MARVEL NOW!—so how is it?

Marvel NOW! began in October of this year, and continues through February 2013.  Unlike the DC “hard reboot” that was New 52, Marvel Now! is a “soft reintroduction” of most of its major characters with new #1 issues and new creative teams.  If you think about it, it’s a great way to spread out the sales DC saw with 52 #1 issues in one month over the course of five months.  Spreading out the #1s also helps those of us with limited budgets who can’t buy everyone in one 30-day period.  Smart thinking, Marvel!  If there’s a penny to be snatched up, leave it to the House of Ideas to figure out how to get it.

Marvel has exactly half as many “new #1s” as DC did (26 #1 issues are scheduled), but it’s also using the “event” as an excuse to cancel quite a few underperforming titles; revamp some titles that have begun to slip a bit; and introduce comic books that will more closely resemble the real moneymaker: Marvel Studios’ planned film and television projects.

Of course, if the actual comic books suck, then none of this matters.  After the break, I’m racking and rating the ones that have come out so far—being that we’re over halfway through the reboo—I mean, relaunch—and most of the major titles have come out already.  My ratings and musings appear after the break but, spoiler alert, Marvel is doing much, much better than DC.

No real surprise there, though, is there?

RATING MARVEL NOW!

THE HONOR ROLL

These are the books that show the most promise, or that came booming out of the box:

  • All-New X-Men.  Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen pick up where AvX: Consequences left off, with a new team of X-Men who are swooping into the lives of new mutants and saving them from the authorities.  On top of that, the original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby X-Men are time-traveling forward to warn the “All New” team about what a dick Cyclops is going to become.  I loved the first two issues.  It’s like Bill and Ted with mutants.  Grade: A+
  • Avengers Arena.  Between this and Cable and X-Force, Dennis Hopeless is batting a thousand.  Two high-concept books that appear derivative at first blush, two home runs.  This one, about some Young Avengers/Runaways/Avengers Academy grads/etc. trapped by Arcade and doomed to fight to the death shows extraordinary promise.  My only hope is that it doesn’t shy away from its concept by making the deaths “not real” or copping out in some other way.  But based on issue #1, this one gets an A+.

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  • Journey Into Mystery #646.  JIM switches creators and focus from the male to the female: Kathryn Immonen writes the Hel out of Lady Sif, and the artwork by Valerio Schiti is no less than amazing.  Easily the best-written dialog and character work of all the Marvel Now! titles, my fear is that this book will languish due to lack of attention.  Mutants did not need new #1s to guarantee sales.  This one did.  It’s a fantastic book that needs support.  Grade: A+

NOW! THESE DON’T CLAIM TO BE AN A-STUDENT…

These books show a lot of promise, but it’s too soon to tell if they’re better than the books they rebooted:

