Reboots are a tried and tested tool for Marvel, and have been used to great effect throughout their history. From the introduction of the All New, All Different X-Men back in the day, to the reinvention of the Guardians of the Galaxy, to modern favorites like Moon Knight and Jane Foster as Thor; when Marvel use it right it can be great, endearing us towards characters we wouldn’t have looked twice at before, retooling concepts to fit the modern age, and generally keeping the Marvel universe fresh and shiny.
Reboots can be temperamental though. Like the cat next door that looks adorable when you see it sitting by the window but when you try to pat it, it claws the skin off your hands and leaves you with a lingering distrust of domestic pets for the rest of your life. Marvel hasn’t escaped the wrath of a bad reboot in their long history. Naturally, it’s impossible for every idea to be great and every change to be well received. But some ideas are worse than others, and some of them end up being the recipient of focused beams of hatred, so join us as we examine 15 Marvel reboots they're hoping you forgot about!
15 NOT MY GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Wait, stop, don’t send hate mail just yet. We’re talking the Marvel NOW! reboot, not the seminal 2008 run that put the Guardians on the map. Breathe. There’s multiple reasons it claims a coveted spot on this list. As soon as the hype train for the movie gathered steam, Marvel relaunched the comic to mirror it, throwing away everything that raised the Guardians’ profile in the first place. Never mind the fact that it’s regarded as some of Brian Michael Bendis’ laziest work.
A lot of the action took place on Earth (weird move for a team that literally guards the galaxy. It’s in the name, man) and characters that Bendis writes well suddenly found their way onto the team, regardless of whether they actually fit into the dynamic. It was a case of the wrong writer taking the wrong approach, which as you can guess doesn’t go well.
14 DOCTOR SURFER, M.D.
In this soft-reboot, Silver Surfer travels time and space having adventures with a female human companion on a sentient means of transport with its own personality. If that doesn’t sound familiar, perhaps you should see a Doctor. The similarities between Silver Surfer and Doctor Who are myriad, and when you take in to account Dan Slott’s (the writer of the series) self-confessed super-fandom of the prominent British sci-fi series, they’re kind of hard to overlook.
Maybe we’re being harsh here; by all accounts Silver Surfer is a great book. But it feels like Slott wants to jam a Silver Surfer-sized pin into a TARDIS shaped hole, and when Silver Surfer already has a rich background and history, it kind of defeats the purpose. We’re all for re-imagining a character, but doing so to stealthily write stories for another franchise doesn’t tend to sit well.
13 PUNISHER IS AN ANGEL?!
The Marvel Knights line was introduced in the late '90s to try and revitalize floundering Marvel properties, offering a fresh, more mature take. The first of these was The Punisher, which sounds like a perfect fit, right? What we got was a strange, supernatural spin on The Punisher, complete with biblical elements and weird, ethereal heaven-guns. Essentially Frank Castle dies and is reincarnated as a violent agent of Heaven, implemented to enact vengeance on people who never going to get into Heaven anyway.
To give the creators credit, they took full advantage of the concept and incorporated Frank’s origin and past to create a sort of biblical mythology around him, but ultimately the concept was too far from the central concept of The Punisher for fans to get behind, to the point where it was passingly referenced then discarded on the first page of the next Punisher run. Ouch.
12 BEN REALLY, MARVEL?
"The Clone Saga" is infamous for being one of the worst handled Marvel events of all time. It ran for far too long, took over five separate Spider-Man titles, and ended by essentially telling fans “hey, we know you like Peter Parker, but he’s never been the real Spider-Man. Surprise! The whole thing was a mess, and poor Ben Reilly has ended up being the embodiment of it all.
Marvel claimed that, through some nonsensical villainous tomfoolery, Peter Parker was actually a clone of Ben Reilly, who was the original Spider-Man, and Ben’s memories had been implanted into Peter’s mind. So we were left with Ben Reilly, who promptly took over all five Spidey titles, becoming the de-facto Spider-Man. Eventually it was all smoothed over but, despite his fanbase, Ben Reilly is a constant reminder of the circus that was "The Clone Saga".
11 WASP MUTATES INTO...SOMETHING
Yes, you read that right. Wasp was mutated due to some comic book tomfoolery, growing biological wings and (seemingly) a new costume in the process. The Wasp made her re-debut in Avengers #394, towards the end of the much-derided Avengers event “The Crossing” (more on that later), and to be honest none of her teammates really cared. Even Wasp didn’t care; once Hank Pym gave her the all clear, it was sort of just ignored.
