Marvel Comics 2016 – It Could Be Better

Earlier this year I began a HUGE project that has two parts.  The major project is to read the entire Marvel Comics print run from 1961 to the present. The second part was to start with the end of last year’s Secret Wars storyline and read forward in order to keep up with the current releases. I’ve got a long way to go on the larger project, but I’m nearly there with the current run. If you pick and choose the comics you read, there’s some great stuff there.  Reading it all, though, is an exercise in frustration.

Let’s face it. This month DC is outselling Marvel Comics by an incredible margin. Adding the DC Rebirth titles to my reading list is happening soon, but everything I’ve heard about them has been positive. My experience with Marvel’s latest releases has been much less positive, aside from a few truly enjoyable titles. Perhaps that is why DC’s Harley Quinn title sold as many copies as all three Marvel titles that managed to make the top 50 in sales for August. One of Marvel’s titles in the top 50 was a Star Wars title, which doesn’t even count as it does not take place within Marvel’s “universe” of stories.

At the top of Marvel’s sales is “Amazing Spider-Man.” This has been a solid comic this year. The storytelling has been good.  The artwork has been good. Peter Parker has stepped up to leading his own corporation based on his own scientific and technological achievements.  That doesn’t mean he has stepped back from his role as Spider-Man, though. Even with Miles Morales taking on most of the duties, and some other bozo stepping up now and then, Peter’s version of Spider-Man keeps following Peter around the globe.

Sooner-or-later, somebody’s going to put two-and-two together.

Let’s see.  That’s three Spider-Men swinging around. Miles is also the main character of “Spider-Man,” and features in the “All-New, All-Different Avengers.”  We also have “Spidey,” with stories about the young Peter Parker (who cares?) and Spider-Man 2099 giving us yet another Spider-Man to not care about. I used to think Spider-Man had too many titles for one character.  Now I think there are too many Spider-Men too.

Is that enough for Marvel?  NO WAY!  They also have Spider-Woman, Spider-Gwen, and Silk. After years of trying to make Spider-Woman popular without a lot of success, they’ve tripled-down. Each of these three titles is good enough in its own way, but for me, I’d concentrate on Silk and have Spider-Woman be a strong supporting character. Spider-Gwen is just another version of the another version character, and Marvel should stop going so far down that road of confusion.

The less said about the Web Warriors the better.

The Spider-Man titles are a microcosm of some of Marvel’s major issues right now. There are too many variations on popular characters. There are too many replacements for popular characters. There are too many alternate universe stories for me to care anymore. Instead of giving us another variant of a popular character, why not give us more single-character/team stories that drive fans to WANT the next issue.

“Doctor Strange” has been going down this road. The stories have been focused.  They’ve included an interesting new supporting character. There has been a sense that the stories mean something on the larger scale. An inter dimensional force has been scouring the multiverse of all magic. Entire realms have had their magic wiped clean. Nearly all the sorcerers supreme in the multiverse have been killed. Once they arrive on Earth, they nearly succeed in doing the same to the good Doctor. Spoiler: He wins, but not before nearly all magic on Earth has been destroyed.

It’s a great story.  There are huge ramifications. At the culmination of this storyline, nearly all Earth’s magic is simply gone. This could send ripples through the entire Marvel Comics Universe, considering the number of magic-using characters they have. Does it?  No.  Outside of the pages of this one title, magic is unaffected.

There are other great titles in the mix. “Hyperion” is turning into a great little comic, with a fantastic character-driven story. Over in “Squadron Supreme,” he’s killed Namor.  Namor is one of the most important, and oldest, characters in the Marvel Comics Universe. Outside of these two titles, though, there’s been not a peep of concern by anyone. Major change and nobody cares.

I’m even enjoying the Inhumans, for once in their long history with the company. They’re not going to be my favorite group of folks in the Marvel Comics Universe for a while, but the quality is good.  Yet again, though, there’s a worldwide event happening with the Skyspears appearing everywhere that no one else seems to have noticed.

I really am enjoying some of the titles.  The aforementioned “Doctor Strange” and “Hyperion” make this list.  “Gwenpool” is one of the best characters to come around in quite a while. “Mockingbird” just can’t come fast enough. “Black Panther” is breaking new ground for the character. “Deadpool” and his “Mercs for Money” title are gratuitously doing what Deadpool does gratuitously. “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur” is a hoot. “Scarlet Witch,” aside from ignoring the fact that magic has almost been destroyed, is telling great episodic stories along the way toward a longer-term goal. “Power Man and Iron Fist” is solid, and fun. “Ultimates” hasn’t been the best comic, but it has been an important one I’m glad I’ve been reading.

The Civil War 2 storyline is yet another one of those annual events that seems important, but takes attention away from making each comic title the best it can be.  Let’s hope the next Marvel Comics retreat ends with a decision to just stop these annual events and focus on quality. Marvel fans aren’t really fans of the annual events.  The reason is that they nearly always underwhelm.

I love Marvel Comics.  I love the characters.  I love the stories.  I love the history. I wish I could love more of what they’re doing now. What Marvel needs to do is give a sense of consistency across their titles.  They need to give each title a chance to grow on its own while focusing on quality. They really need to toss a few duplicate characters into the wood-chipper (Like Power-Man the younger, who somehow converts cultural energy into strength. Who thought that was  a good idea?). Where’s the “Crisis on Marvel’s Ten-Million Earths” one-shot to straighten all this out?

I’ve almost caught-up with the current titles.  Then I’m back to 1963 on my read-forward.  I can’t wait to get to the 1980s, so I can read about fifteen years worth of the best work Marvel Comics ever did. “The Uncanny X-Men.”