Relaunch Me Baby One More Time

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Posted June 7, 2016 by Josh McCullough in Nerdy Bits

DC Rebirth is currently well underway, and the books look to be a huge hit with the fans. The one shot special is currently receiving a third printing, and the first wave of titles already getting a second printing. Not only a commercial success, the books have generally been well received by fans, including those of us at the site. With DC receiving so much good press and fan good will, their chief rivals Marvel of course felt the need to steal back some of the spotlight after their own Steve Rogers: Captain America twist received negative reaction from misinformed fans (Though I did enjoy that issue!). Their pulse stoppingly brilliant response was to announce… another line wide relaunch following an event that’ll feature brand new status quos and a new era for marvel. That’ll last around 10 months. If anything, I feel this proves how truly out of touch Marvel are with their fanbase.

marvel now

more like Marvel Then AMIRITE???

The new relaunch is branded Marvel NOW, not to be confused with All-New All Different Marvel, All-New Marvel NOW, Avengers NOW,  the .NOW issues from a few years back, or Marvel NOW! Now before getting into my complaints with this, I want to stress I’m not just a Marvel basher or an old man yelling about how comics ain’t what they used to be. I currently pull a large number of titles from every publisher, with Marvel probbly being where I get the most books. They have a great selection of titles I really love including Astonishing Ant-Man, Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight, Karnak and really the list could go on and on. Marvel have no shortage of awesome books from top tier creative talent, the problem is they are making their books feel more and more disposable and continually messing with otherwise great runs through their constant unnecessary interference.

Another thing I’d like to point out, is that I am aware Marvel want to move towards a more “seasonal” format to their monthly books. This is another thing I have no problem with, and in fact would even be in favor of. A book like Locke and Key moved in seasons and is one of my favorite reads. The difference there is that Locke and Key had a set ending in place, so a new fan (like I was last year) is able to identify the six series easily and read them in order to get a complete story. When you do this sort of this with mainstream superhero books, given how quickly things change and evolve, there’s fewer reasons to hunt down older series, and given how often Marvel have been doing this makes it difficult even to do so. That doesn’t mean you can’t do this sort of thing within the big two, I’m hugely in favor of superhero publishers moving towards things like miniseries or limited runs, especially for some of their lesser known characters. We all know certain characters can’t sustain a monthly, but a mini-series is a great way to spotlight smaller characters and build up a prospective fanbase. Very few people will want to invest in a monthly title for a character they feel will be cancelled shortly, but if you put out a mini-series, you’re much more likely to attract an audience as they know they’ll be getting a complete story regardless of the length. Something like Tom King’s The Vision is currently applying this philosophy to great success as it’s absolutely their best book. It can even work for larger characters, if you look back on some of the best Superman stories over the years they’ve largely been mini-series that explore the character. All-Star Superman, For All Seasons and even recently with America Alien have been incredible and will continue to be remembered long after whatever this week’s Superman comics are. The problem is Marvel applying this philosophy to their entire line, meaning that there’s no real time to breathe or enjoy a story before we relaunch and are headlong into the next status quo sweeping story.

asterix and obelix

What a wouldn’t give for a gritty reboot of these two…

I’m reminded of Jeph Loeb’s philosophy on how to do modern comics. He is well known for his quote “every comic is someone’s first comic” and took it further, suggesting superhero publishers should release 5 issue arcs they can collect in graphic novels that then have no relation to one another. His comparison was to the popular Asterix and Obelix books, and how they manage to remain much more valuable despite their age due to their accessibility. Essentially he was asking publishers to completely strip their books of continuity, and you can pretty much fill in the blanks on what the fan response was. Marvel seem to have adapted this philosophy in part with their constant relaunches, but by keeping continuity they’ve actually had the opposite effect to Loeb’s plan. Sure the stories still “matter” from a continuity perspective, but they move so fast between status quos so fast and rely so heavily on gimmicks that’s they’re not really worth the trouble of reading. I was recently going through a bunch of old comics and honestly forgot most of the Marvel stuff even existed. I could happily flick through my entire runs of Animal Man and Saga nicely organised and still entirely memorable and worth reading, but found tons of relaunched Hulk and Spider-Man runs, which just made them feel cheap and worthless. Marvel are so busy chasing the next big thing and going for short term sales boosts with new series that they have invested very little in making reasons for fans to stick with and collect titles. Imagine this from the perspective of a new fan, you’ve picked up a book you like after seeing the film, but then not even 12 issues later they revert back to number 1. It’d be totally confusing and make you feel like what you’ve just invested money into didn’t even matter. Like I said, there are a few incredible books Marvel are putting out, but imagine years down the line when people want complete runs of Aaron’s Thor or Wilson’s Ms. Marvel, it’ll be incredibly difficult to navigate the constant relaunches and read the books in order without having to check publication dates. It’s ironically made the situation of making the books more accessible and appealing to newcomers even worse.

