Thee Comic Column: Goodbye Marvel Universe Hello… Battleworld?

NEOeY2HqTwZgSS_1_3It is not a coincidence that my previous column outlined my plans to leave Marvel Comics as a monthly reader and then a scant two weeks later we get the massive announcement that the House of Ideas is destroying their 75 year-old Universe – as well as their 15 year old Ultimate Universe – in a major continuity upheaval come May. No, that was not a coincidence at all. My inner comics circle know I kinda called this after juxtaposing second hand information about Jonathan Hickman’s current “World’s Collide” storyline in his Avengers books with the very ‘real’ sentiment Marvel editorial staff seemed to be approaching the recent Death of Wolverine storyline with. However, though leaving the Marvel fold so to speak, I do not do so with the vitriol some have bore this world-rending news. I simply see this moment as what my friend Louis has called a perfect “jumping off point”. Am I upset? Outraged? No, not really. Am I skeptical? Perhaps, but maybe more than anything else I am actually quite confused at how I have interpreted the news and intend to use this week’s column to jot down my own thoughts for the first time and really get to the bottom of how I – an essentially life-long Marvel fan – feel about the company razing all that has come before and carrying on in a new direction.

Here goes.

When DC launched the New52 two-and-a-half years ago they did so with, what I’ve always felt was, a complete lack of respect for the fans. Sure, people like something new and a modern spin on an old idea can really get the creative juices flowing again. However, to wipe away 70+ years of beloved continuity just so you can start the game afresh is, while potentially a good idea for revitalizing concepts or characters some may see as tired, a bit disrespectful to the people who have made those stories beloved in the first place. I know, I know, they’re only comics. Still, if you read them, I mean if you truly love to read them and follow them, then you bond with moments in those stories. And while it’s looong been commonplace to bring back the dead or shuffle and then re-shuffle the deck in comics, that doesn’t necessarily make it okay. The ludicrous ‘collector’ mentality – yeah, the one that seriously hurt the credibility of the industry in the 90s – has always made these kinds of fickle changes massively ‘acceptable’ with the comic book reading audience at large, but that doesn’t mean it also hasn’t slowly chipped away the ability for a story to have power, and I mean real power. Take that away, and you have ‘just comics’, and that’s something I for one have never wanted to have.

“Just comics”.

The moments that have made me a lifelong comic fan are the ones that pulled real “Holy shite!” moments out of thin area: Kraven putting a shotgun in his mouth and blowing his brains out; N’astirh and S’ym’s demons sacrificing twelve babies to bring about a giant pentagram in the sky that subsequently turned New York into a fire and brimstone hell dimension; the betrayal of a seemingly impenetrable friendship in Preacher; Damien Wayne’s death at the hands of his ‘brother'; almost every single issue of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. These are but a few, and some of them have or will be reversed, but that is, of course, why I learned long ago to read comics in a vacuum; follow the writer, not the title or character has LONG been my mantra. DC’s somewhat flippant, “None of that matters anymore, this is what’s happening now,” always struck me as a big ‘F__ you’ to their diehard fans, but of course a lot of those same fans swallowed every gimmick the New52 had to offer because of, A) their loyalty to the brand and, B) the potential ‘collectibility factor’ of 52 new issue numbers ones.

Now, call me naive, but I do not for one moment believe Marvel’s motivations for this new announcement that all their current Universes are ending and being replaced with an amalgam of everything that’s come before has anything to do with the company’s need to create artificial “collectors” hype, a perceived staleness of properties, or a need to stay ‘relevant’ and compete. No, I think Marvel is at the top of their game – both in on the movie screen and in their monthly books – and that the coming upheaval is more a method by which the company can streamline everything with the Marvel banner on it and really start telling stories in a way that transcends dedication to any one medium. But is that a good thing?

Maybe.Galactus_(Earth-616)_merged_with_Gah_Lak_Tus_(Earth-1610)_from_Hunger_Vol_1_1_001

As I’ve talked about before in this column, I don’t read a lot of Marvel books on a monthly basis. Certainly not as many as I’d like to. But what I do read – basically everything Rick Remender writes and some of what Brian Michael Bendis writes – I generally think is on par with the best stuff the company has ever done. Well, maybe there’s an exception in that statement for Axis, but I haven’t read to the end of it yet, so I’ll reserve my judgement. Regardless, my point is that Marvel storytelling is top of the line. Everything, and I mean everything, feels as though it is planned across a spectrum that incorporates the entire Comics Universe in a beautifully symmetrical cause and effect relationship. And that’s what’s leading to this dissolution of the MCU so… it’s not a gimmick. Whether it turns out to be good storytelling or poor storytelling, this does not feel like a gimmick. It feels highly planned out, and I for one find that to be the very best kind of storytelling.

