It’s no secret that Marvel Comics is in a rough patch heading in to 2017’s “Legacy” rebranding. Marvel has seen its characters owning movie theaters across the globe, and yet the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is strangely contrasted with a flailing print counterpart. Two years ago, Marvel was still the unquestionable king of superhero comics. With DC still mired in the final days of the controversial New 52, Marvel burst into a linewide 2015 “Secret Wars” event that successfully concluded the years-long plotting of writer Jonathan Hickman. “Secret Wars” was excellent, but in the following years the architecture of the Marvel Universe has felt flimsy, with no clear direction for the line.
Marvel’s “All-New All-Different” follow-up was met with minimal enthusiasm, and was very quickly overshadowed by DC Comics mid-2016 “fix” for the New 52, known as “Rebirth”. None of this is to say there aren’t good Marvel Comics on the shelves today — there absolutely are — but the larger perception is that Marvel is in need of critical fixes. As “Marvel Legacy” launches and attempts to answer these challenges, we’ve highlighted the 15 most essential steps Marvel can take toward reclaiming the highs of the comic book universe we love.
15. NO CORE
A brief rundown of Marvel’s core heroes during the post-“Secret Wars” Marvel era is as follows: Iron Man is now an A.I. construct of Tony Stark, Dr. Doom is seeking redemption and Riri Williams has a new career as Marvel’s Ironheart. Thor is Jane Foster, an Earth human with dangerously advanced cancer. Spider-Man is now a CEO of the world’s most successful technology company, with a headquarters in Japan. Wolverine is dead, his title reallocated to X-23. Captain America was a nazi. No really.
Few things define Marvel right now more than an attempt to recast or reconfigure nearly all of their most identifiable icons. The end result for many is a roster of unrecognizable heroes. While experimentation and change can lead to wonderful results in comics, Marvel has left many long time readers scratching their heads and wondering how we got here.
14. NO FOUR
It feels like forever ago, but the Marvel Universe starts and ends with the Fantastic Four, and their absence in the current Marvel Comics lineup is a tough pill to swallow. Whether it’s film right feuds with Fox, or simply an editorial decision to pause the FF for a while, no Fantastic Four series from Marvel is like Christmas without Santa.
Of course it’s not that we have no idea where the Fantastic Four are. The Human Torch is largely seen with the Inhumans and the Uncanny Avengers, the Thing has been working with S.H.I.E.L.D. to apprehend Victor Von Doom (the Infamous Iron Man), and Sue, Reed, and the Richards family are throwing planets into the multiverse in the pages of Ultimates. Nonetheless, Marvel’s first family broken apart and out of contact is heartbreaking, and a serious blow to making the Marvel Universe whole.
13. NO GUTS
One of the worst things about Marvel Comic’s wholesale title-swapping is that very few of their heroic legacy transitions actually commit to any real change. The problem has less to do with Marvel’s efforts to recast Iron Man or Thor, and more to do with the fact that they don’t have the audacity to move the old guard out of the way.
Riri Williams is in training to become the new Iron Man, but Tony Stark is still very much in the picture. Jane Foster has taken over as an amazing Thor, but the original Odinson is still very much around moping into unworthy beer. Worst of all, Laura Kinney has proven herself time and time again as the rightful heir to the legacy of Wolverine, and yet the post-“Secret Wars” landscape found Old Man Logan entering the picture and insisting on a Logan-Wolverine at all times.
It’s well established at this point, but Marvel Comics has been obsessed with rebooting ongoing series with “all-new” #1 issues in an aggressive push and plea to encourage new sales. This has led to series like Captain Marvel with four new #1 issues in the span of five years. It’s a confusing and frustrating approach any way you would like to look at it.
Undoubtedly this is one of Marvel’s biggest focuses with “Legacy”, adopting older series numbering for titles like Amazing Spider-Man that span all the way back to 1963. We aren’t naive enough to think numbering alone will restore Marvel to it’s fullest glory, but avoiding having two #1 issues of the same series like Howard the Duck and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl saw recently is a very good start towards righting the ship.
