X-Men: Apocalypse arrives in theaters this week, and while reviews have been mixed, there’s no denying that the X-Men have become a major movie franchise, with a half-dozen films so far, and plenty more on the way. It’s hard to believe these many movies began with a single comic series published by Marvel a half-century ago!
I recently re-read the first several issues of X-Men, and it was fascinating to see where and how this modern franchise was born. In celebration of the X-Men’s pending Apocalypse, I thought it would be fun to look at the team’s Genesis, in terms of the major mutant tropes that emerged in the earliest days of the X-Men!
Now, I have a confession to make. Despite my love of all things Marvel, I’ve never been a huge X-Men fan, and I’ve considered the earliest run of the book among the lesser works of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It had been several years since I read this book, and I went into my re-read expecting unsophisticated stories and a lot of growing pains as the X-Men formula gradually took shape.
What surprised me was how much of the modern X-Men storytelling DNA was baked into this series right from the start. And the most magical moment of all was when the most important element of the X-Men ethos flowered into full life in issue #5.
But that’s getting ahead of myself …
The concept of mutant student/heroes was on display right from the start. From the first page of issue #1, class was in session!
And “class,” for the most part, meant the Danger Room … though it wasn’t called by that name quite yet.
Some of the X-Men’s personalities were also on early display. Scott Summers was already a humorless hall monitor. The Beast, conversely, was initially a rough-and-tumble thuggish type … but more about him in a moment.
The X-Men were united in their admiration of the school’s newest pupil — Jean Grey. Maybe not quite united — Bobby Drake, the Iceman, was vocal in his disinterest. I’m certain Stan Lee and Jack Kirby didn’t mean for this to be more than an adolescent male expressing that girls are icky … but given that Bobby has come out as gay in recent Marvel continuity, this makes for an interesting footnote.
Most important, this first issue laid the groundwork for the core element of the X-Men mythos — that mutants are different than humans, and feared by them.
And mutants are feared with good reason! That’s right, there are evil mutants, too … And right on cue, we get a gloriously deranged Magneto, ranting about Homo Superior.
Our heroes put Magneto to flight, which earns them the appreciation of the Army. While hinted at earlier, that critical element of the X-Men — that society hates all mutants, good or evil, just for being mutants — hasn’t quite coalesced yet.
Issue #2 further wedded the X-Men with the mainstream. Cyclops and Iceman received the kind of welcome normally reserved for the likes of the Fantastic Four …
And Professor X was working directly with the F.B.I. to capture the Vanisher, communicating via some high-tech telepathic gizmo. (It might be easier to use the phone next time, Chuck!)
But there was one bit of X-Men lore that got well and truly locked in this issue — the Danger Room got its name!
Issue #3 saw the X-Men’s mission of reaching out to the world’s mutants start to come into focus, though the way Professor X was shown to do it was kind of creepy.
The Mutant-Of-The-Month was the Blob. It was amusing that Professor X had no “Plan B” if someone had the temerity of turning down an invitation to the X-Men. Someone might take a dim view of risking his neck in the Danger Room and getting bossed around by Scott Summers? Inconceivable!
The Blob clearly wasn’t X-Men material. That he used his newfound status to try to take over a circus speaks volumes … and also serves to underscore the emerging good-mutants-versus-bad-mutants theme taking root in the book.
This issue also saw the Beast reinterpreted as educated and sophisticated. In Son of Origins, Stan Lee wrote this change was because the original, rough-hewn Beast seemed too much like The Thing, from the Fantastic Four. And so the Beast started using big words and reading an advanced calculus book with his feet!
Issue #3 also introduced a pervy subplot where Professor X secretly pined for the teenage Jean Grey … but we will just pretend this never happened …
Issue #4 featured the return of Magneto, now in command of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants! Chief among Magneto’s crew were Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch — pretty much the odd-mutants-out in Magneto’s Brotherhood, and destined to to respond to the better angels of their natures and become heroes after an issue or two. But they did provide the perfect audience for Magneto to blast off again about the secret mutant war that was becoming the heart of the book.
That plot line continued into Issue #5, where there was a subtle change that really defined what made the X-Men special …
Did you catch it?
