Sharpening the Sword is a regular column by retailer John Riley of Grasshopper's Comics, a 1300 square foot comic and game store in Williston Park, New York.  This week, Riley talks about what could have been with the Death of Cap.


Today Captain America died and it raised a lot of questions, not about the story, but about the way Marvel handled this event and related inequalities in the retail field.  The story appeared in all the local papers, including the Daily News, was on the radio (including the Howard Stern Show), and even on TV.  Word of Cap's death actually preceded me to work today. Even when limited to one copy per customer we sold out an hour before our store officially opened.  Its mid-afternoon and we've already turned away at least a hundred customers for this book. 


When we called in for reorders at 10:00 am Diamond was already sold out of copies, meaning we have no hope for satisfying these customers. I'm sure that Quesada is ecstatic with the level of excitement that he's generated.  The book is selling for $25 on eBay mere hours after its release.  People are calling all over looking for the 'hot book.'  But on our end all we've seen is another round of consumer frustration.


Marvel obviously had huge promotional plans for this book based on the massive amount of exposure it got today.  The newspaper stories were full-page, page 3, including pics of Cap's history, various issues, and a shot of Cap lying on the courthouse steps.  So if Marvel had such massive plans to promote the book, why didn't they put some effort into making additional product available to retailers?  Marvel could have come out as huge heroes by overprinting the book and doing an unannounced returnable overship based on initial orders.  At least that way we would have had a chance to satisfy some of the demand Marvel created.


But instead we found out at 10:00 am that there were no copies available for reorder at all.  Since most retailers on the east coast hadn't received their books yet, this leads to a few assumptions.  Either Marvel didn't print much over initial orders, or somehow these copies disappeared instantly.  On a book of this magnitude, with this kind of promotional push in the media, I would think Marvel would do a massive overprint for reorders.  If they didn't, then why not?  Certainly the risk involved with the marginal cost of these extra issues couldn't have been too big considering what Marvel knew about the book and how it was going to be promoted.  Do they really think all these customers are coming back for a second printing?  These were spur-of-the-moment sales created by media coverage, and that's something a second printing certainly won't generate.


If for some reason they chose to do only a small overprint, where did it go?  I can only wonder if the entire overprint wasn't ordered at 8:00 am by those few retailers who own multiple stores and receive their comics on Tuesday night.  I can only imagine how retailers on the west coast feel. The books were sold out from Diamond before they even woke up! While situations like this are rare, it points to obvious inequalities within the retail tier. 


I'm sure Marvel will point out that we should have ordered more initially, that they had told us that something big that would 'shatter the Marvel Universe' was going to happen.  But we all know that if we speculated like that on every book Marvel said that about none of us would be in business very long.


But the big question is why Marvel has continually frustrated their customers.  Does Quesada really believe that any attention, even negative attention, is good? In this instance they created a huge demand for a product that they took no effort to fill.  Today we had an opportunity to introduce a large number of people to comics with a timely, well-written story that shows not only what comics are capable of, but how they are relevant to our times.  Instead, we just turned them away in frustration.


When Civil War first came out we saw a tremendous number of lapsed comic fans come back to check it out.  They loved it, and they continued to until Marvel continually delaying the books.  By the time the series ended two weeks ago, almost all those lapsed fans had lost interest and were no longer reading the book.  Many of these fans remember the craziness of the early nineties.  The variant covers.  The late mini-series. The speculation.  And many of them left for these reasons.  These were not fond memories for them.  Perhaps the craze and attention was a good experience for Quesada, as he was a beneficiary of it, but it certainly wasn't a positive experience for fans.


Today, with one US distributor for comics to facilitate the distribution of an overshipment, and greatly enhanced communications and technology, it seems that a situation like today could have been a bonanza instead of an exercise in frustration.  I'm sure Joe is very happy with the excitement he created today.  But next time he does this kind of stunt I'd like to invite him to sit in my store for that day and turn those customers away himself.  Because it certainly wasn't fun for us.


The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of