<i>By <a href=http://www.twitter.com/Newsarama/>Newsarama Staff</a></i> <p>Earlier this week, we looked at <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/comics/10-best-things-current-marvel-universe.html>10 of the greatest strengths of the current Marvel Universe</a> the type of concepts and characteristics that we wouldn't want to see altered in the post-<i>Avengers vs. X-Men</i> landscape, which has been established as changing things to an unknown degree. <p>You probably could see this one coming we now play devil's advocate, presenting the 10 worst things about the current Marvel Universe. In case the post-<i>AvX</i> change is a dramatic one, tinkering with our picks for this list might not be a bad place to start for the Marvel crew. <p>Click "start here" in the upper-left corner to begin our counterpoint, and let us know your picks via the social networking links below. <p><i>Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's <a href=http://www.facebook.com/Newsarama><b>FACEBOOK</b></a> and <a href=http://twitter.com/newsarama><b>TWITTER</b></a>!</i> <p> <p>
Unlike traditional book publishers, DC and Marvel clearly owe a large part of their business to existing characters that have been around for decades. But the heroes of our time seem to have been set in stone back in 1975, with no completely new characters being created that are given the support to make a solo series work. Looking at the Marvel books coming out in July, the newest Marvel Universe title that whose character(s) aren't derivative spinoffs of an older franchise (such as <i>Winter Soldier</i> spinning out of <i>Captain America</i> or <i>Avengers Academy</i> owing its existence to <i>Avengers</i>) is Deadpool, created back in 1991. Before him? The Punisher (1974) and Man-Thing (1971). You could argue the Thunderbolts, given their debut in 1997, but the recent switch to the <I>Dark Avengers</I> title moves them to the spinoff category. <p>There's on doubt that it's a hard road to develop, market and support a wholly new character when you could borrow the built-in popularity of an already-established character and spin it off into a separate title like how the X-Men line has flourished over the years but a little new blood is always a good thing. Make no mistake, Marvel has tried on several occasions with concepts like <I>The Order</I>, <I>Guz Beezer</I>, and <I>Gravity</I>, but somewhere along the way those heroes didn't get what they needed to stay afloat in the long term. <p>Maybe it's just a fact of the industry as a whole that creating new, standalone heroes is a hard proposition in today's marketplace. But outside the Big Two we've seen several success stories with <I>Hellboy</I>, <I>Invincible</I>, <I>The Boys</I>, <I>The Goon</I>, <I>Witchblade</I> and <I>Irredeemable</I>, so it's not impossible.
A couple dozen years ago, the X-Men were not only hugely popular, but they were also relevant. The comics were a thinly veiled symbol of perseverance in the face of discrimination and persecution. <p>But these days, that symbolism has lost its potency, partly because the message has gotten a little redundant, but also because it's difficult to believe that the Marvel Universe would still be hung up on it. And the more iconic X-Men, with years of experience and success on their resumé, never seem to be victims of it anymore anyway. <p>Yet that's not even close to being the biggest problem Marvel has with the X-Men. Instead, the property's greatest negative is that it's bogged down by continuity and complicated history. Though a complex mythology has long been part of the X-Men's appeal, for a new reader, it's nearly impossible to understand who's who. There is <i>so</i> much baggage on these interconnected characters that it can be tough for even long-time fans to keep it straight.
With six to seven core titles in each of the Avengers and X-Men franchises, it's hard for fans drawn in by Marvel's recent films to know which titles "count," and which may actually give them the type of experience they're hoping to find. Marvel's taken some steps to engage this problem with original graphic novels like the "Season One" series, and the current series <i>Avengers Assemble</i> featuring the film's lineup for the team but it's been seen time and time again that what new readers want is to become involved with the current, core universe continuity and all and to still find an experience comparable to whatever appealed to them in the first place. <p>While stories like <i>X-Men: Schism</i>, and titles like the current <i>Uncanny X-Men</I> and <i>Wolverine and the X-Men</i> have been enjoyable, lapsed fans, or new fans who grew up on the cartoons and films of the last 15 years might find it more than a little off-putting that Magneto is part of the X-Men, and they can't find a title that features Wolverine, Cyclops and Storm. The answer isn't to avoid that kind of character evolution, though. Rather, it could help to centralize the stories, and add some cohesion to an increasingly sprawled set of franchises so that when anyone, old readers, new readers, and everyone in between picks up a comic with "Avengers" on the cover, they can be guaranteed a certain type of experience.
Although women have been a big part of Marvel team books like the X-Men and Avengers for decades, seeing female characters standing on their own is typically a rarity at the publisher. Currently the only female-fronted solo title at the House of Ideas is <i>Captain Marvel</i>, launching in July. Marvel has a host of potential solo female stars given their mainstream attention from movie and television appearances, but female titles still remain relatively few and far between. <p>Some might argue that DC is lucky to have a character like Wonder Woman who can hold her own series, but if the publisher hadn't kept pushing that character, hiring the right creators and creating the right situations for that character to flourish we wouldn't have an inkling of who Wonder Woman is today. In addition to WW, DC also has female solo and all-female team series with <I>Batgirl</I>, <I>Catwoman</I>, <I>Supergirl</I>, <I>Batwoman</I>, <I>World's Finest</I>, and <I>Birds of Prey</I>, which isn't even counting the non-DCU titles like <I>Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre</I>, <I>Fairest</I>, <I>iZombie</I> and <I>Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child</I>. Marvel has a deep bench of solo series hopefuls, from multi-time solo star She-Hulk, Spidey's supporting character Black Cat or even X-Men standouts like Kitty Pryde, Rachel Grey and Storm who despite her popularity has never had a solo ongoing series of her own.