  • Avengers.  Jonathan Hickman is probably the exact opposite of Brian Michael Bendis in terms of style and content.  Where Bendis enjoys big action and (often too much) banter and dialog, Hickman is more a “cosmic” writer, focusing on big, science fictional themes that implicate life, the universe and everything.  So you’d think he’d be the perfect writer for a “big” team book.  But the problem with Hickman is that he tends to love his plots more than his characters, and what has always made for a good Avengers comic is the team interplay and constant motion.  And hype!  Like Stan Lee.  Bendis got that.  Hickman doesn’t.  In this book Captain America picks the folks he wants on his team based on their skill sets, and Hickman seems to be writing them the same way.  Each character is “the one who can do such and such.”  It made the book generally unrelatable.  And Jerome Opena may be a great artist, but he’s more appropriate for a shadowy title like X-Force.  Avengers demands something bold.  Jack Kirby bold.  It’s not a bad comic, it just feels more strategic than fun, more self-important than “big.”  I question whether that tone can survive as an Avengers comic—but I’m open-minded.  Grade: B
  • Cable and X-Force.  Dennis Hopeless and artist Salvador Larroca launch a second X-Force team, which they are billing as a “crime series.”  I don’t know about that, but they did a good job with the “set up” issue.  So many of the Marvel Now #1s are “assemble the team” issues, which can be clunky, but this one scores high because we see true character-based interactions between Cable and Hope, and we get a solid sense of where this series is headed.  Unlike Hickman’s or Remender’s Avengers launches, Hopeless doesn’t seem to be in love with his own concept; rather, he seems to love his own characters.  And that’s what separates the adequate from the memorable or great.  Plus, Larroca really brought his A-game.  I’m very much looking forward to this book.  Grade: B+
  • Captain America.  Issue #1 had a B-movie title: “Castaway in Dimension Z, Chapter One,” and B-movie pacing.  Unfortunately, it also had B-movie logic.  Captain America does things that simply make no sense.  Stupid things.  And then the villain does stupid things too.  Everyone is an idiot in this issue.  But John Romita, Jr., finally shows up (his art over the past few years on Avengers has been sorely lacking) and does a classic job—great stuff that reminds me why I used to say he was my favorite comic artist.  And despite the (really stupid) behavior of the characters, the book holds together and stakes out vastly different territory than that trod by Brubaker over the past million years that he’s had control over Cap.  Rick Remender does a good job at weaving in, adding to, and slightly rejiggering Cap’s origin, too—but he does it without going over the same boring ground we’ve read about countless times before.  (Nobody will ever tell Cap’s origin better than Roger Stern and John Byrne anyway—and it’s pointless to try.)  I’m looking forward to next issue.  Grade: B/B+
  • FF.  Matt Fraction and Mike Allred team up for the Future Foundation book.  It looks like they will follow what Hickman did by telling parallel stories: What’s happening to the kids while the F4 are away on missions.  But unlike Hickman, Fraction’s FF will take the place of the F4 while that team is away.  The first issue was very much an introduction to the (large) cast of characters, but it was handled very well.  Everyone seems to have a unique voice, and I’m very much looking forward to this book.  Grade: B+
  • Indestructible Hulk.  Mark Waid takes on another character-modification-and-improvement project, this time with Leinil Yu on the art.  Waid has done this already, successfully, with many heroes.  Flash, notably.  Most recently, Daredevil.  This book has every indication of being just as good.  Grade: B+

SOMEONE’S GOTTA BE AT THE MIDDLE OF THE CURVE…

These books are average.  Not bad, not great, not really an improvement from Marvel Before Now.

  • Deadpool.  This wasn’t a grand-slam homerun, but it wasn’t far a swing and a miss, either—and that’s great, considering that Deadpool is very often the star of substandard, stupid comics.  I really enjoyed the first issue, I liked (but not as much) the next two), and I’m looking forward to seeing where this creative team (Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan, and one of comics’ best artists, Tony Moore) takes the title.  Grade: B-/C+
  • Fantastic Four.  Jonathan Hickman’s take on the F4 was a heady, complicated science fiction story.  Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley pick up precisely where Hickman left off, but their tone is more playful—closer to the “easier to grasp” version of the characters that we saw in the old Lee/Kirby days.  Several other MN! books take this approach and, frankly, it’s a bit disappointing.  If I’m going to shell out four bucks for a comic, I want something in there that I can’t write myself.  This book simply establishes the same four characters we’ve known since the 1960s, without any gloss or change.  Also, the central plotline is that Reed Richards is dying, essentially because of his powers.  All-New X-Men #1 began with Beast dying due to his powers.  Is this theme going to run through all the MN! books?  Still, the comic was fun—even if it wasn’t fresh.  I’m curious enough to stick around to issue #2, but probably not much beyond that if I don’t see a major thematic hook introduced.  Maybe I’ll trade-wait this one.  Grade: B-
  • Uncanny Avengers.  Rick Remender and John Cassaday were assigned responsibility for the first MN! title, and what is promised as the “flagship” Marvel book (although in reality, All-New X-Men is more likely to be the consistent top-seller here).  After the conflict in AvX, Uncanny Avengers consists of mutants and metas, under the leadership of Captain America.  The art is, as expected, beautiful.  The story, though, is a bit unfocused and sprawling.  Remender’s imagination has a history of exceeding his grasp: Uncanny X-Force and Secret Avengers both rocketed out of the box but then became meandering, overlong journeys through largely extraneous subplots.  If he can tighten the book up, though, it has the potential to be a ripping superhero book.  Grade: B-

JOHNNY NEEDS TO APPLY HIMSELF BETTER

I won’t be sticking with these books much past the first few issues if things don’t change quickly.  Life is too short and my wallet is too thin to buy average comic books.

