Recently Marvel Comics has announced another word synonymous with reboot in the comic book world: relaunch. Marvel has yet again announced plans to revitalize its entire publishing line in May 2018 because Marvel: Legacy in 2017 was so long ago. These announcements came with this image drawn by long time Marvel artist Jim Cheung.
Marvel currently has been on a roller coaster this last year and it appears the hits just keep coming. Marvel: Legacy wasn’t quite the revitalization that DC: Rebirth was for DC Comics. Consistent low sales had them cancel several titles such as Gwenpool, Iceman, America Chavez and others despite those titles being popular amongst fans. Their new Editor-In-Chief C.B. Cebulski ran into a little controversy shortly after accepting the position. One of their staple and best selling writers left and signed a contract with DC Comics (there appears to be no bad blood there so good luck Bendis!) These are noticeable concerns but as a fan, they are just roots tracing up to the root of the real problems plaguing Marvel’s progress. This promo art while being a beautiful piece of artwork shows me more problems than solutions and leaves me with more doubt and questions than with a feeling of peaceful resolution and excitement.
First lets address the problems one can associate with the idea of a relaunch. The problem with relaunches is they constantly erase the work of others to appease fans who cling onto memories of the past. While its important for comic characters to evolve and change, what’s the point in testing new ground and pushing characters, some of which are older than our parents, into new territory just to have it erased a year or so later? We see several classic characters returning to the mainstream Marvel universe again. Apparently, death or dishonor are nothing The Hulk or Thor can’t shrug off. Iron Man has apparently awaken from his coma. The Punisher is no longer rocking War Machine’s old duds. The original Wolverine, not Old Man Logan, is back from the dead. Loki’s time as Sorcerer Supreme will be apparently short lived. It looks like now that Fox and Disney have made up, the Fantastic Four might be back. While its nice to see the gang all back together, seeing characters like Gambit, Venom, Ghost Rider’s Robbie Reyes and even the Defenders amongst the group are clearly tie-ins to their cinematic or television universes. Sometimes it feels like while the movies and television have opened up Marvel’s characters to greater audiences, that more time is spent keeping in line with those interpretations instead of focusing on the stories and characters themselves. It is exciting that Ant Man and the Wasp might be getting their own book or that Reyes’s Ghost Rider will be on the Avengers but is it enough to get the readers back?
Second, the real problem isn’t the relaunch, its how Marvel has been telling stories in the last few years. Great titles like Spider-Man (Miles Morales) and Ms. Marvel are three dimensional characters who earned their place in the Marvel universe but their stories get interrupted by issues tying into crossover/mega event stories. The last few crossover stories have not had the same reaction and resonance that previous Marvel crossovers had. Civil War II was a little underwhelming despite a good premise, Secret Empire was met with much controversy over Captain America and his allegiance with Hydra, and Marvel: Legacy was in some way overlooked with little to no impact. Sometimes these tie-ins are great stories because you see how current events in the Marvel Universe affect the characters within that series i.e. the Ms. Marvel tie-in with Civil War II was wonderful. But sometimes these tie-ins stories are unnecessary filler issues almost saying “Hey! I was here too when this thing was happening”! What they should do is take time away from crossovers and spend a year or two building up their characters with great storylines, stellar artwork and continue strengthening these characters who become pillars in their company.
When we mentioned the other classic characters remaining, what about Riri Williams who took over as Ironheart for Iron Man? Why is Iron First missing from the Defenders roster? What about Jane Foster, is she permanently off the Thor roster? Marvel creates these characters but despite the talent behind creating them, they sometimes feel more like replacements instead of legacies. They create these characters, Invest in good storylines and characterization but the moment the original pops back into the picture, well thank you and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. I believe Ironheart has found a place with the Champions alongside other Marvel young heroes and I’m sure there are plans for the other characters I’ve mentioned but it’s not the character, it’s the first impression given upon introduction. A few of these characters that have appeared in the last few years seem less like natural characters evolving from the great tapestry that is the Marvel Universe and more like figureheads simply there to keep up with modern events. What better way to show you’re more progressive than but an even bigger focus on characters of different minorities, identities, or beliefs? Naturally such a change is welcome but if the execution is forced and fails to find its audience, the book will eventually be cancelled and then what was the point? I feel its important to be aware of current day politics and issues with the world but constantly adapting and trying to please people accomplishes nothing. It’s like the person who can never say no, eventually you get burned out from being so overextended with little to nothing to gain for yourself.
Instead of constantly flooding the market with relaunched number #1 issues, Marvel should find a point to start with their characters and just tell great stories like they have done and still do to this day. As a fan, I have enjoyed many Marvel series and have had the pleasure of telling those creators how much their stories excited and stimulated my imagination. I understand that comics are an investment and the rules of the game change constantly; what was hot one year could be cold turkey the next and it’s still a business overall. My concluding point would be that this “Fresh Start” as it’s been called tells us of new storylines, new creative teams and more for Marvel in 2018. But being the seventh Marvel relaunch since 2012 compared to DC Comics three relaunches since 2011, I sincerely hope this upcoming change heralds positive results for the House of Ideas. As always, time will tell even for superheroes.