Comics, Critique, Diversity, Feminism, Geek Culture, Gender, Opinion, Primer

What the Heck is Marvel Legacy? A Primer

On Friday, the “House of Ideas” revealed their much hyped and (in the optimistic eyes of Marvel PR) anticipated new relaunch, Marvel Legacy. In what was one of the most underwhelming and confusing rollouts in recent memory, Marvel released eight sets of GIFs which included the covers for the upcoming “new” line. Covered by most major news sites as rolling news and taking up most of the day, these cover GIFs were an interesting way (I guess…) of showcasing the books that Marvel chose to focus on. The books themselves looked surprisingly familiar, leading to many people asking, “What exactly is Marvel Legacy?” and more importantly, “What do words even mean more anymore when companies say one thing and do another?” This question has even greater implications in a world where Marvel’s owner Ike Perlmutter sits by the side of Trump in policy discussions. Has Trump’s use of hyperbolic falsified statements and non-delivery on huge promises trickled down to Marvel’s PR team?

In the lead up to Marvel Legacy, the big boys at Marvel HQ teased an “industry changing” announcement, which in an industry in dire need of change actually got people talking and stoked interest in Marvel Legacy that’d thus been lacking. Though it was unlikely Marvel was going to do anything truly revolutionary like introducing unionisation or creating their own distribution channel to break the monopoly that Diamond Comic Distributors holds over the direct market, people including myself thought that maybe Marvel would follow in DC’s footsteps and make some of the Legacy relaunch returnable. Comic books as a general rule are non-returnable once comic shops have purchased them from Diamond. Making Legacy titles returnable would generate less risk for retailers and potentially prompt them to order higher numbers, giving them an opportunity to take chances on books that they may not order many of otherwise.

What Exactly Is Marvel Legacy?

After the full rollout it seems that Marvel Legacy is less of a line relaunch, more of an extended variant scheme based around covers that homage classic Marvel comic book covers. By the end of the day, Marvel had announced 52 titles under the Legacy banner, most of which are continuations of books that are already being released with a few new additions and a couple of notable books missing. No Captain America book, for example, which will leave many fans breathing a sigh of relief after Secret Empire’s Nazi Cap debacle. But it’s still a strange omission as Cap has almost always had an ongoing title since the late 60s. So the reality is that Marvel Legacy isn’t actually an event at all, it’s a rebranding of their already existing line that seems desperate to remind us that Marvel is still here. They still make important decisions. They still have a legacy.

This launch looks at first glance to be something similar to DC’s Rebirth, a new version of old characters that’s essentially a way of pandering to the “old guard” that both the Big Two seem desperate to keep around as fans. It even begins the same way as Rebirth with a one-shot. But Rebirth #1 was a graphic novel sized 80 pages for $2.99, which gave it a huge boost. Marvel Legacy #1 will be priced at $5.99 for 60 pages, and that’s just the first thing about Rebirth’s success that Marvel HQ doesn’t seem to understand.

Rebirth was a line wide event that retconned much of DC’s much hated New 52 and seemed to learn from some of the mistakes of that previous relaunch. Existing books were allowed to finish their current arcs before becoming Rebirth titles, and the new line almost cut their monthly roster in half with a launch number of 32 ongoing series all focused on “classic characters”. The biggest thing that DC did to secure the early success of Rebirth was to make the first three months of Rebirth titles returnable, enabling retailers to take risks with ordering and driving up sales figures. Though not the industry changing announcement Marvel promised, making Legacy returnable would’ve at least been a notable change in direction and could’ve been a step towards showing that Marvel’s been listening to the widespread criticism of the direct market model.

Why Does Any Of This Matter?

For a while now Marvel has been stuck in a cycle of seemingly never ending events, big flagship stories spread over numerous books. The company line is that these books drive up sales, and initially they do, with huge variant schemes and publicised first issues. But on a longer term they can drive readers away from smaller more niche books that they’ve been following, often by marginalised creators or focused on marginalised characters. Occasionally encouraging people to take all event books and eventually all Marvel books of their pull-list. These huge spectacle comics are in no way a new thing, and this has particular pattern or events, crossovers and relaunches has been at Marvel for over a decade, beginning with the controversial #NoMoreMutants crossover, House of M.

For a while between the events which escalated with increasing regularity, the company still managed to put out game changing books which truly made an impact on the shape of the industry. The Marvel NOW! rebranding following 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men was especially influential, including the relaunch of Captain Marvel, which reimagined Carol Danvers as the all powerful superhero and instantly became a fan favourite, creating a hugely loyal following in the #CarolCorps. Young Avengers captured a confluence of diversity, energy, and excitement that comics had long been lacking. And, of course, there was Ms. Marvel, part of the ensuing All-New Marvel NOW! branding. Kamala Khan was the “new Spider-Man” that Marvel had always been searching for–a street level, youthful superhero whose popularity was nothing less than a cultural phenomenon.

