The Avengers took North American audiences by force this weekend, grossing over $200 million, and tallying the biggest three-day opening of all time. It's writer/director Joss Whedon's first ever bona-fide big-screen hit. Whedon, who honed his talent juggling eclectic ensembles on TV shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, has spent the last decade suffering trigger-happy Fox execs. After they prematurely axed two of his shows (Firefly and Dollhouse), he abandoned network TV altogether, producing the cult favourite web-series, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. While the success of The Avengers guarantees Whedon will live to story-tell another day, it’s really the comic book medium itself that needs rescuing.
Now that superhero movies have become our dominant film genre, a clear and present disconnect between box office bluster and comic book sales has emerged. The theatrical release of The Avengers coincided with Free Comic Book Day, an annual promotional initiative intended to entice new readers to swing by their local comic shop. But Free Comic Book Day has been catering to the converted, the first Saturday in May, for a decade now. It's really more of a customer appreciation event. And 'free' is an inaccuracy too, since retailers must pay for the stock they give away.
Taking a closer look at the February 2012 Comic Book Sales Figures (as estimated by Diamond Comic Distributors), it’s surprising to see that the highest selling Avengers-related title (Avengers Vs X-Men) moved a mere 200,000 copies. Those numbers are pitiful compared to the business generated by Whedon’s cinematic cross-over, which united Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, and Captain America on the silver screen for the first time ever. These kind of team-ups are commonplace in Marvel Comics. But faux fanboys would rather spend a carefree afternoon at the multiplex than hunker down with the decades worth of imagination-expanding stories collecting dust on comic shop shelves. One has to wonder, what's the point of giving away free swag to regular customers? Especially when there's a feature length comic book commercial currently entertaining the masses. If The Avengers can't convince audiences to flip through a comic, nothing will.