Everybody enjoys a power struggle between two industry titans. Arsenal and Manchester United thrilled football fans throughout the 90s with their titanic tussles on the pitch. Stallone and Schwarzenegger enjoyed a classic box office battle throughout the 80s for the title of Ultimate Action Hero. Blood was shed, marriages dissolved and friendships destroyed whenever anybody was asked “so, do you prefer Blur or Oasis?”. Despite these unforgettable scrimmages, the one that is catching our eye right now is an altogether more civilised affair: the battle between Marvel and DC to top the comic book sales charts.
Regular DragonDarker’s will be familiar with DC’s New 52 initiative, launched last September. The decision to reboot and relaunch every one of the publishers sizable roster with new designs, origins and creative teams saw the company enjoy a huge sales spike; a spike that asserted several months of dominance over a previously-indomitable Marvel machine backed by a raft of blockbuster movies. Evidently Axel Alonso wasn’t prepared to take being outsold by Aquaman lying down, and decided that anything the Distinguished Competition can do, the House of Ideas can do better. Much like DC spun out their New 52 from an event storyline in the form of Flashpoint, Marvel have sown the seeds of their latest upheaval with their line-wide sales juggernaut Avengers vs. X-Men. As of October 2012, Marvel NOW! will be changing the face of the Marvel Universe.
Avengers vs. X-Men has been a pretty forgettable event (aren’t they all?), a slightly messy epic that could probably have been truncated to half its length without sacrificing any key story beats. It has, however, sown the seeds for the Marvellous modifications that now await us. We’ll avoid spinning the storyline to protect the trade waiting spoilerphobic, but it’s no great reveal that the surviving members of the Avengers and X-Men have buried the hatchet for the sake of homo sapien and superior relations.
The consequences of the conflict, however, have been sizable; the casualties include Captain America, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Bruce Banner, Deadpool and the Fantastic 4. Marvel are cancelling seventeen of their ongoing titles, replacing them with twenty new #1s. This tactic has caused much consternation among the comic community (I know right, comic book fans grumbling on the internet? Whatever next?) but the grousing is understandable. The Amazing Spider-Man will wrap up with issue #700, The Invincible Iron Man will bow out at #527, and the Fantastic 4 will close at #611. Meanwhile titles such as the recently-renumbered Uncanny X-Men, Mighty Thor and Captain America (most of which were relaunched following Marvel’s last event, Fear Itself) will conclude at less than 25 issues each.
Naturally, these characters will be instantly reintroduced under different banners, with reshuffled creative teams. It’s these line-ups that are causing the biggest stir, with some interesting reallocation of characters. Jonathan Hickman has had fans of Marvel’s first family in raptures with his lengthy run on Fantastic 4 and FF (seriously, check out the trade paperbacks if you haven’t already; these are the best stories these characters have enjoyed in years). His reward for reinvigorating the publishers longest-serving players is to be handed the keys to the flagship kingdom – Hickman is taking over the Avengers and New Avengers books from Brian Michael Bendis, assisted on art by Jerome Opena and Steve Epting respectively. Other Avengers books hitting the stands include a relaunched Young Avengers and Avengers Arena, a Murderworld-set Battle Royale homage.
Bendis, meanwhile, is taking on a new challenge – All-New X-Men, with Stuart Immonen. This will be Bendis’ first X-book in 616 continuity (he had a brief stint on Ultimate X-Men many years ago), and is rumoured to feature the cast of the original line-up time-travelling to the present day to discover the people they have become (it’s probably safe to say that Scott Summers will not be best pleased with what he finds).
Sticking with a mutant theme, the first book to launch from Marvel NOW!, and one that will presumably set the tone, is Uncanny Avengers. Written by Rick Remender (who has earned this shot at the big time through some excellent work on Venom and X-Force – he will also be keeping his place as Captain America scribe with The First Avenger’s rebooted #1), this team is a direct result of the events of Avengers vs. X-Men, with a new line-up of mutants and Avengers led by Havok. Uncanny X-Force and X-Men: Legacy will also be rebooting, while Wolverine will re-appear in The Savage Wolverine in early 2013.
We’ll also have to wait until January to get re-acquainted with our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, who will thankfully remain in the hands of Dan Slott, under the new moniker of The Superior Spider-Man. Big changes are promised in ASM #700 (a brave move seeing as Marvel are still struggling to placate webheads furious at the events of Brand New Day some four years ago), so this should be an intriguing turn of events. Meanwhile The Incredible Hulk will be relaunching as The Indestructible Hulk. A shame, as Jason Aaron’s run has been utterly crazy and hugely entertaining, but he will be succeeded on this title by Mark Waid, who has been hitting it out of the park on Daredevil, accompanied by the always-excellent Yenil Yu on art. Aaron himself will be heading to Asgard with Thor: God of Thunder, while Iron Man’s relaunch will fall under the remit of Kieron Gillen, caretaker of the latest Uncanny X-Men run. The Fantastic 4 and FF books are relaunching with new #1s under the stewardship of Iron Man scribe Matt Fraction alongside a brace of genuine superstar artists; Mark Bagley will be pencilling the former, Mike Allred the latter. The presence of these pencillers make these books essential additions to any pull-list.
The ever-popular Deadpool is also getting a clean slate, written by comedians Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan. His current much-maligned writer Daniel Way will also be bringing him into a controversial new government-sponsored line-up of the Thunderbolts, where he’ll be joined by Elektra, Venom, The Punisher and Red Hulk (whose monthly book will be taken over by Red She-Hulk, aka Betty Ross). Such disparate characters in a team book sounds like it could never work, especially under Way’s pen, while artist Steve Dillon divides opinion sharply, but we have to say we’re cautiously optimistic about this one. One thing’s for sure though, it will either be a thorough entertaining romp or an unmitigated disaster, with little room for compromise in between.
Are we missing anything? Well, take a look at that poster up the page – Rocket Raccoon features, but there has been no mention of a new Guardians of the Galaxy book. With a movie impending (one that is rumoured to play a heavy part in setting up Avengers Assemble 2) expect this little critter and his teammates to be making a number of cameo appearances in the NOW! universe.
With that in mind you could argue that this restructure also has one eye on the cinematic Marvel Universe, with the in-house studio desperate to reunite characters currently out of their on-screen copyright clutches such as Wolverine with Tony Stark and co. A cynical man might suggest that it call comes down to numbers on a spreadsheet, and if a new #1 is a guarantee of a sales spike then a multiplication of twenty is never a bad thing. Here at DragonDark though, we really only hope for one thing – good stories that characters we love, written by some of the biggest hitters in the comic book industry. Well, that and that the Thunderbolts book isn’t too disastrous.