Marvel NOW! Wave One: Winners and Losers

Credit: Marvel Comics

This week's release of X-Men #1 meant that the last of the initial "Marvel NOW!" launch books has now been released into the world.

It's been more than seven months since Uncanny Avengers kicked off the publishing initiative, and nearly a year since the sweeping string of relaunches and new series was first announced.

With a Wave 2 promised for the near future, here's a look at who's come out ahead in the past few months, and who might have been better off pre-Avengers vs. X-Men.

WINNERS

Superior Spider-Man: Putting Doctor Octopus's mind in Peter Parker's body and effectively killing off Marvel's most beloved character was obviously something of a risk, and one that has appeared to have paid off for Marvel.

The main series — written by Dan Slott and illustrated by the rotating team of Ryan Stegman, Humberto Ramos and Giuseppe Camuncoli — is consistently a top-seller (No. 11 and No. 12 in overall Diamond sales estimates in April) and has become something of a franchise, with ongoing series Superior Spider-Man Team-Up and Superior Foes of Spider-Man and miniseries Superior Carnage all launching in July (even if we know Peter Parker will be back eventually).

Credit: Marvel Comics

Female leads: Following the cancellation of X-23 in late 2011, observers lamented the fact that Marvel was losing their only book with a solo female lead.

That didn't stay the case for long, with Carol Danvers stepping into the title role of a new Captain Marvel series. The trend continuted into Marvel NOW!, with Sif taking over the focus of Journey Into Mystery from Loki, along with the debut of two all-female team books: Brian Wood and Olivier Copiel's X-Men, and Cullen Bunn and Will Sliney's Fearless Defenders.

Bendis's Post-Avengers books: After a historic run on multiple Avengers titles for more than eight years, Marvel NOW! represented an entirely new phase in the storied Marvel career of Brian Michael Bendis: Writing the X-Men (and more).

So far, it looks like it's worked out well, both All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men have sold well and been received warmly by fans and critics. Of course, the X-Men are one thing — Guardians of the Galaxy is another, as despite the multimedia push the characters are getting, they still are on the obscure side (for now), sans recent addition Iron Man. Yet that book has also been selling well, with issue #1 at the top of March's sales estimates.

Credit: Marvel

Doing something different: Though most of the Marvel NOW! launches were revivals of existing concepts (many of them new volumes of series that had just ended the month before), some have taken the opportunity with the new start to do something unexpected.

Rick Remender and John Romita Jr.'s Captain America took Steve Rogers away from his home country — and his home planet — and stranded him in a bizarre sci-fi epic on Dimension Z. Iron Man has spent some serious quality time in outer space, both as a part of Guardians of the Galaxy and in his own solo series written by Kieron Gillen, exploring both new worlds and his own history. And though it may have "Avengers" in the title, the controversial Avengers Arena gets credit for being a wholly new concept to Marvel.

Avengers: Following the third-highest grossing movie in history, it's easy to view anything related to Avengers as a "winner."

Yet it's definitely true from the publishing side, which now is publishing more Avengers books than ever: Uncanny Avengers, Avengers, New Avengers, Avengers Assemble, Secret Avengers, Young Avengers, Avengers Arena and the upcoming Avengers A.I. by Sam Humphries and André Lima Araújo, debuting in July.

LOSERS

Credit: Marvel Comics

(Most) Non-Marvel NOW! titles: Though most ongoing Marvel series got relaunched as part of the Marvel NOW! initiative, not all of them did — and many of the ones that didn't have either been canceled or are ending soon.

Writer James Asmus has confirmed that Gambit is ending in September, as does X-Factor. X-Treme X-Men and Age of Apocalypse have already ended, and the last issue of Dark Avengers went on sale this week.

Yet several are still running, like the multiple Eisner-wining Daredevil, the multiple Eisner-nominated Hawkeye, and fan-favorite series Captain Marvel.

Still-missing characters: The future was cloudy for many characters in the early days of Marvel NOW!, but now we know where a lot of them have ended up: Wasp in Uncanny Avengers, Vision in Avengers A.I., and Hope in Cable and the X-Force.

There are still several characters mostly unaccounted for, most notably Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, who haven't had nearly the high profile they enjoyed in recent years — it's possible that they're being saved for the Heroes for Hire or (Heroes for Hire-esque) series that Bendis has said he's been planning with Mike Deodato.

Lower-profile titles: Marvel NOW! has given several lesser-known characters a solo spotlight for either the first time (Sif in Journey Into Mystery, Legion in X-Men Legacy) or the first time in a long time (Morbius the Living Vampire).

Yet these characters appear to still be tough sells to the audience at large: Morbius #4 was No. 115 in sales estimates for April 2013, with Journey Into Mystery #651 at No. 117. X-Men Legacy was below much of its X-brethren that month at No. 75, outranking only the not-relaunched Astonishing X-Men, Ultimate Comics X-Men and the cancelled X-Treme X-Men.

High-numbered series: If a high number on a comic book series means a lot to you, now might not be a great time to be a fan.

Marvel finished what DC started with The New 52, and gave new #1s to almost all of their highest-numbered titles. The most notable exception is Journey Into Mystery, which reaches #655 in August. Beyond that, and the ending-in-September X-Factor, the next highest number is Astonishing X-Men, seeing issues #65 and #66 in August. (After that? Venom, heading to #39 that month.)

But, on the bright side to folks who like their numbers big: These things tend to be cyclical, and when the opportunity to return to a big number comes around, Marvel just might take advantage.

Quick creative-team changes: Most of the creative teams — at least the writers, and in multiple cases, the aritsts — of Marvel NOW! launch titles seem to be settling in for long-term runs on their books. Bendis has made it clear that he's looking to do something similar on the X-Men books as he did with Avengers, and Avengers and New Avengers writer Jonathan Hickman is known for his long-term plans.

But is can be disappointing to see a couple of series lose their initially hyped creative team in the first year on a book, with Daniel Way and Steve Dillon exiting Thunderbolts and Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness departing Nova. Though their replacements — Charles Soule and Jefte Palo on Thunderbolts and Zeb Wells and Paco Medina on Nova — were announced early, and appear energized to be taking over. (Savage Wolverine, starting with Frank Cho and transitioning to a three-issue story by Wells and Joe Madureira, seems to be turning into something of a Wolverine anthology series.)

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