If you ask most people who know me in person, they’ll tell you I don’t use curse words very often. Not compared to other people, at least, unless I’m driving. But my lack of vulgarity doesn’t come from a place of prudery or propriety. I don’t really mind curse words. I don’t care if somebody else uses them, unless it’s in a wildly inappropriate context, such as in the presence of children, or a sacred occasion like Stan Lee’s birthday. No, the reason I don’t curse very much is because I believe that doing so robs the word of its power. I know people who say the F-word as if it were a pronoun (which, to be fair, it can be), and they say it so often that nobody blinks an eye. On the other hand, if I use the F-word around people familiar with my usual speech patterns and mannerisms, I can grind an entire room to a halt. People stop talking. All eyes turn to me. A tumbleweed rolls by. Because when I use the F-word, it damn well means I have been pushed to the absolute limit and I can’t contain it anymore. Overuse steals power.
On a related note, Marvel announced this week that it’s relaunching its entire line of comics with new first issues.
This “Fresh Start” is not, as you may have noticed, the first time they’ve done such a thing. And to be fair, they didn’t do it first. Comic books from across the landscape have been cycling through relaunches and reboots for years, but the first time a major publisher did it across the board was with DC’s New 52 initiative in 2011. DC did it again in 2016 with DC Universe Rebirth. (Some people will include 2015’s “DCYou” line in this list. I don’t, though, because although several books were launched or retooled at this time, nothing specifically started over with a new first issue because of DCYou.)
The year after the New 52, which was highly successful at first, we got “Marvel Now!,” in which everything was relaunched and changed and different except for the stuff that wasn’t. DC Rebirth was a reaction to dwindling returns from the New 52, it was a course-correction intended to recover the things lost in the New 52, and almost two years later it is still largely viewed as a critical and commercial success.
In this same space of time, Marvel has done a linewide relaunch no less than five times. And although the books did go through changes at that time, those changes often didn’t seem to match up with the relaunch — creative teams stayed the same, story arcs continued. The relaunches felt increasingly arbitrary. So you’ll forgive me if the announcement of Marvel’s Fresh Start fails to instill me with confidence. Are there problems at Marvel? Absolutely. Are many of the books a mess? Without a doubt. Is a new #1 going to be the solution? Color me skeptical.
Conventional wisdom says that a first issue brings a sales boost. And that’s usually true, in the short term. Issue one sells better than issue 101. But does issue 5 sell better than issue 105? These first issue boosts are short-term solutions to long-term problems. A lot of people argue that the number on the issue doesn’t really matter, which is fair enough if you’re the sort who doesn’t care about such things. But if that’s the case, if numbers don’t matter, why do they keep going back to it? Why not just switch to the format for other magazines, which usually carry the publication date instead of an issue number? That, at least, would make it clear in which order the books were produced, which isn’t the case now.
When the Captain Marvel movie was announced, my wife was really interested and wanted to read some trade paperbacks starring the character. She gave up on that idea when we were unable to figure out which of the assorted Captain Marvel Vol. 1 trade paperbacks she was supposed to start with. Since 2011 we’ve had “Point One” issues (in which Marvel realized people weren’t reading one-shots and miniseries as much anymore so they decided to use decimal points to sneak them into the regular titles), the 2012 Marvel Now! line-wide relaunch, the 2015 All-New All-Different Marvel Now! partial relaunch, the 2016 Marvel Now! post-Secret Wars relaunch, and then last year’s Marvel Legacy relaunch, in which assorted books were brought back to their “original” numbering, in some cases using extremely specious math to arrive at a number relatively close to a “milestone” (usually defined as a multiple of 50).
So the “Fresh Start” is, evidently, intended to make things clear by starting over again, except in those cases where they keep the Legacy numbers on the cover along with the new numbers. Just typing that sentence makes my brain want to hurt. Marvel, if you insist on doing this, can you please change the title (like when Amazing Spider-Man was replaced with Superior Spider-Man) or add a subtitle (like X-Men: Blue or X-Men: Gold)? Or even just give up and switch to the TV model of “Season One,” “Season Two,” etc.?
Perhaps the most galling thing about this, though, is that the most recent Marvel relaunch isn’t even over yet. Marvel Legacy began with a one-shot that introduced things like an Avengers team from the dawn of time (that apparently won’t show up until the Fresh Start reboot) and the resurrection of the original Wolverine, in a story that hasn’t shown up except in a few “post-credits” pages that don’t make a damn bit of sense. I have to reiterate here: Marvel will still be telling stories that began in the previous relaunch when the new relaunch begins.
What the hell?
I know this sounds like I’m crapping all over Marvel. And to be fair, other publishers are by no means blameless here. Superman is getting a new first issue in June just because Brian Michael Bendis is taking over the book. Valiant restarted X-O Manowar because they figured volume 4 #1 would sell better than volume 3 #51. I don’t even know how many times they’ve restarted Youngblood.
But Marvel is the most serious offender at this point. And what’s more, it hurts the most when they do it, because with each relaunch they’re whittling away at the loyal fanbase in the hunt for a new audience that isn’t being hooked, even by the success of movies like Black Panther. While I sincerely want their comics to be good, and I have no issues with Jason Aaron on Avengers, they have yet to convince me that this is going to be a sincere effort to fix the problem (ala Rebirth) or just another Band-Aid on a gaping, gushing wound.
I want to be wrong. Come on, Marvel. Make it happen.
You may have heard, Blake and Erin have a baby, so he hopes you’ll allow him to remind you he’s got a bunch of books and short stories for sale on Amazon, and suggest you follow his author’s page on Facebook.