My relationship with modern-day Marvel is like a friendship with a junkie. They’ve been constantly asking for money to fund their addiction, and in the past, I’ve regretfully slipped them cash. I wasn’t helping them doing this, so I finally cut off the cash flow. After all, Marvel’s friend / rival was able to reverse their bad habits, so why couldn’t they? Now, Marvel’ is saying they’re finally changing their ways … should we believe them?
Recently, Marvel announced a new “back to basics” initiative called Marvel Legacy that is supposedly an apology to fans, similar to DC’s Rebirth last year. Fans have been complaining about the constant events and relaunches, among other things, and this discontent appears to be having enough of a negative impact on sales to warrant a change in plans.
Personally, I’ve completely stopped buying non-related Spider-Man comics in protest and I’ve skipped the Avengers: Standoff, Monsters Unleashed, and Secret Empire events. (Unfortunately, I caved in and bought the train wreck that was Civil War II, which was the nail in the coffin for my purchasing of Marvel events.) Judging from the Diamond sales estimates, which are totally incomplete but still insightful, Marvel sales are down, especially for the current, unpopular Secret Empire event (Batman and the Flash’s monthly titles have been beating it in sales).
How has the Spider-Man line been impacted by these events? Well, the first volumes for Silk and Spider-Gwen were both cut off before they even hit their tenth issues thanks to Secret Wars; the recent volume of Miles Morales’s ongoing was devastated by truly horrible Civil War II tie-ins; Waid’s Avengers series has been plagued by interruptions thanks to Standoff, Civil War II, and Secret Empire; and even the core Amazing Spider-Man title is getting involved in Secret Empire. These constant crossovers hurt the long-term creative direction of these titles and destroy reader retention.
Of course, crossovers and relaunches aren’t the only forces that have led to Marvel Legacy, and it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly has been hurting sales. Part of the problem is Marvel has been upping their prices to be even more than $3.99. The recent Clone Conspiracy event had three issues that were $4.99 each and Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #25 was ridiculously $9.99, including pointless backstories requested by nobody.
Further, Marvel has a particularly weak creative direction at the moment. Many of the writers that elevated Marvel in the 2000s, such as Jonathan Hickman, Rick Remender, Ed Brubaker, Warren Ellis, and Matt Fraction, have left for more lucrative, creative-owned work. The refugees of that period, Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, and Dan Slott, aren’t writing as quality of stories as they once did, especially Bendis. Somehow, mediocre writers like Nick Spencer, Gerry Duggan, and Cullen Bunn have risen to dictate the creative direction lately. While there are still a few solid writers at Marvel, their work is never promoted heavily, and new writers never have a chance to prove themselves since their books usually last at most ten issues before being cancelled.
Clearly, these problems are not cosmetic, easy-to-fix difficulties, and they are similar to the ones DC recently confronted and overcame with Rebirth. Last year, DC corrected many of their New 52 mistakes, and in doing so, received critical acclaim and a major sales spike. In an interview with CBR, Geoff Johns explained Rebirth is “a celebration, but it doesn’t mean we’re just going backwards. It’s an echo of the past, but looking to the future. That’s what I want to do with this.” Essentially, they assessed what made their heroes great and sought to bring this spirit back. However, they were careful in making sure titles still had fresh, creative directions, such as the mystery of the Watchmen’s involvement in the mainstream DC universe.
Of course, there were other popular, successful aspects of this initiative. For example, most DC comics are still only $2.99 while Marvel’s range from $3.99 to $9.99 depending on how much the editors feel like punishing fans. Further, the creative teams are full of veterans that have proven they know how to tell good stories. Most New 52 creative teams for major characters were switched out and replaced by tried-and-true writers like Greg Rucka, Dan Jurgens, Christopher Priest, Tom King, and Dan Abnett. Plus, writers have had creative control without pesky event interruptions since Rebirth started (although that may be changing soon).
Essentially, DC course-corrected by focusing on good creative teams that have long-term, interesting directions for characters they care about.
Now, Marvel is attempting their own version of Rebirth. However, there is little to indicate they have truly seen the error of their ways and are fixing their problems. In the September 2017 solicitations, they released details for a one-shot called Marvel Legacy #1, similar to DC Universe: Rebirth #1. Judging by looks, though, Marvel is far less genuine with the one-shot starting their initiative. While DC’s was priced at only $2.99 for 80 pages, Marvel’s is $5.99 for 64 pages. DC took a risk with their low-priced, extra-large Rebirth launch, making less money with this issue to hopefully profit with fans following the new titles. On the other hand, Marvel is far less generous, planning on profiting nicely on their one-shot.
Further comparing these launches, DC chose fan favorite Geoff Johns to write the launch issue while Marvel has selected Jason Aaron. While Aaron is certainly not the worst writer at Marvel, he specializes in street-level, low risk stories. He cannot handle large-scale, important stories like Johns, judging from his horrible Original Sin event and involvement in Avengers vs. X-Men.
