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Friday, February 23, 2018 

The plus and the minus in CBR's commentary on Marvel's relaunching

Somebody at CBR had the audacity to address Marvel's "Fresh Start", where they plan to reset Avengers and several other titles from number one for the millionth time. Unfortunately, he also indirectly attacked the opposition to Marvel's social justice pandering. Let's first look at the upside to this op-ed:
With Marvel Comics announcing a line-wide overhaul of its titles this year, many fans are wondering what it means for some of the relatively new titles that are just finding their groove and the Legacy renumbering of long-established books. Based on how well previous overhauls have gone for the publisher over the last decade, it’s difficult to say.

Neither Marvel NOW! nor All-New, All-Different Marvel were the most well-received “reboots” by fans. But while the Legacy initiative is really still too young to deem it a failure, this is something that hasn’t stopped Marvel from kicking off reboots in the past. Now, some of comics’ mightiest heroes are on the precipice another potential nosedive, and it’s a shame.
This part is right. They're relaunching some of their series, major and minor, and neither of which will be served well by resetting at numero uno, because no matter the writing quality, such a reboot is not the way to go. All they had to do was announce a new team and story premise/synopsis for what they had planned, say they hoped we'd dig in, and that would've been how to market. Resetting numbers only reeks of exploitation. And now, for the downside:
Why Marvel Comics has been losing market share and good will with long-time fans has been attributed to numerous theories, some of which are quite dubious. Cries bemoaning examples of perceived “affirmative action” with regards to establish heroes facing changes in their ethnicities, gender or sexual identity has been cited (despite the fact that many of these books are some of Marvel’s most popular). Meanwhile, other readers claim the overall quality of the books has suffered due to constraints on creative teams, thus leading to low sales numbers. But the real cause might be the fact that Marvel Comics is trying to have its cake and eat it too — not by simply integrating new characters into the Marvel U, but by simultaneously embracing its long-standing mythos even as it appears to be pushing it aside.
Whoops, come again about the SJW-engineered books? Those were some of the least successful they had to offer, and without offering sales figures, they doom this part of the argument, which obviously dismisses the notion that replacing established white heroes in their costumes with characters of different race/gender/sexual orientation (or retconning them arbitrarily, as in Iceman's case) played a part in alienating readers. Though having and eating their cake simultaneously is a good way to describe the situation at hand, and does sum up their SJW-pandering tactics pretty well, even as the writer surely didn't intend it that way. And let us be clear: new characters are welcome (though ascribed ideologies they adhere to can be another matter entirely), but in their own new roles. That's not saying inheritance of legacy isn't valid - it worked for Wally West when he ascended from Kid Flash to main Flash in the late 1980s - but then, it has to be done organically, and without shoving politics and ideology onto the would-be heir, or down the readers' throats.
The biggest issue with comics in the modern era is that they are by and large hidden from the public eye. In order to obtain “floppies,” a customer has two options at their disposal. They can either go to a specialty store (if there’s one in their town) to make a purchase, or sign up for a subscription service online, be it digital or mail order. Both of these options can be quite daunting for unguided newcomers. Sure, comic book movies are the new shorthand for blockbuster cinema, but maybe if the parent studios behind them advertised their source material in any other manner beyond ads for comics in other comics, they might make some new True Believers.
But how can anybody do even that much if, thanks to any company's SJW-catering, readers lose interest and the store goes out of business? Clearly, that never occurred to the columnist, and he's certainly not interested in pondering it. I've long thought and argued that retiring the pamphlet format and turning exclusively to OGN format instead could be the next best step for comicdom, because then it'd entail a lot more responsibility, cost less and even cut down on all those crossovers that ruined comicdom ever since Secret Wars in 1984. But nobody even thinks about making the call, and the company staff don't because it'd help put a stop to their tampering antics.
The fact of the matter is, there is always room at the table for new comic book fans. For the most part, the community is made up of loving, welcoming nerds, people who want nothing more than for everyone to share in their love for the vast mythology comics has been building for nearly a century. What Marvel needs to realize is that making a launch pad for new readers doesn’t require reboots every two years. Clearly, it’s not working. Perhaps the better solution is to more effectively reach out to the masses. Comic readers are going to buy comic books no matter what (childish boycotting aside), and rebooting a bunch of titles only pushes longtime readers away — especially when story arcs and character development points are left abandoned because of it.

