Marvel comics have long held the standard for inventiveness. They consistently outshine DC with their willingness to experiment. And they have been known to perform what some would say are seriously ballsy moves in a medium that is forced to strike a balance between a young audience who need to be kept in mind, while writing for a pre-existing audience that expects more material adult to keep them hooked.
Marvel propelled themselves out of bankruptcy in the 90’s with the smart move of putting then big name artist and lesser known (Event Comics) company runner; Joe Quesada in place as editor of their Marvel Knights line in 1998. He climbed up to editor-in-chief of the company in 2000 and was named Chief Creative Officer of Marvel Entertainment in 2010, leaving his editor-in-chief role to Axel Alonso, the Maverick EIC of DC’s Vertigo line.
Since Quesada’s tenure the company have gone from strength to strength. Quesada was onboard for hiring indy talent like Kevin Smith and Brian Michael Bendis, and off the backs of such talent the company has literally redefined the medium of comics and dragged it kicking and screaming into a new, more grounded reality for our favourite superheroes.
Beginning with the pseudo reality of the Ultimate Universe, (a literal ‘what if‘ superheroes really existed in the real world experiment that ran alongside the regular titles line) the regular 616 Universe would follow suit; undergoing a radical transformation that took the dated characters that were growing stale under old management and made them fresher and realer than any fan could have expected.
A Superhero civil war politicised capes and cowls, the fracturing of the superhero community made the faces we’d grown up fairly certain we knew inside out seem all together alien. Superheroes were suddenly dangerous again. There was fear in the air, characters were dying and the charged atmosphere of the super-real meets the super-fantastical seemed to be brimming with ideas like never before.
With the Skrull invasion, a super-villain coup during Dark Reign, a ‘good guys’ come back with Siege and now Fear Itself dominating the holiday period, I can safely say that Marvel not only deliver some of the greatest Summer Mega events I’ve read in comics across the board, but also the best character driven stories in any line at any time.
My love affair with Marvel has fluctuated over the years, with DC reigning dominant in the late 80’s early 90’s due to their strength of writers (Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Howard Chakyn, Neil Gaiman and Garth Ennis but to name a few) and a Vertigo line that pitched comics specifically for adults. But if anything Marvel have proven to be an adaptable company that in the midst of their 1990’s financial crisis and some very bland material (barring the X-titles and AGE OF APOCALYPSE which practically kept them afloat) saw them snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and turn their fortunes around literally.
Now allied with the House of Mouse with a multitude of their properties having been developed for the big screen or in the process of, it’s safe to say that Marvel are at their peak powers. They possess some of the best writers, artists and most recognisable brands on the market. They have their hooks in Hollywood along with major TV networks developing their characters into shows with major creators (Guillermo Del Toro on Hulk etc.) on board.
So why you might ask, do I think they should do a line wide reboot?
Stay with me dear reader, because I’m about to tell you:
1. The Continuity Noose:
Any fanboy knows the trials of continuity, and while it can be a treat to find out details of a characters history sifting the back issue bins and picking up collected editions, it can also be a colossal pain in the ass. Some titles and characters are mired in up to 60 + years of continuity, and while modern writers like Grant Morrison and Brain Michael Bendis have used this to their advantage, writing history spanning mysteries, and homage’s to the creators that went before them, this is an exception and not the rule. And not only is there a lot of continuity, but a lot of it is also badly written continuity we’d all rather forget.
The infamous Clone Saga that dogged Spider-man in the 90’s was a mega-event gone wrong. The terrible mutation of Wolverine post issue #100 was so bad that I cancelled the title. Ghost Riders revamping as an Orange suited, red bike wearing flaming headed gimp effectively got the title cancelled. The Onslaught Saga, Tony Stark’s death and return as his teenage self, Spider-mans Marriage being anulled by Mephisto. The list goes on, and frankly there’s a lot of convoluted, or just badly written stuff in there.
And while we can conveniently forget it, passing over it like it never happened; wouldn’t it be nice to wipe the slate clean and start over? Sure the capacity to make the same mistakes exists. It’s just as likely there’ll be some bad calls in the re-booted line. And equally, there’s nothing more refreshing than seeing a great writer redeem a terrible piece of continuity by doing something interesting with it. But a new universe with an original take would mean we could start fresh, and get to know the characters we’ve loved for years along with a new host of readers just discovering them. Not so much erasing a history as making it finite, and enriching it’s appeal with a new audience. The Ultimate Universe was the prototype, but due to it’s pre-marvel movie franchise popularity, it never really enterprised on the current appeal, nor the full potential. Now might be the time because:
2. We need more Racial Inclusivity
Its long been an issue in comics, only recently being addressed that neither women, nor the majority of ethnic characters receive as much airtime on the comic page as the superpowered white guys. Women’s place in comics is something that has been addressed greatly since the 70’s, but it’s still the case that most ethnic characters are few and far between.
