is Marvel Comics
' latest attempt
at making more people
interested in comics again (and gaining
new readers), Ultimate Spider-Man
starts off by retelling Spider-Man
. It is part of Marvel
's new Ultimate
-line of comics, a whole line of books designed
to bring in new readers who normally wouldn't pick up a comic book
The first few issues, written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Mark Bagley and Art Thibert, retold Spider-Man's origin, much like it happened in 1963. Except, they have updated Spider-Man's looks (and that of the supporting cast, like Aunt May, Mary Jane and Flash Thompson).
The basics stay the same: Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider, Uncle Ben still dies (but not in the first issue) and Norman Osborn becomes the Green Goblin. The only changes are that it is set in the present, so Peter will do things kids do now, instead of what they did in 1963.
Since the series is placed outside the regular Marvel Universe, there are no worries that new readers won't understand what's going on, because they don't have to learn 35 or more years of Spider-Man history. Older readers can enjoy the series anyway, since it has beautiful art and a well written story, with dialogues that made Brian Michael Bendis famous.
The original plan was to make this comic available to everyone. It would be sold in places where comics usually aren't sold, hundreds of thousands of free copies would be handed out for free, and it would be supported by a huge advertising campaign, so nobody could claim they hadn't heard about it.
But this is where Marvel fails. They changed their original plans. They shipped the first issue of Ultimate Spider-Man with a variant cover, which is harder to get. Collectible is what they call it. The first issue sold out completely in a a week or two. It's harder to find then any other comic released this year. Normally, they would reprint it, and put a "2nd printing" label on the cover.
But they decided not to go with a second printing. Instead, they'll wait a few months and then reprint the first three issues in one volume, at a lower price. This way, people who missed the first issues can still buy them, even at a lower price. That all sounds good, but what they are now also saying doesn't make a lot of sense. They won't reprint the first issue, so the first printing will rise in value. They claim to do that to reward the fans who bought it when it was released, and hope to get kids attracted by the idea that two dollar comics (yes, that's what they cost nowadays, but most of them are even more expensive) become more valuable very quickly.
And that is exactly what's wrong with their strategy. It's exactly the opposite of what they first planned to do. Now everyone who doesn't have a copy still can't get one, since it's sold out and retailers ask outrageous prices, because it's very hard to get. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that is going to scare away new readers.
The way Marvel Comics sees it, people are going to think they can make money by buying comics, then selling a bit later because they're supposedly worth more. That isn't bringing in new readers in my book. That's bringing in people who only buy the book, hoping it will make money. That will work for a few issues, and then those who invested in comics to make a quick buck will realize that they aren't making any money fast, so they'll give up. No new readers gained. Only a few more issues sold for a short period of time. And the people who keep reading the comics were the people who read comics in the first place.
In a few months, the second of Marvel's Ultimate-line will be released: Ultimate X-Men. If they would have timed the release better, then it could have been released when the X-Men movie was in theaters. That way, it would definitely have been bought by an audience that normally wouldn't buy comics. Even though they claim it will be the highest seller for December 2000, it will probably sell to comic geeks only if they plan on doing the same thing with it as with Ultimate Spider-Man.