Saturday, February 24, 2018

Marvel's May previews reviewed: I imagine "A Fresh Start" will include the scare quotes, right?

So it seems like not all that long ago Marvel had correctly diagnosed one problem with their comics line: Their near-constant relaunches of their series with new #1s were no longer attracting readers, but were actually having a deleterious effect on their sales, as readers were using the relaunches as jumping-off points. In order to address that, they did so in probably the worst possible way, what they called "Legacy" numbering. This was just adding up all of the issues of all of the various volumes of titles starring particular characters throughout their publishing history to come up with a more-or-less randomly high number, so that books that were in the teens or twenties or thirties in their numbering were suddenly in their hundreds. In a worst of both words kind of way, the immediate result was another relaunch, only this one would make the books even harder to follow and more alienating to anyone who didn't already have subscriptions to them through their local comic shops.

The only plus side to the legacy numbering? Marvel was finally going to knock off the renumberings.

Of course, they then got a new editor-in-chief, a man who had previously defrauded the publisher, the comics press and comics readers by pretending to be a Japanese writer in a scheme that still hasn't been explained in any degree of satisfactory clarity and now where are we? "A Fresh Start," which will lead to the sort of line-wide relaunch that Marvel has been engaging in on a regular basis (The Beat counted seven in five years), complete with the release of a posed group shot of various characters, new #1 issues featuring mostly the same characters by mostly the same creators and, of course, new #1 issues.


The first bit of news was that image and the extremely uninspired slogan, "A Fresh Start."

The image was incredibly depressing in how...normal it is. If you scrutinize it, you'll see that, for the most part, none of the characters on it are new or much different than they are right now in late February of 2018, and that the characters in this image don't seem all that changed from one they might have released a few years ago.

Spider-Man changed clothes, putting on a previous costume. Thor Odinson has his, or perhaps just a, hammer again, and is dressed more Thor-ishly than he has been, but it's not like he's been away or off the pages of various Thor comics since he became "unworthy" at the end of 2014's Original Sin. Iron Man is apparently back, having spent the time since the conclusion of 2016's Civil War II as a hologram AI while his body was in suspended animation; again, he was hardly even "gone," and in Secret Empire, he was a major player, to the extent it seems only the colorist remembered that he wasn't supposed to be around in the usual form.

Let's see...Oh, the original, Logan-version of Wolverine is back, but then, we knew he was coming back for a while now, and seeing as Marvel had simply replaced him with the Old Man Logan version of himself--that is, they changed his hair color for a few years--I still haven't gotten around to missing him. Jean Grey is back, but she's already come back.

Hmm...She-Hulk is green instead of gray...? That's a change, albeit a small change, and a change back. Oh, speaking of Hulks, there's a pretty good chance that male hulk is meant to be the Bruce Banner version instead of the Amadeus Cho version, given the shorts, but it's difficult to say for sure, especially since the Cho Hulk is apparently growing more and more like the Banner Hulk in his comics.

What I found most interesting who is not in there. There are no Inhumans nor characters from Guardians of The Galaxy, characters that have been getting such big pushes from the publisher at late (If you look back through the previous promotional images to promote previous initiatives, you'll see Medusa or Rocket a lot, for example). The Thing may be there, but not the rest of the Fantastic Four; if they are coming back after half of them being missing since the end of Secret Wars, Marvel didn't announce them here.

Also, there's a distinct lack of the newer, more diverse versions of older characters. Sure, Spider-Man Miles Morales, Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan and Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes, but they are pushed to the back. Where's Thor Jane Foster? (Dead, I guess? For reals?) Where's Wolverine Laura Kinney? Where's "Totally Awesome" Hulk Amadeus Cho? (If that is, indeed, Banner, of course). Ironheart Riri Williams?

Apparently Marvel heard many such questions, as Marvel Senior Vice President and Senior Editor Tom Brevoort told CBR not to read too much into who is and isn't in that image (he also made it sound like the numbering will be a combination of new #1's and continued "legacy" numbering, something Marvel did try for a while long ago). It's a fair point; obviously not every Marvel character that will be appearing in Marvel comics can be put in a single promotional image. That said, it does offer a clue into which characters Marvel is promoting, so if not seeing Laura Kinney or Riri Williams in the image isn't necessarily a reason to worry about their future, it's also not a reason to not worry, you know?

Beyond the image, what exactly Marvel intends to accomplish with this relaunch/re-branding exercise--that is, if it is only, as Tom Spurgeon recently put it, a matter of rearranging the deck chairs on the helicarrier, or if it is genuinely meant to be a fresh start for the publisher, their retail partners, their consumers and, most importantly, their potential consumers, well, we'll only be able to guess at that once Marvel starts releasing their plans for the near-future.

And guess what? They just released their solicitations for the comics they plan to ship in May of this year earlier this week! So far, it sure looks like deck chair re-arranging. Their are some new #1s, new directions, and new creators on different titles and characters, but, for the most part, they simply amount to the likes of, say, long-time Marvel super-comics writer Jason Aaron taking over Avengers from Mark Waid. Stuff like that. The coming months might offer more clues, as May features what looks to be the last issue of Brian Michael Bendis' run on the Iron Man character and as well as the Miles Morales version of Spider-Man he co-created.

