Does Marvel Need To Pull A DC Comics 52 Relaunch?
The DC Comics 52 relaunch is arguably one of the biggest success stories of last year. Despite the fact that several of their flagship titles were closing in on milestone issue numbers, DC decided to completely reboot their universe, which meant fiddling with the mythology of characters, dropping fan favorite titles, and giving lesser characters new books and a chance to shine. Since the relaunch, DC has seen a rise in sales and has been the top selling comic publisher for several months running. After this success, fans and columnists started to wonder if maybe Marvel should pull a similar move. So what do you think? Should Marvel think about relaunching their brand and top titles?
Before the relaunch, DC Comics had a terribly convoluted mythology. This was thanks in large part to the Multiverse, which appeared, disappeared, brought characters back from the dead, and re-introduced them to the "normal" DC continuity. Take for example Power Girl, who began life as a character on Earth-2, which was created so that Silver Age and Golden Age characters could coexist together. Originally, Power Girl was Superman's first cousin, but it just took her ship longer to reach Earth after she was saved from the destruction of Krypton. After the Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries erased Earth-2, Power Girl's origin story was erased and changed to her being the granddaughter of an Atlantean sorcerer named Arion. Power Girl's history was then changed again with the arrival of the Infinite Crisis miniseries, which basically redid everything so Power Girl's origin went back to way it originally was.
Then there's the history of The Flash. A lot of people have gone under that name in the DC Universe: Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, Wally West, Bart Allen, Jesse Chambers, Sela Allen, John Fox, Blaine Allen and Jace Allen. I'm not even going to dare try and tell you which Allen is the descendant of which and who is related to who, but suffice to say it's very complicated.
While Marvel hasn't had anything quite as dramatic happen, there are characters with complicated pasts. And when you've had characters around for as long as some of Marvel's most elite, it's going to be hard to remember who did what and what happened when. You've got Colossus, who died sacrificing himself to cure the Legacy Virus that killed his sister, but was years later revealed to still be alive. His body had been replaced with a duplicate (before it had been cremated) by Ord, an alien who resurrected the metal giant on the Breakworld. Of course, Colossus' sister Illyana (aka Magick) didn't remain dead either. She was brought back into existence for a short time during the House of M event by The Scarlet Witch, which caused the lord of Limbo - Belasco - to want her back for real, so he recreated her from essences and memories that remained in Limbo even after her death. Illyana didn't come back the same, however, as she went through a phase as Darkchylde, stole a piece of Pixie's soul, and so on and so on. Okay, so maybe Marvel does have some histories as complicated as those of Power Girl. I didn't even get to Bucky Barnes and Jean Grey's many deaths and re-births.
The question remains though: does Marvel need to relaunch itself like DC Comics did? It's a tough nut to crack, as there are numerous pros and cons involved.
CASES AGAINST A RELAUNCH
I personally liked the character of Onslaught during his initial inception, when it was revealed that he was a psionic entity that resulted from the co-mingling of Professor X and Magneto's minds. Things got complicated after that and the event fell apart in the eyes of many, but it eventually resolved itself when members of the Avengers and Fantastic Four (among some others) sacrificed themselves to help stop the monster once and for all.
While it appeared that the Avengers and Fantastic Four had died, in reality they had been moved over to a pocket universe created by Franklin Richards in order to keep them alive and preserved. Marvel continued on without these heroes and let others step into their place (such as the Thunderbolts). But throughout it all Iron Man, Avengers, Captain America and Fantastic Four comics were published they were just kept separate from the rest of Marvel's continuity. In this pocket universe origins were changed, such as Johnny and Susan Storm getting a ride on Reed Richard's ship because they were the financial backers for his mission. All-in-all it was a fresh start and a new chance for readers to embrace these characters.
The four titles actually did very well and saw an upswing in sales, but many fans were furious at the changes made to some of their favorite characters. So after 13 issues of each book the characters were brought back into the regular Marvel continuity and the Heroes Reborn history was done away, though Onslaught has made a few appearances since, and Rikki Barnes - Captain America's protégé during Heroes Reborn - was brought over as Nomad, who helped form a group called the Young Allies.
