix any of the company's inherent problems. If anything, it makes us worry that Marvel is less interested in fixing those problems in the first place, and more concerned keeping up appearances.