Marvel recently announced the next big thing, in the form of the All-New Marvel NOW. Since last year's refreshing take on a variety of titles, and the introduction of a few new ones, turned out to be a success, the publisher has gone back to find new and interesting ways to keep the stands fresh and recharged, directing readers to the latest stories and longtime readers to the new creative teams and focus of the Marvel Universe. A sort of lead-in to Inhumanity, the next event-as-varnish over the heroes and stories, kind of a way to just drum up support for some new ideas. But they're renumbering the Avengers.
OK, it's not a blatant renumbering; you see, to highlight the All-New Marvel NOW titles, they'll be getting a Point-NOW issue to direct fans to where the next hotness is. It's kind of like the Point One issue, but less of a long-term, situation I'm guessing. Don't get me wrong, the Point-NOW issues will be here for a while, as it kicks off in December with Avengers #24.NOW and then leads into a new series (or more than one new series, in some cases) every week. I know, it's a lot to take in, and so far, there's not much else to report besides an All-New Invaders series and the early info we've gotten on Inhumanity. I expect an avalanche of interviews and promotions the closer we get to December's launch. Yet there's one thing in the announcement that just got right under my nails; it's a small issue, but in the long run, it becomes a much bigger point of contention.
How are we supposed to file these Point-Now issues??
I know that, for a lot of readers, the idea of cultivating back issues is a little like recording to cassette tape or using a card catalog: last year's news and a skill no one bothers with anymore. But every single time a promotion comes up like this, with banner headings and new ways to number, I look to the back issues that my comic shop keeps and wonder what's going to be the instinctual way to find these books. What's the natural way for people to look up an issue of a comic that didn't come out recently? Alpha-numerically used to be the standard, but if you think about the way fans talk about the books and companies promote them, it almost seems like the numbering can get in the way and cause more confusion. Take a look at the first All-New Marvel NOW! title, Avengers #24.NOW: If we think of it like the average Point One issue, this guy goes between Avengers #24 (regular) and Avengers #25. Also on the cover of this issue is a large #1, I'm guessing for the new storyline "Rogue Planet." So should it be filed separately for those just looking for the new storyline, or will this fit in with the last 24 or so issues? Should it be considered its own title?
How do we talk about comics when it comes to our history, what came before? It seems that every era the Big Two produce each year demands a certain amount of fanfare on their covers that almost make numbering the comics useless. Should we organize our history by creative team (the Hickman run on Fantastic Four, the classic Daredevil stories by Frank Miller)? Should we organize them by the events that surround all the issues going on at the time (the second Civil War Iron Man story, Thor's "Siege" arc)? How often do we turn to the number on the cover as a way to refer to the book?
That's so many questions, I feel like I just wrote a solicitation blurb, but let me put it to you this way: Older comics have always had a lot of information right at the top of their covers. As it was at the top of the cover, it would be the first thing you saw if the issues were stacked up or filed, so you knew it was important information. There was the title of the book, the issue number, maybe some floating heads to show who was on a particular team at the time, the month the book was available, the price and, hey, maybe a chance to win a Toys R Us shopping spree. All in all, it was a lot of hard data to keep track of these issues and, at the time, most could care less about starting a comic "from the beginning." Starting with Marvel NOW, the only thing guaranteed at the top of your comic cover is the title of the book. Sometimes you'll find the creative team up there, maybe the name of the story arc and what part you have, but the number now rests at the bottom of the cover for the most part. This lack of emphasis on the number makes comics a lot easier to talk about for the non-detail oriented among us, focusing less on sequence and more on story.
You would think trade paperbacks might solve this problem, as they collect all these issues in sequence, but if you've ever tried to get someone started on Runaways or Captain America, the frustration would just grow higher. In the case of the Runaways, their trades are collected by story arc rather than by volume sequence and, in Captain America's case, the story arcs can be split up into "Winter Soldier" Vol.1 and "Winter Soldier" Vol. 2, telling you nothing about what to read before or after it. You'd think with all the demand for "easier starting points" and "simple access for new readers," it really wouldn't be complicated.
So how now is NOW? When we look back on the All-New Marvel NOW next year, how will they fit into the history of what came before and after? Will we think of them in sequence, or will Marvel comics embrace a new form of continuity that causes readers to think differently about their books and how they fit into the annals of time? New readers become longtime readers very easily and with the right amount of motivation; if All-New Marvel NOW is a hit and brings in a bunch of new faces, they'll be talking about the issues that got them into comics in a different way than than fans before them.