I didn't notice any new and exciting names among the creators though, nor did I see Marvel addressing two systemic problems with their comics: They are way too expensive (still, on average, a dollar more expensive than a DC super-comics) and they over-produce them. For a good example of the latter, although they have whittled their Avengers line down to just one book, they are also publishing not one, not two, not three, but four four-issue Hunt For Wolverine miniseries. The X-Men still have four different teams in four different books that ship twice a month--Blue, Gold, Red and Astonishing--and that's just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of miniseries, wedding specials and mutants with solo books.

Oh, and they don't seem to have scaled back on the variant covers one whit. There are still a ton of those damn things, including "Deadpool variants" which are thematically mushy; some have various Marvel heroes cosplaying as Deadpool, others have Deadpool cosplaying as various Marvel heroes. I don't know; there is presumably a market for them, and they presumably help Marvel more than hurt them.

But enough big picture stuff, lets take a closer look and see what jumps out of Marvel's May publishing plans...

Written by JASON AARON • Penciled by ED MCGUINNESS
Thor Odinson. Steve Rogers. Tony Stark. The Big Three of the Avengers are reunited at last! And just in time to save the world from total annihilation at the hands of their most powerful enemies yet: the 2000-foot-tall space gods known as Celestials. Behold the coming of the Final Host.
Who will answer the call to assemble for a wild new era of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes? Hint: one of them has a flaming skull for a head. And what strange, world-shaking connection exists between the Final Host and Odin’s ancient band of Prehistoric Avengers?
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

Jason Aaron is a very good super-comics writer, and his Wolverine and The X-Men was one of my favorite X-Men runs ever, following only Grant Morrison's (As you guys probably know, I'm not really a fan of Marvel's merry mutants, though). I am sure this will be a good Avengers comics. Regarding how "fresh" a "start" this new #1 issue of Avengers is, however, well, Aaron's written long runs on Wolverine, the X-Men, Thor and Doctor Strange already, so this isn't exactly a big, exciting personnel choice. Rather, it's like when Brian Michael Bendis took over Iron Man.

Ed McGuinness is a similarly great artist, and will do a hell of a job on the Avengers...for the 2-4 issues he will likely stick around before work from fill-in artists start interrupting his issues, anyway.

The line-up seems like a pretty decent one for a single Avengers comic in the era of a mature and successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. She-Hulk and Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes are the only ones on the team that haven't starred in their own movies yet and/or aren't slated to in the near future, and Shulkie mainly seems to be there as something between a Bruce Banner-stand-in and to give the team a second female character, while a Ghost Rider has starred in two movies, and this Ghost Rider was on that one Marvel-related TV show I never watched, so there's that.

As noted from the Jim Cheung-drawn promotional art at the top of the post, She-Hulk has gone back to green, while she's been gray since Civil War II. Cheung's art seems to suggest she's back to her old self, wherein "hulking out" just makes her taller, greener and more voluptuous, whereas McGuinness' art suggests she is more angry, monstrous and brawny, in the way that Bruce Banner's hulk form always was.

I'm curious about Thor's arm and golden hammer too; is he wielding a hammer other than Mjolnir now...?

Anyway, you can jump on board for just $5! Or wait a few months and buy the trade for, like $16-$25! I know what I'm doing! (Actually, I will more than likely just read the library's copy when it comes in. That's free! That said, I think an Aaron/McGuinness Avengers comic is promising enough to spend money on).

Ha ha, everyone hates Spider-Man...!

That's the cover for May's Doctor Strange #390, by the same writer as the previous few issues. Aside from Avengers, the only #1 issues that aren't one-shots or miniseries are Black Panther #1, written by Ta-Nehesi Coates, who wrote the last Black Panther #1 and here paired with long-time Marvel artist Daniel Acuna and Venom #1 by Doctor Strange writer Donny Coates and long-time Marvel artist Ryan Stegman.

That’s her mission, anyway! The fan-favorite Captain America — Peggy Carter of the Marvel Puzzle Quest game — faces off against an apocalyptically armed Red Skull! And the Exiles are just in time to join the fight — ’cuz they’ve been kicked off their mission! There’s a new team of Watchers in town, and they’re cracking down on the Exiles’ interference in the timestream — even if it means the death of everything. Can the Exiles salvage Peggy Carter’s world, fix the Tallus and get back to saving reality before the Time-Eater tracks them down again?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Guys, I have no idea what the fuck a Marvel Puzzle Quest game is, but Peggy Carter as Captain America is brilliant. Someone needs to get Hayley Atwell on the phone and see if she's down for playing the Captain America of the 1950s in a Secret Avengers movie.

