It was only fitting that on a day dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King, America's most important apostle of non-violent resistance, that Marvel Comics announced one of the most unlikely and daring comic projects ever undertaken by a major publisher.  Marvel is about to pay tribute 'to the world's least-heralded heroes -- the peacemakers' in a three-issue mini-series entitled simply 411.  Each of the three 32-page comics (no ads, $3.50) will be an anthology of contributions from some of today's top comic creators including Chuck Austen, Mark Millar, Frank Quitely, Phil Winslade, Bruce Jones, Sean Phillips, Brian Vaughn, and Leonardo Marco.  According to Chuck Austen, who was present at today's press conference along with Bill Jemas, Joe Quesada, and Michael Doran, 'The idea is to show non-violent solutions in a violent world.'  The first issue in the series will ship appropriately on April 11.


In addition to the comic creators named above (and more will be announced in the future) the 411 project also features contributors from outside the comics industry including Pulitzer Prize & Tony Award winning playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America), anti-nuclear activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Helen Caldicott (The New Nuclear Danger), and political cartoonist David Rees (Get Your War On).  Mahatma Ghandi's grandson Dr. Arun Ghandi will provide the introduction to the series.


Although the current international situation is rife with troop movements and rumors of impending war, Jemas denied that Marvel's 411 series was political in nature -- rather he sees it as providing an opportunity for creators to express their opinions. 'We have an opportunity, without any expressed political agenda, to provide a forum for people to express their views in a high profile way,' he said.  However someone with a right wing agenda, such as radio commentator Birch Barlow (he's really much funnier in his cartoon incarnation), might have a bone or two to pick with the choice of contributors to the 411 project, but then non-violent resistance has never been a favored tactic of American conservatives. 



When asked by ICv2 whether, since this was such a non-traditional comic with a potentially broad audience, would Marvel consider making 411 at least partially returnable, Jemas replied, 'We haven't looked at that yet, but it's unlikely that we will change our corporate distribution policy for one book.'  Jemas appeared to be taking a shot at DC's 'limited returnability' initiative when he commented, 'As a set of publishers we hold pretty firmly to the non-returnability standard.  There are pretend variations to non-returnability, but they're pretend...what you will see us do over the next year is to take the bottom out of the price of certain books that we want to really sell.  What you will see us do on a very regular basis, at least quarterly, is to do books for a quarter.  So Daredevil did really well in terms of sell-in (on the quarter book), and we saw sales of the monthly Daredevil poke up in a very dramatic way.  If there's a book like The Call of Duty, where we want to prove to the retailer that they should take a risk, we'll do that by taking the risk ourselves in the first instance, and taking the price out of the bottom of the book.  I think that's much more fair than having a retailer go through the one-off process of returns, which is probably more burdensome than just taking the thing and sticking it on the quarter rack.'


The Call

Marvel also announced that the reality-based The Call of Duty would become an ongoing series launching in April with art by Pat Olliffe (Supergirl) and painted covers by Gabriel del' Otto.  Jemas, who noted it is much harder to sell comics featuring characters, 'who wear their underwear on the inside,' said he was nevertheless pleased with sales of the three Call of Duty mini-series, which he noted sold better than such established titles as Wonder Woman or Batman: Legend of the Dark Knight.