Marvel Now-ish

One of the good things to come of Marvel Comics frankly insane shipping schedule in their latest relaunch scheme is that it allows the poor sideline commenter the chance to quickly appreciate the general trend of things without waiting for half a year before the first story lines are completed: We are now about three months (and change) into the relaunch and several of the titles have already finished their first story arcs (All New X-Men, Avengers) and others are more than knee-deep into theirs (Thor, Iron Man, Deadpool). By this point, we can make several observations about the nature of the line, and compare it to DC’s “New 52″ experiment.

One: Marvel continues to consolidate all of their titles into a small group of identifiable “core” franchises – Spider-Man (Superior Spider-Man, Morbius, Venom, Scarlet Spider) Avengers (Avengers, New Avengers, Secret Avengers, Young Avengers, Thor, Iron Man etc…,) X-Men (All New X-Men, X-Men, Uncanny X-Force, Wolverine and The X-Men etc…). The only titles that seem to be “standalone” are Deadpool (still enjoying from the surge of popularity he got during the Secret Invasion era) and the two Fantastic Four Titles.

In that, Marvel is not vastly different than post-relaunch DC that has its own big families of titles (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Justice League). However DC’s line certainly began with far more diversity, their new launch was not limited to “standard” super-hero stories and included genres such as western (All Star Western), War (Men of War, G.I Combat) and Horror (“The Dark” line – though most of which read like early Vertigo “weird Superheroes” than outright horror). However, as time went by and sales on these titles proved to be less-than-impressive, many of them were canceled and are being replaced by titles that would fit better under existing umbrellas – the Justice League family gets three extra titles soon (JLA, Vibe and Katana). So, we can’t fault DC for not trying; they may not have given at their best (at the time of writing, Batman stars in six titles, not mentioning team-ups, which is surely way too much), but they at least gave up something.

Marvel, on the other hand, pretty much admitted defeat in trying to expand their audience beyond the core super-hero fans. But even new titles and characters are given a link to an already established brand name: In the past, Marvel may have tried to give Walker and Hopeless’s “not-at-all-Battle-Royal-with-superheroes” its own title and see if they can make a name out of it – now its Avengers Arena because maybe some Avengers fans would buy it even though it has little-to-no connection with what the Avengers brand used to be. As it is, “Avengers” now simply means “every marvel universe super-hero whose name is not Spider-Man and that X-office doesn’t want to badly”.

This reeks of desperation – they basically admit to themselves that House of Ideas ™ has no new ones. And since Marvel sold itself to Disney (and to the world) as a gigantic IP factory, they may not want to admit that the factory has long stopped manufacturing and can only sell you old stuff. It’s not that Marvel has been the bastion of novelty and avant garde in the last few decades, but that they at least try once-in-a-while: Titles like the Runaways[1] may not have set the sales charts on fire, but they had a strong identified concept that could have survived independently from the universe it was set in – you can do a Runaways movie, or TV show, but you can’t sell to people 4 types of Avengers movies at the same time (hopefully), unless they are comics people who grew used to this stuff long ago.

Two: despite putting its people on the same-old-concepts, one cannot deny that Marvel employs some of the better writers and artists on the market; they have creators with extremely distinct voices that, thankfully, are not stifled by the weight of the titles they work on. One could easily argue about the quality of the titles Marvel produces nowadays (and certainly most of them will end up on my shelf) but not with their distinctness.

Be it the B-Sci-Fi feeling of Remender and Romita’s Captain America, the Heavy Metal (the comics magazine, not the musical genre) styling of Hickman and Opena’s Avengers, the puerile (in almost-a-good way) comedy of the Posehn and Dugan and Moore and Staples Deadpool…. There’s a sense of uniqueness to Marvel’s output. DC’s latest work seems, more and more, to be the result of committee – with the endless rounds of reshuffling artists and writers from title to title; you don’t get a sense that someone makes these comics out of any actual desire, instead it seems that editorial requested something (“we need someone to draw Animal Man – who’s free?”) and that creators simply nodded their heads.

Again – this does not mean that DC’s output is overall worse than Marvel’s; but it does appear to be far more generic. Marvel may very well call every second title “[something][2] Avengers” but each of that titles feels like a unique creation with its own look and feeling. I believe Marvel’s creative teams when they say that is the stories they want to tell. I believe most of the guys at DC are professionals working for a check. And yes, I know that at the end of the day they are all working-stiffs who need money to pay the bills and that it is likely that working on “Intellectual Property Man #21″ is not artistically fulfilling. But this is not about how it is it’s about how you make it appear – and Marvel’s people are doing good work in making me believe that there is passion there.

Three: money. Yes I like to talk about artistic merit, cultural importance, about the beauty and the sense of wonder and new mythology and bleh bleh bleh. But the fact of the matter is that we are living (well – I am living) in a capitalistic society and we have to pay money for the art we consume, and because we have limited resources we are forced to ask – how much are we paying for it? And – is it worth it?

Many of Marvel’s titles now cost four US dollars. That is assuming you are living in the ‘States – I live outside North America and my price per book is $5. For this, you get about twenty pages of story. We are, thankfully, past the decompression age where each story arc had to be starched for six l-o-n-g issues (exactly right for a trade paperback) – so why is Avengers #2 an entire issue of “gathering the cast”? why is All New X-Men #3 dedicated entirely for exposition and set up? Spending twenty pages on something like this is justified in graphic novel (and I’m sure Avengers would read much better at one sitting) but not in a supposedly stand-alone four dollar chunk.

And here, Marvel’s speed-it-through release scheduled hurts them – because if I want to read Iron Man, I now have to pay $16 dollars a month. I no longer buy an issue a month – I buy a TPB; and, frankly, these days most other companies offer far better value for money on their TPB’s. In the end, this is what will decide if I buy “Marvel” or “anything else” – because even if I like it, I can’t afford it.

[1] The fact that Runways, a 10 year old, is still considered rather “new” in comics circles tells you how slow to adapt and renew this industry is – how vastly has every other facet of pop cultured had changed in the last decade.

[2] Young, Secret, New, Uncanny… any change for “Low Fiber Avengers” for 2013?

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Tom Shapira is a carbon-based life from the planet earth. He was formed in the year 1985 AD by two loving parents. He is also an MA student of English Lit. at Tel-Aviv University, Israel, where he feels proud to be the first student to graduate with a BA by writing a paper about the works of Grant Morison. In his native tongue, Tom is a staff writer for Israel's leading comics blog and an occasional participant in the blog's bi-weekly podcast. He spends too much time, money and thought on Comics (especially the works of Grant Morison, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis) and his friends and family wish he would stop. He is not going to.

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Also by Tom Shapira:

Judging Dredd: Examining the World of Judge Dredd


The Mignolaverse: Hellboy and the Comics Art of Mike Mignola


Curing the Postmodern Blues: Reading Grant Morrison and Chris Weston\'s The Filth in the 21st Century


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