The Fifth Color | Forward into the past with Marvel in December 2012

It won't even be January before the Marvel Universe changes as you know it. Yep, the slow roll of Marvel NOW! continues to rearrange our common landscape into something new. As longtime readers, we both hate and fear change yet long for it deep down in our bones. Spider-Man shouldn't change his costume! But that black version was really cool! It's a constant war we wage internally and externally and, as a comic shop employee, I have seen its front lines. But as change and hope war with one another on the fields of the Marvel Universe, we should all spare a moment and look behind us. Sure, NOW! might be a confusing and frightening place, but what about the after-NOW! What will grow in the fields, plowed and sown with new titles? Deep down, there's something I think we all want, both large companies and small readers: new fans.

It all comes down to new fans, another reader to the story, another dollar to the register. Commerce continues as more people pick up or download (legally!) a story and read along. It's a simple, basic wish and I would like to think everyone shares it, at least all the people who would come to a comics blog and read these very words. So please, Dear Reader, take all this news of new No. 1 issues and of titles that are ending with a grain of salt. It's a bitter grain for sure, but one that's going to flavor unseasoned palettes and help new fans get a taste for the Marvel style.

Are you hungry? I'm hungry. I'm going to go grab a snack and then we'll talk about the NOW! ahead of us, Marvel solicitations for December 2012.

I'm going to go a little backward than the usual rundown and talk about the X-Men first because, quite frankly, they're a mess. Obviously, Avengers vs. X-Men is going to knock them three ways from Sunday and scatter the usual crew in ways we just haven't seen yet. ALL-NEW X-MEN #3 is being described as the "flagship" X-title, and looking at the rest of the line, it seems that being in another universe is part and parcel of being a mutant. Despite the time we'll be taking to introduce the ghosts of future past to the monsters of future present as old X-Men meet new X-Men, all the current answers you need are going to be here. New readers probably won't find the past/present thing as confusing, plus there's the added benefit of having Jean Grey around, who's probably Marvel's most publicly well-known (and loved) heroine.

Otherwise, WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #22 seems to be doing the most X-Man-y stuff as they continue to hark back to the Uncanny days by being trapped in a Murder Circus and having the kids take on their mind-controlled teachers. X-MEN #39 seems seems to be the vestigial one and Domino teaming up with Daredevil seems miniseries material. ASTONISHING X-MEN #57 (which I remember as being an in-continuity, but outside other book's influence) is getting Warbird, so perhaps it's getting a new place in the scheme of things. X-MEN LEGACY #3 has the most X-Men-like style, as Legion will be looking for a pair of newly manifested mutant twins, making me wonder if "No More Mutants" is now officially officially reversed (I mean, why wouldn't that have been the Phoenix Five's first act?) and if anyone's going to look into that soon.

On the far end of the X-Team spectrum are AGE OF APOCALYPSE #10, X-FACTOR #248 and #249 and X-TREME X-MEN #8 (with a surprise Point One issue coming out before that), all titles not in this universe. Well, technically; for me, X-Factor exists so far away from the spheres of influence of any book, X- or otherwise, I almost wish it got a different name.

So looking at the X-titles as a whole, it's a lot harder to figure out what kind of story you'll be reading when you pick up a copy. What's the difference between X-Men and Astonishing X-Men? Doesn't two alternate unverse books seem a little much when you have dimension-hoppers coming to a regular title? And what else could we call X-Factor and would it sell just as well to its loyal fans? I have a feeling more work is being done in a NOW! sense to the X-Books, so expect more change to come. New readers might slide away from the deeper books like X-Treme X-Men and X-Factor but try out All-New X-Men and Wolverine & the X-Men thanks to their more recognizable casts.

AVENGERS #1 & 2 debut in December to a bevy of alternate covers (more on that in a moment) and to little else in substance:

The greatest heroes in comics together on one unbeatable team! Now shipping twice a month, the Avengers “go large,” expanding their roster and their sphere of influence to a global and even interplanetary level. When Captain America puts out his call - who will answer? Big threats, big ideas, big idealism - these are the Avengers NOW!

That's the most exciting way I've ever heard absolutely nothing described! Thankfully, we longtime readers should have come to know Jonathan Hickman as the immensely technical, slow-boil writer who will have you on the edge of your seat if you just stay in that seat long enough. Not that I'm prejudging anything, it's just that it's taken me a while to get used to Mr. Hickman's storytelling style, and the bombacity of "go large" and the global -- nay, interplanetary -- role the Avengers are going to take seems to promise so much out of this brand new book that it might feel to some that if their socks are not firmly off their feet by Issue 2, this whole Marvel Now! thing will be a "waste of time." Trust me, just give him some room and let him work; then again, considering how much of everything the Avengers is going to cover, that's just about as roomy as you can get. New readers are going to come for the Avengers and stay for the Avengers, hands down. The slow-boil thing might lose some of them, but the ones who hang in there will be stronger for it.

THUNDERBOLTS #1 & 2 also debut as a little Avengers-esque side project, run by the Red Hulk, with those easy-to-get-along-with fellows Venom, Elektra, Deadpool and the Punisher. Putting aside the easy-in they had with Gen. Ross (his nickname is Thunderbolt!), doesn't this team sort of sound like Uncanny X-Force? Or Dark Avengers, considering that name is still in the mix? The super-violent, extreme measures team doesn't sit as well with me for some reason and as far as I can tell, there's no real "Thunderbolt"-ness to this book. The Thunderbolts traditionally are criminals in the parts of heroes and learning about the divide between them. Any time the Thunderbolts have gone off this message (see: Fightbolts), it doesn't do too well. Daniel Way has also promised us a lot with a team that can tolerate Deadpool and a Punisher that can tolerate working in a team, but aside from all my Marvel Then! baggage, it sounds like a solid book for the new reader.