The Ultimate Marvel comic line is a case of Marvel wanting its cake and eating it too. Instead of completely rebooting its universe, Marvel decided to give fans an alternate universe they could delve into if they so chose. It was intended to snag fans of the flourishing Marvel movies being released at the time, because Marvel thought jumping into a series numbering into the hundreds would be difficult for newcomers. A few of the Ultimate Marvel comics have found success, such as both incarnations of Spider-Man, but other titles like The Ultimates have faltered, or were only as solid as the creative team behind the project.
Marvel gave the Ultimate Comics line eight-years before allowing Jeph Loeb to essentially "clean house" with his Ultimatum event, which resulted in the death of over 30 characters (you don't wipe the slate clean like that if everything is smelling like roses). Ultimatum was almost unanimously panned by both fans and critics, as the entire event seemed as if it was created to do nothing more than shock readers with the way characters were killed off (Wasp and Blob, for instance, being wiped out by cannibalism). Earth-1610 still exists today, but only in a limited capacity, as several books were outright canceled while others were tweaked in one way or another.
House of M
I was a fan of the X-Men for years, but all of that changed with House of M. I loathe the series. I'm not saying it all was smooth sailing up until then, as there were definitely peaks and valleys on that rollercoaster when it came to quality, but with House of M it felt like Marvel was giving the middle finger to fans everywhere (especially those who loved their mutants).
Wanda Maximoff - the Scarlet Witch - has always been a powerhouse to be reckoned with, as her reality warping powers have always had the potential to do more evil than good. After doing all he could to keep her powers in check, Professor X had to finally admit that an alternate plan needed to be devised. The X-Men and Avengers had their own opinions, but for many, killing Wanda seemed like the only viable solution. Something went wrong, however, as Wanda suddenly vanished, as did all the nearby heroes.
By using her powers, Wanda created a reality ruled by the House of M, where mutants were the superior race and sapiens the minority, living in fear. As with most Marvel events, House of M bled into numerous books and tie-in series, resulting in several issues where readers were forced to go along for the ride and read about fan favorite characters in a world that nobody cared about. House of M finally ended with Wanda uttering "No more mutants," which resulted in the world going back to normal. Now mutants weren't popping up all over the place and many fan favorite characters were de-powered and made insignificant in a flash of light.
House of M was a poorly constructed story and the re-imagined world was a bore and one many fans simply didn't care about. I personally hated what transpired during House of M so much that I actually quit collecting every X-title I had on my pull list and only just recently got back into the X-Men series. A lot of fans were so annoyed at the de-powering of their favorite mutants that over the years writers have re-worked things so those characters got their powers back, got enhanced powers, or got completely new powers. It was a series of moves that didn't have a natural progression; it was one big "oops" and apology from Marvel.
In fact, very little has carried over since House of M finished. Wolverine still has his memories. Hawkeye and Magick were brought back to life. Vulcan was revived. Beyond those events, however, nothing really stands out as having any lasting effect on the Marvel Universe of any worth.
CASES FOR A RELAUNCH
Age of Apocalypse
Professor X's son - Legion - gets it in his head that if he were to go back in time and kill Magneto, perhaps the world would be a different place, and humans and mutants would be living in peace. Legion accidentally arrives at a time when Professor X and Magneto are still friends and ends up killing his own father when Professor X tries to save Magneto. The death of the Professor completely does away with everything that would have come after, and the X-men are never formed. Instead, the long-time villain Apocalypse takes over the world, and thus the Age of Apocalypse begins.
During the Age of Apocalypse storyline, all of Marvel's X-books were done away with and temporarily replaced with AoA versions. Cable became X-Man. Wolverine became Weapon-X. Etc. While the event certainly re-imagined a lot of the X-Men characters, the book was almost universally loved by fans. The Age of Apocalypse story was relatively self-contained, as only a few villains such as Sugar Man and Dark Beast made their way into the official Marvel Universe, but Marvel has slowly been reestablishing this history in a number of ways. Nate Grey is back in the picture and now a member of the New Mutants. Uncanny X-Force recently finished its wildly successfully 'Dark Angel Saga,' which saw the team traveling to the world of Age of Apocalypse, and ended with their version of Nightcrawler staying behind. Uncanny X-Force's recent 'Point One' issue also paved the way for the upcoming ongoing Age of Apocalypse series, which follows the events of the 'Dark Angel Saga' and 'Point One' tie-in (you better believe this is going to be a pull-list title for me).