“Normal humans fear and distrust anyone with super-mutant powers! … If he’s a fellow mutant, we’ve got to help him! … We’ve got to help anyone who’s in trouble! That’s our oath!”
The friendly men-on-the-street and allied authority figures of the first few issues have given way to an ugly mob that turns against mutants because they are different … while the X-Men emerge as heroes who look out for their own kind, but also defend anyone who is in trouble, even the people who hate them.
With these two panels, the X-Men are well and truly born. The idea that our heroes were mutants, and that they were students in a school, did help to set the book apart right from the start — but these were external elements, and over time they would have been little more than gimmicks. By providing the X-Men with the internal dynamic of being hated by the outside world while still pledging to serve the common good — well, that’s a concept that could (and did!) sustain these heroes for decades to come.
Suddenly, X-Men was more than a superhero fist opera. It was a battle for hearts and minds! And the stakes couldn’t be higher, because that battle was fought inside the team itself — like in issue #8, where Beast stormed off the team after being set-upon by a bigoted mob.
“I think Magneto and his evil mutants are right!”
That’s an argument we’ve been having in X-Men to this day.
This is interesting stuff! Our four-color world is suddenly cast in shades of grey. And while it would still be a decade before the X-Men as we know them today really came together …
… you can still trace the genesis of this beloved Marvel super-team to those first, at-times-awkward issues by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Was there anything those two guys couldn’t do?
And has there ever been a longer-gestating comic book hit than the X-Men? The book was ten years in the wilderness before it turned into a phenomenon with that new team, above — ten years where the series flirted with cancellation, and was even a reprint book for a time. The reintroduction of the X-Men under Len Wein and Dave Cockrum (and Chris Claremont, who took the ball and ran with it) was pitch-perfect, using the core ideas and history of series as a jumping-off point, and introducing a colorful and (mostly) new cast of characters that connected with the audience in ways the originals never quite managed.
Given Marvel’s nature — and the necessity of keeping those trademarks fresh — I expect the X-Men would have continued to get times at bat even if the 1974 series had fizzled, but that would have been no guarantee of success. How many times has Marvel tried (and failed) to make us fall in love with the Inhumans? Deathlok, Blade, Ghost Rider … every couple years, these characters get a chance to seize the spotlight, but they’ve never pulled it off, certainly not to the degree the X-Men have enjoyed. In terms of unlikely success, I expect only the Guardians of the Galaxy rank higher in Marvel’s oeuvre, and while the Guardians used a clever comics reboot as a springboard for their success, that property has really been more of a movie phenomenon than a comic book success.
Anyway, it just goes to show that sometimes it take awhile to get it right … and that you can’t rush success. The idea and the moment have to meet, and even then, you need a lot of luck. But hope springs eternal, and one of the pleasures of being a comics fan is watching a tertiary book like X-Men or the Guardians turn into a runaway success. It’s the kind of thing that inspires collectors to hang on to even their most obscure comic books — you never know when some lame old first issue is going to turn into solid gold.
(And personally, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the Invaders, Son of Satan, and the Legion of Monsters!)
NEXT MONTH: #161 The Superman Novels of Elliot S! Maggin
4 Seconds is my original comics property, published by Mark Waid’s Thrillbent!
Here is a roundup all all the press the series has attracted so far (and this list is kept updated here, let me know if I’ve missed something!)
4 Seconds is a noir thriller about a petty thief who discovers she can see four seconds into the future. That’s just enough precognition to get into trouble, but not nearly enough time to pull off the heist that will save her sister’s life.
4 Seconds is a digital-native comic story that expands the boundaries of storytelling thanks to Thrillbent’s unique platform.
>>>>>>>> READ 4 SECONDS FOR FREE BY CLICKING HERE <<<<<<<
The 4 Seconds Team
- Writer: Paul O’Connor
Homepage, Instagram, Twitter
- Artist: Karl Kesel
- Colorist: Grace Allison
- Letterer: Troy Peteri
- Designer: Billy King
Homepage, Instagram, Twitter
- Editor: Mark Waid
Homepage, Twitter, Twitter
Making Of 4 Seconds
The 2014 Comic-Con open microphone pitch contest where I won the opportunity to create 4 Seconds.
