Marvel Movies Can't Lose, So Why Can't The Comics Win?

With Avengers: Infinity War proving the MCU reigns supreme, Marvel Comics prepares for a "Fresh Start" comic relaunch, returning their biggest heroes to the spotlight - returning the most beloved, iconic versions of heroes like Spider-Man, Thor, Wolverine and more to their title roles. The bad news? They're turfing the younger generation of heroes who took up those legacies to do it. So as one Marvel Universe seems to be speeding into the future... the other may be taking a step back.

It was in September 2017 that Marvel Comics began their latest relaunch. Partly inspired by DC's hugely successful "Rebirth" initiative back in 2016, "Marvel Legacy" kicked off with a $6 one-shot headlined by writer Jason Aaron and artist Esad Ribic. It was a tremendously effective issue, becoming the best-selling comic of the year.

Marvel has tended towards relaunches of some kind at least once a year, usually in the aftermath of the latest Summer Event. But in this case, "Marvel Legacy" was very different. Where previous relaunches had emphasized newer, younger and more diverse heroes - the likes of Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales's Ultimate Spider-Man, and Miss America - "Legacy" put the spotlight back on the older characters.

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"Marvel Legacy" was only partly successful, and was swiftly followed by the so-called "Fresh Start" line-up of reboots. The new Marvel Comics Editor-In-Chief C. B. Cebulski pushed another relaunch that seems to have doubled-down on this concept. So-called "Legacy Heroes" are getting the short end of the stick, sidelined in favor of the classic versions.

But is this really fair to the concepts and characters Marvel have been developing over the last few years? Is it another step towards the belief that "people don't want new, diverse heroes," so why try to sell them instead of the classics? And is it actually a wise strategy at all?

Marvel Seem To Be Abandoning The Legacy Hero Approach

Marvel's Legacy Heroes are a slew of (usually) younger, more diverse character who've inherited the mantle of another superhero. Sam Wilson became Captain America, X-23 donned the Wolverine mask, and the Spider-Man range has embraced characters like Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen. Meanwhile, other books have carefully pivoted to increase their representation - returning classic X-Men, while having Iceman embrace his long-secret homosexuality.

There were really two drivers for this. Marvel has always prided itself on representing "the world outside your window," albeit with superheroes added into the mix. But that real world has become more diverse than the one of their comics. Secondly, it was an attempt to reach new readers by giving them relatable superheroes. Given most of Marvel's biggest brands were introduced in the '60s and '70s, it made sense to tap into those brands, but adjust them for a new context.

That's actually a fairly traditional approach in the comic book industry, where Hal Jordan was succeeded by John Stewart, or Tony Stark passed on the Iron Man suit to James Rhodes. But it had never been done on such a scale before.

Marvel's "Fresh Start" seems to be ditching this idea. Over in the pages of Jason Aaron's The Mighty ThorJane Foster's story has ended. In the world of the Spider-MenMiles Morales's Spider-Man book has been canceled. Abandoning years' worth of character development, Laura Kinney is reverting from Wolverine to X-23. And, most recently, comic book readers learned that Spider-Gwen is coming to an end as well.

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Some of this was always going to happen. Jane Foster was worthy to wield Mjolnir because she knew the world needed a Thor, and was willing to pay the ultimate price to be it. The character's core concept was always the ticking of a clock, counting down to her inevitable death. Meanwhile, over on Twitter Spider-Gwen artist Robbi Rodriguez confirmed that the book would "finish the story [the creative team] wanted to tell from the beginning."

But the timing is problematic, since it's all happening simultaneously. It's difficult not to perceive it as a deliberate step back from their Legacy Heroes initiative, with all these events carefully timed as part of a major strategic push.

Marvel Built Their Heroes The Wrong Way

Kamala Khan Ms Marvel Comics

The reality is that Marvel's Legacy Heroes approach has actually been extremely controversial - particularly among older, established fans. That's partly the fault of Marvel's unwise handling, as Ms. Marvel writer/co-creator G. Willow Wilson explained in a blog post last year. Her book was essentially the forerunner for the Legacy Heroes approach, with Kamala Khan's popularity taking Marvel by surprise.

Wilson had initially planned for a 10-issue limited series, and even had a three-issue exit strategy if Ms. Marvel failed. The unexpected success of the Pakistani American, Muslim heroine led Marvel to attempt to diversify the entire range, and - as Wilson noted - was done quite clumsily:

"This is a personal opinion, but IMO launching a legacy character by killing off or humiliating the original character sets the legacy character up for failure. Who wants a legacy if the legacy is shitty?"

Wilson's argument was that it's not enough to simply create a new Legacy Hero, but create that character so that the original hero is honored by them. Sam Wilson's Captain America was destined to be controversial, since Marvel turned Steve Rogers into a Hydra agent shortly after handing off the shield. Likewise, Laura Kinney's 'All-New Wolverine' claimed the title because Marvel killed off Logan, feeling the character had lost his definition through overuse and needed a rest.

Wilson went further by stating her belief that "diversity as a form of pejorative guilt doesn't work... Let's scrap the word diversity entirely and replace it with authenticity and realism. This is not a new world. This is *the world.*"

In Wilson's view, Ms. Marvel worked because the book tapped into a unique space, exploring religion in contemporary America. It places traditionalist faith and social justice alongside one another, allowing the creative team to explore some fascinating concepts. In other words, Ms. Marvel serves a purpose, and isn't just "diversity for diversity's sake."

Sadly, several of Marvel's other Legacy Heroes seem like an attempt to simply duplicate the formula, with no real message, theme, or distinctive world-building.

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