Despite mixed feelings fans have had about some of the books under the Marvel Legacy banner, reclaiming the triple digit numbering for many of the titles was a step in the right direction. You can bring in a new creative team, advertise a high numbered issue as “new,” and still make it work. Just look at what Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely did during their now iconic run on New X-Men, for example. The title of the book changed, but the numbering stayed the same, which indicated to long-time readers that, yes, this is still the same story you’ve been following for years. It also indicating that it could be a great starting point for people who have never read X-Men. This is how Marvel can have it both ways.
Depending which comics we're talking about, if readers buy them no matter what, that's why quality will remain bad. It practically explains why I'd be happier if comics made the next ideal step to paperback format only, because they could be sold in mainstream bookstores more easily, and then there'd be more exposure, with the added bonus that everyone could judge for themselves from an artistic perspective. In other words, more responsibility and accountability.

And of course there's always room for more new folks at the table, but if they try to come in only to force out anybody they don't like who was there before, and act like products they didn't create are literally theirs to transform into what only they think is appropriate, that's wrong. And Morrison/Quitely made just that mistake 15 years ago, the numbering notwithstanding (and IIRC, sales on X-Men were beginning to decline to much less than 100,000 copies at the time). At least the columnist makes the valid point about the folly of renumbering, but that's all.

As dismaying as it is the columnist succumbed to some of the issues that hurt comicdom, at least a few commenters on the item had good enough stuff to say. For example:
Marvel is just STUCK in a permanent "Event" mindset. Even while stating there would be no (I think it was No and not fewer) events this year, there have been several.

And I would count line-wide changes like this to be an event.

The act of renumbering doesn't actually even do anything as far as fans and new readers are concerned. Spider-man doesn't go back to the day he was bitten every 12 months, it just keeps going and then, rather than dealing with a straight line in a series, if a new reader wants to go back, they have to figure out what Volume/Event Title they are looking for in order to get to those issues.
Absolutely correct. Renumberings in themselves are little more than a publicity stunt, just what brought down Marvel in the first place. They've been doing this for over 2 decades now, ever since Heroes Reborn, and by now, it's taken a heavy toll. Another guy said:
I have, to date, NEVER seen advertisment before a movie touting comic books or local comic book stores or online stores or, well . . . anything comic book related. I have never seen anyone in the lobby on opening weekend giving out comic-related gifts or FCBD comics or drawings or, well . . . anything comic book related. I know there must be some ads out there, I just don't see them.
This has been the case for a long time, and while there may have been some attempts by DC in the past several years to advertise on radio/TV, they were short-lived and half-hearted, with poorly developed products that didn't help matters. Seeing how they've long since disappeared from the airwaves, it's clear just how well they did in the first place. Here's one more that's very accurate:
It's simple for me: high prices, turning heroes into villains and writers who attack fans online when fans don't like their stuff. Probably the biggest is simply the heroes as villains theme that every writer seems to like. Tony Stark and Carol Danvers as fascists, the Illuminati murdering worlds full of innocent people, Captain America as a HYDRA leader/agent... Loyalty, honor, freindship are just words to the marvel writers. There is no soul to the stories anymore when you realize the same character who's a hero this week was a villain the week before.
Even DC's seriously guilty of this, possibly before Marvel got around to doing it, and whether or not their writers attacked/insulted the fans who found it offensive, it's still no excuse for the reprehensible conduct they performed, and still haven't apologized for.

Let's also take a look at an article about Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson on Screen Rant, owned by the same company as CBR, telling how the couple may be finally reuniting, but the realist knows you can't trust Marvel's staff 100 percent, and they've tricked us before. Let's see what they say:
For decades now, Spider-Man fans have believed that Peter Parker and Mary Jane were the perfect Marvel couple. In fact, in 1987 Marvel actually went so far as to have the two get married. Unfortunately, the House of Ideas hadn’t really planned out how marriage would change the Spider-Man brand. Writers and editors spent the next 20 years trying to write the wedding out. In 2007 Marvel literally retconned the wedding out of existence. Spider-Man made an unlikely deal with Mephisto (Marvel’s equivalent of the Devil) at the cost of his marriage.

