Question 1: Reboot? Definitely not. The titles so far released are all part of the current continuity of Earth-616 (for the fellow geeks among you). In fact, several of them directly spin out of the aftermath of the year’s big Marvel “event,” Avengers vs. X-Men – a 12-issue series (not counting a multitude of tie-ins) that was sometimes exciting, occasionally clever, rarely surprising, and at least three issues too long.
First out of the gate is Uncanny Avengers, by Rick Remender and John Cassaday. Back at the beginning of Avengers vs. X-Men, Cyclops cuttingly asks Captain America why the Avengers – hailed as protectors of the planet – haven’t stepped up to protect the world’s mutants from many recent attempts to exterminate them. In Uncanny Avengers #1, Cap concedes that Cyclops had a point: The Avengers should have been there to help. So he recruits Cyclops’ brother, Alex Summers (a.k.a. Havok), to lead a sub-team of new & old Avengers tasked with protecting mutants. If you’ve read Remender’s wild, just-concluded run on Uncanny X-Force (buy the collections!), you know he can come up with crazy, exciting takes on old situations. He’s a mutant hybrid of Warren Ellis and Joe Haldeman. Based on what I’ve seen in Uncanny Avengers, he hasn’t changed, which is a good thing. Case in point: The Red Skull returns, steals something that ‘s, well, GROSS, and now has global powers of propaganda. Woo hoo!
Question 2: Appealing to new readers? In most cases, yes, with the caveat that “new readers” probably means “folks who read comics years ago and recognizes many of the superheroes from the ‘60s or ‘70s.” C’mon, how many of these illusory “new readers” are coming into a comic book store completely ignorant of comics? That said, it doesn’t make the task of appealing to those readers any easier. You have to be able to launch a new chapter in the hero’s life, while including familiar elements AND be entertaining to the regular readers of that title. Marvel’s poster children for doing the OPPOSITE of this have been the X-Men. As described here, X-Men continuity is migraine inducing. Forget about “new readers” attracted by the successful movies – even longtime fans don’t know what the hell is going on!
Another AvX follow-up offers a solution: All-New X-Men, written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Stuart Immomen. Regardless of what you think of Bendis’ writing, the concept is cool and is perfect for his style: Hank McCoy, a.k.a. the Beast, greatly disturbed by the events of AvX, goes back in time to retrieve the ORIGINAL X-Men of the Lee/Kirby days in a desperate attempt to alter the timeline and save the mutant race. For the young X-Men, the Marvel Universe of the present is a grim world. I haven’t gotten to this title yet (issue #3 is out as I type), yet the reviews have been positive, e.g. here, here, and here.
One title whose first issue I HAVE read is Indestructible Hulk, by Mark Waid and Leinil Yu. Again, it’s a good launch point for all readers. Want a Hulk and Bruce Banner that’s recognizable to anyone, whether you’re a die-hard comics reader, a fan of the Avengers movie, or someone who remembers only Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno? Here you go. Waid’s brilliant take on this is, essentially, “Hulk, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Bruce Banner finds S.H.I.E.L.D.’s current director, Maria Hill, and tells her that he’s a scientific genius, dammit, right up there with Reed Richards and Tony Stark. However, those two guys routinely get credit for saving the world whereas Banner fears that his tombstone will read “Hulk Smash.” Now, after years of trying to rid himself of the Hulk, Banner has concluded that the Hulk is an “incurable condition” (hence the “Indestructible” in the title) and he offers his big brain to S.H.I.E.L.D. in exchange for assistance in helping him manage that condition. Expecting Director Hill to be skeptical – and she’s downright terrified at times during their quiet conversation in a small-town diner – Banner arranges a test run. I’ll leave it at that.
The first issue is very smart, and the idea is so good that I’m amazed no one ever thought of it before. Damn entertaining. I’m eager to see what Waid and Yu have planned.
Recapping: To boost sales, DC Comics chose another reboot, while Marvel has gone with a massive revamp – complete with new creative teams on almost every title – yet kept the continuity intact. Is one approach better than the other? Rebooting allows for more creative freedom, since you’re not tied to the past, yet repeated rebooting creates its own problems. How can you expect to maintain continuous readership if the “reality” of the universe changes every few years? That’s like looking at your old comic books and thinking, “Oh that’s right – this no longer happened. It doesn’t count.”
It’s a similar situation on network TV, where new dramas with complex storylines have trouble attracting viewers. Why invest time and emotion in a new TV series if there’s a good chance the network will cancel it after a couple of months? (FlashForward, anyone? Alcatraz?) Discuss!