Marvel's No Good, Very Bad New York Comic Con

The company faced a canceled panel, a canceled partnership and tense relationships with comic store owners.
Joe Quesada/Marvel Entertainment

As always after a large convention, there are arguments to be had about who was a winner or loser of the event.

Was the combination of a panel and trailer for Pacific Rim: Uprising enough to overcome the buzz for Justice League's latest trailer? Was DC's Doomsday Clock preview the comic book breakout of the show? One thing, however, had achieved mass consensus by the end of New York Comic Con: Marvel had a bad weekend.

By all rights, this really shouldn't have been the case; audiences are excited for November's Thor: Ragnarok, and the company's publishing division is in the midst of rolling out Marvel Legacy, a much-hyped promotion that will see new storylines begin across its entire superhero comic line, beginning with Marvel Legacy No. 1, released two weeks ago and already the most highly ordered comic book release of the year. With New York the hometown of Marvel's comic book division — and the birthplace of the company as a whole — it would have been easy to believe NYCC would be a victory lap for the company.

The reality turned out to be something very different. Marvel and Netflix canceled a panel promoting its upcoming series The Punisher due to sensitivity issues following the previous weekend's shooting in Las Vegas, a move that was seen as disappointing to fans, though also one that made sense. (In a case of mixed messaging, the company did promote its Punisher comic book.)

The cancellation was swiftly followed by comic book retailer complaints over the quality of the expensive lenticular cover editions of the initial Marvel Legacy releases; pushed heavily to comic store owners ahead of release by Marvel, it was apparent upon delivery that the images didn't work as described, with the two images overlapping and mixing, rather than switching between original and new artwork as advertised.

On the first day of the convention, relationships between retailers and Marvel continued to sour, with a closed-door meeting reportedly becoming "heated", with store owners going further than complaining about the lenticular covers and instead addressing the trend over the last couple of years of replacing familiar versions of characters with more diverse incarnations, which itself turned into a discussion over whether or not diversity in superhero comics "works." According to multiple sources, the meeting ended without resolving the tension between Marvel reps and retailers, with the discussion continuing loudly outside the meeting room.

During the convention, Marvel declined to comment on the meeting, but a source inside the company who declined to be named told The Hollywood Reporter that reports of tension were overstated, despite the existence of video of the meeting taken by those present that contradicts that claim.

While news of the meeting spread across the convention, the company had to deal with another self-inflicted wound: a partnership with Northrop Grumman was canceled 16 hours after its initial announcement and 14 hours before it was due to be officially unveiled at the convention. The partnership itself apparently came as a surprise to many people working at Marvel, with THR being told by multiple sources that a number of creators had privately expressed unhappiness to the company when it was announced, including threats of resignation.

Additionally, Marvel chief creative officer Joe Quesada told the audience at one panel during weekend that he, too, had no prior knowledge of the deal with the defense contractor. "I'll be honest with you, I saw it for the first time [same] as you guys," he said during the Sunday Cup O'Joe panel, adding with some understatement, "I think there were some messaging issues."

For its part, Marvel is officially downplaying the idea that its NYCC was anything but a success. There were some victories, undoubtedly: The debut of Hulu's adaptation Runaways was one of the talks of the show floor, as was a partnership with The Weeknd to produce a Starboy comic book, inspired by his album of the same name. (No one tell Marvel that DC has owned a character of that name since 1961's Adventure Comics No. 282.) But, overall …? Things could have been better.

Perhaps the best example of how NYCC ultimately shaped up for Marvel might be this, however: Probably the biggest Marvel-related new comic book announcement of the convention was that, three years after the release of the animated movie, there will finally be a new Big Hero 6 comic book series. However, despite the property being owned by Marvel, the new series will be published under license from Disney by competitor IDW Publishing.

Thor: Ragnarok can't come soon enough, if only to wash away the current woes, even temporarily.

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