Welcome back to “Sounds Better in a Bubble”. I have been on an extended writing hiatus in an effort to evaluate the offerings of the new MARVEL NOW re-launch. I wanted to give the comics a fair shake so I took a little time off to see what Marvel had in store for comic fans.
Some of you will of course be well aware that DC Comics re-launched their entire line-up of comics back in 2011 with the NEW 52. The entirety of DC’s Universe was taken out and replaced with new comics (new that is in the sense that they were revamped and restarted, not that specific titles were changed. Thus Superman is still Superman and you will still find Batman at home in Detective Comics, they just lost the original numbering system and restarted at #1.)
NEW 52 was very well received, with to use only a singular example the NEW 52 title Justice League #1 has now been through 8+ reprinting’s. Commercial success was followed by critical success as well, even garnering a nod in the New York Times. Overall despite some hiccups, a few controversies, and writing/artist changes, the transition from the old DC Universe to the NEW 52 has been relatively smooth and (mostly) welcome.
I guess you may be wondering why I am yammering on about DC’s NEW 52, when I already stated this blog is about MARVEL NOW, well I’m getting there. Be patient. I needed a frame of reference for re-launches and the NEW 52 is the easiest and most expedient model. Now the big 2 (Marvel and DC) are infamous for retconning (adding elements into the fictional continuity of a character or characters universe retroactively.) DC gives us a great example with the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” storyline, a dividing point in the DC Universe that kills off the so called “Multi-verse” with parallel Earth worlds holding characters analogous to ones within our own reality or even direct opposites (e.g. an evil Superman or Aquaman, who instead of helping the powerless use their gifts to rule over them.) Despite this Crisis was less a re-launch than a condensing of the larger DC Universe.
Marvel has its own redesign work from past incarnations. One which many readers may be familiar with (even non-comic readers) is the Marvel Ultimate’s line. Wait you say, I’ve never read a comic in my life how would I know about the Ultimate’s? Ever seen any of these movies; Iron Man, The Avengers, The Hulk (Edward Norton version), Thor, or Captain America? Well if you did you may have noticed a fellow by the name of Samuel L. Jackson, playing a well-known and well-loved Marvel character, Nick Fury! I personally have enjoyed many an evening as a young boy/teen/adult, with Nick and his Howling Commandoes, or as the Director of Shield. Funny thing though, I always seem to remember him as a Caucasian, Italian-American.Now it is kind of hard, if not impossible to hate on Sam Jackson’s version of Nick Fury. The man did the Sgt. /Colonel justice, with no argument, but the African American version of Nick Fury first appears in the Marvel Ultimate’s line and not in the regular Marvel continuity.
The Ultimate’s was a reimagining of the Marvel multi-verse with tweaks to characters (e.g. Peter Parker our favorite web slinging, wall-crawler, is no longer a photographer for the Daily Bugle, but instead works on their website, or as we see with Fury, he comes from a different ethnic background) and not a reinvention of the Marvel world and its characters.
We are only a few months into MARVEL NOW, so what follows may seem harsh to some, bear with me faithful reader. When DC decided to launch the NEW 52, it was upfront about the changes to come, we knew that titles were going to be restarted and that some story elements would be changed PRIOR to receiving any issues. MARVEL NOW on the other hand has been less forthcoming with information before launch and this continues as titles continue to seep out from their prior incarnations. It would to this readers mind seem to be less of an organized re-launch of a universe, than a reaction to the success of the NEW 52. I may be wrong, but it would seem to me an admitted DC-ophile, who still bears a strong love for select Marvel titles (Namely, The Amazing Spider Man, Thor, Conan the Barbarian, The Savage Sword of Conan -prior to the current Dark Horse Conan lines- the aforementioned Nick Fury, and Daredevil) that Marvel is shooting itself in the foot.
Change is hard, especially when one has invested many years into an art form and beloved characters. To get a feeling for other opinions I conducted a (very) informal poll at three of the comic retailers that I frequent. I asked a series of questions of customers I noted purchasing specific MARVEL NOW titles, mainly X-Men related titles, as I have never been a fan of the series, and wanted some input relating to characters that I do not regularly read. Those titles were: All New X-Men, Cable and X-Force, Uncanny X-Force and X-Men Legacy (I also inquired about some of the new Avengers titles as members of the X-Men are now in their story lines.) I was surprised by some of the reactions.
What I gleaned from my (highly un-scientific) polling was a middle of the road consensus. Most consumers of these titles were unsure where these new comic lines were heading and were distraught over the loss of well-liked characters and teams. There were to be sure some who found themselves madly in love with the changes, so to be fair I thought it best to mention their reactions as well. For me, I find myself…confused at times. The new Thor title jumps all over the timeline (lifetime) of the character, the new “Superior Spiderman” finds me in anguish over one of comics most cherished icons, and quite frankly has turned me off to a comic I have purchased regularly for nearly 35 years. I am not sure where MARVEL NOW is going and so far as a fan I am less than impressed.
So that may seem like a wet dish rag review, but I will give kudos to Marvel for some of the better MARVEL NOW (in my opinion) titles. Two titles that immediately come to mind: The New Avengers and The Indestructible Hulk. The New Avengers brings together the so called Illuminati of the Marvel hero world, current members include; Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic), Black Bolt, Dr. Strange, Tony Stark (Iron Man), Namor the Sub-Mariner, Steve Rogers (Captain America), and the Black Panther. The writing and art are superb for this title and I look forward to seeing where the story will go. The new Hulk series also receives high marks from my inner fanboy. The story seems very much like a natural progression for Bruce Banner’s alter ego, and in just two issues I was hooked on a series and story that was outside my regular rotation of characters.
On the technical side I applaud Marvel’s choice of paper stock for the new issues. It is very similar in quality to what you get from an issue of National Geographic. The finish work on the issues is far superior including what appears to be improved stapling. As a collector the choice of paper is very important and I believe that many will find the new stock to hold both the ink and coloring, as well as suffer from less degradation over time. To some the technical side may seem less important, but imagine you subscribe to 10 bi-weekly titles at 4.99$ per issue, that is nearly 1200 dollars per year just in new issues, not counting what the average collector spends on back issues per year (trust me it's a lot, just ask my wife.)
In the end the decision to remold a well known universe is a gamble. I have to keep reminding myself that for some, comics are business, and not necessarily art. That business, to survive and receive support from shareholders, must be viable and sell. It is my sincere hope that MARVEL NOW was a decision based on the integrity and continuation of the art form, rather than strictly on potential sales. I may be a dreamer but some fellow from Liverpool assures me I’m not the only one. In my next blog I will concentrate on proper and archival grade storage solutions for the comic collector, until next time, happy reading comic fans.
 This 12 part series begins with Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 April 1985 and ends with issue #12 from March 1986
 Nick Fury and His Howling Commandoes, 167 total issues. Cover date starts March 1963 and ends December 1981. Fury also appears in other Marvel titles such as Strange Tales and Marvel Spotlight among others..