Thrillbent blog about the contest.
Thrillbent’s Mark Waid discusses the pitch contest. Listen for the part where Mark told me “not to get hit by a bus!”
New York Daily News article about the pitch contest.
Interview at Mars Will Send No More (includes concept art!)
Interview with the creators at Diamond Comics Distributing’s Scoop.
4 Seconds Press
Thrillbent Blog announcing publication.
Facebook plug by DC Comics Group Editor Jim Chadwick.
Announcement at Between The Pages (includes cakes!)
Announcement at Comicosity.
Announcement at Bronze Age Babies (bottom)
Announcement at Mars Will Send No More!
Podcast interview with Her Dork World/His Dork World.
Podcast interview at We Talk Comics.
Review at ReGeeken.
You may have heard that there is a new Marvel movie in theaters … Captain America Civil War!
Captain America is my favorite superhero, and I’ve covered him a lot here at Longbox Graveyard. Get on board with Team Cap and prepare for the movie by reviewing these blasts from Longboxes past!
To help fill in your Captain America knowledge, I recommended these five graphic novel collections, including the iconic Captain America #1.
And since Captain America is an identity as much as he is a hero, I dedicated a whole column to the time Steve Rogers gave up being Captain America!
My heart belongs to the Bronze Age, but my favorite Captain America run is of considerably more recent vintage. Here’s my appreciation of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America!
My list of the Top Ten Captain America Villains is the most popular thing I’ve ever published at Longbox Graveyard, and it prominently features the main bad guy of this new move — Zemo!
You can get a load of Jack “King” Kirby in my Captain America Covers Gallery and my Captain America By Kirby Gallery!
And don’t miss my Captain America by Steranko Gallery, either!
Enjoy the movie … and go Team Cap!
It’s time for another Super-Blog Team-Up, where Longbox Graveyard joins with pop culture blogs from around the world to celebrate a particular comics trope. This time, in honor of this week’s release of Captain America: Civil War (and also Batman v Superman, I suppose), we’re looking at great “Versus” comics events!
For my contribution, I went all the way back to the source … to the summer of 1940, when the Human Torch fought the Sub-Mariner!
If you were expecting this titanic clash to appear on the cover of Marvel Mystery Comics #8, you could be excused for missing it. It’s easy to overlook that Torch vs. Subby sidebar on the left, especially when the dominant image features some kind of four-armed caveman gunslinger, and the Golden Age Angel coming perilously close to punching a monster below the belt.
But make no mistake — no matter what the cover might show, the first meeting of the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner was this issue’s main event!
Barely a half-dozen issues old, Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch were still the new kids on the block in 1940, but after a debut that sold nearly a million copies across multiple printings, these two new superheroes had already managed to stand out from the host of Superman imitators hitting the newsstands. It was perhaps because these characters were so different from Superman that they found an audience. Harkening to the noir world of pulp fiction, which was just now yielding in popularity to comics, Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch were anything but an embodiment of truth, justice, and the American way.
To be fair, Superman hadn’t fully evolved into that all-American paragon quite yet, either … but these new characters were still a breed apart. Carl Burgos’ Human Torch was an android who ignited into a creature of living flame when exposed to air, and who was buried alive by fearful humans before breaking free to take vengeance on the world that shunned him. In time, the Torch mastered his emotions, and become a defender of the common good, but his Frankenstein-like origins made for an unpredictable and sometimes menacing hero. And if it was unpredictability and menace that you wanted, you needed to look no further than Bill Everett’s Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, an undersea avenger that made war on the human race, and was elevated above outright villainy only by his own noble nature and a slippery moral code that (sometimes) saw Namor doing the right thing.
When our story opened, Namor was in rare form, waging a one-man war of revenge against New York city. Now, the people of New York did send Namor to the electric chair (!) the issue before, having found him guilty, more-or-less, of being a maniac. Disastrously for New Yorkers, a jolt from the chair just awakened the powers of a groggy Namor, who escaped from custody and then made Gotham pay.
What a rampage! Namor got started by flooding the Holland Tunnel with a depth charge …
… then downing a police biplane. Poor fool!