Hank McCoy travels through time and brings young versions of the original X-Men to the current timeline in order to try and change things. Young Scott, Jean, Hank, Bobby and Warren see how bad things have become and they decide not to return to their own time. What the hell would that do to their timeline, or “Time” in general? Well, we can’t be completely sure, but one thing that we can be sure of is as a result of this and the truly insane amount of time travel and historical tampering that takes place in Bendis’ Age of Ultron miniseries from 2013, the fabric of space and time in the MCU has suffered some pretty severe damage. Concurrently in Hickman’s Avengers books we’re seeing the fallout from this damage, as space and time basically begin to unravel. Now, I don’t know about you, but to me that’s a pretty intricate and dare I say beautiful level of storytelling. And it’s not just the standard, 616 Marvel Universe being affected. These tears in the fabric of reality are plaguing all the company’s parallel Universes as well, with Hickman demonstrating that essentially the consequences of this unraveling are multiple parallel Universes trying to inhabit the same point in time and space. And although it’s definitely not isolated to Mr. Hickman’s books – see Joshua Fialkov’s Hunger mini-series from summer 2013 where spacetime tears enough to bleed the original Marvel U’s Galactus into the Ultimate Universe – it’s Hickman who is really the architect here. He is to Marvel, to some extent, what Grant Morrison is to DC. The difference is while Morrison has been constructing a Universal scaffolding which DC hasn’t really integrated yet but will eventually be able to use as a sort of “undo” for their continuity transgressions and focus on any of their Universes – because we all know the original DCU is coming back sometime fairly soon – Hickman has constructed the built-to-specifications for a Universal Cataclysm that Marvel has been building to for a long time now. The rules have been in place and affecting the MCU for years, Hickman is just reverse-engineering the technology so no continuity wiping has to take place for Marvel to hit their reset button.

If it sounds like I’m looking forward to the destruction of the MCU I wouldn’t go that far. However, Marvel has said they are not erasing anything that has come before, that it’s all going to somehow inform where they go from here, and that was really my main concern. Of course I reserve right to call “bullshit” later if all this doesn’t live up to the expectations they’ve stirred in me by doing things so top notch thus far. But really, my skepticism only comes in when I contemplate whether I think they can and will actually pull all this off. Well, that and I HATE that they are calling the new Universal playground Battleworld.

SW Map.jpg

Battleworld… roll it around your tongue a bit. I mean, I know it hearkens back to the original Secret Wars (my current theory being Kevin Feige is actually The Beyonder) but in 2015 a name like that sounds like a ten year-old’s ad hoc sandbox toy continuity built over the course of a summer.

Despite the name though, and the fairly kitchen sink manner in which said new realm is divided up, there’s some pretty interesting ideas on display in the, ahem, “Battleworld” map Marvel recently revealed, so I’m thinking I will still follow Marvel continuity from afar. I’m not 100% happy with what they are doing, but so far it appears to be well-thought out and yeah, I won’t lie, there’s a kind of electrical buzz on my imagination just thinking of how, if Marvel continues to treat their legacy with the respect long-time fans love them for, the new possibilities coming after Secret Wars might make for some more amazing Marvel moments. Plus, and I’m just thinking of this as I finish this piece, the quasi-meta fiction (hopefully) at play in naming the new Universe Battleworld points to this whole thing as transitional anyway. What could come after Battleworld? Well, certainly the end of the horse named ‘Ultimate’ that has been dying a long, slow death for the past ten years or so and then, my call would be a place where the movieverse and the comicverse function as one gigantic tapestry. Whether or not that would be a good idea I guess depends on the outcome of what happens in post-Secret Wars 2015 continuity and probably what exactly the Marvel Movieverse’s Infinity War turns out to be (I’m thinking a way to reset some of the major properties with new actors/actresses involved. RDJ ain’t gonna be able to play Tony Stark forever you know…).

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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