JIM MCCANN (W) • Diego Olortegui (A)
Carol Danvers has crossed the borders of reality itself and returned in possession of the Reality Stone…and with it has contacted the Marvels of many worlds! Join the Captains Marvel for a cross-time adventure into the nature of the Infinity Stones!
32 PGS./ONE-SHOT/Rated T+ …$3.99

Is that supposed to be Monica Rambeau, aka Captain Marvel, aka Photon, aka Pulsar, aka Spectrum on the far right there...? I kinda like the costume but man, hat is up with her hair. That doesn't loo quite right to me. But then, I am a middle-aged white man with no hair. Quick, someone ask the ladies of Misty Knight's Uninformed Afro...!

Okay, see, this is an example of one of those Deadpool covers in which a Marvel hero is apparently cosplaying as Wade Wilson, as opposed to vice versa. It is by Gerald Parel, it is for Marvel 2-in-1 and my God is it disturbing...!

That's Ulises Farinas' cover for Lockjaw #4. It is, as you can clearly see, awesome.

“The Death of the Mighty Thor” has come and gone. But Jane Foster’s power to inspire lives on — even in the far future! Don’t miss the tribute to Jason Aaron’s epic tale of Thor and the mighty hammer Mjolnir, drawn by rising star Jen Bartel!
And with or without a Thor, the War of Realms continues. As Malekith’s power grows, the realms will fall — and who is left to stop him? Eisner Award–winning artist Ramón Pérez kicks off the next stage of Jason Aaron’s ongoing saga.
40 PGS./ONE SHOT/Rated T …$4.99

My greatest fear of the possibility that Marvel will actually kill Jane Foster off once and for all (for now) here is that their Thor comics might morph into some kind of superhero Funky Winkerbean, with Jane being Lisa to The Odinson's Les.

Tradd Moore draws Star Wars! Sadly that's it. Just that image above. The cover for Star Wars Annual #4. The interior art? Not by Tradd Moore. I would be very, very interested in a Trad Moore-drawn Star Wars comic, if anyone cares.


Unknown said...

In addition to several of the problems with Marvel comics as of the past few years that you mentioned, here's one of my biggest gripes: there's way too much crossover even within the individual titles.

Like, if I read, say Daredevil, I don't want to see the Inhumans or Squirrel Girl or Iron Man or whoever; I want to read to Daredevil. If I wanted to read a story starring someone else, than I'd read their title. For the past four years, in nearly every title, there's been this kind of ADHD where there seemingly can't be more than 5 issues (or one story arc) without some guest star. The most comical example being when Guardians of the Galaxy had the major relaunch and push to coincide with the first movie coming out, and Tony Stark co-starred on the first three issues. To be fair to the various creative teams, the fact that this has occurred across the board makes me wonder if it's editorially-mandated.

Personally, I think the reader needs time to settle into the world of the title, get to know the supporting cast (especially if someone is a new reader, which everyone claims to be trying to get to read comics), establish conflicts, etc., which you can't do if you are constantly stopping everything to bring in another superhero. Don't get me wrong, guest-stars can be fun and effective, but at the moment, it's a device that's been way, way overdone in Marvel Comics.

In the totally impossible scenario where I was an editor at Marvel, I would institute a rule where a title had to have something like 15 issues before they were allowed to have a guest star and afterwards would need another 15 before they could do it again.

This is obviously something that really bothers me, but I also admit that I could be in the minority in regards to this one, so I'd be curious to hear your thoughts, Caleb.

CalvinPitt said...

Yeah, I sighed when I saw this announced. I knew they were going to cancel and reboot Deadpool, if for no other reason than his movie is coming and Gerry Duggan's spent basically the last year slowly dismantling everything he built up since he started writing Deadpool. I guess with Bendis heading for DC and them shuffling Dan Slott off Amazing Spider-Man, they figured to just go for it.

But there wasn't much in these solicits that excited me. The only thing I'm even considering adding is the Darkhawk mini-series, and that's tying into Infinity Countdown, so I'm not even sure about that. Beyond that, it's Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, and maybe Domino (depending on how much I like the first issue). Still better than DC is doing, but a pretty sorry state.

Kevin said...

Guest stars are kind of the whole point of the Marvel Universe. It's a SHARED universe, with team-ups and introductions and change-ups all the time. Goes all the way back to when Stan Lee was writing a bajillion of the Marvel books and could write about any character's current situation, when s/he guest-starred in another book.

Black Panther was introduced in a Fantastic Four comic, for example. Spider-Man's title introduced so many characters, like the Punisher who got his own title. Spider-Man just met the (new) Sorcerer Supreme too, for example.

Not sure why I'm an outlier, but Marvel has continued to put out quality books. I'm catching up on Thor by trade, so far I've read Aaron's "God of Thunder" (amazing art by Esad Ribic), "Adjectiveless Thor" (the mystery of who is the new female Thor, a story that handles all sorts of things from family drama/political intrigue/superhero action, and still manages to be grounded through the eyes of the newly minted Thor), and going to start "The Mighty Thor." Odinson (the guy Thor) lost his arm early after "Original Sin," when Malekith the Dark Elf cut it off. He wore it like a scarf, those fashionable Dark Elves. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and Spider-Man/Deadpool are great humor comics, and Waid/Samnee's Captain America is classic cape comic. The 3.99 price tag sucks, but there are quality comics out there, and my subscription gives me a discount on the price tag.