With people asking whether Marvel Comics' Siege storyline is a sales failure, we're wondering: What golden rule has Siege broken when it comes to creating a comic book crossover?
Siege may have been the highest-selling comic of last month with launch issue sales of 108,484, but that may only be because DC's Blackest Night took the month off; the last issue of that series sold 135,695 despite being six months into its run. Siege's debut was also far below first issue sales of previous "event" series, as blogger Marc-Oliver Frisch has pointed out:
For the sake of comparison: In April 2008, Secret Invasion #1 sold an estimated 250,263 units. In May 2008, Final Crisis #1 followed with 144,826. January 2009 saw Dark Avengers #1 (118,579), June Batman and Robin #1 (168,604) and July Captain America: Reborn #1 (193,142). Also in July, Blackest Night #1 came out with estimated sales of 177,105-and none of the five subsequent issues of Blackest Night released to date have fallen below 135,000 units.
Just as tellingly, comic book message boards are curiously quiet about the storyline; there's commentary when each issue comes out, yes, but nowhere near the levels of Blackest Night, Secret Invasion or other similar stories - and much of the commentary there is focuses on why the series is disappointing. But why?
Looked at in the abstract, Siege hits all the right notes: It's a storyline that will have impact for the larger Marvel Universe, includes characters and plots from across the Marvel line, written and drawn by fan-favorite creators. There's even been a high-profile death already. But Siege lacks the most important ingredient for Event Success: the unknown.
What drives the success of things like Blackest Night or Secret Invasion is a general sense for fans of not really knowing where everything is going; yes, it's unlikely that big-name characters are going to end up dead (Although Captain America did "die" as a result of Civil War, something that gave Marvel an air of excitement and "anything can happen" for awhile afterwards, bumping both fan speculation and sales), but even within that framework, the more surprising an event can make itself appear, the better (Blackest Night managed to do this through some impressive misdirection; by making fans think that they'd spoiled the biggest surprise of the series by revealing the villain's identity ahead of time, the creators managed to keep the re-deaths of characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow et al under wraps until it happened in the series). On the other hand, it's been difficult for fans to get too speculative about Siege because Marvel has been trailing the Heroic Age status quo that follows the series since before the series was even announced, effectively spoiling the ending before day one. Also, with the series being only four issues long, advertisements, solicitations and interviews for the following Heroic Age seem to have taken priority for Marvel while Siege is only at the halfway point; it's as if Marvel itself can't wait for the series to be over yet.
It doesn't help, of course, that the series so far has seemed scattered, rushed and full of events that seem forced in order to help the plot along, and also seems to step on the toes of storylines within many titles it ties in with (Most importantly, Iron Man and Thor, both of which seem slightly out of sync with the series, although Captain America's rebirth was also pushed out of continuity thanks to an extra issue and need to be done before Siege began). Through no real decision of anyone involved, Siege has gained the appearance of an unexpectedly clumsy end to a story arc that's been running for years. The question now may be whether that's enough for fans to jump off the series they've been following, or whether the promise of bright new beginnings with May's Heroic Age will bring them back for more.