Another year, another Marvel Reboot. This time under the "Fresh Start" banner, Marvel is once again relaunching its lineup with a series of new #1s. Along with the relaunch comes some welcome changes, and some questionable choices. Since these are clearly becoming a bit of a habit for Marvel, we're going to take a look at what makes this one different, but also what makes it the same as all the others. The main argument for Fresh Start's success is that in a lot of ways it really is a fresh start, with some new(ish) writers, a lot of new artists, and most importantly new editorial control.
At this point, though, the cavalcade of yearly relaunches is starting to get tired. Comic sales have been faltering in the face of DC's Rebirth initiative, even as Marvel movies are more popular than ever. Marvel has generally been failing to bring on new talent at the same pace as DC. Creators continue to abandon the Big 2 in favor of starting an independent series, with more from Marvel's side leaving. Marvel continues to seek its equivalent to Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns, but has yet to strike gold. Time will tell whether this Fresh Start really is as advertised, or if it's just another step in Marvel's decline.
15 TRIUMPH: THE RETURN OF THE FANTASTIC FOUR(?)
With the conclusion of Secret Wars in 2015, Marvel's First Family vanished from the Marvel Universe. Leaving behind the Human Torch and the Thing, Reed Richards and Susan Storm took their family to explore the newly-created multiverse. Since then, they've been notably absent, both in universe and out. Marvel Legacy #1, from last year, showed Valeria Richards feeling homesick.
Later that year and into this year, Marvel Two-In-One reunited Human Torch and Johnny Storm. Together, they go on a road trip to discover what happened to the other half of the Fantastic Four, and the rest of their family. While the series isn't over yet -- and, in fact, just revealed new costumes for the team -- the final issue is due to come out the month Fresh Start begins. The story is titled "Fate of the Four." It seems likely the Fantastic Four will reunite just in time.
14 TRIUMPH: THE RETURN OF CLASSIC HEROES
If DC Rebirth has proved anything, it's that people really like the classics. The return of Wally West, a classic Titans team, and return to form for Green Arrow have all helped catapult DC to success with its new lineup. So naturally, Marvel will follow suit. Steve Rogers returns as Captain America (and as a good guy), Tony Stark returns as Iron Man, Wolverine is alive again, Bruce Banner returns as the Hulk, and Thor returns as... well, Thor.
Returning to classic identities is an easy way to draw in older readers who were turned off by the slew of legacy characters from recent years. It also gives movie goers looking to make the at-times daunting jump into comics a familiar and immediately recognizable face. Moreover, it opens up the vast history of the character to play around with, rather than putting pressure on writers to come up with new supporting casts and villains for a new hero.
13 FAIL: STEP BACK FROM DIVERSITY
Although the return of classic heroes is welcome, it comes at a cost. In recent years, Marvel's line up has exploded with characters that fall outside of the stereotypical "buff white guy" superhero. While some might say that is responsible for its downward turn, diversifying a superhero lineup can lead to some pretty big successes, as Black Panther has proven.
As it stands, out of all the announced new titles and relaunches, only one stars a non-white character, and only two star women. Looking at the creator lineup, the same holds true, with only two non-white writers, and only one woman. Granted, all this might change as we get more announcements, but as it stands, Marvel's future lineup is looking very white and male.
12 TRIUMPH: MORE LIMITED SERIES
If there's one thing that DC has always beaten Marvel in, it's collections. The major reason for that is the vast number of one-and-done stories set outside the main continuity. Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Kingdom Come, and many more have dominated bookstores and Amazon for years.
Marvel, of course, has attempted to get in on the market with books like Marvels and Fury: My War Gone By (which you should definitely read as soon as possible, by the way). Unfortunately for them, their books rarely approach the acclaim of Watchmen and TDKR, likely due to not coming out 30 years ago. Fresh Start, meanwhile, has four miniseries announced already, with more likely on the way. This also sidesteps the unfortunate problem of previous relaunches, where books became stealth miniseries cut off at the knees by next year's relaunch.
