From the outside, the Marvel Now Initiative would seem to be Marvel’s response or equivalent to the DC’s New 52 reboot of their series. The Marvel Now Initiative is being publicized as an “easy entry point into the classic Marvel Universe” – although Marvel stresses that this is not the equivalent of DC’s new 52. They also state that they are adding a digital piece to encourage new readers and working with this are their “cinematic cover designs” and “redesigned costumes”(Comic Book Resources). As someone who downloads her comics from Comixology, I can tell you that digital viewing – being able to zoom in on certain panels and text – is great. The Marvel Now Initiative is not a clean slate, although issues renumber with 1, but more of a clearing of the decks- meant to make it easy for new readers to get caught up on sometimes fifty years of backstory in an easy and accessible manner.
I find myself viewing the Marvel Now Initiative, and The All New X-Men, in particular, from two different perspectives. The first, as always, is that of a geek girl; but the second looks at the new Marvel Now Initiative more objectively, and unfortunately, cynically.
The panel below, is the best, although certainly not the only, example of what The All New X-Men does incredibly well. This single page has to be one of the best combination of storytelling and artistic presentation that I’ve seen in years. In this scene, Jean Grey of the past has been brought to the future, and is asking what has happened to her in the intervening years. In order to best explain, Beast “shows” her inside his mind. This fractured image represents everything Jean Grey has been in the X-Men series and succinctly represents her entire story, from her start with the X-Men, to her time as Marvel Girl, and the Phoenix, her marriage to Scott, and her death. Each segment of this fragmented panel is a side of Jean Grey. Perhaps most powerful though, is the bottom right corner that shows our past Jean Grey bowed under the weight of all this knowledge.
To me, this panel, and the amazing cover art, gives fans exactly what they want: sharp, amazing art, and once you’ve read the issues, you realize the storytelling is just as riveting. Marvel states that they are responding to what fans want, including the addition/bringing back of the original Jean Grey. The storylines focus on the original five X-Men being brought to the future to face off against their present day counterparts. The storyline for issues 1-6 of The All New X-Men is both complicated, and simple at the same time. Scott Summers is leading a mutant Revolution (big R) with Magneto, because he feels he needs to protect the rising tide of new mutants. The remaining X-Men (Beast, Wolverine, Storm, Kitty Pride) are still at the school, but don’t relish (except for Wolverine) the idea of having to fight Scott. Beast (who it turns out is mutating again, and dying) decides to violate the space-time continuum, travel back to the past and locate the original X-Men when they first became X-Men and bring them forward to help. Beast’s hope is that when young Scott sees what he has become, he will change the timeline. There is division in the ranks, with both new and old (past and present? Someone really needs to come up with appropriate time travel language) X-Men as to whether or not Beast’s actions will unravel the universe, or solve the situation. There’s a great battle between both versions of Cyclops, some great dialogue between past and present Beast as he cures himself, and some touching moments between Beast and Jean Grey. The story is solid, and engaging.
There are lots of things right with this series, if you view it as a fan of the comics.
But, as with many other things, there is always a flip side. It’s hard not to see the Marvel Now Initiative as a money making/publicity stunt. In the wake of Marvel’s success in films, with Iron Man (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), and The Avengers (2012), the cynic (including this fan girl) would say that Marvel is interested more in the money making potential and increasing their audience which will then feed into their movies, merchandising, etc. than in the purity of the story lines. When I presented this argument to my Dad, a long time comic fan, he told me that this was always how comics operated.
He may be right. But I wish it wasn’t so.
Marvel seems to want new readers to be able to start fresh with these storylines, but they ignore what has been the biggest weakness that has plagued the X-Men storylines for years, and other titles as well – too much mess and convolution. The amount of alternate universes, and alternate timelines, as well as a ridiculous expansion of titles, have made tracking characters and storylines for the X-Men, and other titles, a hopeless, tangled corpulence that has discouraged even diehard fans. I love the X-Men, but do a quick search on a comics site and you quickly become overwhelmed with the amount of X-Men titles.
So, let’s say you’ve seen the movies, and like the characters, or had a friend suggest reading these comics, so you decide to check out some titles. Looking at everything that comes up when you search X-Men, how do you know where to start? There is no arrow pointing start here. Despite Marvel’s claims that The All New X-Men is meant to be an easy entry, it still requires knowledge of past storylines and characters. Even as a fan, I had a hard time remembering some of the things that these comics referred to. The truth is, there is no easy entry point into the series, and the titles available are not accessible to non-comic lovers. This is perhaps one reason why comics remain such an isolated, cliquish group.
How does even a dedicated fan keep up? There’s the obvious monetary expense of buying issues every week at $3-5 a pop. But there’s also the continuity issue. Marvel continues to cross titles, so that you can’t understand one without having read others. The All New X-Men, a Marvel Now title, has its basis in Avengers vs. X-Men, not a Marvel Now title. So right from the start, Marvel is starting from a place of confusion rather than a veritable ‘jumping on point’.
As a fan, I wish that Marvel had taken the opportunity with Marvel Now and used it to clear the decks a little more. I wish that the amount of titles had been reduced further, and I know there are people who will disagree with me, but I really wish we’d gone down to a single X-Men title. One title, one story, one continuity. I think this would not only make these texts more accessible to new fans, but would also reward long time fans by giving them a solid product. If Marvel wanted to do short run character arcs, fine, but don’t make them required for understanding the main title. As a fan, I am reminded of why I stopped buying weekly issues in the first place, and instead relied on omnibus editions, if I bought them at all- it’s exhausting.
While I was excited to read The All New X-Men, and love the art and story, I am exhausted simply contemplating what it would take to become totally invested in this title again. Just writing this article required purchasing Avengers vs. X-Men: Collected Edition which collects Avengers Vs X-Men #0-12, AVX: Vs #1-6, Infinite Comics #1, #6 & #10 before I even got to The All New X-Men.
But I have to tell you, my divided thoughts and feelings about comics is an ongoing battle- as I drove two hours to the nearest comic shop to peruse titles associate with the Marvel Now Initiative, I remembered why I love comics (and spent WAY too much money in that single visit). When Dad got me Avengers vs. X-Men: Collected Edition for my birthday, I squeed as only geek girls can. As I read my way through all of these, I remembered why I loved comics,and loved these characters. But it also renewed my frustrations with comics, and comic titles. As Dad says, these are not new problems, and storylines such as Crisis of Infinite Earths, and the concept of retconning characters such as Hal Jordan and Barbara Gordan, have attempted to address these issues, although rarely to anyone’s total satisfaction. Why can’t Marvel (and DC) actually reboot series? Why not say, we’re going to start fresh? How interesting would it be to see artists and storytellers like Gail Simone, Jim Lee, Brian Michael Bendis, and Scott Snyder tell the stories of Jean Grey, the Avengers, Batgirl, Superman, and Batman with all the knowledge of past history? How much better, how much more cohesive would these stories be if they weren’t having to fill a gap in the canon from fifty years ago? If they could, release details when it was best for the story?
As a fan, this is what I wish I could see. But, I guess I’ll have to learn to live without that. For geeks, our relationships with comics, and their creators/owners is usually a complicated one, and this is not different.
So for now, I’ll continue to pour over my All New X-Men and reference back to my brand new Avengers vs. X-Men: Collected Edition. Enjoying every panel, every character, and every second. And I’ll try not to think about all the ways that this relationship can disappoint me, or betray my trust.