Hindsight’s Mock History of Marvel Comics.     In the last moments of the last century, Marvel Comics filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter Eleven.  This was the final phase in a series of disastrous maneuvers made by the industry’s second-oldest company.  It began when Marvel acquired Heroes’ World, a distribution operation, and ended as Marvel laid off staffers and cut back on titles. There's something hauntingly Greek about all this--Greek drama, I mean.  Hubris, to be specific.
     It amuses me to speculate that the cause of all this woe was the acquisition of Marvel by a man who didn't know squat about comic books.  And he doubtless installed his like-minded minions in decision-making positions.  Then all these brilliant corporate power mongers read the Marvel hype and thought it was the truth! 
     Being outsiders, they didn't understand the lingo.  They didn't realize that all that hyperbole about Marvel's being the greatest comic book company in the known galaxy was sheer fabrication, breast-beating self-promotional hogwash that was as much a part of the Marvel universe as Spider-man's secret identity.  All of it--fiction!  No actual, concrete truth or fact in any of it.
     Actually, of course, there was a shred of truth there.  But nothing approaching the dimensions suggested by the house hype.  Still, the Perel-men believed it to be the truth, the whole truth.  So they took what was to them a logical step.  They set up their own distribution arm, establishing the exclusive arrangement whereby the only source for Marvel comics was Heroes World. 
     This maneuver, I have opined in various places, was the opening gambit in an attempt to set up Marvel merchandise stores along the lines of the Warner and Disney stores.  To Ron Perelman's henchmen, it seemed quite sensible to follow in the footsteps of Warner and Disney:  if Marvel comics were as popular as "everyone" (i.e., everyone who wrote Marvel promotional copy) said they were, then all those millions of readers were doubtless standing impatiently by, waiting eagerly to stampede into Marvel merchandise marts to buy plastic statuettes of Captain America and coffee mugs in the shape of the Hulk.  They lined up for Daffy Duck and Mickey Mouse; why not for Spider-man and Daredevil? 
     Again, this vision of the future was predicated upon a belief in the supreme popularity of the Marvel characters--a belief in the Marvel-manufactured hype about itself.
     Marvel's way of setting up merchandise marts was, however, wildly different than any plan devised before.  Marvel first instituted a draconian system of ordering discounts that rewarded direct sale shops that ordered large quantities of Marvel titles.  Knowing (1) that most shops couldn't afford to stock Marvel books without such discounts and (2) that most shops couldn't afford to stock Marvel titles in the quantities necessary to obtain the discounts without abandoning orders for books from any other publisher, Marvel fully expected that most shops would stop ordering titles from all other publishers.
     According to the house hoopla, the shops couldn't stay in business without Marvel zombies and they couldn't attract Marvel zombies without having Marvel comics.  So, perforce, the Marvel exclusive distribution system would have two highly desirable effects:  first, as shops ordered only Marvel titles, all other publishers would be driven out of business, leaving the entire field to Marvel; second, with no comic books on their shelves but Marvel comics, all those shops would be virtually ready-made Marvel merchandise marts. 
     All that would remain would be to crank out Marvel toys and ship them off to the erstwhile comic book shops.  Before you know it, they'd all be little Warner-like Marvel marts.  And Perelman would have spent nary a nickle building any of them.  (That would come later.  Phase Two, I suppose--along with the restaurants and fastfood joints, specializing in X-burgers and mutant malts.)
     But it didn't work out that way.  There were undoubtedly other factors at play in shaping the fate of Marvel and comic book publishing over the last two years, but none of the Perel-men apparently expected what actually happened.  First, many of the small-bore comics shops just stopped stocking Marvel.  They couldn't afford to give up the books produced by other publishers:  putting all their eggs in one basket was just too risky a proposition for most of them. 
     In the final analysis, the Marvel discount scheme was, quite simply, too expensive.  The smaller shops couldn't afford to stock Marvel under their fiendish discount plan; so they just gave up Marvel.  In my town, two of the four comics shops stopped stocking Marvel.  And they survived just fine.
     The second unexpected thing follows hard on the heels of the first:  with a shrinking retail network, Marvel books weren't selling as well as they had been.  The Perel-men reacted as any corporation these days does:  they promptly down-sized, firing legions of Marvel workers.
      While this may have seemed a sensible thing to do in any other industry, in a creative publishing enterprise like comics, it can have only one long-term result:  the quality of the product--not to mention the quantity of the titles--declines. And that soon cut even deeper into the celebrated bottom line.
     Desperate, the Perel-men next looked to the hot artists at Image, former Marvelites all, and begged them to come back and rescue the alma mater.  A couple did.  But it was too late.  The die was cast:  Marvel was already slipping down that slippery slope to oblivion.
     The first step down that slope, as I've said, was taken when the Perel-men believed the Marvel hype.  Once committed to that, everything else fell into place.  Oddly enough in this day-and-age, none of the Perel-men apparently had any familiarity with the marketing strategy of the shopping mall.  Only people blissfully unaware of what is going on under those spreading rooftops in the middle of vast expanses of asphalt could have opted to set up any sort of exclusive distribution system. 
     The effect of the exclusivity was to cut Marvel off from its retail network.  It isolated the company and its product line.  Isolation is in direct contradiction of the psychology of shopping malls--a psychology revealed in the plethora of shoe stores in every shopping mall.
     None of these shoe stores go out of business because they're under the same roof with their competitors.  In fact, they all prosper.  Shoppers want to find what they want conveniently.  And they go to shopping malls precisely for that reason.  And when they're looking for shoes, they visit all the shoe stores.  Every single one of them.  And because tastes vary, every shoe store makes sales.  All prosper.
     The old distribution system with Diamond and Capital Cities and the rest all carrying every publishers' products constituted a shopping mall for comics fans.  And Marvel pulled itself out of the shopping mall.  Disaster.
     But it couldn't have happened without the ignorance of the Perel-men, who, in their naivety, believed the company hype.  All that stuff manufactured by the fiction-writers on staff.  They believed in the invincibility of Marvel.  Marvel was supreme. 
     But it wasn't.  And we all knew it--all of us, all us comics fans.  We knew.  We knew bullshit when we saw it--particularly in Marvel promotional materials because we’ve been seeing it there for years.

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