Next Subby hit the Bronx Zoo, freeing wild animals to wreak havoc.
Plus, poisonous reptiles. Couldn’t forget the poisonous reptiles.
Or the killer (!) elephant. Turn ’em all loose!
Namor suffered temporary remorse when he saw a baby threatened …
… but no sooner did he deliver the baby to a hospital than he was off to knock the top off the Empire State Building, before wrecking the George Washington Bridge!
I don’t know about you, but I love this stuff. This was Golden Age comics at their raw, heedless, unbridled best, with little concern for consequences or continuity, or even making much sense from panel to panel. The Sub-Mariner is pissed off, and he’s a freaking force of nature. What more do you need to know?
It’s on the George Washington Bridge where the Human Torch finally catches up with Namor. And … it’s not a great page. At all. There is little drama when these characters finally meet — the action is remote and restrained, the Torch is seen at a distance throughout, and Namor has his back to the audience the whole time.
You can’t win them all. Bill Everett was all of twenty-three when he created this tale. Even Everett couldn’t be a genius all of the time.
Alex Ross and Kurt Busiek render the meeting in more dynamic terms when they revisited this scene, half a century later, in the pages of Marvels #1.
But Ross and Busiek had an advantage — they could look backwards through time. Neither Everett nor fellow twenty-something creator Carl Burgos could have guessed that their crazy comics story was giving birth to the Marvel Universe. Yet you can argue that is exactly what they did — bringing these two characters together, and proving they lived in the same world, where the consequences of each character’s actions would reverberate through each other’s stories. Heroes and anti-heroes, stories told in shades of grey, big events in real cities with hapless human bystanders caught in the crossfire — that’s the Marvel storytelling DNA, right there, decades before Reed, Johnny, Ben, and Sue rocketed into space in the pages of Fantastic Four #1.
Marvel Mystery Comics was an anthology book, with separate stories of the Torch and Namor in each issue, along with characters like the Angel and Ka-Zar. This team-up was notable in that it spanned two stories in issue #8. Bill Everett’s Sub-Mariner story led the issue, and concluded with that meeting on the bridge — then Carl Burgos’ Human Torch story took over, with the Torch, now a policeman, tasked with capturing Namor on his first day on the job!
Burgos’ entry largely re-told the Everett story, from Torch’s point-of-view, but where Namor was tearing things apart, the Torch was putting them back together, herding zoo animals back into their cages, and dispatching a rampaging gorilla with a flaming right-cross.
Issue #9 continued the clash, with a twenty-two page lead feature by Bill Everett, and (finally) a cover image worthy of this tale …
The battle even rated a splash page heralding the fight as the “Battle of the Comic Century!”
In this second part, the Human Torch was mostly a punching bag — not unreasonable, given that much of the battle took place underwater.
But in a strange turn of events, Namor seemed to lose his mojo — first failing to break a bubble (!) that carried the Torch to the surface, then falling prey to chlorinated reservoir water. So, yeah, Namor is the lord of the seven seas, but keep him away from the water park!
Weakened by chlorine, and with his ankle-wings singed off by the Torch’s flame, Namor escaped by highjacking a plane, and returned to his old homicidal ways, only to think better of his actions in the very next panel. He was nothing if not mercurial, our Namor.
He was also a thinking-man’s madman, rendering the Human Torch powerless by trapping him inside a “translite tube.”
And that’s how issue #9 concluded, with readers encouraged to think how they’d break the stalemate!
So, who was the greater hero in this hero vs. hero tale — Subby, or the Torch?
How about … neither of them?
The true hero of this story — and about the only person who behaves with an ounce of sense — was policewoman Betty Dean. As Namor’s only friend among the surface-dwellers, and as a member of the police force like the Human Torch, Betty was uniquely qualified to see both sides of this conflict, and propose a peaceful solution.
The problem was that she couldn’t get these meatheads to listen to her.
How many times was Betty supposed to offer the answer before someone got the point?
Four times, by my count. Gotta give Betty points for persistence, and bonus points for telling the Torch he was a fool, right from the get-go.
