Marvel Creates New Reader Friendly ASTONISHING Line

Marvel Announces New ASTONISHING LINE

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Inspired by the bestselling Astonishing X-Men series by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday and the subsequent run by Warren Ellis & Simone Bianchi, Monday afternoon Marvel Comics officially announced the start of a new “Astonishing” line – in-continuity Marvel Universe titles designed to appeal equally to new and existing readers.

“The industry’s top creators join forces with the world’s most popular super heroes to launch the all-new Astonishing line of comics!” reads the publisher’s description of the new initiative. “Synonymous with excellence, the Astonishing line was pioneered to be the books for both the casual and hardcore fans.”

The line begins in May with the start of two limited series – Astonishing Spider-Man/Wolverine by writer Jason Aaron and artist Adam Kubert, and the return of Astonishing X-Men in Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis by Ellis and artist Kaare Andrews!

“Each Astonishing series works as a stand alone series, set firmly in the Marvel Universe and providing the perfect starting point for all readers, new or old,” continues Marvel’s description.

The publisher claims the new series will tell, “the most epic stories of heroic action set against the back drop of the real world”, and promises that “new readers will be able to jump right into these epic adventures, while die-hard Marvel fans will also find new insights and dramatic changes for Marvel’s most prestigious characters.”

“Simply put, it’s the top creators and top characters on stories firmly set in Marvel continuity but also accessible to new readers,” added Marvel Senior Vice-President, Sales & Circulation David Gabriel in comments to Newsarama. “There’s something for everyone here — big changes and character developments for long-time fans. And, at the same time, if you’ve never read a Marvel comic you can start here.

“The success of Astonishing X-Men — as both a comic and motion comic opened the door to produce more series perfect for all the new fans coming to comic shops, under one banner. The bar was set with [Joss] Whedon and [John] Cassaday, and now the name ‘Astonishing’ is synonymous with excellence. That’s what this line is all about, from the creators to the characters.”

Gabriel said while Marvel already has a set publishing plan for the line with new titles in the works for debut later this year, he told Newsarama it was too early to reveal whether the new line will eventually include any ongoing series.

“The focus will always be on putting out the most astonishing stories we can, based on characters, creators, and timing,” said the Senior VP. “We hope to keep the creative juices flowing enough to keep these coming on a regular basis.”

Asked how “Astonishing” titles will chosen – will titles be editorially developed specifically for the line or will titles being developed that fit the criteria be selected and made part of the line? – Gabriel replied “both”.

“As always, it begins with the story,” he said, “Again, it goes back to the mission statement of this all — when we’ve got a book with top creators and top characters that seems accessible for new readers, while offering big changes that long time fans will enjoy, we’ll look at it for the Astonishing line.”

If a new line of a new-reader-friendly titles that also appeal to long-tine readers sounds somewhat familiar, Gabriel argues comparisons the original Ultimate line are not apt.

Asked how the “Astonishing” concept is different from the original “Ultimate” concept from a broad publishing perspective, he replied, “I don’t think the comparison really holds up — both are distinctly different.

“The Ultimate line has firmly established its own continuity, timeline, and Universe. With Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis, Astonishing Spider-Man/Wolverine and the other titles coming down the road, like Joss & John’s Astonishing X-Men established, are firmly in current continuity and greatly impact the involved characters.”

“Continuity” seems to the key here for the “Astonishing” line. While there was a time a previously Marvel administration (specifically former President of Publishing Bill Jemas) decided a clean sweep of nearly 40+ years of continuity was the best way to attract new readers with the “Ultimate” line, under the leadership of Marvel Editor-in-Chief/Chief Creative officer Joe Quesada and Publisher Dan Buckley, making the original Marvel Universe attractive and accessible has been greatly emphasized, with once middling Marvel Universe books like the Avengers titles now sales chart-toppers.

We asked Gabriel to describe Marvel’s view of the importance of original Marvel Universe “continuity”, and why it means so much to fans and to the publisher…

“Marvel is very proud of its history, as celebrated last year with the year-long 70th Anniversary,” he said, “During that time and through today, we have long established a sense of new-reader friendly books and events while still telling some of the greatest super hero stories ever. Astonishing isn’t a new Universe, it’s simply the easiest to point to for retailers and fans and know that you are getting something that affects both long-time customers and attracts new readers who may be daunted by the ongoing series numbering or other factors.”

As the line is being described as providing perfect both perfect starting points for new readers, as well as new insights and dramatic changes appealing to more “die-hard, hardcore” readers, putting on our devil’s advocate hat, we asked Gabriel if that didn’t sound like a worthwhile formula for all Marvel Universe titles, ongoing or otherwise.

We also asked how he’d describe the difference in execution between an Astonishing title and say a regular “Heroic Age” title like the upcoming new Avengers titles, or an event limited series like World Wars Hulks?

“I think you’re misinterpreting the mission statement for these limited series a bit,” he answered. “We work to make all our books accessible, with recap pages and lots of free resources on Marvel.Com, but these series can be read independently for someone experiencing Marvel Comics for the first time. There’s a distinct beginning with a #1 and distinct end, since these are limited series. I’m sure many readers will then branch out to the ongoing series and see the great stories we’re telling there as well.“

Finally, Gabriel told us keeping the continuity in-sync (would a dramatic change to a character in an Astonishing title be immediately reflected in other Marvel Universe titles?) is something Marvel is keeping in mind.

“I can’t get into specifics because that would ruin the twists,” he said, “but you will see changes reflected in the respective ongoing series — and the Marvel Universe as a whole.”

Look for more information on Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis and Astonishing Spider-Man/Wolverine over the next couple of days here at Newsarama…

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