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2007-8: A Marvel Year in (P)review

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EDITOR’S NOTE: ComicsBulletin.com will devote every Tuesday to Marvel Content: Advance Reviews, Exclusive Interviews, Marvel focused Columns, Previews, and much more!

Inaugurating the event is Dave Wallace and Luke Handley’s “A Marvel Year in (P)review” in which Dave and Luke look back at what Marvel wrought in 2007 and look forward to what Marvel promises for 2008.
On the first Tuesday of every month Dave and Luke will collaborate on “Marvel Month in (P)review” which will comment on—and provide preview art of—upcoming Marvel titles.






2007: A Marvel Year in review

Dave Wallace: 2007 saw some major changes for Marvel, its characters, and its overall editorial direction. In this column, Luke Handley and I have selected what we consider to be some of the most notable comics, events, and stories of the last 12 months to have been produced by the publisher.




Civil War / The Initiative:

Dave Wallace: Marvel’s oft-delayed 2006 event finally came to a close in the early part of this year, and whilst it might not have been the greatest critical success, the sales figures ensured that Marvel would continue to mine its seam of stories for a good while longer. To this end, several new titles have been launched under the banner of “The Initiative,” and the entire Marvel Universe has been shaped by the series to a greater or lesser extent. Even if you didn't enjoy Civil War itself, you can’t deny that Marvel stuck to its guns, told the story that they wanted to tell, and created an “event comic” with genuine and long-lasting ramifications. It’s just a shame that the sales boost to many post-Civil War titles didn’t equate to a line-wide increase in quality on a similar scale.

Luke Handley: The pro-registration side “won” the Civil War (though how they ever could have lost is beyond me) and thus we got the Fifty State Initiative, an idea born out of Stark, Reed and Pym’s brainstorming session. In a textbook display of their event pushing policy, Marvel slapped an “Initiative” banner on just about every non-Spidey and non-mutant title for months following the closure of the war. In fact, due to shipping delays, some books are still shipping sporting the banner! Nearly all Marvel titles have been touched in some way by the introduction of the Initiative - but some more so than others.

Avengers: the Initiative is obviously the first that springs to mind. Dan Slott brings his extensive knowledge of the Marvel Universe to bear with this book, juggling a large cast of well known faces and introducing a bunch of new “heroes” who have all had the opportunity to shine in the space of the first eight issues; in this age of decompression, it’s positively remarkable just how much Slott has crammed into those eight issues and an annual. Stefano Caselli brings his A game to the title every month, making for a book that any self-respecting Marvel fan should be reading.

The Order, written by Matt Fraction with outstanding art from Barry Kitson, received quite the publicity push from Marvel when it launched, but, though still placed at a respectable sales rank, has not been the hit Marvel might have been hoping for. Which is a shame, because it’s actually rather good. Each issue is framed with an initial interview sequence that introduces us more fully to the different cast members and, over the space of six issues, Fraction has successfully fleshed out most of his neophyte heroes whilst introducing a variety of threats and ongoing plotlines. Unfortunately, with no known faces except for the odd guest appearance from Tony Stark (damn, that man gets around), this book is not getting the attention it deserves.


Immortal Iron Fist:

Dave Wallace: For my money, the runaway success of the year for Marvel has been Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction’s Immortal Iron Fist. Fusing 1970s Kung-Fu and 1930s pulp heroics with some decidedly modern sensibilities and a strong supporting cast (including Orson Randall, hands-down the best new comics character of the last 12 months), Fraction and Brubaker have conspired to create something very special. Artist David Aja brings the story to life with peerless fluid storytelling and visual innovation, and guest-artists each add their own flavour to the book’s flashback scenes. However, it still isn’t in the same sales league as some of Marvel’s other A-list books. If you enjoy good comics, be sure to try it, as this is a book that more people need to be buying.


Daredevil:

Dave Wallace: Daredevil is the trusty, reliable superhero comic that never fails to provide a solid read. Whilst that sounds like I’m damning the book with faint praise, I’m actually amazed that the title has managed to stay this good for this long – I’d be hard pushed to name another title with such a consistently high level of quality over 100+ issues. Ed Brubaker has accomplished the seemingly impossible task of making readers forget about Bendis and Maleev’s landmark run, and he continues to weave his own compelling, well-characterised and densely-plotted web of stories each and every month. Thanks to the art team of Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano and Matt Hollingsworth, the book drips with the same atmosphere that characterised Frank Miller’s work on the book more than two decades ago. It’s easy to forget to praise Daredevil, because everyone who reads it is so used to the high level of quality that it they probably take it for granted. If you’re not reading it, why not?




