In a move that can only be described as requiring significant cojones, Marvel announced yesterday that they would be offering a special variant edition of "Siege" #3 to comic book retailers -- in exchange for 50 stripped covers from DC's recent "Blackest Night" tie-ins. For those who aren't familiar with the concept of stripping covers, it's a common practice for returning comics. Asking retailers to return books by your primary competitor is not.

Although Marvel has declined further comment, Comics for Comics seems to be a direct response to DC's recent "Blackest Night" promotion, where orders of those particular tie-ins -- many of them mid to lower-selling titles -- determined the number of rainbow-colored "Blackest Night" rings stores would receive. Marvel's press release described the Comics for Comics promotion a way to "provide assistance to comic retailers" who may have over-ordered, but it's hard not to see this as a shot across DC's bow, and a very public way of challenging the big numbers "Blackest Night" has been pulling down and whether they really sold through to customers.

We wanted to get a sense of the retailer reaction to the announcement -- and whether there are really that many "Blackest Night" tie-ins sitting around at stores -- so we reached out to owners and managers at comic book stores around the nation to find out their reaction to the news, and whether they're planning to take advantage of Marvel's offer. Here's what they told us:

Chris Rosa, Meltdown Comics, Los Angeles: "My initial was reaction was that it looks like the 2001 [Bill] Jemas-era Marvel is back, with these WWE style stunts... [The promotion] kind of feels like Fool's Gold. The first thing in the recession to really fall off sales-wise were variants, so I just wonder where that audience is for that high double-digit priced variant. I doubt stores will make any money back with this. I haven't done an inventory yet, but I know we don't have huge overages on those issues, so I don't know if we even have 50 copies to send to them, period... It's very bullying of Marvel to do this -- or maybe a more optimistic way to look at it is that they're playing to win."

Andy Johnson, Cosmic Monkey Comics, Portland, OR: "I think it's completely obnoxious, but I also kinda love it at the same time. It seems like going out of your way to offend the other company, like a negative ad campaign... I can think of a customer that would want the variant, and it could be a nice way for some people to recoup on those unreturnable 'Blackest Night' covers, but it seems like poor sportsmanship. I actually wish Marvel would do something like this with their own titles, like 'Dark Reign,' because we seem to have a lot more problems with them than the 'Blackest Night' tie-ins. With the economy the way it is, it would be better for companies to focus on quality products than creating hype."Adam Healy, Cosmic Monkey Comics, Portland, OR: "This just seems crazy to me, this rivalry mentality. As a retailer, I'm kind of offended but not surprised that they would ask us to destroy saleable merchandise, throwing away good money after bad. Also, variants aren't very hot right now. Only a few [of our] customers are interested in variants. And there are a handful of those ['Blackest Night'] tie-ins that we have too many of after the promotion, but for the most part it worked out. It surprised me that the demand was there for all those ring issues, so we don't have an excess of those titles. And [the promotion] is not worth our time and energy."

Jermaine Exum, Acme Comics, Greensboro, NC
: "DC did something pretty innovative and unique when they released these plastic rings that people were very very excited about... At some shops, you had to buy the book to get the ring, but what we did here was give away one of these rings per customer if you brought in two cans of food. We've collected over 1,200 pounds of food in a town where people need the assistance. However, on the flip side, that really skewed the sales charts for that month. For Marvel, that's really not fair, but it's a gimmick and it worked. So with this news that came out today, it was also pretty inventive. What Marvel is saying is that... we'll be able to take this material that we can't sell and exchange it for something that's really sellable. I like competition; I think it's healthy. For us, it's a pretty positive thing, and it's Marvel taking note that when something doesn't sell at a comic book store, it has to get eaten by the retailer, and so it one-upped DC's gimmick. And in this situation, the store wins. A lot of stores aren't going to see it that way, but in reality this is a pretty creative thing."

Gerry Gladstone, Midtown Comics in New York City: "The offer seemed really weird. I think maybe Marvel's trying to gauge the success of the ['Blackest Night'] ring program. I'm not sure whether we'd want to participate. I know we're going to discuss it at some point. I suspect we don't have enough books to trade in for it, but I won't know that for sure till tomorrow."

Buddy Saunders, owner of Lone Star Comics, Texas
: "It's baffling... I don't know if it's something we'd even look at, because I don't think it's in good taste. I don't think it's really appropriate for one publisher to take a dig at another like that. They're both good companies and... each of them comes up with very successful promotions, and the ['Blackest Night'] ring promotion worked terrific for us. Except for 'Adventure Comics,' we're actually willing to buy copies [of the tie-ins] from other retailers. We need more copies... There is a really nice demand for variants, and Marvel does a really good job in that area, but getting the ['Siege'] variant this way doesn't appeal to me... It strikes me as kind of mean-spirited. I like the idea of a friendly rivalry between Marvel and DC, but it should be kind of friendly and respectful."

That's the response from a cross-section of retailers, and while their reactions are mixed -- and many seemed somewhat critical of the adversarial nature of the promotion -- what interested me the most was that even some of the biggest comic book shops in the nation doubted that they had enough overstock on the "Blackest Night" tie-ins to participate because their orders had sold through so well.

Perhaps that "Siege" variant will end up being rarer than Marvel had anticipated?

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