Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Why Marvel isn't Rebooting their Universe.

It's a striking image, to be sure. After weeks and weeks of throwing us bones both exciting (X-men '92!) and confusing (Age of Ultron vs Marvel Zombies? Why?), it seems the endless teasers from Marvel for their Summer 2015 event, almost certainly Jonathan Hickman's Secret Wars, have ended. They've ended on the above image, promising that everything will end. Before we get into what it could possible mean, let's talk about what we know.
For weeks now, Marvel has sent out daily teasers of past events and alternate universes, usually with some kind of twist. Planet Hulk, instead of being about the Hulk being lost on a faraway world, now seems to be about Captain America fighting twenty different alternate universe versions of the Hulk. A few days before this all started, Marvel announced their new Secret Wars event, which would be a monthly comic throughout all of 2015. It's been said to have a major effect on the Marvel Universe, and was announced with this teaser image by Alex Ross:

Looking that over, we can clearly see modern versions of Marvel Heroes battling their counterparts from the past, and from alternate universes. You can clearly see Darkdevil from MC2 and the Miles Morales Ultimate Spider-man, for example. Since this dovetails so nicely with the amount of crazy alternate universes at war that Marvel have been teasing, not to mention Hickman's current Avengers stories involving the destruction of many of these alternate universes at the hands of the Illuminati, (they're trying to save their own world, it's complicated, go read the books) it's pretty clear that everything is leading up to this massive new event next year.

So what does it all mean? There's a lot of speculation running through the internet, but the word you keep hearing is "reboot." It certainly holds up. The Illuminati's world destroying ways could come back to haunt them. The alternate universe of Marvel could go to war with Earth 616 and lay it to waste, leaving room the slate to be wiped clean, and Marvel to start their main line of comics over. But you know what? That's not what's going to happen, because it's a terrible idea. And here's why:

The idea of rebooting the entire Marvel Universe is nothing new. There were rumors flying around that this would happen when the Ultimate Universe was just starting, decades ago. Wizard Magazine (which tells you how old this idea is) ran several articles back in the day about how Marvel should simply phase out their original universe and replace it with the Ultimate Universe. The problem is this: Marvel lives and dies on its history.

Unlike their Distinguished Competition, who have rebooted major characters and an entire universe before, many times, Marvel has stayed the course - with only one (much derided) major character reboot - since its inception. There are decades of history behind each and every one of these characters, and that history is what makes each of them special. While there are parts of each character's history that we might want to forget, I would never want to read an Iron Man comic about a Tony Stark who hasn't been through Demon in a Bottle. Nor would I want to read any modern writer's attempt at updating an iconic story like that.

The counterpoint to that is that the decades of history makes it difficult to find new readers, but I think that's proven wrong by everyone reading this article right this minute. All of us who became Marvel fans through the comics had to have a starting point, and very few of us have read every issue of every comic since the 1960s. We all had a jumping on point - a moment where we started to read about our favorite characters. Comic book fans have always been good about finding the back stories they need to know, and Marvel is particularly good at filling in the blanks. In the age of the internet, it's even easier. I remember, as a kid, excitedly explaining X-men stories to my family that I had absolutely never read, but new about in detail through friends or online forums.

So if a reboot is unnecessary from the standpoint of new readers, why would Marvel want to do one? The cynical answer is a lack of ideas. Reboots in Hollywood these days seem to stem from a dearth of original content, leading screenwriters to simply create new versions of old stories in the hopes of selling a ticket. Marvel could be in the same boat, and think they can boost their tickets by, for example, reviving and killing Gwen Stacy all over again.

The problem with that thought is that Marvel has never been out of ideas. It's called the House of Ideas for a reason. The current Avengers storyline, by Hickman, is a fantastic example - characters and whole sections of the multi-verse we've never heard of before have been brought into the fold, without fans blinking an eye. Or, take a look at Dan Slott's Spider-verse, where an old villain has given rise to at least two new characters and a new way of telling stories.

Yes, some of Marvel's ideas haven't worked over the years, but that's the beauty of it all. For every Clone Saga that bombs, there's a Secret Invasion that really hits. Having grown up with Marvel, I don't believe there's any way they'd remove all of their great history and stories with a classless reboot.

So then, what does this all mean? I couldn't tell you. I do think the multiverse is going to notice the actions of the Illuminati, and go to war. I think lines will be drawn and a lot of trust will be broken. But here's my theory: Since the success of Civil War, Marvel has been popping out giant event after giant event, leading to a lot of collection weary fans. Where there's a giant event, there's fans waiting to buy the comics in trade paperback, which leads to lower sales overall. Peter David recently mentioned how much this tendency hurts comics like his excellent X-factor.

Could Marvel be making one last Giant Event, before moving away from them entirely, and refocusing around individual arcs in each book? I think that's where we're headed. Not a reboot, but a restructure. And that would be absolutely fine.

Mike Fatum is the Editor in Chief and Podcast Co-host of the Ace of Geeks. He started reading comics with the Clone Saga, and likes Kaine better than Spider-man.

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