11. FAILED RETREADS
In the legitimately wonderful history of Marvel Comics, retreads of popular Marvel series have tended to rank as lowlights. “Secret Wars 2” is one of the more aggressively tedious events Marvel ever published, and even the likes of “Infinity War” and “Infinity Crusade” face diminishing returns as you progress through Jim Starlin’s 90’s trilogy.
More recently, Marvel has attempted to tap into past successes with decades-removed sequels like “Civil War 2” and “Enemy of the State 2”. In the case of “Civil War 2”, the only relation to the original event is the fact that heroes are fighting heroes (see also: 50% of all Marvel events in the 2000s). Worse, “Civil War 2” is one of the least enjoyable comic book events in Marvel’s catalog.
10. MUTANT GENOCIDE
For all intents and purposes, the X-Men have been the most popular Marvel Comics sub-unit since 1975. It has been baffling and disappointing, then, to watch the X-Men marginalized to the point of near genocide following their last moment in the spotlight with Avengers vs. X-Men. While the X-Men are all too used to feeling fictionally ostracized, it’s strange to see the team treated like scrubs by their own publisher.
In addition to one of the silliest X-puns in Marvel’s library, 2016’s X-Men: ResurrXion made strides to raise the X-Men out of the muck and back into prominence. This is a solid starting place, and hopefully the sign of continued progress for Marvel’s merry mutants because the film franchise is still going on Fox, and the X-Men deserve a lot better after everything they did for Marvel over the years.
9. INHUMANS PUSH
Alas, the poor Inhumans, we hardly knew ye. Ever since Black Bolt and Maximus the Mad plotted to drop a Terrigensis bomb across the globe in 2013’s Infinity, the Marvel Comics universe has been ripe for the growth of the Inhumans. The narrative device effectively created a scenario where latent Inhuman abilities began manifesting across Earth, much like mutant abilities would do for the X-Men.
As Marvel ramped up their promotion of the former Fantastic Four allies, we saw Inhumans making off-page appearances in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and eventually the overwhelmingly panned IMAX TV series. Despite several ongoing series, and their very own “Inhumans vs X-Men” event, the closest the Inhumans have come to popularity is the tangential reveal that Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel, is in fact an Inhuman too.
8. GONE TOO SOON
On one hand, limited series with a clear conclusion in mind are a great asset to any comic book lineup. On the other hand, all-time great series that end well before a 20th issue are tremendous disappointments to ongoing readers, and the likes of Marvel’s The Vision, Ultimates and Nighthawk are no exception.
Only Nighthawk can claim true premature cancellation (The Vision simply ran the course Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta intended, while Ultimates was rebooted with a new #1 issue), but the perception that even high quality series don’t make it past 12 issues is discouraging. “Make good comics” is of course overly simplistic analysis, but looking at Marvel NOW! era comics from 2012 to 2015, books like Hawkeye were opening the door to the Marvel Universe for non-regular superhero readers.
There’s no two ways about it: Fans are mad right now. Heated political rhetoric has entered the fray in escalating ways, with many readers on the right asserting Marvel is failing because of alignment with “social justice warriors,” and readers on the left claiming in no uncertain terms that Marvel’s Secret Empire aligns the company with support of fascists and Nazis.
You can’t please everyone all the time, but Marvel — and all publishers at large — have a chance to clearly reflect the values of inclusion that inspired characters like X-Men and Black Panther in the first place. Marvel should represent heroic ideals for everyone. They will never win a perfect balance of positive sentiment across vigorously divisive ideologies, but they do have the opportunity to make it clear what kinds of diversity and equality they stand for, and to denounce those who would resort to violence and threats.
6. MILK IT
When Marvel starts to think it has a hit on its hand, suddenly their immense lineup of comics features a numerous appearances by the new character. Occasionally, this is the right instinct at the wrong time, such as World of Wakanda and Black Panther and the Crew seeking to ride the coattails of Ta-Nahesi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze’s Black Panther… a year after the book debuted to considerable hype.