And so the conflict ended sensibly — if not very excitingly — when Betty brokered a peace in the single-page conclusion to the story in Marvel Mystery Comics #10:
Of course, it would have been cooler if they’d fought.
(And Ross and Busiek seemed to agree).
But what the heck? This was the Golden Age, where anything was possible — even Subby and the Torch turning into the Get-Along Gang because Betty Dean told them to make nice. Never mind what happened to the Empire State Building, or the Holland Tunnel, or the Bronx Zoo! I’d say it was all water under the bridge — but Namor knocked the bridge down, too!
Bridge or no bridge, this story was the high-water mark for Namor’s mayhem. Succeeding stories would mostly see the Sub-Mariner venting his rage on Nazis and Imperial Japanese agents, while the Human Torch fought corruption and gang bosses in New York City.
(Well, true, there was Human Torch #5 where Namor hurled a tidal wave against New York City, but we’ll just forget that ever happened …)
The two heroes teamed again in Marvel Mystery Comics #17 to foil a Nazi attack on America, and modern Marvel continuity would team them with Captain America in the WWII hero squad the Invaders. Namor would go on to become a featured Silver Age character in his own right, after being reintroduced in Fantastic Four #4, while the Human Torch — now identified as the “Original” version, to set him apart from the Fantastic Four’s Johnny Storm — would suffer an even stranger fate in modern Marvel comics, getting bound up in the origin of the Vision, among other things.
But that’s really all too complicated, and serves only to obscure the core nature of these primal characters, who have rarely been better than in this story, in all it’s crude and unvarnished glory. My heart belongs to the Bronze Age, but sometimes the old ways are the best ways, as when fire and water clashed, with no punches pulled, at the dawn of the Marvel Universe!
Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think of the Golden Age Torch and Sub-Mariner in the comments section, below, but not before checking out these other “Versus” features from the Super-Blog Team-Up crew!
- Bronze Age Babies: Civil War, Silver Age Style — Tales of Suspense #58
- Between The Pages: Star Wars Versus
- Crapbox Son Of Cthulhu: Versus Edition
- Chris Is On Infinite Earths: Justice League of America
- Coffee & Comics Blog: Spider-Man vs Ghost Rider
- In My Not So Humble Opinion: Captain America vs Wolverine
- Superhero Satellite: Batman vs. Guy Gardner
- The Unspoken Decade: War Machine vs. Cable
- The Retroist: The Joker vs Sherlock Holmes
IN THREE WEEKS: #160 X-Men: Genesis!
I often write that Longbox Graveyard exists in a world where it is always 1978, but regular readers of this blog will know that since October of last year, I’ve been living in the now. Specifically, I’ve been reading and reviewing the sixty-odd titles that made up Marvel Comics’ latest relaunch — the awkwardly-named All-New All-Different Marvel Now!
Given my oft-voice preference for comics of the past, why did I commit to such a sustained sojourn in this current era of high cover prices and convoluted continuity?
Well, I’ll tell you.
It was all about the Treehouse.
My love of comics is bound up in nostalgia and a desire to revisit my lost youth. I expect it is the same for many older fans (and I am on the hard side of fifty). While I genuinely enjoy and appreciate comics from the 1970s, I recognize that many of the reasons I prefer them to more contemporary efforts is rooted in that self-same nostalgia. Certainly, comics today enjoy better printing standards and an overall higher level of artistic execution than the beloved books of my youth … but I still like comics from the 1960s-1980s better than today’s offerings. I always will.
Bronze is Golden
My love of these comics is wrapped up with the life I had in those years — things I’ve touched on over the last five years of this blog, like moving to Hollywood, CA in 1974, and exploring weird old comic shops along the boulevard; meeting Forest J. Ackerman and realizing for the first time that growing old didn’t mean you had to grow up; getting deeply wrapped up with fantasy fiction in general and Conan and John Carter in particular; starting new schools and getting my first girlfriend; moving away from home; starting my own tentative career as a writer and a creator … all those life events are things I associate with comic books, sometimes very specific comic books. When I remember chasing around my backyard in Hollywood, throwing my dad’s sculpting hammer at rocks and trash cans, I also think about Thor and Hercules and Firelord taking on the insane living planet Ego — both those things are equivalently real in my memory, in that long summer of ’74.
