Someone was standing around talking about the latest images of the Marvel Legacy line showing what the Avengers looked like a million years before the phrase Jack Kirby and Stan Lee made iconic back in 1963. Then they looked at me. I said huh?
The Avengers started with Thor, Hulk Iron Man, the Wasp and Ant-Man. What are you talking about? Don’t you remember the signature catchphrase that was on the lead page of every issue of the Avengers for years?
“And there came a day unlike any other, when earth’s mightiest heroes were united against a common threat! On that day the Avengers were born! — To fight the foes no single hero could withstand!”
This statement foretold what would become the premiere of Marvel mightiest heroes: The Avengers.
The Avengers have been Marvel’s most consistent super-team. Consisting of Marvel’s signature characters, the Avengers have always been the team everyone wanted join. For a time, the Avengers were sanctioned for operations by the US government and when their ranks grew large enough to make people nervous they were regulated by S.H.I.E.L.D.
Their adventures spanned time, space, other dimensions and they have fought against the most dangerous foes in the Marvel Universe including the likes of Korvac/Michael, Kang the Conquerer, Ultron, Loki of Asgard and the mad Thanos of Titan. Having successfully repelled invasions from other worlds and other dimensions, their latest threat now comes from within.
1,000,000 B.C. Avengers?
I was exposed to the concept designs of Mike Deodato Jr. for Marvel Legacy #1’s 1,000,000 B.C. Avengers while I was researching the story where the Punisher was becoming War Machine. Marvel Legacy articles included prototype covers of Phoenix, Iron Fist, Agamotto, Black Panther, Starbrand, Odin, and Ghost Rider. They had the temerity to ask me what I thought. After looking at the images, I could only conclude one thing: It will suck. A lot. Unfair?
Let me elucidate.
Marvel has been known for creating crossover events to sell their books for the last twenty years. These events span the entirety of the Marvel Universe and require readers to purchase almost every title if you want to have the complete experience. This began with the Secret Wars back in 1984. Marvel Legacy is promising to rewrite the Marvel Universe making it easier for new readers to learn about a more unified, better structured, Marvel Universe or goes the corporate line.
Is this going to be a different and better rewrite than the one which supposedly took place during the “Secret Beyonder Incursion, Battleworld Doom War” saga also known as Secret Wars II?
Or will it be like the rewrite which took place after the Age of Apocalypse? Or is it like the soft reboot after the House of M? Or perhaps it will be just the finishing touch after the Hydra-Cap series which is supposedly not a reboot at all. Except for the addition of a cosmic cube rewriting reality for the convenience of further pandering to the most-desired comic-buying demographic.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Marvel has forgotten how to reach new readers. They appear to have forgotten how to tell stories to make people interested in their characters. This isn’t true for every character, but most of their books are lifeless retellings of stories from years ago with new versions of old characters. All they seem to be able to do is remix their Universe, hoping to recombine their characters until they create something people will spend money on.
Worse, after the alienation of their creative writers over the decades, no one is willing to spend creative energy creating new characters, both heroes or villains, to have Marvel and its corporate masters, the House of Mouse, take control of them. Then they get to watch those same characters turned into movie properties, make millions while the artists languish in obscurity under a ‘work for hire’ contract which allows the writer to make nothing for a character they created. This has been a sticking point for many of Marvel’s creators over the decades including the family of Jack Kirby, who has only recently come to an accommodation. Thanks, Hannibal Tabu, for reminding me of this salient fact.
What about canon?
Canon? Throw it out the window. The first Phoenix was Jean Grey who arrived on Earth somewhere in the 1970s (our time). The Phoenix was a force known by the Universe at large but Earth had never experienced its power. Now she will be an Avenger circa year 1,000,000 B.C.
Odin will be using Mjolnir or something that looks strangely like it. Even though it was forged for Thor a thousand years after his birth. Or is it a prototype of the fabled warhammer? Asgardian technology means Odin will be the only member of these Avengers 1,000,000 to have clothing instead of stylish and strategically-placed rags…
The only book which made me sit up was Agamotto, only because the history of the magical aspects of the Marvel Universe have been hinted at in various publications and the history of the Sorcerer Supreme might interest me if its done right.
The Starbrand “Hulk”? Sigh. The Starbrand was a weapon/tool/technology tattoo-mark that first appeared in the comic book series Star Brand, published by Marvel Comics as a part of its New Universe imprint from 1986 to 1989. It wandered to the mainstream Marvel Universe in Quasar #49 in 1993.
Nothing says speed like the Ghost Rider on a magically-enhanced flaming woolly mammoth…
Iron Fist? Is the mystic city of K’un L’un a million years old? Nothing in my research says so, which is part of the problem.
‘Welcome to Prequelandia’
This does not feel as if these stories will be paying homage to the past. It feels as if they are erasing it. This means these stories will happen before the established events of the Inhumans, the Eternals, Selene or any of a number of known prehistoric events in the Marvel Universe. This may be around the same time as the First Host of Celestials arriving on Earth! Will this group of Avengers be fighting the the first Host?
Like Disney did with the previous works in the Star Wars Legends properties, this has the sound of Disney executives erasing Marvel’s connection to its past to reshape it into something they can commodify, repackage, reshape and parcel off like everything else they do.
Is it theirs? Sure. Can they do this? Absolutely, they paid for it. Will this be successful? I can’t see how.
Creation makes new things. Recombination isn’t new. Remixing staves off stagnation but unless they start making new things, finding ways to create properties which excite new readers, the writing is on the wall. Has the fusion of Marvel’s House of Ideas and the omnipresent House of Mouse run out of ideas?
If this lazy rehashing of ideas and hiding in Prequelandia (the place where writers and companies go hide in the past when they’re afraid to try new things for fear of losing their established audiences) is any sign, I’d say Marvel’s in trouble.
Events are tired. Only good storytelling can save them now.
Marvel Legacy #1 is due out on shelves September 27.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.