Marvel’s NOW! announcements have been coming at a steady trickle for a few weeks now, with each teaser and press release referring to a “Revolution” for readers to “join,” but it’s become apparent as the whole enterprise drags on there’s nothing revolutionary going on here. What we actually have is the usual hot air we’ve been getting from Marvel since Civil War (their last true runaway success) about “exciting, all-new directions” and “big” stories, which in that time frame yielded, with few notable exceptions, some of the least ambitious comics in the medium’s history. By this point, readers can and should be greeting such proclamations with a mighty yawn, though I’m sure October will see Marvel retaking some of that market share lost to DC’s New 52. Some of those titles might even be worth the hype – Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s Thor relaunch sounds promising, and Jerome Opena on Avengers will be a blast for the three or four issues he draws before Marvel brings in Billy Tan to fill in; and oh, Kathryn Immonen and Valerio Schiti on Journey Into Mystery? That’ll be fun – but for the large part, this isn’t a revolution.
DC messed up the New 52 due to poor planning and a lot of terrible creative teams, but the reboot was audacious and that initial lineup had quite a few genuine surprises: Grant Morrison on Action Comics, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang giving a neo-noir/horror overhaul to Wonder Woman, non-superhero titles (Men of War, All-Star Western), and comics devoted to characters that weren’t sure things (Hawk and Dove, Static Shock, and Demon Knights, among others). What’s Marvel’s return volley looking like? More Avengers, more X-Men, two titles devoted to the Avengers and X-Men teaming up, and a bunch of titles that were relaunched less than two years ago (hello, Fantastic Four/FF/renumbered-again Fantastic Four). The only title that doesn’t fit the mold is Deadpool (on account of its last relaunch being in 2008), which oddly also has the only creative team – Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan, and Tony Moore – that genuinely came from left field; even then, only Matt Fraction and Mike Allred’s FF doesn’t feature any characters not already populating the rest of Marvel’s lineup, and it’s a spinoff of Fantastic Four. Nothing “exciting” or “all-new” there. DC wasn’t perfect in this regard, either, as they still relied on Morrison and Geoff Johns, and the core Batman titles went relatively unscathed (even David Finch’s wretched, pointless Batman: The Dark Knight), but there was at least some effort. All we’re seeing here from Marvel is copying DC’s gimmick without grasping what made it interesting.
Fact is, having Brian Michael Bendis take on an X-Men title after writing the Avengers (starring a few X-Men) while Rick Remender takes on Uncanny Avengers, one of the two team-up comics, after writing X-Men (and Avengers) isn’t the seismic shift Marvel wants you to think it is. Neither are any of the other “architects” writing essentially the same characters and styles that have been at the front of the superhero line for years. Where’s the truly out there announcements like G. Willow Wilson and Becky Cloonan on Avengers? A D-Man photonovel (or Italian-style comics in general)? Katsuhiro Otomo on Fantastic Four? Different genres like pirates, mysteries, sci-fi, sports, or monster comics? Even older creators like Marv Wolfman, J.M. DeMatteis, John Paul Leon, Bernie Wrightson, or Paul Pope could either bring something new to the table or something that hasn’t been seen for a while. I get that all those wouldn’t be possible, but is there any of the sideways thinking from previous decades that gave us Howard the Duck, Damage Control, Thunderbolts, and Eternals? Where’s the new ideas like Marvel Boy and The Sentry or the (quasi-)experimental stuff – Marvel Knights, X-Statix, and New X-Men - that wow people before being neutered and defanged for the purpose of having background characters in New Avengers?
Giving Kelly Sue DeConnick an Avengers title would be a step in the right direction if she weren’t playing third string to Remender and Hickman (and Immonen’s going to be overshadowed by the Thor title). Unfortunately, as we’re getting closer to the increasingly shrill Marvel NOW!’s arrival, it’s unlikely we’ll see any inspired madness. Fraction, Hickman, and Remender put a smartass, hip pose on old styles and let their artists cut loose, but at the end of the day, it’s still standard action fare which goes down easily for readers. Nothing that pokes, prods, or challenges the medium or its audience. Not necessarily terrible, but hardly worth the pomp of Marvel’s fake revolution.