Marvel’s 2015 is best boiled down to one core idea that influenced the entire line: Secret Wars. For the most part, the event was successful, and sold gangbusters in spite of production delays. Several promising concepts from the event and its tie-ins made it into the mainstream Marvel Universe, giving the re-launch a unique flavor that allowed new titles such as Weirdworld and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur to blend with older series like The Invincible Iron Man and Ms. Marvel. While Marvel had a great 2015, there is always room for improvement. Here’s what the House of Ideas needs to do to keep the brain juices and cash flowing in 2016.
An All-New, All-Diverse 2016.
Diversity is a word that Marvel has wisely started adapting to in the latter part of 2015. However, some fans do not think what the publisher has done is enough. In January, Denys Cowan (The Question: Poisoned Ground) told The Washington Post that he wanted to see a greater shift in diversity from the Big Two comics companies:
“It’s always come from a specific point of view, which is what made our books work. What we also didn’t do, which is the trend now, is [to] have characters that are, not blackface, but they’re the black versions of the already established white characters — as if it gives legitimacy to these black characters in some kind of way — [that] these characters are legitimate because now there’s a black Captain America.”
Then, in August, think pieces like this ComicsAlliance story written by J.A. Micheline turned public opinion wholly against Marvel. Since then, the comics company has made a couple of important strides forward, notably announcing the publication of a brand new Black Panther series by The Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze (Wednesday Comics) and a Nighthawk title by David Walker (Shaft). However, hopefully this is only the beginning of Marvel’s efforts.
In 2016, the publisher needs to continue to further diversify their roster of writers and artists. While the publisher likely wants to utilize known talent and frequent collaborators with the books, the unique voices such creators can provide will be increasingly important as the comics reading audience diversifies as well. Ms. Marvel is living proof of just how unique a Marvel superhero story written by a minority creator can be. The inclusion of The Totally Awesome Hulk, written by Greg Pak and drawn by Frank Cho, is nothing to scoff at either.
It will also be important for Marvel to introduce brand new, diverse characters to the House of Ideas’ stable. Over the past decade, many of the publisher’s “new” characters are just slightly updated versions of pre-existing ones. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is in full stride now, and new ideas in the comics could help diversify the film and TV lineups in the future.
“No more relaunches.”
Since the start of Marvel NOW in 2012, Marvel has relaunched or renumbered their series again and again. This year, with the conclusion of Secret Wars and the beginning of All-New All-Different Marvel, it happened again. While first issues traditionally sell better than any other in a series, the quality of many of these series was damaged by Marvel’s artificial reset. Artists and writers often had to abruptly end storylines and haphazardly start new ones that fit the slightly revamped status quo, making the line feel a little bit alien. Titles that had no creative team switch had to be rebranded with a new #1 just to keep the uniformity of the product. According to Brian Hibbs at CBR, this hurt a number of titles like Ms. Marvel, Silk, and Spider-Gwen, which in large swaths appeal to readers who are not entrenched in the comics economic system and thus were confused by the series relaunches.
I really want to see Marvel stick to this new line as long as possible before hitting the reset button. According to Comics Beat Marvel Sales analyst Xavier Lancel, the market is starting to feel the effect of diminishing returns from reboots, so perhaps another one is no longer the answer to ailing sales. I don’t think it’s any surprise that fans get more jaded after each new relaunch.
Wil Moss is the Figurehead of Marvel’s New First Family
Marvel editor Wil Moss has built up an incredible pedigree over the last few years. He’s worked on major hits like Secret Wars as well as titles focusing on characters like Howard the Duck, Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!, and The Vision, who are traditionally considered C or D-list but have found new life under Moss’ leadership. and more now have their own ongoings to call home. Marvel has a good thing going with the Moss titles, and we would like to see these series continue to be published in 2016. The continued survival and success of each story and ongoing in the family going forward will be invaluable to Marvel’s success in 2016, showcasing unique perspectives on the superhero universe that appeal to non-traditional comics fans.
Why not advertise or promote these books with a heavier emphasis? The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl/Howard the Duck crossover coming up will likely be a good way for new readers to check out both titles and I hope the publisher continues to come up with clever ideas to sustain readership in both comics.
As a side note originally brought up in our All-New, All-Different Marvel Rundown column, these titles ought to have a mother figure– someone to tie these tonally similar but universally different books together. We may be seeing this mother figure role being filled by Charles Soule’s incarnation of She-Hulk, making a revival of that series more necessary than ever. Perhaps She-Hulk’s ubiquity in these quirky series could boost sales of her own solo ventures.
The X-Men line has undergone some incredibly dramatic changes post-Secret Wars, exiling adult Cyclops from the X-line and having him join the ranks of other missing-in-action heroes including the adult versions of Jean Grey and Wolverine. Extraordinary X-Men, the main X-series published by Marvel right now, is the home to most of these sweeping status quo changes. Since Avengers Vs. X-Men, it’s been incredibly admirable to watch the X-Universe continue to sew changes into the line so radically, and for the most part retain the deaths and alterations. In the future however, Marvel needs to push the plot of the X-titles further, giving the series some clear stakes. Currently, I’m baffled by how much the X-Men have seemingly meandered through the various titles without any conflict to make their cooperation truly necessary.