For all the Avengers knew, she could have been psychologically altered, or been stuck in the cocoon that facilitated her change forever, but no one shows any relief or worry. No emotion at all, just moved on to the next punch-up. Fans were vocal about their dislike of the change, and Marvel was so ashamed that they tried to undo it, along with many, many other things, in "Heroes Reborn" and "Heroes Return".
10 THUNDERSTRIKE AKA BARGAIN BIN THOR
Part of the ‘90s “replace heroes with extreme versions” craze, Thunderstrike was essentially Thor with a ponytail and a mace, which is dangerously close to encroaching on Hercules’ niche in the Marvel Universe. When Eric Masterton was mortally wounded by a villainous humanoid mongoose called Mongoose (seriously) Odin gifted him the power of Thor to sustain. When Eric’s short-lived tenure as Thor was over, Odin had a mace called Thunderstrike made for him so he could continue his superhero career.
Unlike the ongoing saga with Odinson and Jane Foster as Thor, the switch added nothing to either of their stories, and it seemed like Eric Masterton was created solely as a Thor replacement. Thunderstrike was basically a less engaging Thor; with the same powers and an incredibly similar costume, the main difference was that his storylines were markedly less entertaining. Ultimately, there was no real place for him in the Marvel Universe.
9 CAPTAIN CONFEDERACY: THE WORST IDEA EVER
Everything about Captain Confederacy is awful -- that’s as straightforward as we can be here. First published in the indie press in the mid ‘80s, Captain Confederacy was the propaganda hero of the US in an alternate history where the Confederates won. The whole thing is the product of a white creative team trying to explore issues of race with a sledgehammer approach. Marvel actually published the second series of Captain Confederacy, which rebooted the lead character as a black woman, draped in a costume resembling the Confederate flag.
While the team tried to condemn racism and the idolization of the Confederacy in both series, there’s too many terrible aspects to ignore, and it wasn’t theirs to explore in the first place. The writer of the series also coined the phrase “Social Justice Warrior,” intended as a derogatory term, so there’s that too.
8 MOON KNIGHT'S DARKEST HOUR
Of all Marvel characters, Moon Knight might just be the king of the reboots. While the recent Marvel NOW! run brought Moon Knight into fan’s hearts again, this one didn’t stick as well. Less than a year after the original series ended, Marvel attempted to refresh the character by giving him new weapons, a fresh costume that was essentially just the old one with a giant ankh on the front, and superpowers that were only active when the moon was out.
Only when the moon’s out? Did he have to see the moon? Isn’t the moon always out somewhere on Earth? What would he do if there was too much cloud cover? The concept had some potential, with the promise of Moon Knight leaving New York to have pulpy adventures around the world (possibly chasing the moon?), but ultimately the reboot lasted six issues before being canned.
7 A STARK CHANGE FOR IRON MAN
Okay, this one’s complicated, so stay with us here. Again spawning from the Avengers event “The Crossing”, Tony Stark was replaced by a teenage version of himself from the past after it was revealed that current Tony had been brainwashed and was a sleeper agent for Kang the Conquerer throughout his tenure with the Avengers. Teenage Tony from the past fought current evil Tony in a suit of Iron Man armor, failed, then current evil Tony sacrificed himself in one last gallant act to stop Kang from blowing something up or something like that.
So the Avengers were left with an inexperienced teenage version of Tony Stark who hadn’t yet been compromised by Kang (Kangpromised? No?). The whole thing was screwy and didn’t last long, as the Avengers soon all perished at the hand of Onslaught, heading to "Heroes Reborn".
6 ETERNALLY EDGY
The Eternal was a really confusing choice for a MAX series. In a line dedicated to fully exploring the scope of grittier characters like Punisher and Wolverine, an overly edgy reboot of classically cosmic Kirby creations seems like a push. And it was. Filled with violence, copious nudity, a weird storyline about modern slavery and a frankly sexist handling of women in general, to say that The Eternal was misguided would be like saying drinking bleach might do your stomach an oopsie.
