10 Things We Like (So Far) About Marvel NOW!

<i>by <a href=http://www.twitter.com/Newsarama/>Newsarama Staff</a></i> <p>The Marvel NOW! nearly line-wide revamp is only in its second full month, but it's been a busy one. <p>Though there are many more launches left to go, the publisher has already introduced new #1s in the form of <b>Uncanny Avengers</b>, <b>All-New X-Men</b>, <b>Iron Man</b>, <b>Captain America</b>, <b>Thor: God of Thunder</b>, <b>Indestructible Hulk</b>, <b>X-Men Legacy</b>, <b>Cable and X-Force</b>, <b>Avengers Arena</b>, <b>Fantastic Four</b>, <b>FF</b>, <b>Deadpool</b>, <b>Thunderbolts</b> and <b>A+X</b>, plus the revamped versions of <b>Journey Into Mystery</b>, <b>Red She-Hulk</b> (formerly simply "<i>Hulk</i>") and <b>Avengers Assemble</b>. <p>So with a large stack of books already accumulated, the Newsarama staff has assessed the moves that we think have definitely worked so far in this still-unfolding initiative. Those follow but, if you know how these countdowns tend to go, the other side of the coin may not be far behind. <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>

FAMILIAR NAMES RETURN

The initial Marvel NOW! announcements largely centered on creators who were a major presence in the previous era of the publisher: People like Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen, Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Ope&#241;a, Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley, Jason Aaron and Esad Ribi&#263;. <p>Yet Marvel NOW! has also brought the return of several writers and artists who hadn't been on a regular Marvel book in years: John Cassaday launched <b>Uncanny Avengers</b> with Rick Remender, Mike Allred joined Fraction on <b>FF</b>, Frank Cho is writing and drawing the January-debuting <b>The Savage Wolverine</b>, and Paul Cornell is back at Marvel with <b>Wolverine</b> (starting in March), illustrated by Alan Davis. <p>In Marvel NOW!, returns haven't been limited to creators. Several characters are back in a prominent position after time away, including Cable in <b>Cable and X-Force</b> (which co-stars Forge, also making a return), Scott Lang at the head of <b>FF</b> and the impending arrival of Wasp, Wonder Man and Sunfire in the <b>Uncanny Avengers</b> cast. (<i>Albert Ching</i>.)

BENDIS UNCHAINED

From 2004 to 2012, Brian Michael Bendis was considered the de facto head writer at Marvel. Given his work re-inventing and expanding the <B>Avengers</B> from being a single title to Marvel's tentpole franchise, and being the marathon man driving <B>Ultimate Spider-Man</B> and propping up the entire Ultimate line, he's earned his paycheck and then some. But with Marvel NOW!, Bendis is stepping aside and letting other key writers like Rick Remender and Jonathan Hickman step up into his former territory, Bendis is able to step away and explore new corners of the Marvel Universe. And that's a good thing for Marvel and for Bendis. <p>With his recent work on <B>All-New X-Men</B> he's shown a more playful side, dealing with, for him, fresh characters (though he has written plenty of mutants elsewhere, plus had a stint on <i>Ultimate X-Men</I>). He's somehow managed to convince Marvel to let him resurrect Jean Grey and not make it a train wreck like some pessimistic fans feared, and really keyed into the differences in the X-Men from their origins as a team of kids to the current status as a race of superpowered humans. <p>Like a U.S. President after he's served his terms, Bendis looks invigorated to have more freedom and focus on different things and really affect change and have fun doing it. (<i>Chris Arrant</i>.)

STARTING POINTS

Marvel NOW! has a distinct advantage in relaunching many of its core titles in the popularity and widespread recognition granted by the blockbuster <i>Avengers</i> film. Smartly capitalizing on that profile, almost all of Marvel's flagship characters have received new titles that are easily digestible and primarily self-contained. With titles such as <b>Indestructible Hulk</b>, <b>Thor: God of Thunder</b>, <b>Iron Man</b>, <b>Captain America</b> and <b>Avengers</b> all featuring Marvel's most popular characters in stories that draw on the character's long histories without relying on them, and featuring the type of portrayals that mainstream audiences have come to expect. <p>It doesn't hurt that all of those titles are entertaining and visually engaging reads, either. A big part of crafting a good jumping on point for new readers is ensuring the quality and consistency of the titles your trying to draw people to, and focusing on finding the creators with a unique vision for each character, while maintaining a consistent level of characterization means that readers can pick up <b>Avengers</b>, and get the same Tony Stark they're gonna get from Iron Man, and likewise with the rest of the characters. (<i>George Marston</i>.)