Other memories are entirely made up. Like reading comics in a treehouse.
I did have a treehouse at the Hollywood house — more like a tree platform, actually, overlooking a canyon in the Hollywood hills. I used to go up there with my toy Winchester rifle and shoot at imaginary Skrulls, something that once scrambled a police helicopter my way. (This was a high-crime time in Hollywood, and everyone was jumpy, maybe doubly so because that was the summer of the SLA, and the house that the LAPD lit up with 9000 rounds of ammo was only about a dozen miles from my house). I don’t especially remember reading comics in that treehouse, but that doesn’t matter — the idea of comics and childhood and treehouses are all bound up together, and led directly to my dropping several hundred dollars on new Marvel Comics these past few months.
In the middle of 2015 I was in a miserable place. My health wasn’t great, my best friend from my childhood was dying of cancer, and my work was providing little in emotional satisfaction. I still had enthusiasm for comics but my attention was flagging a bit, and I was entertaining the notion of winding down Longbox Graveyard entirely (I mean, I was publishing things like Top 10 Super-Dogs, for crying out loud!). I was so distraught that I decided to medicate myself with whatever felt good, eating everything in site and ballooning up to 250 pounds (don’t panic, I’m back down to 200 now), and also indulging myself in any easy bit of retail therapy that I thought would make me feel better.
fortunately, I am The Blob no longer!
I decided that reading comics in a treehouse would make me feel better. So that’s what I did. Sort of.
Marvel’s All-New All-Different relaunch intrigued me — mostly because I was desperate — and it promised easy fodder for a series of micro-reviews at Longbox Graveyard. So, instead of closing down the blog, I’d force myself to produce daily content through much of the year. With my own original comic — 4 Seconds — coming out (I thought) toward the end of 2015, it also seemed a good idea to familiarize myself with Marvel’s latest output … if I was going to be a comics creator again, then I should know a bit about my field. I resolved to buy all the #1s in the Marvel relaunch.
This was easier said that done.
Marvel solicited the relaunch with a PDF catalogue that laid out the new titles and the new creative teams, but there was no easy way for me to just push a button and get one of everything. I either had to go into a local comics shop and set up a pull list (and I am too lazy for that), or I needed to order them online, but the online options I surveyed didn’t make it easy for me to determine which books were and were not part of the relaunch. After way too much work, I assembled a scratch list of all the books that I thought were part of the relaunch (and this became my review archive, which you can visit here). Armed with this info, I opened an account with Westfield Comics, both because I remembered them from my mail order days in the 1980s, and because they offered a nice deep discount for new customers that took some of the sting out of those Marvel cover prices.
Then I forgot about it. One of the downsides of an outfit like Westfield is you secure those deep discounts by ordering months in advance, which can take some of the heat out of purchases made in the heat of the moment. And the purchase really was made in the heat of the moment, and was more than a little irrational. I’ve made much about getting rid of stuff here at Longbox Graveyard, and now here I was ordering dozens of floppy comics that I would read once and toss (or eBay, I guess). But, darn it, I was in a painful place and I just wanted a box of comics to read in a treehouse with my friends.
So when the box showed up, I rounded up some friends. Billy King, Chris Ulm, and I weren’t friends when we were kids, but it feels like we were. Comics give us a shared memory of youth that was separated by miles and years in actuality. Chris and I have been friends for thirty years, and we have a rich comics history between us, but it has mostly been professional, like when I was writing comics for Chris when he was Editor-In-Chief of Malibu Comics, or when Chris has joined me for podcasts and guest columns at Longbox Graveyard. I haven’t known Billy as long, but we have still been friends for a dozen years, and recently he pitched in with character designs and story architecture for 4 Seconds. The three of us all work together in the mobile games business, and we have lunch hours to kill, so … they were my built-in Treehouse Comics Pals, and the Treehouse itself was a spare conference room at our office, where we’d show up a couple times a week, unpack our lunches, and sort through my big box of new comics.