This obviously has a lot to do with the fact that the majority of comics characters have existed for such a long time. Spider-man and the Fantastic Four for instance have been around since 1961. The Avengers since 1963. Captain America’s been around since 1941, where he served as a propaganda piece for the second would war. That’s 70 years of ongoing stories in the worst case scenario. So these exact same characters are still around today, mired in a massive amount of continuity. And in the case of racial inclusion, the Spider-man’s and Captain America’s were written at a time when white characters were obviously predominant on TV, in books and in Comics in general.
It would be five years later (1968) that Marvels earliest debuting Black Character: The Black Panther, would appear following his debut in Fantastic Four #52-53 and then intermittently over the next decade. He appeared along with fellow black Characters The Falcon, Blade and Luke Cage: Power Man. Although none of these characters overly prospered and were relegated to guest appearances and anthology titles. They came in as a trend spawned by the popularity of Blaxploitation, and like Blaxploitation never really found their place in the mainstream, instead garnering a more cult following.
The white exclusivity would only really change with the inclusion of characters like Storm (1975) and Photon/Captain Marvel (1982), two powerful female characters that were present on the Team rosters of the then extremely popular: X-Men and the Avengers respectively. It should also be noted that Shang Chi: Master of Kung Fu, Marvels answer to Bruce Lee debuted in 1972 when Marvel Comics acquired the comic book rights to Sax Rohmer’s pulp novel villain Dr. Fu Manchu. But once again, the character would never really go anywhere, drifting in and out of various titles over the next 30 plus years, but never really getting his dues.
Back to present day and the ethnic balance is something that is currently being addressed at Marvel, and indeed their competitors DC with a renewed vigor. A black Nick Fury and an Asian Wasp, the reinvention of Luke Cage and Shang Chi as strong mainstream heroes in the New Avengers and The Secret Avengers. Misty Knight receiving her own team book with Heroes for Hire. Marvel have done a lot to bring their books into a more inclusive age, the cherry on the cake being Miles Morales; the new Ultimate Spider-man, replacing Peter Parker as a half Black Half Hispanic incarnation of the 60 year old caucasian hero.
The Ultimate Universe has served as a testing ground for Marvel, in that if it works there, then they’ll attempt it in their mainstay titles on the core line. But if the core line were to get rebooted, then we could literally be looking at an entirely different world filled with re-imaginings of heroes we’ve known for years.
A Black Nick Fury was probably one of the best things to ever happen to the character, and would be mainly responsible for the casting of Sameul L. Jackson in the film role. We’ve already seen a Black Captain America in Isaih Bradley, depicted in the 2003 limited series Truth: Red, White & Black, by Kyle Baker. So who’s to say he couldn’t be Cap in a rebooted version of the Marvel U. Along with a Hispanic Rogue maybe. A Taiwanese Tony Jaa Inspired Iron Fist anyone? It’s time Marvel gave the Ethnic majorities more time, and while the Ultimate Universe may be able to tinker with characters as a side project, a line reboot may be just the way to do it and make it stick.
3. Moving with the Times
While it’s easy to say that Comics Characters exist independent of real time, its impossible to deny the real world influence on the titles we’ve read over the years. Even more so now that the ‘Real world’ take depicted in The Ultimates By Mark Millar and Brian Hitch is, according to John Favreau, what influenced him with his cinematic take on Iron Man. And as we know Iron Man was the starting point of a franchise monster that’s been so successful we’ve had an Iron Man sequel, an Incredible Hulk reboot, Thor and Captain America origins and we’re now getting an Avengers movie. And all are thematically as embedded in our realty as they are in the bizarre happenings of the comics surreal.
This is undoubtedly due to the growing sophistication of Comics, films and indeed Television. A lot of people point to Jason Bourne as the Birth of the Modern action hero. The Wire was the TV show that gave us sympathetic and relatable criminals as well as cops. And The Authority was undoubtedly the birth of the modern superhero, something that would be later emulated to pitch perfection in The Ultimates (By the same creative team no less).
So when Favreau sought to make an Iron Man movie he looked to the reality grounded Ultimate Universe as his muse, not the more colourful, denser and infinitely more continuity complex Marvel main line. Because the same way Christopher Nolan’s Batman is a more cerebral take on what began as a very simplistic costumed vigilante book, Marvels current heroes have followed suit to become something smarter and more sophisticated. This is super-heroism steeped in believability. The problem is, they weren’t always like that. And here’s why:
Despite costume revisions and a more modernised take on a lot of the characters, the main line characters still look and in some cases act a lot like they’ve just stepped out of the 60’s, albeit with a few slight updates. Captain America, DareDevil and Spider-man are wearing exactly the same costumes, as are villains like Magneto, Doctor Doom and a whole host of others. But it’s not just a fashion thing, it’s an over-all sensibility thing. The old sensibilities from the 60’s just don’t align with those of the new century. Morality isn’t as black and white as it used to be. The good guys aren’t always just straight laced do gooders. The villains are now demanding a level of complexity that they weren’t formerly attributed, with Films and TV painting both sides of the coin with an equal measure of empathy and creativity. Superheroes are now required to be more ambiguous than they’ve ever been. And while this is evidently becoming more of a predominant view amongst modern writers, it doesn’t change the fact that for decades beforehand these characters were very much of their times, that history still exists, and theres no real erasing it when you get right down to brass tacks.
