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Post-Mortem on the Captain America #600 “Mainstream Media Frenzy”

Looking at comments online, there seem to be two distinct camps for Captain America #600’s Monday release: places where practically no one batted an eyelash on Monday and places where it was a hot ticket.  This isn’t too surprising since while there was some publicity, it was spotty and much of it was regional.  There should have been good sales in New York, since the Daily News broke the story and the Times picked it up on their website (and the Times actually figured out issue #600 was on sale that day).  And, in the interest of being fair, give Marvel some credit: the Steve Rogers character returning from the dead (or perhaps never having been dead, since we’re not clear on what really happened to him) is not really big mainstream news, but they were able to get some coverage on the event.  It may well have been bigger news had things not heated up in Iran and North Korea.

Kudos for getting a story out there, there are some questions as to what Marvel actually thought they were promoting.  Were they promoting issue #600 and its special release day of Monday?  Were they promoting the Reborn mini-series where Steve Rogers actually returns?  Were they promoting both?

If you look at a press release that was issued, there’s almost no mention of issue #600 or when it’s supposed to be on sale.  I don’t know if that was the press release that was sent to the mainstream media, but given the presence of the Comic Shop Locator in it and how much detail it goes into about Captain America being a 70 year old property, I strongly suspect it was.  Mind you, I have no idea why you’d harp on “Captain America #25” to the mainstream media.  Issue numbers are meaningless to people who aren’t already buying comics regularly.  Still, what is the call to action in this press release?  Go get Reborn #1 in July. Captain America #600 is the very last thing mentioned before Marvel’s company description (and a company description is what ends most press releases).  That means Captain America #600 was an afterthought, in terms of promotion.  It doesn’t even say “on sale today,” “on sale Monday” or even just “on sale now.”  It just says “on sale this week, as the road to Reborn begins.”

Now maybe they figured a lot of retailers wouldn’t have shelled out for the extra shipping to have the book arrive Monday and that’s why they said “this week.”  A fat lot of good that does any retailer who did pay the extra shipping.

What was Captain America #600 supposed to be, anyway?  Having read the issue, it seemed like a summary and a prologue.  It caught you up on where things were, it reminded you what an icon Captain America is and how his friends missed him, and it primed you for the quest to bring him back.  It wasn’t a perfect catch-up book.  If I hadn’t read some press about the female Bucky (*cough* Dark Knight Robin *cough*) from Liefeld’s Captain America run ahead of time, I might not have figured out what was up with that and it would have been more impenetrable for somebody walking into a shop off the street.  Still, if you agree with me that this was a prologue to catch the audience up for the big event, there’s a huge problem with the press release: it’s focused on the wrong comic.

The talking points should have been in this order:

  • Captain America is back from the dead
  • Chapter one is in Captain America #600
  • Captain America #600 has been released today, two days before all other comics, to celebrate this historic event and anniversary issue

Relatively few news outlets carried anything about issue #600 if they picked up the story.  Having a special, unusual release date is news.  Think midnight releases and Harry Potter and all the coverage those got, just for being at midnight.  You might argue it’s more unusual for a comic to come out on a Monday than to have a comic character come back from the dead.  If you emphasize that unusual release date, and that it is indeed part of the story, no way do so many outlets leave it out.  The news was pretty fluffy and that would at least put a little more journalistic meat on it.

Either Marvel managed to pitch all the dimmest journalists on the planet, or their pitch looked a lot like that press release and they played down Captain America #600.  Oh, they may have made a few phone calls and gotten it put back in a place or two (CNN, perhaps), but that surely looks like bad PR design.  Worse, they’re calling it “the road to Reborn” in that press release.  As in “The Road to Civil War” or “The Road to Planet Hulk?”  That’s practically industry jargon for the run-up to an event.  Perhaps retailers should have been given a note that said “this is the prologue for Reborn, so if people come in asking for it, tell them that it’s chapter 1?”  Granted, your dealer is going to hand them the latest issue in they come in off the street asking for Captain America, but you can’t assume they have time to read a copy before opening if it arrives on Monday.

Maybe the press release was written before Marvel decided to ship on Monday and they didn’t adjust it.  All I know is the lack of emphasis on it is a lost opportunity, especially since they found an opening to get news of the story into the mainstream.

A bigger question is one of monthlies vs. books.  At the risk of opening a can of worms, Brubaker’s Captain America is on an extended story arc that’s been going on for a shade over four years.  Yes, issue #600 gets people relatively caught up, but shouldn’t this be an opportunity to be pointing people to the trade paperbacks and saying “the new comic is resurrection story, but it really starts with this book?”  This is Brubaker’s epic and the conclusion is getting stunt of the day treatment without an effort to bring people in for the whole tale.

Bottom line, good idea – sloppy planning and execution.

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  1. Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources - Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment » Seven Days | The week in comics

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