Criminal :

Dave Wallace: In late 2006, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips launched Criminal under Marvel’s creator-owned ICON imprint. Over the course of 2007, two 5-issue arcs were completed, each of which ties into a larger overall story that Brubaker has planned for a little further down the line. The writer’s grasp of plotting, characterisation, and noir conventions make the book a joy for anyone who enjoys crime comics, and Phillips’ artwork captures the moody, gritty texture of Brubaker’s world perfectly. The book is due to be relaunched in a slightly different format with a new #1 issue in February 2008, so hopefully anyone who’s still on the fence will see this as an opportunity to jump on board.


Tony Stark, the man in the iron armour; hero or villain?

Luke Handley: Marvel told us a year ago that in the aftermath of Civil War Iron Man would be THE Marvel character to watch. A year on, one could argue they were right; since his appointment as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Stark has been popping up all over the Marvel Universe. However, his portrayal has varied from hero of the people to cackling supervillain. Leading the “Tony Stark is an arse” movement we’ve had Straczynski and Slott. At the other end of the spectrum, the Knaufs, in the pages of Iron Man, have been doing a good job at keeping Tony likeable, as the harrowed superhero-come-director who’s had to fend off internal government conspiracies whilst dealing with the return of his greatest foe, the Mandarin. The Knaufs have had an uphill battle, as more people read Amazing Spider-Man and Avengers: the Initiative than the hero’s own title, but they’ve kept things intriguing and have gone to great lengths to show how uncomfortable Stark actually is with his new position, as opposed to those writers who show him using S.H.I.E.L.D. as his own personal plaything. Surprisingly, Stark’s most flattering current portrayal is to be found in the pages of Captain America, in which Brubaker has successfully captured how much the loss of his best friend has shaken Tony’s world. Iron Man is now, arguably, the most important hero in the Marvel Universe and this importance has been reflected by the sheer variety of stories he’s appeared in: political thrillers (Iron Man), old fashioned superheroics (Mighty Avengers), spy stories (Iron Man Annual), etc. Whatever you’re into, if you’re reading Marvel comics, chances are you’re reading a book in which Stark is at least guest starring and, personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.


The Children of the Atom; X-citing once again?

Luke Handley: Two years on, and it’s fair to say that “Decimation” wasn’t the success most X-fans hoped it might be. Whether you were a supporter of the idea in the first place or not, it did offer some new and potentially interesting directions. These weren’t capitalized on. However, X-Men has been blessed with the writing skills of Mike Carey. He has successfully recaptured that special something that had made so many fans fall in love with Marvel’s merry mutants in the past and, through the praise his title has received, has drawn in new readers. The non-team he started his run with was allowed to evolve in a very organic way, culminating in its complete dissolution. Carey has a good handle on his ensemble cast, respects continuity and has brought Mr. Sinister back as a serious threat.

The other X-books have had a somewhat mixed year: X-Factor, whilst on the whole still one of the best titles Marvel currently publishes, has had its low points in the form of the “X-cell” storyline and a somewhat rushed conclusion to the pre-“Messiah CompleX” arc. New X-Men finally seemed to hit its stride with its pre-crossover two-parter that focused on the kids’ personal issues instead of having them running around being shot/stabbed/flayed or otherwise incapacitated. These issues also featured Skottie Young’s pencils and were the first time I’ve seen him inking his own work. And what beautiful work it is! Unfortunately, New X-Men is absent from Marvel’s February solicitations, and Kyle and Yost are writing the new X-Force, so what will become of the kids and Skottie is anyone’s guess. Despite his outstanding work on other Marvel titles, Brubaker has failed to capture my interest with Uncanny X-Men. The Morlock storyline was far, far too drawn out and could have wrapped in two issues instead of lasting five. Though he did a good job writing Storm and reintroducing Caliban to the cast, there’s something that’s still not quite there. Wolverine and Wolverine: Origins; less said about them the better, though Guggenheim’s current work is worth a look if you’re into your Wolverine continuity.