11 FAIL: TOO FOCUSED ON MOVIE CHARACTERS
While Marvel movies are exploding in popularity, Marvel Comics seems to struggle making that translate to comics sales (barring Black Panther). Part of the issue recently has been that most of the movie characters were replaced by legacy characters. Thor, Captain America, Hulk and Iron Man were all decidedly unlike their movie counterparts in previous relaunches.
While Marvel is returning to these characters with Fresh Start, the lineup is almost entirely focused on movie characters (thus far). Of the many announcements so far, only one character has not appeared in a movie or other adaptation. Even Ghost Rider is actually Frank Castle. While Marvel is perhaps smart to focus on the most marketable characters, it also restricts the stories to be like the movies, rather than taking full advantage of comics as a medium.
10 TRIUMPH: DONNY CATES!
Of all the writers going into Fresh Start (thus far), Donny Cates is probably the most exciting. Hot off the success of God Country, and building a strong foundation at Marvel with Doctor Strange and Thanos, Cates now gets to step up a bit into the relative big leagues. Stepping onto Venom, a dream gig for him, and writing Ghost Rider, an expansion of a story told in Thanos, Cates looks to be one of the stronger writers of the lineup.
He's also (so far) the only real up-and-comer in Marvel's Fresh Start. If Marvel is smart, it'll follow its own lead with Cates, and bring in more up-and-comers to write bigger names, much like DC pulled up writers like Tom King and Ben Percy for Rebirth.
9 FAIL: ENDING PROMISING RUNS BEFORE THEY COULD BEGIN
Of course, the other side of pulling up promising new(ish) writers like Donny Cates is that their previous series end without ever getting a chance to develop. This is a larger problem endemic to Marvel's relaunches, but it is especially felt here with Cates' Doctor Strange and books like Rainbow Rowell's Runaways and Chip Zdarsky's Spectacular Spider-Man.
As with previous relaunches, these promising runs are kneecapped by Fresh Start, ending fun storylines and plots before they have a chance to become something great. This is doubly apparent with Doctor Strange, which, by the time of Fresh Start, will have ended up with one story arc and one crossover. While Marvel struggles to find a story to continually reprint into the far future, it also continues to hamstring runs that could become some of their best sellers down the line.
8 TRIUMPH: NO MORE BENDIS
Regardless of what you think of Brian Michael Bendis as a writer, there's no denying he's probably had too much of an effect on the Marvel universe. Able to turn out upwards of four books a month, Bendis could affect vast swathes of Marvel continuity depending on what books he was writing at the time. His first major foray included multiple Avengers books, where he directed the course of the larger universe's storyline for years. Later, with the X-Men line, he controlled basically everything about mutants.
With Bendis's departure to DC, Marvel is forced to spread the workload (and the universe) more evenly among more writers. With luck, this will lead to a more collaborative environment, and a chance for other writers to take a more active role in the direction of the universe, rather than being dragged along in Bendis's wake.
7 FAIL: RELAUNCHES HURT MORE IN THE LONG RUN
At this point, Marvel has relaunched its lineup five times since 2012: NOW!, All-New NOW!, All-New, All-Different, NOW! 2.0, and Legacy. And thanks to that, we can start recognizing some trends. Relaunches do cause a brief burst of increased sales for the bevy of new #1s, it's true. But numbers quickly fall back to pre-relaunch numbers, usually falling even lower.
The constant relaunches likely drive readers away, unwilling to stick with a series they know will be ending in 12 issues or less. They also discourage writers from developing a long, involved storyline, due to the creative shuffling that accompanies them. It also plays into Marvel's struggles to break into the bookstore market more firmly, as the new #1s in turn become new Volume 1s, confusing new readers even more.
6 TRIUMPH: COSMIC GHOST RIDER (AND OTHER WEIRD STUFF)
In the pages of Thanos, we were introduced to the breakout character of the decade, the cosmic Ghost Rider. A Ghost Rider turned Galactus herald turned servant of Thanos, this Ghost Rider became a fan favorite and won his own miniseries for Fresh Start. On the surface, this might not seem like a big deal, but it is indicative of a slightly more oddball lineup for Marvel.
Along with Ghost Rider, we have a sequel to the Legion version of X-Men Legacy, a Sentry ongoing, and a Multiple Man miniseries. The strength of comics is it can tell these more whackadoodle stories alongside the standard superhero fare. Their presence in the Fresh Start lineup is a strong argument for more diverse subject matter in superhero comics.