It was great. The experience, I mean. The comics were OK (and more about them in a moment), but the experience of getting together with my friends, and all of us kind of going back in time to read the same characters we’d loved as kids — that was nice. We’d share the books we thought were good (rarely), or bitch about the things Marvel got wrong (more commonly), or better yet just set aside the darn books and get into geekfights about Marvel’s characters and creators, or maybe we could trigger an Ulm Rant about his Malibu days and the state of the direct market or some unprintable story about the true origins of Image Comics or the Ultraverse. I should have recorded those Treehouse sessions — they would have made a dynamite podcast. But, really, it was the free and easy nature of just showing up and reading comics with friends that made the magic. There were no expectations. And over the period of weeks and months that followed, we read a lot of comics, and I got some of the healing that I needed. Things are better now. I’ve got good and caring friends. They are a blessing.
But how about those comics?
On the most basic level, they did the job. Taken as a whole, the comics of Marvel’s latest relaunch were about what I expected. Maybe a little better than I expected. There weren’t any real lightning bolts in there, but neither were there a lot of outright stinkers. I think I gave about half of the books a “thumb’s up” by saying I’d read a second issue (the only kind of review score I attached to this project). That’s pretty good. The launch was mostly B-level books with a few that might grow into something better, and a couple sad-sack titles that never should have seen the light of day. But every book in the launch had something to offer; I’m glad I read them all, both because of the joy of being in the Treehouse, and because it was educational to take such an in-depth and focused look at the state of Marvel Comics circa 2015-16.
Even after reading all those books, and writing the reviews, and arguing them out in the Treehouse with the guys, there’s still one thing I don’t understand, though.
Just who was the All-New All-Different Marvel Now supposed to reach?
Was it to attract new readers? If so, the initiative failed (and I don’t mean just in terms of sales numbers, which have been pretty soft). No, just looking at this relaunch as a jumping-on point, it earned failing grades. It spun out of a cross-over event (Secret Wars 2) that ran late and wasn’t wrapped up until well after the first wave of relaunch books hit the street, and aside from some of the books referencing some vague cataclysm that came months before, there was no spark or starting gun or anything, really, to mark the start of this new start to the Marvel Universe. Precious few of the books were genuine #1s — in too many cases, readers needed knowledge of prior continuity to make sense of what was happening (and even prior knowledge didn’t always help — I read sixty relaunch titles and never found out what happened to the Fantastic Four, or why Ben Grimm was now part of the Guardians of Galaxy). Looking back over my reviews, you will see where I noted that book after book failed to measure up for new readers. Now, sure, new readers come into ongoing comics series all the time, and figure it out as they go … but Marvel made a point of relaunching everything in their line with new #1s, and I don’t think it is too much to expect that most of these first issues would be actual first issues.
(Except that it was too much to expect).
a comic book Bigfoot, a creature every bit as mythical as a new comics reader
Was this relaunch intended to reactivate Marvel’s existing base? Maybe, but if so … it may have done more harm than good. Save from temporarily goosing the sales of some series, this relaunch doesn’t seem to have fired up the readership in any meaningful way. The relaunch didn’t create a breakout hit, and sales numbers have largely returned to pre-relaunch levels. Renumbering and relaunching is risky, as fans might as easily see it as a jumping-OFF point as a place to jump on. Renumbering ongoing series that were only in their first year (like Squirrel Girl) seemed especially unwise.
guilty as charged
Maybe the relaunch was intended to attract mainstream Marvel movie and TV fans? After all, the Avengers movie franchise is the biggest thing in the world, while the comic is lucky to sell 100K copies — theoretically there are a lot of movie fans out there who might be interested in reading a Marvel comic. But, no … while this comics line had a S.H.I.E.L.D. book that TV fans might recognize, too much was scrambled up and significantly at odds with the movie take on these characters to welcome movie fans as new readers. The All-New All-Different Marvel Now has female Thors and Wolverines; dozens of Spider-Men (and the only one of them that was Peter Parker was nearly unrecognizable as such); an old man wearing Captain America’s costume (and another geezer swinging Wolverine’s claws). There were several Inhumans books, but none for the Fantastic Four. Jessica Jones was on Netflix but nowhere to be found in the relaunch. The Avengers lineups (across all the many Avengers books) didn’t map to the canonical characters so popularly portrayed in the films. Some of these ideas worked fine in the context of comics, but they did nothing to roll out the welcome matt for film fans. Quite the opposite.
my son at the Marvel Movie Marathon several years ago … and he still doesn’t want to read comics!