  • Iron Man.  After the amazing run by Fraction and LaRocca, Kieron Gillen and Greg Land had big shoes to fill.  They didn’t.  Grade: C
  • X-Men Legacy #1 (November).  Unlike just about all the other MN! titles, this one doesn’t feel remotely like a reboot.  The enemy is Legion, a character who will be unfamiliar to many and who is laden with heavy backstory, and I had no idea what was going on in this book.  Fortunately, I also didn’t care.  Grade: C-

NO

No.

  • A+X. A carry-forward of the “AvX” combat book from the Avengers versus X-Men event, in which every issue will have two stories.  Unfortunately, this is really two fragments of stories that seem designed to sell other books.  It was more like a preview comic.  For four bucks.  Grade: F
  • Marvel NOW! Point One #1.  A one-shot of six short stories that was designed solely to sell other books.  Marvel, if you’re going to make me spend money, you gotta give me something for it.  Grade: F
  • Thor: God of Thunder.  I’m not a fan of Esad Ribic, and I found this story completely dull.  That said, I think most Thor comics suck.  I can probably count on one hand the number of Thor runs I really enjoyed.  Let’s see: Simonson; JMS; the Langridge/Samnee Mighty Avenger series; the 4-issue all-ages mini with Power Pack; and Ellis’ Worldengine (which was only a few issues, anyway).  Yep, that’s about it.  Oh, and I did like that Beta Ray Bill miniseries that came out a few years ago, but that’s not a “Thor” comic.  Grade: D
  • Thunderbolts.  Awful.  Just awful.  Grade: F

And on the Marvel Now! horizon for 2013:

  • Daredevil #23.  No new #1, but a “Now!” banner will grace Mark Waid’s brilliant take on DD beginning next year.
  • Fearless Defenders by Cullen Bunn and Will Sliney.  It’s all chicks.  I’ll come for Misty Knight…But I’m not sure how long I’ll stay.  If Bunn is writing this book the way he writes Venom, I’m in.  If the Captain America Bunn shows up, I’m audi.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy by Brian Michael Bendis and Steven McNiven.  Iron Man is along for the ride on this one.  Not sure if I am, though.
  • Morbius: The Living Vampire by Joe Keatinge and Rich Elson.  I can’t imagine why this book is needed.
  • New Avenger.  More Hickman in 2013.
  • Nova by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness.  The creative team behind shovelfuls of crap (and a few gems, long ago), returns to focus on a character I’ve never, ever cared about.  This is corporate comic book making at its core, and I’m not interested in the least.
  • Savage Wolverine by Frank Cho.  I generally hate Wolverine books, and although I love the way Cho draws her, every Shanna the She-Devil comic since the classic by Steve Gerber has been a bore.
  • Secret Avengers by Nick Spencer and Luke Ross.  This book hasn’t been very good for a very long time.  Nothing I’ve seen in the promos for this book suggests that it will finally find its footing.
  • The Superior Spider-Man by Dan Slott and Ryan Stegman.  For this they cancelled the best (and probably the longest-running) Marvel comic of all time, The Amazing Spider-Man, just to make a new #1.  Shame on Marvel.
  • Uncanny X-Force by Sam Humphries and Ron Garney.  Pretty much B- and C-listers are on the team, but I’ll show up for this one because I like Psylocke and Humphries and Garney are both reliable creators.
  • Uncanny X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis and Chris Bachalo.  Why do we need this book along side All-New X-Men?  The answer: There’s still money on the table!
  • Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie.  Yes, please.
  • Wolverine by Paul Cornell and Alan Davis.  This will be the “main” Wolverine solo book.
  • Wolverine and the X-Men #19.  Sill written by Jason Aaron, this book gets the banner, too.  Not sure what it means for an ongoing series that keeps its creative staff and just splashes a banner on the cover

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