Marvel’s Young Adult Book Series Could Be Its Most Important Project Yet

By  · Published on October 23rd, 2015

At this year’s New York Comic Con, all of the Marvel-based hype was understandably swirling around upcoming Netflix series Jessica Jones stunning fans with a surprise screening of the pilot episode, and the second season of Daredevil. The shows both deserve the critical and commercial success they’re already generating, not the least of which because they’re deviating darkly from the bright, primary colors of the established Marvel universe.

Nestled among the buzz surrounding the Netflix and network series, along with all the updates about new comic book series heading our way, Marvel CCO Joe Quesada announced that Marvel was publishing a Captain Marvel young adult novel from wife-and-husband team Shannon Hale and Dan Hale. It was paired with the news that Marvel is already planning a sequel to just-released YA novel Black Widow: Forever Red from author Margaret Stohl (Beautiful Creatures). It was news from Marvel that, for the most part, flew under the radar. But it just might prove to be the company’s smartest experiment yet, and it’s all the more remarkable in that it has nothing to do with the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe of film and television.

By now, it’s old news that young women are the fastest-growing comic book reading demographic. A comics retailer survey done last year found that female readers ages 17–33 saw the biggest surge in readership, and Chip Mosher, the VP of Comixology, confirmed that a full 20% of its brand-new users in the third quarter of 2013 were women who skewed even younger, in the 17–26-year-old age range.

But there are still many young female readers out there that Marvel, with its love of experimentation, has yet to grab hold of. These are the girls – and yes, some women – who won’t pick up a comic book, but won’t think twice about reading The Hunger Games over and over or loving the Daughter of Smoke & Bone series.

Transferring Marvel characters to the immersive, young adult novel format that so many young women have grown up with is a smart move. Girls who have long been interested in getting into comics but who were too daunted to know where to begin, or who have found the short story format of comics to be limiting, can now jump into the world of Marvel via a format that’s both comfortable and familiar to them. The idea is that, as they learn to love these characters in Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, Marvel’s standard-bearer for female-led comics ever since her reinvention at the hands of Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow, one of the most singularly interesting characters in the Marvel pantheon, they will eventually evolve into reading the comic books and graphic novels of these characters. In turn, that hopefully translates to a growing interest in not only the movies, but particularly in the TV and Netflix series.

This foray into the novel format mirrors what fellow Disney brand, Star Wars, has already been doing with great success for years. The Star Wars Expanded Universe has blown up with the quickly-growing list of novel series with much of it falling under official canon, and the rest under the Star Wars Legends banner being a mix of canon and non-canon stories.

While Marvel is be borrowing a page from Star Wars and building out its expanded universe through novels, it’s still sticking to the Marvel brand and vision. Marvel’s Secret Wars reboot this summer essentially burned the existing Marvel comic structure to the ground and started over, with all subsequent comic books, movies, and series now being official Marvel canon, and one would expect that the new young adult novels will be more of the same. As a method of streamlining the once convoluted storylines, it’s proven effective. While some long-time fans have (unsurprisingly) decried the major overhaul, the influx of new fans to Marvel has proven it a savvy move. Adding young adult novels aimed directly at a young female fanbase further lowers the barrier of entry to new fans for whom the world of Marvel had previously been a mystery.

As far as announcements go, the Captain Marvel and Black Widow YA novel series announcements weren’t the most industry-changing ones Marvel has ever made. But in terms of smart future planning and a long payoff, they might be the most important ones.

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Happy little nerd in a world made of words. | Editor-at-large: Moviepilot | Writer: Forbes, Marvel, and Film School Rejects | Contributor: Birth.Movies.Death.