SHARED UNIVERSE, INDIVIDUAL STORIES

From the first announcement of Marvel NOW!, everyone involve made it as clear as possible that unlike DC's New 52 relaunch a year earlier it was definitely not a reboot. <p>And while Marvel's continuity not only still exists but has a major impact on some titles <b>Uncanny Avengers</b> and <b>All-New X-Men</b> are both greatly influenced by <i>Avengers vs. X-Men</i> several more Marvel NOW! launches have been much more self-contained, albeit within the backdrop of the shared Marvel Universe. <p>Rick Remender and John Romita Jr. have taken <b>Captain America</b> to another dimension entirely. <b>Thor: God of Thunder</b> is telling one story that stretches across three different timelines. Even the many <b>Avengers</b> titles are firmly doing their own things, with <b>Uncanny Avengers</b> at the mansion, <b>Avengers</b> at Avengers Tower and <b>Avengers Assemble</b> continuing to tell tales accessible to the movie audience. (<i>Albert Ching</i>.)

MARVEL TEAM-UP REDUX

Whether it be <B>AvX: VS.</B> or its successor <B>A+X</B>, what we have here, intentionally or not, is a secret modern incarnation of the classic title <i>Marvel Team-Up</i>. This idea, pairing two characters who normally don't associate with each other, was for a time a staple at both Marvel and even at DC (with <I>Brave & The Bold</I>), but in recent history it'd been a comic book formula dustier than your high school math textbook. But with it's introduction of <B>AvX</B> as the spin-off title to <B>Avengers vs. X-Men</B> this summer, Marvel finally cracked the code to get this light-on-continuity, heavy-on-hijinx concept back on comic shelves... and sell. <p>In addition to that, it's been a place where Marvel can give new writers and artists a shot; whether they be new names to Marvel or maybe artists expanding into writing. The recent <B>A+X</B> story by Chris Bachalo was something unique, and Steve McNiven's Cap/Gambit story from <B>AvX</B> this summer is still a standout. <p>And now that I think about it, the Marvel's really pulling a fast one; not only are <B>A+X</B> and <B>AvX</B> a modern version of <i>Marvel Team-Up</i> but also of another classic, <i>Marvel Two-In-One</i>. Those wiseguys. (<i>Chris Arrant</i>.)

CREATIVE SHAKE-UPS

One of the things that's made Marvel NOW! so successful and compelling is the way that the changing creative roster has reinvigorated both franchises and creators that seemed stagnant before the relaunch. <p>Characters like the Avengers, who have been under the same creative purview for so long that it seemed like no new tricks might be left, have been given a new lease on life with an influx of creative talent from up and coming writers like Jonathan Hickman and Rick Remender. Likewise, many creators, such as Matt Fraction, who were writing the same characters for years have been allowed to flex their creative muscles in new ways, reminding everyone how they got where they are. <p>The downside to Marvel NOW!'s creative redistribution has been the departure of creators like Ed Brubaker who have left mainstream comics all together, but many of those departures have paved the way for other longtime creators, such as Brian Bendis, to find new muses, or as in the case of Mark Waid, to expand their winning formula and keen wit to even more titles. (<i>George Marston</i>.)

ROOM FOR B-LISTERS

No longer are some of Marvel's excellent second-tier heroes regulated to second-tier books, as Marvel NOW! has found room to try out a number of lesser-known heroes for a shot in prime time. <p>Betty Ross (Bruce Banner's ex-wife) has her own solo book with <B>Red She-Hulk</B>, Havok is leading an Avengers team, Matt Fraction and Mike Allred's <B>FF</B> has Medusa, Ant-Man, She-Hulk and the all-new Miss Thing; and <B>X-Men Legacy</B> is giving Professor X's tortured son Legion a solo book for the first time. <B>Avengers Arena</B> is practically a who's who of Marvel younger b-list, but giving them a winner-take-all concept that could result in at least one becoming something bigger. And we can't forget Brian Michael Bendis and Steve McNiven's upcoming <B>Guardians of the Galaxy</B>. <p>Remember, Len Wein and Dave Cockrum dug up a one-note Hulk villain and put him on the path to mega-star status when they made Wolverine an X-Man, and Matt Fraction dredged Doctor Nemesis out of the back-issue bins and made him a key part of the X-Men titles these past few years. <p>Any character can be good given the right story, and it's invigorating to see Marvel delving deeper into their catalog for players in the Marvel NOW! era of their titles. Who knows, if all goes well Jason Aaron might finally get the green light to do the space trucker <B>US-1</B> revamp he's always wanted. (<i>Chris Arrant</i>.)