She-Hulk; the end of an era

Luke Handley: Does anyone not like Dan Slott’s writing? Seriously, if you don’t, please contact me and tell me why. I won’t go as far as to say the man can do no wrong, but his She-Hulk was, for the last three years, the one title that never failed to entertain with each and every issue. If you read a Slott comic, his love for the Marvel Universe and the characters that inhabit it is immediately obvious. She-Hulk was a work of love and his pairing with Rich Burchett resulted in one of the strongest creative duos to work on a Marvel comic this past year. The comics had a good old fashioned Marvel craziness to them, whilst always remaining true to all the characters involved. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and, after having been offered the Amazing Spider-Man gig, Slott had to drop this book. It was sad to see him go, but he didn’t leave before resolving as many dangling plotlines as he could. Slott seems to write with the reader firmly in mind and, through his characters, expressed the frustrations that so many of us fans often feel; having a go in his final issue at Marvel writers who obviously can’t be bothered to spend 5 minutes reading the necessary handbook entry is just one of the things that make me miss the guy. All is not doom and gloom however as Peter David has taken over writing duties. His first two issues have somewhat failed to excite, but he is not aiming to replicate Slott’s work (a good choice in my opinion), and I’m willing to wait a couple of months whilst he finds his stride on the book.




Dave Wallace: You might have noticed that we haven’t touched on everything that you might have expected us to cover - perhaps the most notable omissions are Spider-Man’s “One More Day” storyline, which saw the Spidey/MJ marriage dissolved as if by magic, the revelations of Skrulls in the midst of the Marvel superheroes, or the Death of Captain America. However, Luke and I haven’t forgotten about those events – in fact, we’re very conscious of the fact that they’re going to continue to be highly important factors in the rich continuity of Marvel comics.

So, with this in mind, the second half of our column takes a look at the year to come for Marvel Comics…




2008: A Marvel Year in preview

Amazing Spider-Man

Dave Wallace: Of all of Marvel’s 2008 projects, the thrice-monthly Amazing Spider-Man is the one that I’m most keen to see play out. The changes wrought by “One More Day” are ultimately irrelevant, as the biggest problem plaguing Spidey over the past few years hasn’t been his marital status, his supporting cast, or any other in-continuity obstacle. No, the biggest difficulty that Spider-Man has encountered has been the approach taken by Marvel editorial to the character, throwing him into crossover after crossover and event after event, but losing sight of what makes him such a compelling hero in the first place.

So, “Brand New Day” will seek to address these weaknesses, with a stable of big name writers and artists taking it in turn to write short, three-issue arcs, each of which will be published within the space of a single month. Whilst it’s not quite a weekly comic, it’s close, and it’ll be interesting to see whether Marvel can juggle the rotating creative teams with enough skill that they meet their deadlines. “One More Day” hasn’t exactly set a good example in that area, and readers suffering withdrawal symptoms from the wall-crawler will be keen to see Amazing Spider-Man get back on an even keel. Let’s hope that “Brand New Day” is as much of a slate-cleaning exercise for Marvel editors as it is for Spidey himself.


Avengers / Invaders

Luke Handley: Set in present day Marvel continuity, this series will no doubt attract readers for no other reason than it will feature the return (in a fashion) of Steve Rogers, the “real” Captain America. Personally, I have no problem with Brubaker turning Bucky into the next gun-toting Cap in the pages of Captain America proper and have no burning need to see Rogers running around in the Marvel Universe again. No, I’ll be picking this up because of the Invaders as a whole: they’re an intriguing team who have only ever fought Nazis in the midst of a war, so how well they can possibly adapt to Stark’s new Superpolice state will no doubt be one of the central themes. This project also marks the return of the great Alex Ross to Marvel. Colour me interested.


1985

Dave Wallace: Mark Millar teams up with artist Tommy Lee Edwards for a story which sees the “real” world and the Marvel Universe collide, circa the original Secret Wars. Initially mooted as a fumetti project (using treated photographs) before being re-imagined as a more traditional comic, it’s a project which promises to be a gift for aficionados of 1980s Marvel, and could be Edwards’ breakout book. Considering the controversial choices that Millar made in his characterisation of many heroes during Civil War, it’ll be interesting to see him try to recapture the magic of a very different era of Marvel Comics without losing its distinctive tone.