Further, DC’s Rebirth issue was full of important developments and samples of many series’ directions. While this is only speculation, Marvel Legacy #1 is likely not going to be as substantial. The solicitation reads: “It begins at the dawn of the human race, and ends with a child’s prayer! In between, empires fall, mysteries brew, secrets are revealed, quests are undertaken and legends are forged! All leading up to the dramatic return you’ve been waiting for — and one you’ve been dreading!”
This typically vague, overblown synopsis gives fans little to be excited about with this new initiative. It looks like prehistoric Avengers are assembling or something along those lines … but why is this important to Marvel’s modern-day direction? It sounds like Marvel may be revealing secrets / retcons, but that idea failed miserably in Aaron’s Original Sin. Of course, I’m being highly critical of a story that has yet to be published, but Marvel has given so few details that I have a hard time even knowing what is involved in this issue or how it will “change everything,” unlike how every relaunch is supposed to “change everything.”
Looking at the rest of the details Marvel has released, there is even less hope to be had. A flurry of homage covers was thrown at comic news sites with absolutely no details pertaining to creative teams or directions. It looks like Marvel Two-In-One is coming back, although fans have no idea who is writing or drawing the book. Also, a new Spirits of Vengeance title is coming around for the multitude of fans that supported the recently-cancelled, extremely short-lived Ghost Rider series. Otherwise, Sam Wilson is the Falcon again and Jane Foster Thor might be dying or something. In both cases, no substantial details. At this point, Marvel Legacy feels like just another line of variant covers.
While DC was upfront about their relaunch, immediately revealing details about titles, Marvel is keeping their cards to their chest. Perhaps they want fans to buy the overpriced Legacy one-shot before they see through the shallowness of the initiative. The rest of the titles in September are generally continuing as usual.
Rumors have spread that Marvel is returning to original numbering, possibly renumbering Amazing Spider-Man to 788, although it should be 750 in September. Perhaps the most discontenting news is Dan Slott is staying on the title for Legacy. Although I have generally been positive of Slott and consider him one of Spidey’s best writers, I agree with the majority of fans that it’s time for him to depart the title and let somebody else have a shot.
Although Scott Snyder was successful as the primary writer of pre-Rebirth Batman, DC was smart in hiring Tom King to take over the title and give it a new direction. Snyder got another, less-important Batman title to writer instead, letting him scratch his itch for his character while letting someone else take control. Perhaps Marvel should do this with Slott, especially since he seems burnt out in the majority of Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4). Spider-Man needs a new writer and keeping Slott on the title wouldn’t give the character the fresh direction he needs.
The only title that has gone back to legacy numbering so far is Venom with Venom #150. This issue was excellent, triumphantly returning the symbiote to Eddie Brock and selling well. It is probably the best direction for Venom since Rick Remender’s run with Flash Thompson. In this issue, Marvel course-corrected after making the mistake of sterilizing the symbiote and sending it into space. However, Mike Costa is hardly a fresh new voice for the title and it remains to be seen if he can effectively keep up the consistency.
In fact. the success of Venom indicates that Marvel doesn’t plan on changing at all. In the next Venom story arc, Moon Girl, the obligatory diversity-character-of-the-month, is making an appearance. While I don’t mind that Moon Girl has a solo title that others may enjoy, the last place her kids-friendly character should be featured is the first arc of Eddie Brock’s new adventures as Venom. Likely, Marvel is taking advantage of Venom’s current popularity to push a character with a failing title. I would prefer dark stories starring Venom rather than fun romps with a character most fans reading this title could care less about.
Further exemplifying Marvel’s bad habit of cashing in on the favor-of-the-month, September sees the launch of a new event called, I kid you not, Venomverse. Nobody asked for this, especially since it is being published weekly with a $4.99 first issue. Of course, Cullen Bunn, the guy who got Venom (Vol. 2) cancelled, is writing the event about a character he failed with earlier. The plot synopsis is downright cringe-worthy with a group called Poisons replacing the Inheritors from Spiderverse, and a lead role for a Venomized *choke* Gwenpool. Also, throw in a tie-in one-shot at $4.99 for good measure.
Obviously, although Venom is only the first taste of the new Legacy direction, Marvel hasn’t changed its ways of overexposing popular characters with events nobody wants and over-priced launch issues. Further evidence is the new line of Generations one-shots in September. Five issues priced at $4.99 each are being released as a quick cash grab to team up the classic and revamp versions of heroes. The creative teams are unsurprising, including Bendis and Spencer, the architects of Marvel’s current, failing status quo.
Marvel Legacy, from what little we know of it, will not fix things for Marvel. It’s their yearly cash grab reboot disguised as a rip-off of DC’s Rebirth. Nothing will change. Marvel editorial doesn’t understand why DC’s titles are doing so well, but they are excited for the money they will make from their half-hearted attempt at replicating it.
If Marvel fans will ever truly get the change they want, Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso needs to go. Bendis, Spencer, Bunn, and Slott need to either move on or be given smaller roles in the creative direction of the company. Veteran writers need an incentive to return to the company and freedom to tell good stories. As far as I can tell, Marvel Legacy provides for none of this. It’s the same breed of dead dog Marvel has been beating lately, but the old dog had to be replaced because he was starting to decay and smell bad.