Marvel NOW! - What Is It And Why Should You Care?
To be honest, Marvel NOW! is really confusing. As someone pretty deep into comics, I’ve read numerous pieces about it and could still not sum it up for you easily. The best I can do is to say that there's a massive event going on right now called "Avengers vs. X-Men" that is centered around the infamous Phoenix force. A lot of people are burned out on Phoenix stories (I’m one of them) but any character or idea named after a fiery bird that stands for rebirth is likely to keep showing back up, so there’s no point in fighting it. Regardless of how you feel about the Phoenix, the “Avengers vs. X-Men" storyline is big and bulky and the fallout of the event is creating a lot of change for the Marvel Universe- some of it cosmetic and some of it more serious and lasting. Independent of what the catalyst for the change is (because really, it could be anything) Marvel NOW! mostly seems like an attempt to re-invent the line while NOT doing a full reboot the way DC did last year with their New 52. Even though Marvel wants to distance themselves from DC's massive company wide reboot of last year the New 52 (and of course they do, because nobody likes to be perceived as getting somewhere second), it's nearly impossible to talk about Marvel NOW! without referencing DC's event.
That said, there are reasons to be excited about some of these books, regardless of whether you understand why it’s happening or not. I’ve come up with four reasons to believe that there might be something to these books, above and beyond how confusing it is on the surface…so let’s explore!
THE IDEA BEHIND THE CURTAIN
One of the coolest projects to come out of DC in recent years (and one that has nothing to do with the New 52 reboot) was a weekly series in the summer of 2010 called Wednesday Comics headed up by editor Mark Chiarello. There was a lot to like about Wednesday Comics, from the super-fun newsprint it was printed on to the variety we got both in characters and creators. It also eventually produced a gorgeous oversized collector hardback edition. But what was at the heart of the idea, and what made it work so well, is that Mark Chiarello said he went to some of the best writers and artists he knew with the question: “So, if you could do anything you want? What would you do?”
That is exactly how you get super talented people, that you might not otherwise have been able to bring on board for “work for hire”, to come tell some amazing and beautiful stories about your corporate characters. And looking at Wednesday Comics from DC leads us to the first big reason why Marvel NOW! might end up being really cool - and that's because it seems like Marvel took that same approach:
Marvel EIC Axel Alonso describes the point of Marvel NOW! as “…you take a great writer and artist that want to work together, give them some great characters and allow them to tell some great stories.”
A quote like this instantly intrigues me because it sounds like they have their priorities in the right place. The concept behind the curtain matters and when the EIC of the company has this solid of an answer, regardless of what in-continuity/out-of-continuity madness might also be going on, I can respect that. At the end of the day all I want are great comics, and if Marvel can give that to me by thinking outside the box and giving some control to creators, then I'm all for it.
THE CREATIVE TEAMS
While this attitude is great, it wouldn't mean much if the creative teams announced didn't bear it out. And when you look at the creative teams, while not every team can be a reader’s “perfect dream team”, you can see some real quality and thought going into these pairings. While, like DC’s reboot, there are far too few talented ladies involved, compared to DC’s creative teams, Marvel’s feel pretty fresh. Where DC drew a lot from old stars of the 90’s, which gave their entire line a feeling of a re-hash of those books (some good, some bad), Marvel’s approach in mixing new talent and old, feels more interesting. They've brought in their solid and long-time Marvel A-listers like Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, John Cassaday, Mark Waid, and Stuart Immonen, but they're pairing them with super talented newer or more unexpected creators like Dennis Hopeless, Jamie McKelvie, Jason Aaron, Rick Remender, Mike Del Mundo, Kaare Andrews, Tony Moore, Michael Allred, and Keiron Gillen.
These creators are all smart, talented, well-respected, and with proven track records, and yet they feel fresh to what they've been asked to do. Some of the pairings are truly exciting, whether we've seen them before or not. Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen can always be counted on to create great books and so putting them on the All New X-Men feels like a smart way to anchor one of the most important books. Meanwhile other books draw on unexpectedly cool pairings, like Matt Fraction and Michael Allred tackling FF (Future Foundation). And then you've got really successful indie pairings like Keiron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, who are brilliant together, now tackling an unknown Marvel book. I know, before I even know what that book will be, that it will be a book worth checking out. On the whole it's an incredible amount of talent gathered together and setting them loose on the Marvel Universe cannot help but excite the comic book geek in me.
While I admit that the initial covers have not wowed me as I would hope, I have faith in the names attached to them and I'm seeing a lot of variety at least that intrigues me.
Beyond creative teams, there’s some character shifting going on, that should make for some exciting new stories. One of the frustrating things to me about reading superhero comics, is that in such a vast universe and with so many characters, we so frequently see the same pairings over and over again. But I already know the relationship between – X and Y – I've seen it FOREVER. And even if it’s great – I’d love to see X paired up with Z for a story – because it simply opens up so many story and character possibilities. One of the things mainstream superhero comics constantly struggle against is the reality that the stories never end. As a result, it's almost impossible not to get stories that feel repetitive, but one of the ways to diminish that is to let characters engage with different characters. It seems like Marvel is going for that as evidenced by some of the new character pairings we're going to see. A Kitty Pryde and Iron Man team up? You're going to see it. Underused characters like Hawkeye and Kate Bishop? Currently starring in the book Hawkeye (which also happens to be one of the best superhero books I've ever read). The previously mentioned FF is going to star a bizarre and intriguing combination of She-Hulk, Medusa, Ant-Man, and Miss Thing. Often ignored Sif is going to take over as the star of the beloved Journey Into Mystery title. Simon Spurrier will be taking on Professor Xavier's son David/Legion in the relaunched X-Men Legacy title. It seems like a genuine reshuffling and rethinking in a lot of instances, and as a result it feels like a lot of potential.
One of the issues with the New 52 relaunch is that it’s incredibly dark. There’s very little hope there. Very little light and fun. And while I have no problem with gritty books, I don’t want an entire company to be pumping out grim & gritty in each of their titles. There’s not a book in the New 52 that I would regularly consider a light or funny read. Every character has been turned to 10 on the dial, and while there are of course moments of levity in any story, nothing about the New 52 feels “light.” And that’s okay. I’m sure for some people that suits them just fine. But I prefer a more balanced mix in my superhero comics.
Marvel NOW! seems to be taking the opposite tact, as evidenced by both a lot of the artwork we’re seeing and also from one of the titles in particular, which frankly can’t be viewed as anything EXCEPT wall to wall fun – A-Babies vs X-Babies. With hilariously adorable art from Gurihiru, words by the exceptional Scottie Young, this book is a must buy for me just based on creative team and concept alone. I mean how could this be seen as anything other than fun?
It seems like a welcome respite from superhero comics that take themselves too seriously, too often. And I think it's a great signal about the changes in general. We're here for heroics, we're here for drama, we're also here for fun. Looking at some of these books I feel like Marvel gets that. And I'm pretty excited about it. So what about you? Did you care before? Do you care now? Will you be buying any of Marvel's new Marvel NOW! titles? Which ones excite you?
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