Secret Invasion

Dave Wallace: Like it or not, yet another crossover event is set to dominate the Marvel Universe this summer, as Brian Michael Bendis spins the Skrull invasion plot from his New Avengers into a fully-fledged mini-series which is bound to have an impact on many other Marvel books. Considering the fairly shaky start to the story, I’m hoping that he can make the Skrulls a more fully-realised enemy than they have been so far, and give them a more compelling motivation than we’ve seen in their recent appearances. The presence of New Avengers penciller Leinil Yu has me interested, and Nick Fury’s big return to the Marvel Universe should be worth a look. Who knows, maybe Bendis will finally deliver on the promise of his ambitious plotline after all. For a lot of readers, this is going to be make or break as far as the writer’s plans for the Avengers are concerned, because there’s a very real sense that the scribe should have made good on the inherent potential of his Avengers books by now.


The Hulk

Luke Handley: Thought World War Hulk was the last you’d see of big old green and mean for a while? Think again, as 2008 promises “big” things for The Hulk. After enjoying a surprising return to popularity during Civil War and then World War Hulk, Hercules has taken over Bruce Banner’s title. Though I remain utterly confused as to where The Incredible Herc is headed in the long term, for the time being this could prove to be a welcome and unexpected breath of fresh air, especially given the presence of Amadeus Cho, who’s turning out to be one of the best new characters to come out of the House of Ideas in a long time. I remain far more sceptical about Loeb and McGuinness’ new Hulk. I’ve not followed much of the buzz surrounding this title and as such have no idea what to expect, but on the strength of Loeb’s recent Marvel output I’m going in very very wary. Does the Marvel Universe need another Hulk? Finally, we have Skaar: Son of Hulk, who put in a brief appearance in the WWH epilogue. How did he survive the bomb? How did he grow up so fast? We’re bound to find out soon enough, but I can’t say I’m exactly waiting with baited breath. After WWH, do we really need more “big” Hulk action?


Ultimatum

Dave Wallace: I’ll be honest: “Ultimatum” fills me with dread. On the strength of his recent work, I’m not exactly delighted to see Jeph Loeb handed the keys to Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, and if Ultimate Power and the first issue of Ultimates 3 are any indication of the direction that things will be heading over the coming months, we could be on the verge of seeing a fully-fledged crossover between the regular and Ultimate Marvel continuities. With talk of Ultimatum presenting “the end of the Ultimate Universe,” Marvel might be hoping that this crossover can be their very own Crisis on Infinite Earths. However, all signs seem to be pointing to it being more of an Infinite Crisis. Worrying.


Astonishing X-Men: Second Stage / X-Men: Divided We Stand

Dave Wallace: I’m not much of an X-Men fan, but Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon’s runs on the franchise have been required reading for me. Warren Ellis seems like the logical successor to those two great writers, and whilst little is known about the content of his run, you can expect a similar mix of searing sci-fi and sharp characterisation, along with the gorgeous visuals of Simon Bianchi. I’ll definitely be picking this up.

Luke Handley: I am an X-Men fan and, though I’m looking forward to Ellis’ return to an X-book, I’m more interested in what becomes of the core X-books post-“Messiah CompleX” (lets face it, Astonishing ceased being a “core” book months ago). The current crossover is going to “change everything for the X-Men”; yep, heard that one before. Despite some encouraging arcs, the X-franchise had spent years treading water until Carey and David (and Brubaker and Kyle & Yost to a lesser extent) gave Marvel’s merry mutants a much needed kick up the backside. And now, when the formula is starting to work, Marvel promises to shake things up again. All the hints point toward a deep ideological split in the X-Men ranks. Though it’s too early to make a serious guess at the outcome of this winter’s mutant extravaganza, my money’s on Cyclops and Xavier parting ways. Despite the fan speculation, I don’t think the “Decimation” will be reversed any time soon. As to the books coming in the new year, the new X-Force title leaves me cold (for now) and who knows what X-Men: Legacy will be about (except that with Carey at the helm it should be worth checking out). Though I haven’t been blown away by his work on the title to date, I’m most looking forward to Brubaker’s new Uncanny X-Men, which would appear to be focusing on X-Men who’ve taken time off from/left the Institute. This could all work out great, I honestly hope it does, but it could also go awfully wrong. Only time will tell…




Luke Handley: All this is obviously just scratching the tip of the iceberg. There’s far too much coming our way in 2008 from Marvel to possibly touch on everything here. But if there’s anything you’re really looking forward to this year, let us know and we’ll do our best to cover it when it appears.

Here’s to a (hopefully) great coming year of Marvel madness!


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