An entry from my Marvel blog of days past, talking about the particular difficulties inherent in the central four Avengers/”Marvel Heroes” titles.
IRON MAN. THOR. HULK. CAPTAIN AMERICA. These core Marvel Universe titles have had a reputation of being a bit difficult to market, especially over the last fifteen years or so. As opposed to properties like X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN that have continued to have strong youth-appeal and cool-factor as the years have rolled on, the “Core Four” all have elements to their basic make-up that have given them the reputation of being out-of-step with the desires of a wider audience in the world of the 21st Century. Now, I don’t really buy into this rap–and the fact that all of these books and all of these characters are selling very well at the moment would tend to put the lie to it. Nevertheless, it’s worth examining these myths, if for no other reason than to understand the impressions various editorial regimes have had towards these characters over the years.
IRON MAN has faced the rap that readers, especially young readers, can’t relate to a middle-aged guy, to a millionaire, to an inventor. And certainly back in the early 70s, Stark’s day-job as a weapons designer put him at odds with the anti-Vietnam War stance of most of the readership (a big reason why the character wound up turning his back on weapons-peddling.)
THOR has been characterized as a guy who’s difficult to relate to because he talks funny, because he comes from what amounts to a fantasyland, and because his whole worldview comes from a perspective that’s alien to the casual reader. And his civilian identity as a lame Doctor isn’t terribly sexy.
THE HULK is a limited character based on who and what he is. There are only so many things you can do with the big, dumb “Hulk Smash!” brute. But if you change him around too much, then you’re not really doing the Hulk. He’s also got no stable environment, as he tends to move from place to place, which makes it difficult to build up a supporting cast around him that anybody cares about.
CAPTAIN AMERICA is a big boy scout, totally out of step with the viewpoints of today’s kids. He doesn’t kill, endorses clean living, and is a symbol of the sort of patriotism that just isn’t fashionable these days. He’s your dad, not your hero.
These characters have all had to live with the stigma of this litany of excuses that people have given over the years for why their books didn’t sell as well as some others, when very often the reason sales were down is that the material just wasn’t all that compelling to the fans. And it’s funny to see, especially now when IRON MAN is a top box-office hit, CAPTAIN AMERICA keeps hitting the newspapers, and THOR and HULK are both in the Top-5 in terms of sales.
Tomorrow: The particular viewpoints of the hardcore fans of these characters.