Marvel NOW! is a new beginning

Here’s what we know so far about Marvel’s upcoming relaunch.

It’s been almost a year since DC relaunched all of their main imprint super hero lines in an event they called the New 52. It was a dramatic gambit aimed at gathering new readers, and it worked. It may not have quite as much steam behind it as it did in those first few months after the #1s came out, but it’s still going strong, and readership is up compared to pre-New 52 numbers.

Marvel has likely spent part of the last year wondering if something like that could work for them, and last week they announced their relaunch initiative, called Marvel NOW!

Like DC, this isn’t the first time Marvel has tried renumbering and refreshing their lines to increase readership, but it is the first label-wide effort, and strongly reflects the New 52.

They’re not singing the New 52’s song word-for-word, however. Marvel has its own ideas about how a relaunch should move forward, likely taking some cues from what did and did not work for DC.

While it is a unique effort, it’s difficult to talk about Marvel NOW! without directly comparing it to the New 52. Even the Marvel editors and execs are using language that basically says, “It’s like the New 52, but in our own way.”

The biggest, most clear, difference is that Marvel will be staggering its renumbering. The New 52 saw 52 #1’s in a single month, which was a grand and loud event, but made it unlikely that most readers would be able to get to everything.

In contrast, Marvel NOW! will be renumbering only a few titles per month at most, with the others finishing up their previous continuity in parallel. 

“This ain’t a reboot. It’s a new beginning,” explained Axel Alonzo, Marvel’s EiC, in a recent interview with EW. “I feel that it’s a much more humane approach for retailers and fans to tell them: ‘Look. In the months of October through February, every week you can go into a comic book store and find a few new jumping-on points for the Marvel Universe, a place you’re going to like visiting. Or revisiting.”

Marvel’s current crossover event, Avengers vs. X-Men has been revealed as the lead in for the entire relaunch. Unlike the New 52, which dropped the continuity on all but a few titles (the only major hero to retain his continuity entirely is Green Lantern – the one who may have needed a full reboot more than any other). Marvel will be doing no such thing.

Their approach, in contrast, is to create a major, universe-wide, event which shakes up all of the alliances, personalities, and – apparently – costumes for all of the heroes, allowing new stories to emerge from the chaos without sacrificing continuity entirely. Many of the new lines are not ‘restarting’ they are actually simply new lines. They have new titles, and fresh plots with new combinations of characters.

For example, the first #1 of the initiative will be a new line called Uncanny Avengers, a team-up book in which the X-Men and Avengers work together under Captain America’s leadership, which is slated to arrive in early October 2012. The first story arc will pit the new, combined team up against the Red Skull.

All of the books announced so far seem to focus on the post-Avengers vs. X-Men world, and the shape of super hero alliance after that event. Several are about new teams which contain both mutant and human heroes. The other announced titles are A+X (#1 in October 2012 – a couple weeks after Uncanny Avengers), All-New X-Men (#1 in November 2012), Avengers (#1 in December 2012), New Avengers (#1 in January 2013).

Likely, we’ll hear about other existing books which are being renumbered soon. Expect an announcement for Captain America #1, Thor #1, Fantastic Four #1, etc. in the coming months.

So far, we have only a few pieces of art for the new stories. First is the cover for Uncanny Avengers #1 (above) which shows off Marvel’s new decision not to ask cover artists to place the logo at the top. We have a modified version of the cover of Point One, a special issue which will serve as a sort of stepping off point for Marvel NOW! Note that the question mark block are not part of the final image, they are placeholders, which will likely be removed to reveal, at a later time, which characters will be in the issue. The character in the center is not a reimagined Nick Fury, as many suspected at first. It is Nick Fury Jr.

We also have this teaser image, drawn by Joe Quesada, showing some of the major characters and their new costumes, some of which might be difficult to even recognize for old fans. Iron Man (center) and Cyclops (lower left) seem to have gotten complete visual overhauls. Other interesting things to note: Thor has a pair of hilts sticking up over his shoulders which look like swords, Hulk is wearing armor, and The Invisible Woman is out without the rest of her team, though she still seems to be a member of it.

One of the most interesting new books is All-New X-Men, which will be written by the very talented Brian Michael Bendis. The story here is that the original X-Men team, from when Xavier first founded the team and school, will be transported into the present day universe. This is how Jean Grey ended up in the teaser image above. She’s not being resurrected, and she’s not a ghost or clone, she’s really Jean Grey, the nice girl she was before her powers turned her into Phoenix – and before she was killed.

“I wanted to make sure I had a take that was unique…” said Bendis. “It was about the original X-Men. If they saw what the Marvel universe was now…well, it’s so much worse than the Days of Future Past that they’re always worried about. This would scare the crap out of them… No Danger Room, no imaginary story. This is actually happening… Here’s the big question that the original X-Men are gonna be faced with: We’re gonna grow up, and this is what we’re going to get? That is not acceptable.”

As far as we can tell at this point, Marvel NOW! will have no effect on the Marvel Film Universe. This is likely partly because Marvel’s characters are owned by three different film studios (Marvel/Disney has The Avengers, Sony owns Spider-Man and everyone connected to him, and Fox owns the X-Men and the Fantastic Four).

The Marvel NOW! issues start to drop in October 2012.