Was this relaunch intended to bring back lapsed fans? Well, it did get me to buy several boxes of comics, but I was emotionally wounded and kind of in a unique situation. Neither Chris nor Billy, my Treehouse pals, were monthly Marvel readers before this relaunch, and they really haven’t changed their position. Chris may collect a few of these books in trade (something he was doing anyway), and Billy plans to collect a (very) few books up through issue ten or so, but after that, he’s out. For my part, I’m not buying any #2s, though I might catch up with a few of the series as Billy brings them in, or when they spool up on my Marvel Unlimited digital subscription service. But I have zero enthusiasm to keep up with any of these books on a monthly basis.
At best, mixed results in this area.
those kids are out there, someplace, and all grown up, too!
So if this relaunch wasn’t aimed at new readers — or even old readers — and if it didn’t drive movie fans to check out the comics, and if it didn’t drive new readers into comic shops to open up new pull lists, then why blow everything up and relaunch at all? Was it just for the sales bump? If so, it’s kind of like that Daffy Duck trick, where he blows himself up on stage. It wins the contest with Bugs Bunny, but what do you do for an encore?
(A rhetorical question, I know. We can look forward to more events and relaunches and renumbering and etc. and etc. until the business stabilizes or the last fan goes to that big longbox in the sky … but that’s a subject for a different article).
Coming out the other side of the relaunch, I do have a firm idea of what I want from Marvel Comics, though. Not that I expect Marvel to do this, but if I had magic powers, I would want a Marvel where there were fewer books but higher quality; with stories that are complete in one volume; about characters that I recognize that don’t invalidate most of what I remember about them from the Silver and Bronze Ages; with enough continuity that the stories fit together without collapsing under the weight of ridiculous trivia; provided in a format that was easy to buy and collect without making it my part-time job to scour the solicitations and place blind orders months in advance with no clear idea of what was and was not part of the relaunch or event I was trying to follow; and I want the stories to have broad enough appeal that I could share them not just with my Treehouse pals, but also with my wife and my kids and just regular friends who don’t sleep, breathe, and eat comics all the time.
It will never happen.
Except, actually, that it has.
It’s called the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
My sad realization after reading all these Marvel Comics is that the Marvel Comics I most want to read are the Marvel Movies. They hit every criteria I noted above … I get two or three movies a year, maybe a TV series, all of pretty good (sometimes great) quality, and they are major pop culture events that I can share with pretty much everyone in my life. They are the characters I know and love made fresh with contemporary interpretations that keep the best stuff from the past while ignoring the nonsense and serving up familiar surprises about what comes next.
And so for me, the future of Marvel Comics isn’t comics at all! At least, it isn’t contemporary comics … I will still go back to 1978 for a comics fix now and then. But these latest books? Good, but not good enough to change my habits. So it goes.
Ah, but … what about DC Comics, you ask? Aren’t they about to relaunch on their own, with a “Rebirth” event that will make the New 52 old news?
Well, yes they are. And it just so happens that I’ve ordered the first wave of those books, because I want the Treehouse to continue. One way or the other, I’ll be reading thirty-odd DC books this summer, and maybe more if I like what I see in the first wave.
The question for you, dear reader, is should I review DC’s Rebirth the same way I did Marvel’s All-New All-Whatever Blah Blah Blah?
Vote in my poll, below!
Thanks for reading, voting, and (I hope) commenting below. I consider all the many online friends I’ve made through Longbox Graveyard, both here on the blog and through Twitter, to be part of my extended Treehouse family, and nothing would please me more than shooting the breeze while reading a box of comics with all of you. Since I can’t do that, this blog has been the next best thing, and I will keep it going awhile longer whether I review the DC books or not. But please cast a vote, to guide me in what I should do next at Longbox Graveyard … and I will see you in the Treehouse!
NEXT MONTH: #159 Fire And Water: Human Torch vs Sub-Mariner!