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Marvel Has a Big Problem

by Jean-Paul Jean II

Love it or hate it, it’s undeniable that Marvel Studios has been on a mission to dominate the box office and all of our lives since their release of Iron Man back in 2008 – and they’ve been succeeding.  Especially since The Avengers hit theaters in 2012, Marvel has been the reigning titans of the silver screen.  Even their lesser hits are big hits!  Remember how much everyone (except, you know, actual Ant-Man fans like myself) seemed to think Ant-Man would be a disastrous flop?  He’s now a fan-favorite character.  Guardians of the Galaxy was so obscure before the film was announced that even many comic book fans weren’t familiar with the team, and that’s now regarded as one of the best superhero movies ever.  There are so many great lessons to be learned from Marvel’s approach to filmmaking right now…

Mo' Relaunches, Mo' Problems

Mo’ Relaunches, Mo’ Problems

…too bad the same can’t be said for the comics…

You would think a comics titan like Marvel would understand how to appeal to audiences after decades of experience, and yet here we are less than six months after my article recommending people try getting into Marvel Comics and they’ve already messed it all up.  The bulk of that article was praising Marvel for a clean-slate relaunch of everything – all new issue #1 restarts for every title that make it easy for anyone to jump in and enjoy comics for the first time or get back into them after some time away.  And, since it wasn’t a reboot, these were new stories that still built upon all those wonderful adventures fans have been enjoying for years.  This allowed me to get back into comics after years of being away and led to some seriously great reads – favorites of mine being All-New WolverineThe VisionSpider-Man/Deadpool, and All-New, All-Different Avengers.  It also reminded me just how cool the X-Men actually are outside of the depressing 20th Century Fox “Singer-verse” films and has further solidified a strong presence from the Inhumans in the public eye.

Seriously, the Inhumans titles have made Crystal and Medusa new favorites of mine

Seriously, the Inhumans titles have made Crystal and Medusa new favorites of mine

And to what did this all amount?  Well, in typical modern-Marvel form, an abundance of bland crossover events and – of course – yet another relaunch.  How many crossovers is too much for one year, you ask?  I couldn’t give you an exact number, though frankly, I’d be fine with only one large crossover every two years or so.  That said, clearly Marvel’s idea to have six in roughly one year was way too much.  These were Avengers: Standoff!Spider-WomenMonsters UnleashedSpider-Man Dead No More: The Clone ConspiracyInhumans vs. X-Men, and the gargantuan one that gave none of these other crossovers any room to breath: Civil War II.  While some of these have potential in their premises, there’s really no room to develop since each one has to hurry up and do its thing before another event begins.  And, as mentioned before, Civil War II just brutalizes anything in its path – including solo titles.  That’s not to say that it’s necessarily bad, but it certainly feels pretty contrived to try and sell more comics in the wake of a similarly-titled movie being released to theaters around the same time (if you’ve been living under the world’s biggest rock in 2016, that film would be Captain America: Civil War).

One of the many images we've been force-fed over and over for months now...

One of the many images we’ve been force-fed over and over for months now…

Honestly, that’s the biggest problem Marvel is having right now – everything feels contrived to more closely resemble the movies.  The Fantastic Four are broken up with some members presumed dead…hmm, wonder if that has anything to do with Fox owning the FF film rights.  The mutants are dying off and Inhumans are slowly taking their place…hmm, again that seems like it might be to only promote characters Marvel can put in their movies.  Civil War II…hmm, kind of funny how a Civil War movie just happens to be coming out the same year.  It all just feels so calculated and political, and ultimately it’s all a rather huge hindrance to quality storytelling.  Now, one big argument that inevitably comes up during all of this is that Marvel Comics is a business so of course they’ll try to tie-in with something that’s making huge money right now.  The issue is that it’s not working.  Despite the trend we see with their respective films, DC is now actually outperforming Marvel in the comic book sales landscape.  Of the top 40 bestselling comics titles in July 2016, DC claimed 30.  In the top ten, Marvel only shows up twice (both Civil War II titles, at that) meaning that DC is essentially sweeping the floor with their confused competitor.

DC - Comics Kings...?

DC – Comic Kings…?

While I have seen some publications attribute this shift to Marvel’s recent push to diversify their roster in terms of race, sex, and sexual-orientation, I personally believe they’re suffering from two horrible diseases: Event-Fatigue and Relaunchitis.  Part of what made it so difficult for me to get back into comics was that it never seemed like a good time.  There was always some new giant crossover event or another and I’d find myself saying, “That’s ok, I’ll start after this one.”  And then almost immediately they’d start another huge crossover!  Let’s get real for a second – crossovers are awesome.  You get to see a culmination of events up to this point as many of your favorite characters come together to save the universe.  But if that happens every time, it just gets boring.  Marvel should really re-watch Pixar’s The Incredibles.  They need to take Syndrome’s wise words to heart: “With everyone super, no one will be.”  If every year there’s a “game-changing” event, then suddenly there is no game to change.  With no room to breathe between massive events, individual stories mean nothing in the long-run – not that you get much time to enjoy them anyway, we have to hurry up and cash-in with a huge new crossover tomorrow!  Then even the events mean nothing when we’re bombarded with end-of-the-world scenarios over and over again but things are always put right by the end.  And even if they’re not, it’s cool, just stick it out for a year or so because the next crossover will just change it all again anyway.

Hang it up even if you're just hitting your stride, it's time for a new title

Hang it up even if you’re just hitting your stride, it’s time for a new title

As if this weren’t enough, Relaunchitis also greatly seems to be hurting Marvel.  The idea makes sense in principle: relaunch your brand with new issue #1’s so that new readers can jump right in and learn about all the backstory later.  It basically just exists to give people an easy place to start.  This even helps long-time comic fans – are you an avid X-Men reader who’s always wanted to try some Thor stories?  Cool, check out the new Thor series!  But I swear it feels like Marvel relaunches every two years or so.  That means you can’t realistically get attached to any one series because chances are it will be gone or completely reshaped in no time at all.  Remember when you would walk into a comic book store and see Amazing Spider-Man #223 sitting on the shelf?  Yeah, keep remembering because you’re lucky if you see anything beyond a #30 these days.  Part of what makes us love these characters is seeing how they grow and learn over time – a trait that doesn’t work well when every series feels so disjointed.

Ok, maybe Amazing Spider-Man #223 was a bit older than I realized...this is what happens when you pull a random number out of your ass...

Ok, maybe Amazing Spider-Man #223 was a bit older than I realized…this is what happens when you pull a random number out of your ass…

So I do still hope Marvel NOW 2.0 proves to be a good relaunch, but I cannot help but approach with caution.  With All-New, All-Different Marvel I got back into comics full-force and was reading so many titles about a vast number of characters, however, I fear the relaunch may lead me to be more reserved and follow only a few series at a time.  It’s ok, though, I’ll see any of those other characters I’ve grown to like in a few weeks anyway, they’re bound to do another big crossover by then…

What do you think about the current state of Marvel Comics?  Let us know in the comments below!

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