With a freshly relaunched line of X-books, it’s time for Marvel and the expanded X-Talents to hit the gas, offering up real threats for the teams to face. During the upcoming Apocalypse Wars event, each team will face a different major villain, allowing each series to build up to the event in its own way. It sounds like a formula for creative success. However, at the same time, while this may sound like heresy to some, an expanded large-scale event storyline bigger than Apocalypse Wars might be just what the X-Men books need right now. Forcing all the books to overlap to take on a universe-encompassing threat, if done right, could give the whole line a huge boost.
As a quick aside, it’s worth mentioning the fate of the Inhuman titles right now. Marvel is trying to make them important, but the company won’t stick to showing us one definitive staple of characters to love. The line is getting out of hand, not cluing readers in the royal family of Attilan and shaking the ground of the Inhumans too fast and loose before setting up a secure foundation. Aside from a few flashes of brilliance (Uncanny Inhumans #0, Inhumans: Attilan Rising) it is hard to get a good understanding of where these new characters are. Maybe 2016 is the year of the Inhuman? Maybe not.
Okay fine, let’s talk about the Avengers.
I’ll admit I was nervous. The ridiculous and expansive world of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers saga was coming to an end. As a die-hard fan of the vast, sprawling narrative — it was hard to even fathom a different creator coming to the franchise. The first few titles had me worried. The inclusion of Deadpool in the new Uncanny Avengers still doesn’t sit right by me. In addition, it’s incredibly difficult to completely comprehend the tone of the (new) New Avengers volume.
Thankfully, the Mark Waid (Daredevil) and Adam Kubert (Avengers Vs. X-Men) saga swooped in and made the pain of Hickman’s departure hurt less. Waid took his inventive writing skills and created a myriad of really fun, creative moments for the new team of younger Avengers in this story. Waid doesn’t seem jaded by the source material of superhero comics, instead the author seems invigorated in sticking together a team or band new younger Avengers together to trade-off pithy dialogue. Keep it up, Marvel, and the Avengers could continue to make it big this year!
Quick, dirty and honorable mentions:
Venom: Space Knight #2
This hit me hard, really hard. It’s one of the strongest narratives I’ve enjoyed from writer Robbie Thompson (Silk) and it came out of nowhere. Ariel Olivetti’s (Punisher War Journal) Venom is also still a sight to behold. Saying anything else would spoil some of the beauty and surprise, but this single issue has a wonderful illustration of the man that Flash Thompson has become since finding the Venom Symbiote and coming into his own as a character.
Howard the Duck #2
Another wonderful narrative by Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals) that functions as an incredibly dramatic story. Once again, saying anything more would spoil the surprise, wonder and beauty of the narrative, except for the fact artist Veronica Fish’s (Archie) Marvel debut is wonderful. Just don’t miss it, okay?
The Star Wars line.
This is a thing of beauty at Marvel right now. These books really are the gateway drug for new comics fans. These are the collections sitting on my bookshelf that serve to strongly entice new readers into (gasp) picking up and reading an actual comic book. It doesn’t hurt that all these stories feature astounding quality in talent. Jason Aaron (The Goddamned,) John Cassaday (Astonishing X-Men,) Stuart Immonen (All-New X-Men,) Kieron Gillen (Star Wars: Darth Vader,) and Salvador Larroca (Invincible Iron Man) managing both the core titles alongside the mini-series shipping in the background have all added up to really solid Star Wars comics filling out the line. These are some of the best-selling comics shipping from Marvel right now and for good reason. While these books didn’t necessarily need reinvigorating, Vader Down proved to be a boon to the line, serving as a great (more thematic) crossover that hasn’t interrupted the story of either Star Wars or Darth Vader.
However, there’s one huge aspect that the Star Wars comics aren’t quite nailing (yet.) Can we PLEASE get Marguerite Bennett (Angela: Queen of Asgard) on a Princess Leia ongoing ? Who’s with me? Seriously though, the Star Wars line is seriously lacking in female leads. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (for all it’s greatness) didn’t shine as much light on Captain Phasma as it could have, so perhaps the comics world is the place to fill out her backstory for the screen?
The best comic that Marvel shipped in 2015 that the publisher will continue to ship in 2016 is…
Two series actually. Secret Wars serves as a nice crescendo to the full Avengers saga. Way to go Marvel for letting Hickman and Esad Ribic (Thor: God of Thunder) finish off the story as it was meant to be told.
The other crown jewel has continued to be Thor. The first issue of this title embraced everything great about Marvel and presented a completely different side to one of the most complex heroes of the Marvel Universe (when she’s not being a hero.) The way that the first issue expanded the scope of the series and gave fantastical elements to the mundane is why Aaron and Russell Dauterman (Cyclops) are two of the strongest creators currently working at the publisher. Baked into this brand new volume of Thor are some of the highest stakes currently facing any character in the Marvel Universe. When the character was first announced on The View, fans only got half of the story that allowed one of the most underused characters in comics to live up to her full potential. Here’s to more greatness from Thor and the end of Secret Wars in 2016.
Diversity starts with a female Thor and black Captain America, but that’s not where it ends – hopefully we see more smart decisions (and no relaunch) from Marvel in 2016.