Fans have always longed for Peter and MJ to get back together. Now, finally, it looks as though it’s about to happen. In this week’s Amazing Spider-Man #796, Peter and MJ begin to click once again. So much so that MJ invites Peter in for dinner.
But look at what surprisingly (and deliberately?) ugly artwork they have here, for both MJ and Peter. Bad art can be a serious detractor, even if Dan Slott wasn't the writer. I don't agree with what they're saying about the editors not planning per se how the Spider-marriage would change anything. It's merely the fault of their failure to think up or accept any story pitches that could've built up MJ as a character, that's all. If anything, those who disliked it - including, sadly enough, Roger Stern - missed big chances to work things out in a style they thought could be meaningful. They could've made her a drama teacher or a social worker, and maybe even a human rights campaigner, but those ideas were never considered. The real problem - nobody at Marvel since 2007 ever planned how a deal with Mephisto would make Spidey worth reading from that point onwards.
Life has certainly taken a dramatic turn for MJ too. Nowadays, she’s no mere fashion model or would-be actress; in Tony Stark’s absence, she’s acting head of Stark Industries. MJ has gotten drawn into the superhero life once again in spite of herself. Oddly, she’s finding that she actually enjoys it, and as a result she’s certainly more amenable to hooking up with Peter again. Amusingly enough, Slott is actually moving on to Invincible Iron Man once his Spider-Man run is over, so it’s possible he’ll continue writing MJ.
And that wouldn't be good at all, seeing how bad his mind-switcheroo tale leading into the Inferior Doctor Octopus was. It's not amusing in the slightest. And what's this about "in spite of herself"? Is that supposed to imply she's some kind of selfish brat? If that's what they're saying, they're invoking an offensive narrative SJWs in the past employed, acting as though a fictional character is at fault, and not the writers. If Gwen Stacy were still around and became Spidey's wife, they'd turn against her too without hesitation. They already did, in fact, when J. Michael Straczynski was the writer. That kind of fantasy-stuck attitude is exactly what ruined tons of superhero comics.
Marvel is attempting to draw back old fans with a so-called “Fresh Start” this summer. It’s their latest relaunch, the third in four years, launched under the leadership of new Editor-in-Chief C. B. Cebulski. The relaunch comes after a disappointing and troubled 2017. Marvel’s sales dropped across the board, and many of their major plots – such as “Secret Empire” – proved particularly divisive. One of the key successes of the year was the X-Men’s “ResurrXion,” which blended new concepts and ideas with a heavy dose of nostalgia. It seems likely that “Fresh Start,” which advertises old-school heroes back in the limelight, will take a similar approach. Getting Peter and MJ back together would certainly fit with that.
Unfortunately, I've seen signs even the X-Men franchise wasn't handled correctly, including the recent artwork for Kitty Pryde that made her look masculine. That's not helpful either. But, they do have a point about reuniting Peter and MJ, albeit it would have to be by retconning away the past decade or so, not the least being the terrible Sins Past and Mephisto storylines, and the marriage should be restored to the fullest. I've got a feeling that Marvel knows that restoration could bring fans back to the fold, but if Cebulski is just a figurehead brought in because he's not as controversial as Quesada/Alonso are, then it shouldn't surprise anybody if nothing is done. Besides, look how a lot of the same bad writers - Slott, Waid, Wilson, Coates and Aaron - are still there, just shuffled around to other books, and no brand new writers brought in. Not even past writers who might have better visions like Walter and Louise Simonson, and Chuck Dixon still remains blacklisted.

That's why we can't be surprised if "Fresh Start" turns out to be stale. Many of the leading writers/editors have to be changed from top to bottom for a turnaround of fortunes to work. So far, I'm not seeing that happening.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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