(Remember COMICS REWIND? Well, guess what? It’s COMICS CAVALCADE now. Why? I just got tired of rewinding, I guess. I wanted a column where I could talk about back issues that I love alongside current stuff that interests me. I wanted a broader range. And thanks to a little discussion with Luke, this is what you get. I’ll be doing this every two weeks, and who knows what I’ll come up with. Enjoy.)
People ask me about Marvel NOW! with astonishing regularity. They ask me about it more than they asked me about the New 52, more than they asked me about The Dark Knight Rises, more even than they ask me about the Star Wars prequels (that seems to be the go-to topic of conversation when you tell people that you write about science fiction on the internet; I’m not sure why). At any rate, my point is that Marvel NOW! has people talking, but almost none of the talk I hear is about enthusiasm. No, friends, this is the stuff of confusion and doubt and sometimes outright frustration. So I’m here to tell everyone, on the eve of the Marvel NOW! launch, that it’s time to just relax already.
Now, that’s not to say you have no reason to be a little confused. Remember back in the summer when this thing was announced? Marvel brass had to go out of their way to make sure everyone knew that they weren’t rebooting their universe. But you can’t blame readers for going “huh?” more than a few times. After all, Marvel heralded this relaunch-not-a-reboot as a kind of reshaping of the Marvel world in the wake of Avengers vs. X-Men, and this was all coming just 9 months or so after DC Comics relaunched after a very literal reshaping of their world. If you’ve done even a little reading on the subject, you know by now that the two are quite different. The Marvel Universe is still there, as are (most of) the characters. Things are just very different because this event truly shifted the balance of power in the world. That’s how good event books should work, right? But why all the Marvel NOW! business? Why not just move on and keep telling the story without all this branding?
The answer, of course, is to get attention, to sell comic books, and you can’t really fault Marvel for that. Sure, those of us who are at the comic book shop every week can roll our eyes and go “Really? Seriously? Why can’t you just make the books better? We don’t need all these new logos and press releases and variant covers. Just give us good comics.” All we need to do is look back a year to the debut of the New 52 to see how easy it is to get us comic book fans super-riled over something as innocent as rebranded comics. But even when we get riled, we know the story. It’s about energizing old readers and gaining new ones. It’s about generating media coverage by waving your arms and saying “Hey, this is new over here. Look who we killed! Look at the titles we changed!” It’s about starting a conversation, even if that conversation is a bunch of dudes standing by the comics rack going “Bullshit Marvel. I’m never buying a book from them again,” because those dudes might make some other dude wonder what all the fuss is about. It’s about issue #1 sales, that irrepressible remnant of the ’90s speculator boom that’s lately garnered so many fourth and fifth and seventh printings for things like Justice League.
So, now we’ve gone back over that all-too-well-trodden ground. We’ve examined why relaunches happen and why we get frustrated and why it doesn’t matter that we get frustrated, and I have no doubt that in a year or so another company will make us do it all over again. Honestly, how many times must we go through this fan anxiety before we come to the conclusion that it just doesn’t matter? And that, right there, is the part where we come to the WHAT I REALLY THINK portion of our program.
What do I think of Marvel NOW!? I think, just like you probably do, that it’s a ploy for attention, but seeing as comic book characters are far more visible in movies these days than they are on paper, and seeing as I’m still a believer in graphic storytelling, I’d say getting these companies a little more attention is just fine, thank you very much. There are a lot of cynical feelings thrown in there too, particularly if you’re aware of the history behind these sorts of things and the bad (bad oh bad oh bad) ideas that often come from them, as I am. But in the end, I want more people to read comics, and as naive as it sounds, I always hope that things like Marvel NOW! will further that cause.
Also, I’m excited. Truly excited. Not about the rebranding or the first issues to be collected or the variant covers or the relaunch fanfare. I’m excited about the talent. I’ve got lots of very righteous complaints against Marvel’s executive decisions throughout its history. I’m aware of the many Sins Against Kirby (and Claremont, and Gerber, and so on) this company has committed. But I’m also aware that there a number of damn good writers and artists at work there, just trying to make a living by telling stories about characters they love just as much as we do. Thanks to Marvel NOW! we get to see a number of those creators shuffled around to tell stories with characters they haven’t had a shot at before. It might have happened anyway, but it’s happening (pun intended) now, and I’m pumped to see these books. Throw all your cynicism aside and think about some of these gems for a second: Rick Remender and John Cassaday teaming up on a flagship book (Uncanny Avengers), Mark Waid writing Hulk, Jason Aaron writing Thor, Tony Moore, Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn teaming for a Deadpool book, John Romita Jr. drawing Captain America, Kelly Sue DeConnick getting a shot at an Avengers book. How could I not be pumped for these things?
Cynicism is a celebrated and competitive trait among comic book fans, in part because we know reboots, rebrands and relaunches are an inevitable part of the business now. We like to sit there and remember the good old days of the last relaunch and wonder why things had to change. But is it really that drastic? No, it’s not. So embrace the inevitability of the relaunch, buy the comics you like, and then argue about them until the next relaunch.