NOT JUST FOR WHITE GUYS ANYMORE

Something that's been nice to see from Marvel NOW! so far are headlining books for female characters. Before the launch of Marvel NOW!, Marvel only had one solo title with a female lead (And even then, <b>Captain Marvel</b> only launched this summer); now, it's joined by <b>Red She-Hulk</b> and <b>Journey Into Mystery</b>, with the cause helped by the upcoming <b>Fearless Defenders</b>, a book that may not be a solo title, but does feature an all-female team. <p>In Marvel's defense, it's a publisher that tends to concentrate on team books over solo characters in general (especially in comparison with DC), and the biggest solo characters that the publisher has tend to be the classics... which, sadly, tends means white and male. It doesn't help that previous female-centric solo titles from the publisher have tended to be dogged by low sales and early cancellation in the past , either(<em>X-23</em> and the most recent <em>Ghost Rider</em>, we hardly knew you...!). However, by following the lead of Kelly-Sue DeConnick and Dexter Soy's <em>Captain Marvel</em> and placing Betty Ross and Sif front and center in their own books even if neither of the two Marvel NOW! books got the potential sales-bump that would have come from launching with a new #1 it shows that Marvel is at least aware of the lack of gender diversity in its line-up, and taking steps to address it. <p>Now all we need is for the market to actually recognize and support Marvel's attempt to redress the balance. (<i>Graeme McMillan</i>.)

X-MEN, ASSEMBLE!

With the raised profile in the last decade and change of both the mutant heroes and their more government-enhanced/sponsored compatriots thanks to everything from films to Facebook video games, now is the time to stop the divide of "X-Men line" and "Avengers line." Indeed, that line is blurred directly and specifically in the series <b>Uncanny Avengers</b> and <b>A + X</b> but the change seems to be going deeper than just those issues. <p>Indeed, it appears the X-Men and Avengers are now one mega-franchise, and really, why shouldn't they be? There is a history of X-Men (and other mutants) joining the Avengers, from Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver to Beast to Storm and of course, Wolverine. At times Avengers have played well with the X-Men as well, like Iron Man and Carol Danvers. But having the two truly on par with one another is unprecedented. Rather than having the two "fight it out" for franchise supremacy, treating them as equals (and with people like Bendis on X-Men and Hickman on Avengers, it's hard to argue they're not) allows both to thrive, and even combine. <p>Having a Marvel Universe that is more united than ever is a welcome change after years of Civil Wars, alien dopplegangers and mutants possessed by cosmic spirits. Bring on the <b>Uncanny Avengers</b> and what it represents. (<i>Lucas Siegel</i>.)

A RETURN TO THE FANTASTIC

Whether intentionally or otherwise, the Marvel Universe has been a pretty grounded place for the most part of the last decade or so, with characters facing off against menaces that, even when as cosmic as an invasion by alien shapeshifters, felt surprisingly grounded and low-key. <p>We're only a few months into Marvel NOW!, and that already seems to be changing; Jonathan Hickman, who has long been one of the more "out-there" Marvel architects of recent years with his <b>Fantastic Four</b> run, has brought a new sense of epic scale to the <b>Avengers</b>, while Rick Remender has dropped Captain America into another dimension that's filled with pulp ridiculousness and danger. Jason Aaron, has taken Thor out of Oklahoma and into a new series that stretches throughout time, and even Brian Michael Bendis is playing around with sci-fi concepts with <b>All-New X-Men</b>'s time travel and his February-launching space opera <b>Guardians of The Galaxy</b>. <p>It may be simply the result of putting new creators with a different set of influences in charge of the Big Names of the Marvel Universe, a symptom of the anything-goes mindset felt by creators given some new toys to play with, or a concerted effort to live up to the potential of the characters as they were originally envisioned, but far more than they have done in many years, Marvel NOW! shows a Marvel Universe displaying the true influence of Jack Kirby's endless creativity and the infinite possibilities available as a result. (<i>Graeme McMillan</i>.)

10 Things We Like (So Far) About Marvel NOW!

Date: 20 December 2012 Time: 08:44 PM ET