5 FAIL: ALREADY REHASHING FAIRLY NEW IDEAS
For years, Marvel published What Ifs?, a series of books showing what might happen if major events diverged from how they happened in the main universe. A running joke about Marvel's direction the past few years has been that they're just taking What Ifs? and repurposing them for main universe stories. Jane Foster as Thor, Good Guy Doctor Doom, Spider-Verse, Beast's further transformation, and even cosmic Ghost Rider all have their origins in What Ifs?
Unfortunately, Fresh Start is already starting to retread ideas from only a few years ago. Most obvious is the new Black Panther #1 is an "homage" to the first issue of Coates' run, despite that issue only being a few years old, and written by the same person. We're going back to Death of X with Multiple Man. We're getting yet another series about how Sentry is crazy. Marvel's Fresh Start may end up being less fresh than originally advertised.
4 SAVE IT: NEW WRITER ON SPIDER-MAN
Dan Slott has been writing Spider-Man for a long time. His run had its ups and downs, but there's no denying he left an indelible mark on the character. Or at least he tried to. But all things must end, as they say, and Slott's run on Spider-Man is finally ending come #800. While there's no telling just how the next writer's run will turn out, it's likely the freshest part of Fresh Start.
While Slott's run has been reasonably successful, it took Spider-Man from one of the top selling heroes in comics to more on par with Thor and Flash, rather than Batman and Superman. It took some very unpopular turns that drove many readers away, on top of being perpetually under the shadow of the infamous One More Day. A new writer is likely to attract new readers who no longer have to deal with Slott's very long continuity, and old readers who had been turned off at one point or another.
3 FAIL: NICK SPENCER
We're not here to make any value calls on writing quality, but it's safe to say that Nick Spencer is controversial. Taking over Amazing Spider-Man from Dan Slott, Spencer promises a new era for the webslinger. Whether that's a good thing remains to be seen. Having already drawn ire from many fans for his overtly political Captain America: Sam Wilson, he doubled down by turning Steve Rogers into a Nazi in Captain America: Steve Rogers.
People who followed him on Twitter saw his attempts to defend his choice, saying Hydra aren't Nazis (no one really bought it). While the series tried to keep Steve redeemable, that was all thrown out the window with the less-than-stellar Secret Empire, which turned him into a full-blown fascist dictator. Putting such a controversial writer on their biggest hero has the very real possibility of blowing up in Marvel's face, regardless of the quality of the work.
2 TRIUMPH: NEW EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
A lot of Marvel's business practices over the past six or so years can be pinned to its former editor-in-chief, Axel Alonso. Recently, though, Alonso stepped down, and C.B. Cebulski took over the position. The editor-in-chief basically decides the direction of the Marvel universe: who writes what books, the general overarching plotline of the universe, crossover events, relaunches, all that fun stuff.
New creative control could certainly result in a good new direction for Marvel, especially from someone like Cebulski. While it's difficult to say how many of these new/returning story directions were planned while Alonso was still in charge or if they came from Cebulski, the fact that they're still moving forward is a good sign of what's to come. Now he just needs to bring back Cyclops.
1 FAIL: IS IT REALLY A FRESH START?
Aside from a few writers, most of the new titles are being written by the same four or five guys. Jason Aaron is still writing Thor. New golden boy Ta-Nehisi Coates is still writing Black Panther, although he's also taking over Captain America. Al Ewing, Mark Waid, Dan Slott: all of Marvel's mainstays are still there, and still on the major books. Unlike DC's Rebirth, Marvel has yet to attract any of its more classic writers to appeal to nostalgia a bit more powerfully.
Another summer event is right around the corner with the follow-up to Infinity Countdown, despite a promise to take a break from yearly events for a while. It's a return to classic heroes, sure, but thus far there's nothing particularly new or interesting about the lineup. Even Rebirth had New Super-Man. And most of all, it's just another yearly relaunch. The real test will be in a year when we see if this sticks, or if we get another pack of #1s and we write another article about how THIS time it'll be different (spoiler: it won't be).