But of course the crossovers kept coming. The most extravagant was Secret Wars in 2015, which ended up taking over Marvel’s entire line for nine months, encompassing over 50 titles once it was done. Asking customers to follow 50 separate titles to be able to be able experience an entire story seems like a ridiculous reach (imagine the trade collection), yet it’s become par for the course when it comes to these huge events. Though Secret Wars was dogged by late books, overworked creators, and fan complaints, Marvel showed no signs of stopping. Despite of the fan fatigue post Secret Wars, Marvel has initiated no less than 14 crossovers, including multiple title events such as Avengers: Standoff!, Civil War II, and Secret Empire. So when the company announced the Marvel Legacy relaunch which CEO Axel Alonso said would “Break the internet” a lot of fans were hoping for a fresh start. After Friday’s reveals Marvel Legacy seems to be nothing more than an exercise in hyperbolic press releases and rebranding for rebrandings sake.

What Was The Point Of Marvel Legacy and Do Words Have Any Meaning Anymore?

Marvel Legacy may well be the peak of the event book/relaunch/crossover phenomenon. It manages to sum up pretty much all the criticisms that people have of the Big Two’s penchant for seemingly unnecessary “landmark” books that are frequently becoming the majority of all releases.

  • They don’t change anything: This is one of the largest criticisms out there, that the crossovers affecting numerous titles never seem to have any long term impact by the time they finish. By announcing Marvel Legacy as a full line relaunch but then failing to reveal how it has any impact on the line at all creates a meta text on the emptiness of events themselves.
  • They are confusing: It’s often hard to follow the arc of your favourite story if it’s suddenly caught up in an event/crossover, and you’ll likely lose it completely if the company decides on a full relaunch. Sometimes your favourite characters might disappear completely from their own titles and continue their stories in others. By calling Marvel Legacy a relaunch and then it actually just showing it to be another variant scheme, Marvel’s compounded fan and critic confusion and used it as a marketing tool.
  • There are too many: This is an inarguable truth. Marvel recently did two “full line relaunches” within 12 months of each other with All-New All-Different Marvel and Marvel NOW! 2.0. This was highlighted with a slew of new #1 books that were actually just the continued series, so Ms. Marvel #12 was numbered twice as #12 and #1. This phenomenon also led to Squirrel Girl having two #1 issues in the same year. Marvel Legacy is the third relaunch Marvel has announced in under two years. Marvel EiC Axel Alonso has gone on record favoring “a seasonal model that offers accessible entry points for new readers and is respectful of long-term fans,” implying that this is becoming a yearly tradition for the publisher.
  • They’re too expensive: Not only do Marvel often price their #1 books anywhere from $4.99-$6.99 for a 20-32 page book, but they also do large variant schemes that encourage readers and retailers to spend vast amounts on the same books. Plus, if a fan’s book crosses over with an event, it’s likely that they’ll need to by numerous books to follow their favourite characters. A new major event like Secret Empire often requires a fan to buy a selection of other titles–four in Secret Empire’s case–to fully understand the story. This cynical money grabbing looks to be driving Marvel’s decision making behind Legacy, with the chance to have an expensive oversized first issue and likely tie-ins, not to mention multiple homage covers which could carry high markups at local comic shops.

After a number of badly received events–like Civil War II, which saw Marvel kill one of their only black superheroes and turned the much beloved beacon-of-hope Carol Danvers into a fascist desperate to turn the Marvel Universe into a dystopian police state, whilst Secret Empire saw Captain America revealed as a lifelong member of the sometime Nazis/sometime Nazi analogs Hydra–Marvel needed to do something big to counteract huge fan backlash and numerous editorial and creator outbursts on social media. But with the comics discourse in the state that it is, with the false narrative that people who want representation on and off the page are some kinds of colonialists in the al-white all-male world of comics, Marvel needed to look like they’re being progressive whilst still pandering to the three very important 50 year old men who were mad “Wolverine” now means a woman.

Marvel Legacy sadly looks to be more of the same; going back to a mostly white roster whilst keeping the few white-written diverse characters they have. It’s bad enough that the publisher announced an entire line of books without creative teams, based on nothing more than GIFs of variant covers. But when you add to that the immense amount of hyperbole and use of language which once again turned out to be false, Marvel Legacy seems to be a cynical exercise in seeing how far the company can go on nothing but hype alone. Looking at the reaction online, the answer is… not very far. Maybe this will be a turning point in Marvel editorial’s trend of lying to fans and constantly relying on “gotcha” moments. We can but hope. For now, though, the comics community will just have to stay mystified by a bunch of middle aged men who think GIFs are revolutionary.