Meanwhile, DARK AVENGERS #184 asks you "What force on this planet – nay, this universe – can turn Earth’s deadliest villains into into heroes?" It seems like while Way is writing the Thunderbolts, you can't stop Jeff Parker from writing the Thunderbolts. I'm not sure if the Avengers part of the name is going to attract any new reades, but the delicious interiors drawn by Neil Edwards and the continuously brilliant Parker are going to keep the longtime fans plenty pleased.

Strangely enough, I totally buy the "anti-heroes chased by the law!" angle that CABLE AND X-FORCE #1 and 2 are bringing. Cable's back, he has a band of semi-heroes (including a very troubled Colossus ... sans the Cytorrak?) and the world sees them as terrorists who must be stopped. This works better for me than the Thunderbolts because the cast selected makes sense, the theme (heroes viewed poorly by the rest of the world) is consistant with the X-Force brand, so to speak, but that's me. Maybe I hold the Thunderbolts to a higher standard than I do X-Force (especially a Cable-run X-Force) but I don't know why Thunderbolts is so under my skin and this one is over it like cooling aloe. I still don't know what happened to Dr. Nemesis's costume, though. Did he join a paintball team?

While I might be wary of the new Thunderbolts, I admit with absolute honesty that AVENGERS ARENA #1 is the first Marvel NOW! book I hated from the moment I heard about it. I'm talking full-on rage from the deepest pits of my being because this is what we are getting instead of Avengers Academy. Is that true? No, not really. It's not like the Powers That Be sat in an office and switched out one title for the next implicitly. Avengers Academy had to go to make room for a new direction for a variety of different characters. There's no conspiracy, no black helicopters, no one wants hurt the books we love.

Trust me, I am heartbroken that the best Avengers book out there is coming to a close, but hey. Life happens, we'll always have the trades. Avengers Arena, looking past the blatant Battle Royale cover, is going to have more substance than a shock-value teen drama. If it were just going to go for the horror, hunted-kids-on-an-island theme, this would have been a miniseries or there would be no one left by Issue 16.  Christos Gage himself knows they're not going kill characters for shock value, nor were the Avengers Academy kids meant to stay in one book. A new reader, up on their teen tropes and popular movies, might look into this one for the flashy covers and pop references. We, as long timereaders and/or fans, might want to take a peek inside the first issue and see just how bloody this book is going to be before leveling our hate cannons. Maybe after the first few fights everyone decided that Arcade is a really crappy villain and they go beat him up.

Then there's Spider-Man. In AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #699, Doctor Octopus is STILL ALIVE (don't ask me how) and with his final moments, finds out Spider-Man's secret identity. Yep, I thought we were done with those stories, too. Doc Ock calls up some evil pals for vengeance and then all hell breaks loose. There's AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #699.1 that's not really so much a START READING HERE as much as a START READING FOR MORBIUS, since this will usher in his new series coming out later. Then it's AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700 and the REIGN OF THE ALTERNATE COVERS!!

Okay, guys, I'm going to level with you as someone who sells comics for a very modest living: I hate alternate covers nearly as much as I hate that Avengers Academy is ending. Brian Hibbs has more on that story, but suffice it to say that all I ask is not to be yelled at when we inevitably don't have the incredibly lucrative cover you wanted. Please. Be kind to your retailer, a lot of this variant-cover stuff is nonsense. Hibbs is more direct and a lot more colorful in his language about the whole situation, so look to him for more info.

Anyway, Spider-Man! My guess? Spider-Man quits. Someone get that trashcan, the Spider-suit is going inside. Ooh, maybe he'll get teleported into space? Sent to the Crossroads? Become an X-Man and go live in another dimension? Who knows? But I'm sure come December, we'll have an idea. Losing the numbering on this book is going to be strange. Possibly leaving behind the "Amazing" moniker is also pretty weird. But! Remeber the new reader, Dear Friends. This history and tradition means nothing to them; all they want to do is read a good Spider-Man story. And in the end, if that's all Marvel publishes, it counts as a win. Please be kind.

On the exact opposite side of all my troubles and woes, INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK #2 is going to do something that should have happened long ago: put Bruce Banner on the same level as the super-scientists of the Marvel Universe. In fact, they're putting him with the world's greatest engineering genius, Tony Stark, a move that worked brilliantly on screen and makes the most amount of sense on a personal level. I don't have to tell you why because that's what the award-avalanching Mark Waid is going to do along with some pretty stellar art from Leinil Francis Yu.

Actually, that's not true; Waid and Yu will explain to you how awesome it is to see Banner and Stark work together, and so are Kelly Sue DeConnick and Stefano Caselli in AVENGERS ASSEMBLE #10, as Banner and Stark work on a deadly strain of bacteria together.  Seeing Bruce Banner work with Tony stark will comfortingly put another bandaid on that "let's shoot him into space" damage from years ago. A merry Christmas to Hulk fans, and for new readers, a Science Bros New Year.

This isn't even half of the titles coming out in December, so go check out the solicitations for yourself and let us know what you're looking forward this December. Excelsior!

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