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I think it’s time the comics told the movies the same thing

While it’s a controversial issue among fan, I can’t help but feel the movies have had a certain level of influence on this. There’s been lots of online talk about the books simply being promotional material for the films, and while I probably wouldn’t go that far, I do feel the level of synergy is becoming much more constrictive and problematic. At first I remember seeing books like Iron Man and Thor being relaunched with big pushes when new movies came out. It wasn’t a big problem, especially since Invincible Iron Man by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca went on to be one of the best runs in the character’s history. With now up to three films a year however, and more divisions between the mediums there seems increasing pressure from Marvel to relaunch books alongside the films and align them more closely each time. This has caused many ire among fans, including the reveal that Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver aren’t Magneto’s children in the event Axis. With this one, I’m more on the side of the fans. Throwing away major plot points and history to cash in with a passing summer movie doesn’t sit right with me and definitely seems to favor the movies over the comics. For me it speaks to the biggest problem Marvel have right now, they have no clear direction. We’ve seen them jump event to event simply as they sell well, but that then leaves little room for hype or consequences surrounding events. Secret Wars has probably had the biggest build up out of any recent Marvel event, but even then, what has came in the wake of the series? We jumped 8 months later, and then one introductory arc later which barely gave us time to explore the universe’s new direction, we’ve already started the Civil War 2 train (something clearly only happening due to the film, which wasn’t even very good) which is leading into the all new status quo shaking relaunch that’s the very purpose of this article. When status quo shake ups are the norm can it really be called a shake up?

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I’m not saying the beard single handedly saved DC, but….

If we compare this to how DC have tackled Rebirth recently, we see why fans have been so receptive while criticizing Marvel. It’s more than just the surface level stuff like giving Green Arrow a goatee (though that is still in the top three things they’ve fixed) but a return to a philosophy and style many people have missed. The success is obvious, as Green Arrow’s debut managed to be a huge hit selling 90,000 copies. When me and a friend finished reading the Rebirth one shot a few weeks back, he turned to me and said “this is exactly the sort of DC comic I love and want to read more of”. That friend joined in the new 52, but read a lot of older stuff and connected more with that, so it’s definitely more of a quality rather than a nostalgia perspective. DC have solidified a direction not just for a new event, but their entire universe. Reading the Rebirth one shots felt genuinely like the beginning of bold new eras and massive adventures rather than just the next year of stories featuring a new gimmick. It feels like the company understand exactly where they want to take their characters and are moving towards it with the highest quality talent possible. I’m sure there will still be bad books, but  it feels more like calculated success rather than Marvel throwing out new #1s every few months and finding a few great books that stick, at least until they’re washed away with the next relaunch.

Again, I’d like to stress I love many of Marvel’s books, but the universe as a whole leaves me cold. I no longer care about some of my favorite characters as the directions feel so flimsy and pointless, I’d enjoy some of the changes if I didn’t know in less than a year they’ll have reverted back to wherever the movies left off. It really shouldn’t, but it removes tension and excitement because I’m aware it’s just a gimmick. This formula makes it feel like we’ll just run through the same villains and character arcs seeing as we’ve limited the range of storytelling potential; if a villain showed up in the movies, you can beat we’ll be seeing more of them in the comics, and any that haven’t will be sidelined in many of the bigger titles so as to make the comics feel more “familiar” to movie fans. The Marvel universe feels like it’s been shrinking rather than growing the past few years, despite the constant influx of new writers and talent. It’s sad, as Marvel keep finding themselves having continued success while moving away from what makes them special. I don’t want to sound like an entitled fan mad at Marvel for finding success outside of comic fans, I couldn’t be happier than the majority of my friends now understand my references and like these characters as much as I do, but it feels like they’ve sacrificed their very soul in the process and have trapped themselves in a shrinking bubble that’ll leave them with nowhere to go whenever comic book movies stop being successful.

It’s hard for me to be some glum and down on the current state of comics, especially as I feel there’s more talent, choice and variety in the industry than ever before, but Marvel’s shenanigans are really starting to frustrate even a die hard fan like me. Marvel’s priorities have undoubtedly shifted which is definitely sad as they were my gateway to comics. They only thing I could advise to equally frustrated fans are to vote with your wallets and let them see that their tactics won’t work. DC Rebirth happened exactly because the fans were unhappy and the company wanted to win back it’s readership, if Marvel see events and relaunches failing to make headway then they’ll likely reevaluate their tactics and find ways to win back their fans. In the meantime, I advise lapsed fans to simply move elsewhere. There are a ton of publishers putting out books that are definitely more worthy of your time and money that simply don’t have the big name recognition. Pushing these publishers to bigger success in a time when Marvel practically rule the entertainment medium would send a very clear message.

Next time we’ll talk about something more positive, promise.

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About the Author

Josh McCullough

A writer at WTN Josh is a huge comic fan whose tastes edge towards the strange and surreal. If there's one thing he loves more than comics then it's Doctor who. Never try and argue with him that there's a better doctor than Sylvester McCoy. Any fedoras that would make good press hats should be sent to his PO Box.