Slated to be an ongoing series, it was in fact canceled after a mere six issues, and has never been collected in trade form. Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr. were swiftly brought on board to reboot the reboot, bringing The Eternals in line with modern sensibilities while still respecting Kirby’s initial ideas. We’ll be eternally grateful for their efforts.
5 CAP CAN'T CONQUER COMMIES
It’s well known that Captain America was created as a reaction to WW2, and as a conduit for Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s rage at the rise of Nazism. As such, Cap was pretty much a propaganda tool for his original run, his stories all, essentially, revolving around socking Nazis in the kisser and showing that Hitler what’s what. But when WW2 ended, interest in Captain America quickly petered, and the book was canceled.
However, Marvel (then called Timely Comics) attempted a Captain America comeback in 1953, rebranding him as a bastion against the rising Commie threat. Alas, the Cold War wasn’t as clear cut as WW2, and the threat the Commies apparently posed to American ideals was a lot more existential than the Nazis. The reboot floundered as a result, and Cap wasn’t seen until the Avengers hauled him out of the ice in 1964.
4 FRANKENCASTLE (OR "WHY DO THEY DO THIS TO FRANK?")
Taking over the Punisher title for around a year, Frankencastle is a premise that really starts to fall apart the more you examine it. Spinning out of "Dark Reign", Frank ends up being brutally killed as a result of his vendetta against Norman Osborn. So, naturally, the only course of action was for the monsters of the Marvel Universe to reanimate his body, hoping that he could protect them.
Not only was there no real reason to kill Frank (apart from to set up this story), it takes Frank’s stories into a different genre entirely. Still pulpy, but a direction that makes no sense for his character. There’s plenty of monsterous Marvel properties; why twist The Punisher to fit a story when there’s a plethora of titles you could revive? Frankencastle was gimmicky and incongruent. It serves as an example on how not to treat your intellectual property.
3 DARKHAWK: ANGER MANAGEMENT IN SPACE
Fresh off the success of "Annihilation", the event that refreshed the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe, Marvel launched another cosmic event: "War of Kings". Like how they rebooted characters like Drax and Nova in "Annihilation", Darkhawk was set to be the next breakout star of cosmic Marvel. Given a mini-series to help set up "War of Kings", we were re-introduced to Chris Powell, a moody teenager who couldn’t be bothered controlling his anger, even though it would help him avoid catastrophe when using the advanced technology of the Darkhawk suit.
Seriously, a couple of CBT sessions and he would have been Darkhawk-ing it up with the best of them. Apparently that was too much effort. To be fair, it did substantially expand the Darkhawk mythos, but Chris Powell was so hard to get behind that it sapped all enthusiasm for the series.
2 RED WOLF-ING DOWN THE CONTROVERSY
Red Wolf, a Native American legacy character, has always been a fond favorite of creators. Introduced in the early ‘70s during Stan Lee’s push for diversity in the Marvel line, his original series lasted nine issues, before he was relegated to sporadic guest appearances. So when Red Wolf was featured in the promo for All-New, All-Different Marvel, the hype was high. Sort of.
While his presence was considered a good sign for modern diversity in Marvel, fans pointed out that Red Wolf’s portrayal played into stereotypes and could cause offense to Native American readers. This naturally stirred up controversy, and more followed with the announcement of the creative team. Ultimately, it was too much for Red Wolf to overcome. His solo series was canned and, once again, Red Wolf finds himself relegated to a supporting player, when he could be a unique star of the Marvel Universe.
1 "EVERYONE BUT THE X-MEN" REBORN
Where to start with "Heroes Reborn"? The '90s was a dark time for Marvel. Money troubles, dwindling fan support and a swelling continuity problem were weighing on them. Drastic action was needed. So pretty much everyone but the X-Men (whose sales put them in Marvel’s good books) were killed and brushed away to a pocket universe with “era appropriate” updates galore. Better yet, they outsourced these titles to artists who had just left Marvel under contentious circumstances.
To say the response was tepid would be a massive understatement, with Rob Liefeld’s Avengers and Captain America taking the brunt of fans ire. The approach to story was scattershot and unfocused, and Liefeld’s *ahem* unique take on anatomy has since become an infamous example of '90s comics ridiculousness. "Heroes Reborn" is the go-to example of how not to reboot a comics universe. It was a lesson Marvel learned the hard way.
Are there any reboots here that you actually enjoyed? Let us know in the comments!