I'm glad I got a new prescription of chill pills, because otherwise this week's Marvel news would have caused my inner fanboy to Hulk out, thus ruining every Fourth of July party on my block ("Hulk smash barbecue!").
Those chill pills come in handy every time anything in comics announces a new something that changes all of the everything, allowing me to take a more enlightened tone. The chill pills make me an adult and not a fan. (Also, I realize that I've used up CBR's "chill pill"-phrase quota for the month of July, so I'm going to cool it on that metaphor.) When big news like this week's Marvel NOW! announcement happens, I try to realize that all of the griping and complaining I have inside of me means nothing, really. I don't run Marvel Comics, even though at times it feels like I should; after all, I've been one of their most hard-working employees since 1992 (in the increasingly shrinking I Read Comics department). When big announcements like this come along, I have to let the rational adult in me that pays bills and goes shopping for home decorations with his boyfriend, the one who has health insurance and something resembling a career, I have to let that guy take control and assess the damage.
And what does the damage of Marvel NOW! look like to old-school fanboy-me? Will I still breathe? Will I still enjoy comics? Will the decades of Marvel comics that I already own explode mysteriously in fire because they are not of the NOW!? The answers are "Yes," "Yes" and "I have no idea what kind of sorcery Marvel is capable of, but I'm guessing No."
This is what I'm trying to tell myself. I can't personally stop a big company from making decisions I disagree with. I can't come busting through the boardroom doors, preaching my sermon on the dangers renumberings have on attracting and keeping new readers. I also don't have to read everything Marvel produces, even titles that I've been reading for a decade or longer. Coming to this realization seems like some crazy, high-level zen state that the violently vocal majority of comic book fans on the internet never reach. They stick with titles that they hate due to a foolish loyalty to a fictional character, forever chasing the high they got when they discovered that character in grade school. Once you realize that you control the entertainment your body intakes, you become a comic book reading adult.
So coming at Marvel NOW! from my practical, adult-shaped frame of mind, there are plenty of points in CBR's interview with Marvel Editor in Chief Axel Alonso and Senior Vice President of Publishing and Executive Editor Tom Brevoort that I whole-heartedly agree with and am glad to see Marvel make part of their new initiative.
I was overjoyed to read Alonso's take on the X-Men and their segregation since the '90s. I think having them off in their own corner of the Marvel Universe has been a detriment to the unified feel that Marvel was built in the '60s and capitalized on successfully in the '80s. The X-Men have felt isolated and cut off from the Avengers-driven new millennium of Marvel Comics, only appearing in the main events to play the victim or give lip-service to the latest crossover (did the X-Men really do anything important during "Secret Invasion"?). I love the idea of them finally getting some recognition and respect from the citizens of the Marvel Universe and I'm excited to see that play out.
Similar to that, I'm glad that the cosmic line will be folded into the main Marvel Universe. This all makes sense, of course, given the Marvel Cinematic Universe's skyward bound trajectory. It makes even more sense considering that prior to this, the cosmic line was so far removed from the Marvel U that I never touched it nor felt compelled to (nor really knew that Drax had a miniseries -- or, really, who Drax even is).
The notion that this marks a new "season" of Marvel Comics, like in television, also intrigues me. I mean, dear God I hope this next season doesn't last 8 years like the last one, but I do hope it means we won't have to read "No more mutants" and "Civil War" references every third issue. If this truly is a fresh start, if the years of built-up baggage will finally be put to the curb, then these relaunches will be the first #1s to actually be a #1 since...before I was born? Wow.
My biggest stand-up-and-cheer moment from the interview, though, had to be Alonso saying that the basic formula for all of these books was getting a great writer and a great artist and letting them tell great stories. That's exactly what comics need right now, especially when other companies seem to be grabbing creators out of cryo-sleep and pairing them with the first character they think of.
So yeah, I'm fine with Marvel NOW!. The creative teams seem great and the ideas are solid. I also don't have to buy all or any of them, but I'm fine with checking them out. Wow, well, I'm glad the reasonable side of me was allowed to write this piece with no interruptions!
BUT THIS IS JUST A HUGE MESS. "UNCANNY AVENGERS," ARE YOU KIDDING ME? AND WHY DOESN'T MARVEL JUST MAKE EVERY ISSUE A NUMBER 1 OR NUMBER 600 SINCE THOSE SEEM TO BE THE ONLY NUMBERS ON THEIR KEYBOARD?
Looks like I'm hulking out, fanboy style.