More often than not, the impulse to milk perceived “hits” for everything they’re worth leads to the likes of Deadpool the Duck, a bewildering attempt to combine the sales potential of Howard the Duck and Deadpool. Few series are as emblematic of this as Gwenpool — a backup joke in Howard the Duck and parody riff on Spider-Gwen. It isn’t even that Gwenpool is particularly bad, it’s that her sudden surge to prominence feels forced.
5. PROBLEMS OF ABUNDANCE
Marvel has too many comics. Like, way too many. While the notion of something for everyone is certainly a very appealing one, Marvel’s slate of books is simply overwhelming. January 2017 saw the publication of well over 75 individual Marvel titles, meaning keeping up with everything — or even most things — in the Marvel Universe is the pipe dream of only the most obsessed fan with a disposable income.
More importantly, the extreme number of titles for books destined for the chopping block like Solo, Foolkiller and Deadpool the Duck gives the impression that Marvel has no plan for these title beyond the early issues banking on early popularity. Titles are launched like garbage is launched out of a cannon and whatever sticks to the wall is kept around past six issues.
4. NO ENTRY POINTS
If you want to start reading Marvel Comics in 2017, what series do you pick up? This isn’t a problem unique to Marvel — you could very much ask the same thing about the more recently rebranded DC Rebirth — but it’s a very challenging question that fan have to answer nonetheless.
One of the most complicating factors stems from the reality that for all the “Secret Wars changes everything” opportunity, Marvel just kept on rolling right along in continuity. So despite the illusion of change that comes from quite literally blowing up the Marvel multiverse, Marvel continuity is really one giant ongoing story for most of the the last two decades. This is thrilling if you’re invested, but it also creates very real problems of accessibility.
3. NO THROUGH LINE
The modern Marvel Universe of the ’00s has done an effective job at creating a title or titles that represent the center of the universe. From 2004 to 2010 this was clearly the Brian Michael Bendis penned New Avengers, a series which drove the bus through events like “House of M”, “Secret Invasion”, and “Dark Reign”. Throughout Marvel NOW! this leadership came from Jonathan Hickman’s magnum opus in Avengers and New Avengers, setting the Marvel U on a collision course with 2015’s “Secret Wars”.
These comics not only tapped into the larger sense of world-building that makes Marvel so fun, but also provided context for how changes could occur. Right now, there is no such through line in Marvel Comics. Events like “Civil War 2” and “Monsters Unleashed” pop up almost as if in a vacuum, and the emotional impact is null as a result.
Speaking of through lines, 2017’s “Secret Empire” event had a telling one in the pages of Captain America: Steve Rogers and Captain America: Sam Wilson. Of course, this also means Marvel had plenty of time to correct course after the outrage poured in behind the decision to make Steve Rogers an agent of Hydra, aka Nazi collaborator, aka fascist scum.
There’s too much to be said about “Secret Empire” for a mere overview, but the irony is that it’s actually Marvel’s best post-“Secret Wars” era event, yet was completely overshadowed in accusations of Nazi support. It’s very, very clear that no one involved is an actual Nazi sympathizer, and no one at Marvel should be treated as such. At the same time, Marvel simply did not recognize the dangerous and insensitive symbols they were playing with, and needs to do a better job with future stories.
1. EVENT ADDICTION
As 2016 rolled into 2017, Marvel met the new year with three different events on comic book shop shelves: “Civil War 2”, “Inhumans vs. X-Men”, and “Monsters Unleashed”. Many Marvel fans would argue that’s three too many, as Marvel has beaten the event drum to death, stripping the approach of excitement and consequences. Couple underwhelming stories (A Minority Report homage? Really?) with interrupted ongoing series (Poor Ultimates) and you have a perfect storm of everything comic fans hate about events.
By the time Marvel Legacy hits shelves there will have been a grand total of nine Marvel Events since 2015 and not many of them had any lasting effect on the grander scheme of the entirety of the Marvel Universe. Without a doubt, this is absolutely one area where Marvel could benefit from the values of scarcity.
Do you agree or disagree with the list? Let us know in the comments!
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