Age of Apocalypse remains to this day one of my favorite event books of all-time.
Age of X
Very little was known about Age of X before it was published, just that a few of the X-books were going to be focusing on an alternate reality similar to Age of Apocalypse. But considering there was no event planned, nobody knew how this story was going to fit in to the Marvel universe, if at all. Was Age of X simply going to be one long "What If" issue?
In the Age of X, mutants are living within the confined walls of Fortress X, which is a haven that Magneto created in order to protect them. The characters feel familiar yet different, a great way to ease fans into the book and not completely do away with everything they already know.
Rogue starts to question this world when Blindfold tells her to ask about Professor X. This leads to the revelation that the Age of X is real, and that everyone has been brought into a pocket universe created by one of Legion's multiple-personalities (personalities developed when Doctor Nemesis tried to implement a system to keep Legion sane and in control of his powers). Legion eventually gains control over X - the personality that developed and helped him create this world. He changes the pocket universe back to the reality it once was, though some characters are brought over and some chose to retain their memories of that time.
Much like Age of Apocalypse, Age of X offered fans a new, re-imagined world that was exciting and managed to succeed at both delivering a new story while not pissing on the heart and soul of the characters that fans have enjoyed reading about for years.
Marvel has the potential to either fail miserably or succeed wonderfully if they were to relaunch their brand. When it all breaks down, however, I think Marvel is too set in their ways to truly embrace something new and different, which is why I think DC is currently besting Marvel in every conceivable way. DC Comics had the balls to reset their titles and give fans a more streamlined universe that offered readers fan favorites who resembled their former selves, and delivered new blood and new experiences that didn't previously exist. If you took a poll of fans you'd probably find that the top titles are Animal Man and Swamp Thing, two characters who were all but gone before the 52 relaunch happened.
But DC Comics didn't completely restart everything and do away with everyone, as Batman, Superman and Green Lantern are all still around. What they did do is give us fresh new ideas and hire top talent to help liven up the franchises. Marvel has their "Architects" by way of Brubaker, Aaron, Bendis, Hickman and Fraction, but I'll take DC Comics' Scott Snyder and Geoff Johns any day of the week. Marvel's core writers are too familiar and set in their ways and don't bring anything new to the table. They recycle ideas or deliver stories that drag and never stop. There are fresher writers attached to smaller titles that need to be given a chance to climb the rankings, as well as independent writers who need to be given a run at things.
Finally Marvel needs to really consider its pricing model, which I think is the single greatest factor hampering their brand. DC made a bold statement when they said that all of their titles would be $2.99 unless it was a particularly special issue or a certain title (namely Action Comics). For me, that's a price point I can take a gamble on. When I'm standing in front of the rack trying to decide whether I should pick something up or not, I'm much more willing to grab a book priced at $2.99 rather than the $3.99 Marvel charges for their big titles. I think it's a complete rip-off when Marvel releases an event book or annual and price it at a ridiculous $4.99 when it's usually not even worth $3.99. For instance, this past week (as of this writing), Avengers released its latest annual at $4.99, and besides some nice artwork there was nothing of substance within the book. It had some moments, but the "villain" was taken down in literally one panel and his team taken out over three pages. The Avengers annual would've been a perfectly fine book at the DC price of $2.99 (or even $3.99, since this was supposedly a "special" book), but after forking over the $4.99 and reading it, I feel like I've been robbed blind by Marvel.
Beyond anything else, Marvel needs to work on these issues in order to succeed. Do they need to pull a DC 52 relaunch? No, not necessarily, but then again, I'm not so sure it would hurt, either. Based on their history, I'd say it's a 50/50 shot at this point.
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