And on the topic of pre-existing character history that’s somewhat set in stone, we have the problem of sexuality in comics, as something still largely un-tackled (though Warren Ellis and Mark Millar did a stellar job with Wildstorms: The Authority). Mostly hetrosexual characters are the norm and there’s no real diversity to relationships despite the now much more diverse range of sexual dispositions to consider. This of course is changing (Northstar of the X-Men is openly gay, although that’s about it) but it’s hard to do when the same characters have existed in the same universe and are of the same morality and same persuasion as they have been in previous decades. It leaves very little room for manoeuvre.
The simple solution of course would be to reboot the line, hence eradicating the problem of simplified ethics, bland moralities and biased sexual persuasions. We could have more fully realised villains, superheroes that don’t preach morals from the 1950’s and new characters along with old favourites that aren’t confined to being of the same gender or sexual persuasion. This would add an interesting twist for an old army of fans along with making something incredibly relevant for the current generation. And if anyone has the balls to do it, it’s Marvel.
4. Movie Marketability
Right now the Marvel movies are dragging in massive profits. This is because it’s currently within their ability to make the things that could once only be represented on a page into the CGI resplendent filmic realties that most geeks had only ever dreamed of. And in the process the mainstream have been given the taste of what was formerly a forbidden fruit. Its no longer taboo to be a geek. As virtually anyone can go to the movies and enjoy these films, that decades ago were limited to being a comic book source, solely for those willing enough to take the crap for reading them.
With this said, the audience for comic characters has basically multiplied times a million. Reading a comic isn’t un-cool if you can watch a movie or a TV show based on the same thing. Some backwards thinking on the subject may still exist, but the prevalent view is that its currently chic to be a geek, and nerdism has slowly worked its way into the zeitgeist. With Marvel’s properties so readily accessible to the general public what better time to make their comic line as accessible to a hero hungry audience than now. They just have to shrug loose the years of hard to navigate, hard to assimilate continuity in favour of something that will not only attract a whole new, yet pre-existing fan base, but make them a shed load of cash in the process. It’d almost be rude not to, and who better to learn from than:
5. Stan The Man
No Matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to ignore Stan Lee’s contribution to the medium of comics. He may not have created the idea of the superhero, but the reason your reading this, is because he did something with the medium that had never been done before. That’s right, Stan Lee rebooted superheroes. And he did it so well that they are now, over 60 years later, not only still going strong, but massively popular to the point of prevalence.
Lee doesn’t deserve all the credit though, but consider this excerpt from his Wikipedia profile and you’ll realise just how important he is: “Lee acted on that advice, giving his superheroes a flawed humanity, a change from the ideal archetypes that were typically written for pre-teens. His heroes could have bad tempers, melancholy fits, vanity, greed, etc. They bickered amongst themselves, worried about paying their bills and impressing girlfriends, got bored or even were sometimes physically ill. Before him, most superheroes were idealistically perfect people with no serious, lasting problems”
Thus it was that realistic Superheroes by the 60′s standards became the standard, and so the modern superhero was born or reborn as the case may be. And what bigger advocating can there be for change than Stan ‘the Man’ Lee unveiled as the progenator, the original re-booter. And were it not for him we wouldn’t currently see superheroes with the level of success and accolade that they have since received. If Stan, the Comics equivalent of Hugh Hefner meets Howard Hawkes saw reboots as a great Idea, then you can hardly say he was wrong.
So there you have it. Reboots aren’t just a fad, or a gimmick. They are closer to a cultural necessity. They are the semi-organic process of death and rebirth, that they as a product of a continually culturally evolving species must go through in order to maintain our interest in them and their relevance to us.
And yes, it’s hard to argue that Marvel don’t put out some of the most quality entertainment on the Market. They have for years. So should they shake things up a bit when they are still doing so well? Hell yes they should!! Will it benefit them to do so? Time will only tell. But if my guess is right, and I think it is; then 60 years down the line our ancestors will be having this exact same debate, over these exact same, yet slightly different versions of the classic heroes we grew up with while Marvel, and comics in general continue to propser.
Except we’ll probably be reading them in 4D. In the Post Apocalypse.marvel, Stan Lee