Death has become meaningless in the Marvel Universe. You could've made the case for that before the last few years, of course (Peter David famously wrote that Heaven had a revolving door when it came to the X-Men at one point), but recently we've seen Captain America, the Human Torch, Thor and Bucky all "die," only to return to life soon afterwards (In the case of the latter two, less than six months after their "deaths"). <p>It's gone beyond a cliché at this point, to almost becoming a fact of Marvel's superhero line: Death not only isn't the end anymore, it's barely more worrying than any other quasi-serious injury. When that's the case, why should readers care about the outcome of any battle, or any story at all? If <em>death</em> isn't permanent, then everything else is up for grabs as well. For stories to <em>matter</em> again, there have to be consequences. Bringing back the finality of death which Marvel certainly seems to be sticking to in their Ultimate Universe would be a great start.
Event-driven storytelling has become increasingly prevalent as a storytelling model for the Big Two publishers. While this can often lead to boundary-pushing concepts and ideas, it can just as often be a hindrance to actual character and story growth. Marvel's best stories, with exception, tend to be its character-driven, easily contained tales that take place in individual titles, such as Dan Slott's "Ends of the Earth," or Jonathan Hickman's run on <i>Fantastic Four</i>. <p>Of course, that doesn't mean that books like <i>Avengers vs. X-Men</i>, <i>Fear Itself</i>, or any of their recent predecessors don't have a place in Marvel's line. But relying on these type of events leads to an environment where the status quo is less of a static concept, and more of a crescendo that waves over the entire line every six to 12 months. It's hard to get a grip on books, even those starring familiar characters, that launch and relaunch annually. For those who didn't grow up with the characters at hand, having to "forget everything you thought you knew" once or twice a year can mean you'll never actually know anything to forget in the first place.
While there is a lot to be said for having continually strong brands, the Marvel line has become increasingly reliant on just two franchises over recent years, with only eight of Marvel's current ongoing series <em>not</em> directly connected to one of the two (And even then, four of those are franchise extensions of Avengers characters: <em>Scarlet Spider</em>, <em>Venom</em>, <em>Winter Soldier</em> and <em>Journey Into Mystery</em>). <p>When you consider the bump in attention that <em>Thunderbolts</em> gained from changing its title to <Em>Dark Avengers</em>, you can see why focusing on the two juggernaut teams makes business sense, but from a reader standpoint, it makes it increasingly easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of titles connected to favorite teams. It also makes the Marvel Universe feel less interesting and less varied; if you're not into Avengers or X-Men, it can feel at times as if Marvel has nearly nothing to offer you and in the long term, that's something that could come back and haunt the publisher.
Whether Peter Parker is married or not, the dude has to be getting up there in years, and his life has often reflected it. Tony Stark has so much experience under his belt that it's starting to feel like he might need to program that suit to deal with his arthritis. And when Reed Richards recently created the Future Foundation, it felt like an elder statesman passing the torch instead of a vibrant, young hero starting a meaningful new initiative. <p>OK, maybe we're exaggerating a little, but while the movie franchises for Marvel's characters are making billions off characters that are young and new, the comics line has already established a history for these characters that implies they'll be geriatrics soon. <p>Of course, that will never happen. For a lot of logical and practical reasons, Marvel will never let their characters get too old. But given that they've never rebooted their continuity, that means someone like Cyclops has had 50 years of insane, terrible things happening to him in what amounts to about a decade of story time. It would be enough to drive someone insane well, more insane than Cyclops seems like he might already be getting in recent comics. <p>Pretty much all of their main characters have been burdened with so much continuity that it appears to be increasingly difficult to both honor that and continue to present them as fresh and accessible, which are two things Marvel seems understandably set on doing. It may only be a matter of time until Marvel decides that it's not feasible to keep serving both masters.
As of this summer, there will have been seven different Captain Marvels in a period of 45 years, a rate of one Captain Marvel for roughly every six years. <p>So, yes: The Marvel Universe is huge. It's been ongoing in one form or another since 1939's <i>Marvel Comics #1</i>, and since then has seen multiple iterations of characters, dozens of events, frequent major storylines, countless plot twists, deaths, resurrections and many continuity fixes along the way. <p>It's been built up so intricately over the years that it might also be seen as unwieldy, too flooded by its own internal logic to really live up to its "House of Ideas" moniker. <p>Wondering if this hero and villain have ever fought before? They probably have. Wonder if this story has been done? It's a safe bet. Does Iceman like dill pickles? Well, actually, an issue of <i>Champions</i> from 1976 clearly shows him declaring that he only enjoys bread and butter pickles, so guess not. (The last example is completely fictional, but used for dramatic effect.) <p>Many fans would target the fact that Marvel has never rebooted as one of their greatest strengths against their direct competition, but it's also created a fictional world that could be intimidating for new readers, and potentially limiting to creators.
In DC's <i>Flashpoint</i>, Pandora, with the help of Barry Allen, merged three related comic book universes into one, and the DC Universe comes out of it different, but familiar. <p>In Marvel's One More Day, Mephisto alters reality so that Spider-Man and Mary Jane were never married, so everything in the Marvel Universe comes out different, but familiar. <p>Anyone want to explain the fundamental difference between these two in-story developments? <p>No, relative degree doesn't count... <p>There is no continuity in the Marvel Universe. It's 50 years old. There couldn't reasonably be. What Marvel does have is a creative conceit willing fans agree to think of as continuity, a holey, threadbare patchwork of rewrites, retcons, gaps in logic, denial of time and active ignorance of incontinent truths. <p>And that's not the fault of any creator or editor, previous or current. That's simply the indelible passage of time. <p>So when fans argue that the appeal of the Marvel Universe is continuity, what are they referring to exactly? An actual acknowledgement of an historical (albeit fictional) chain of events? Or reasonable facsimile fans accept with a wink and a nod... you know, like DC has?