The notion that the 54-year-old Marvel Universe is going away to be replaced by a new, melded one with 2015's Secret Wars is a tough pill to swallow for some. Change can be good, but change can also be upsetting to a comfortable status quo.
Some of the folks who put the “status” in that quo are John Romita, Gerry Conway, and Walter Simonson.
Romita became an iconic Spider-Man artist in the 1960s, and later the company’s art director in the 1970s. Conway served briefly as the company’s Editor-In-Chief in 1976, but is better known for long runs writing Amazing Spider-Man, where he scripted the death of Gwen Stacy and co-created the Punisher. Simonson was the writer and artist on a 1980s Thor run that’s still talked about today. The three uniformly look at the change as Marvel’s prerogative, but vary as to what they think the future might hold.
“I think like with any idea, the execution will matter more than the idea itself. The idea of a reset is, by itself, not a bad idea,” Conway said. “The only issue creatively is to be consistent in however you choose to define it. Make sure it doesn’t feel patched together.”
Simonson is a longtime fan, having discovered Marvel comics in 1965 at a tobacco store near his college. He bought 11 titles a month at 12 cents a pop. “And that was $1.32 even a college student could afford,” he said. He knows that change is part of the journey.
“As a fan, the Marvel Universe has changed enormously since the days when I was a major reader in college. Sometimes costumes, names, or backstories might be the same, usually they’re a little different. They’ve evolved over time. As a professional, I totally understand the idea of rebooting stuff, of trying to find a new way to tell stories. I separate my fan life from my professional life. I understand why they want to do it.”
Marvel seems reluctant to use words such as “reset” or “reboot,” though Marvel Senior VP of Publishing Tom Brevoort says that “The Marvel Universe as you know it is done.” The language seems in conflict, just as Conway feel some fans may feel internally.
“[Longtime DC Editor] Julie Schwartz once told me in the late ’60s or early ’70s when I was starting out that the average reader read comics for about three years. But that changed drastically right about the time Julie told me that,” Conway said. “Readers started staying around for five years, 10 years, now 20 years and more. And the problem is that existing readers want two different things: They want growth and change, but they don’t want it to be different. And these are two conflicting, horribly conflicting, notions.”
The notions may be divided by the very generations Conway speaks of.
“My guess is new fans will be okay with it, and old fans will grumble,” Romita said. “I’m not a businessman, but I do know that comic companies, for almost 100 years now, do whatever they can for shock value. They grab attention. Personally, I hate all the goofy things they do. When I was there, I used to fight stuff like this. But you can’t stop them.”
Indeed, the wheel of a new Marvel Universe is in motion. And Simonson is not one to rush to judgment.
“I’m an empirical guy,” he said. “Maybe this is coming back out of my old geology days, but I try not to have instant reactions to things and say, ‘Oh my God! That’s terrible!’ My basic reaction is usually ‘let’s see the evidence in the field.’ Let’s come back in a year and see what we’ve got. That will tell the story.”
But in 2015’s Twitter-fueled culture, instant reactions are all the rage. You don’t have to look far to find fans trotting out the old saw of “Marvel just ruined my childhood.” Conway has a message for them.
“I would say to them, no, your childhood is still your childhood. There’s a point to be made, and it’s a universal one: We have to see that there’s a difference between what people do today, and what they did yesterday. Yesterday still exists, those stories still exist. Now someone else is getting a chance at a new childhood. And that’s nice.”