I get that Marvel has just released the most successful thing they have ever released with "Marvel's The Avengers." I get that they want to excite a loyal-but-dwindling fanbase while simultaneously attracting the elusive-yet-oh-so-necessary new readers. But so much of this flies in the face of what I, personally, think Marvel should be doing to attract and keep new readers. This is coming from a lowly paper-pusher in the I Read Comics department, but feel I have to voice my concerns. Please don't fire me.
While I am all for inviting the mutant and cosmic lines to the Marvel party, and I love the idea of forward momentum, part of me wishes Marvel would just play up the strengths of their characters in the classic sense and (I hate saying this) play it safe. Right now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the biggest thing on Earth, and Marvel are currently morphing their animation presence to reflect that while jettisoning the actual comics off into unrecognizable territory. I know there are exactly three bajillion differences between the universes, but I don't see the damage in streamlining and simplifying the comics line to reflect the already streamlined and simplified movie-verse.
Imagine you are a lapsed (at least a decade gone) or new fan who was blown away by the "Avengers." From the Marvel NOW! series descriptions, it seems like the majority of the books will offer impenetrable and byzantine premises that are likely to befuddle newbies. New fans might be surprised to see Wolverine and Rogue on an Avengers squad. Those new fans will also have a hard time keeping track of the 18 Avengers in Hickman's new series. Anyone who hasn't read comics in the past ten years will be seriously stumped as to the differences between "Avengers," "New Avengers" and "Uncanny Avengers," not to mention Avengers "Academy," "Secret" and "Assemble," if they still exist. Instead, why can't there be a single Avengers comic starring a manageably-sized team, solo comics for all of the flagship heroes and little-to-no complex crossovers? I hate that I've turned into the guy who wants things to be more like the movie-verse, but "Marvel's The Avengers" was the best comic book movie of all time. I would love for the comics to be more like that. That film could have attracted a whole new audience, but instead, the comics seem to be moving down the path of even more convoluted continuity that many non-readers actively cite as the reason they don't read comics.
These new #1s mark a new season and, hopefully, no baggage -- but they are still adding more volume numbers and continuing an awful trend of mind-melting renumbering nonsense. New #1s historically mean high sales, so it makes sense to publish them. But #2s historically mean sales drop-offs and a downward spiral that drives those high sales down to average (or below average) numbers. In the long run, they seem to do infinitely more damage than good.
Imagine again that you are a new reader (there's a lot of role-playing in this piece, and for that I apologize). You saw "Marvel's The Avengers" and want to read the comics. Awesome! You want to start from the beginning but notice that there are, come this Fall, five different "Avengers" #1's, in addition to three "New Avengers" #1's, one of which is pretty essential since it told the main Avengers story between the third "Avengers" #1 and the fourth "Avengers" #1. Why is renumbering seen as the way to lure in new readers? Wouldn't it make more sense to just keep the same numbering for organization's sake, bury it in a place where it's not prominent but there as a guiding tool when needed and market the start of a new storyline as a #1 issue? "B.P.R.D." has adopted this model and I think it's time the rest of the industry takes notice. If you don't agree with me, try to figure out the mess that is the "Incredible Hulk's" publishing history and get back to me on that. Renumbering is a quick fix, not a permanent solution.
I'm incredibly excited about Marvel stepping forward with digital content and embracing the future, but I wish their publishing model would do so as well. If Marvel is so committed to the single issue format, I firmly believe they should stop padding for the trade and start writing for digital. The trade, placed on a bookshelf in a large chain bookstore where New Readers go, is no longer the end goal. The physical storefront has been replaced by the digital and it would be wise for Marvel to acknowledge this, which they may. New readers are used to a payment resulting in a complete piece. $1.29 gets you a whole song on iTunes, not just the first verse. $3.99 should get you a whole story, or at least a chapter that feels like a whole story. Rick Remender has been the master of this on "Uncanny X-Force," and I hope the books shipping twice a month follow a similar model.
And thus concludes my fanboy rant. I realize that I do not run Marvel. I realize that they have Professionals who determine what sells and what doesn't. I realize that these comics are the result of actual jobs that real people have. They are not actively trying to destroy comics; they are doing what they can to keep their jobs and keep this industry going. I think Marvel NOW! has a lot of strong points, but I don't agree with all of the methods we've been told about at this point. That is beyond my control. I will read the comics I like and ignore the ones I don't. This is entertainment. So if any of you ever interact with me (@brettwhite on Twitter, holler!) and I seem like I don't care about the latest news of the day, know that I have this inner-fanboy in me that I am keeping caged up in an effort to make the general world of fandom a more positive place.
And if you see me rage-tweeting about the lack of respect being shown a forgotten X-Character in all caps, please, remember the parts of this article where I was a bill-paying, insurance-having responsible adult.