Avenger Black Widow is one of the best bets, as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who has already proven herself on-screen, and with a spy skill set that can break superhero cinema out of the usual origin-story rut…But instead of being seen as powerful and dynamic characters who could lead their own films, a double standard is applied to superheroines. The men lead, and the women support, no matter how powerful their characters are. Marvel head Kevin Feige has actually repeatedly expressed happiness at how his company has handled female superheroes. He is perfectly happy to have the female characters support the men, rather than feel pressure over the company’s very recognizable exclusion of female stars: “I’m very proud of the way the Marvel movies handle the female characters […] as opposed to feeling the pressure of ‘When are you doing a female movie?’”
Intentional or not, Feige’s words express a palpable disinterest in the female superheroes audiences clearly want to see. In the same interview, he blows off the idea of a Black Widow solo movie with that same old standby: “If we had a great idea, we’d do it.”
The fact is that if Feige desired it, it would happen — and the Marvel head has a history of making his desires a reality. “It became a secret dream” of his “to have a second bite at the apple” when Hulk crashed and burned in 2003. In five short years, Bruce Banner was back for The Incredible Hulk — another film that missed the mark, before the character finally hit, four years later, when Mark Ruffalo took over in The Avengers. That time, Feige made it happen, and poor returns on Marvel’s investments didn’t stop him.
Disclaimer first: the Diamond estimated sales figures are estimates, based fancy guessing and also orders of Batman. They are not what Marvel uses in their secret cancellation calculations. They do not include digital figures, newsstands, international markets, and only kind of maybe tell us how many books Diamond shipped— i.e. how many retailers thought they could sell, not how many they actually sold.
Comic book sales go down, so the test of the Marvel Now #1s will be not just how high their first issue hits, but how well and how quickly they find an audience afterward. So, here’s Black Widow through March:
Rank Title # Est. Sales %Δ 20 Black Widow (2014) 1 53,879 — 63 Black Widow (2014) 2 31,260 -41.98% 70 Black Widow (2014) 3 28,127 -11.13% 78 Black Widow (2014) 4 27,378 -2.66%
The -2.66% drop is close to “standard attrition”— after four issues it seems like Black Widow is pretty close to finding a steady level. The title is seeing significant if not overwhelming reorders, too, indicating that for all Marvel’s numbering tricks retailers underestimated the initial demand for Black Widow. (Retailers have to guess how many copies of a new series they’re going to sell before a customer gets to see it.) Here’s what the chart looks like with the reorders added:
Rank Title # Est. Sales %Δ 20 Black Widow (2014) 1 56,553 — 63 Black Widow (2014) 2 33,603 -40.58% 70 Black Widow (2014) 3 30,187 -10.1% 78 Black Widow (2014) 4 27,378 -9.31%
The difference from issue #3 to #4 is, of course, a lot bigger, but you can see the # of reorders have been pretty consistent from issue #1 to #2 to #3. Jason Enright, who analyzes these charts for The Beat, notes the positive reviews and strong reorders. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a slight uptick in orders for March or April.” I wouldn’t be surprised, either. Marvel press talks about “rising sales” on this book, and I think that’s what you see in the reorders. Eventually the reorders and the initial orders are probably going to meet up.
There’s also a movie, with $162 million domestic and counting, that features Black Widow in a large, tangible way. Black Widow #1 was also printed with Superior Spider-man #30, so readers have lots of reasons to jump into Black Widow this month.
I want to go back to the movie, though. The popularity of the MCU hasn’t turned Iron Man or Captain America into month-to-month sales dynamos. Some people say this means the death of the industry, some people say it just means Rick Remender is some kind of evil. I tend to think, though, that it speaks to the impenetrability of comic shop culture.
To make a dent in the Diamond sales charts, retailers have to see you coming. To buy monthly comics, you have to track down a special store, and then be brave enough to walk into it. And to matter most, you have to keep coming back, you have to tell retailers what books you want before they happen. The extra interest from the films we can expect reflected in the Diamond sales is from dedicated comic readers: people who already bought Batman but never thought Captain America was cool until they saw the big screen explosions. They likely to be aren’t brand new readers, fished in. There’s very little room for that kind of fishing.
But that’s not to say that these films don’t have an effect. Here’s where I can draw up the sales for Natasha’s last ongoing, launched around the time Iron Man 2 swept the theaters.
Rank Title # Est. Sales %Δ 55 Black Widow (2010) 1 32,807 — 63 Black Widow (2010) 2 23,384 -28.7% 103 Black Widow (2010) 3 19,892 -14.9% 111 Black Widow (2010) 4 18,665 -5.8%
The 2014 Black Widow is selling way more than the 2010 edition, and I think there are a couple reasons for that, but one of them is probably the Avengers. I know a lot of fans who cite Name of the Rose, the story these issues turned into, as their favorite Natasha story, but not a lot who bought it when the book was coming out.
I figure a sizable audience came to Natasha’s comics after seeing the Avengers, like Marvel would want, but they came to Natasha in trade, buying collected editions in bookstores, off of Amazon, digitally— places much more accessible to a new or casual fan than a comic shop. (I’m sure a lot of people came to her comics through illegal downloading, too, but that’s another fish kettle.) Name of the Rose recently hit #1 on Kindle, years after the issues came out in singles, but not long before Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out in theaters.
With another Avengers film on the horizon, I think there’s a specific incentive to publish new Black Widow stories— not just for the month to month market but for the readers standing outside of it. When Avengers: Age of Ultron releases next year, there should be two trades worth of new Natasha stories that came out since Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And if I’m really lucky, those trades will make an easy jump-on point for a series that’s still running.
When The Avengers hit theaters almost two years ago, a lot of people made fun of Hawkeye and Black Widow because they were regular human beings teamed up with a super-soldier, a man in a flying metal fighting suit, a giant green monster with unimaginable strength, and a god. And it’s true that Hawkeye seemed like he existed primarily as a plot point, but Black Widow, now, she kicked ass and showed some serious depth as a character.
If you’re still skeptical, try thinking of Black Widow this way: She’s an human being without super powers. She’s an amazing athlete with serious expertise in several martial arts. She dresses in black, and wears a belt. She sometimes uses gadgets. She’s incredibly stealthy. Some seriously bad things have happened to her in the past. She doesn’t always exactly follow the law. Sound familiar?
I’m not saying that the Widow is precisely a female version of Batman – there are many obvious differences, most prominently her use of guns and willingness to kill. But I’d be willing to bet that most of the people who scoffed at the Widow’s presence in The Avengers would never dream of saying anything of that sort about Batman. The fact is that Black Widow, as portrayed by Scarlett Johansson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is a terrific character who absolutely belongs with the more conventional superheroes.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Black Widow has a much bigger role in this film than she’s had before, and you get to see just how multifaceted her character really is, as well as see her kick some more very serious ass. In movies, she’s the best argument there has been so far that calling characters like her “female superheroes” or “superheroines” is just silly: she, and they, are superheroes; the fact that they’re female really isn’t relevant.