State of the Universe: Marvel Preps For War

That sound you heard is the other shoe dropping – or boot, as it were. Last Tuesday, Marvel Comics announced what was to many the unthinkable: their 2015 major publishing event, “Secret Wars,” will see the chronicle of the company’s shared universe as it presently exists come to an end. Unthinkable because for so many decades, Marvel’s attitude towards its canon could best be summarized by former Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada’s edict, “At Marvel, we don’t have a crisis.” Referring to chief rival DC Comics’ 1985 line-wide crossover “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” which dramatically whittled down and revised the company’s bloated continuity, this soundbyte became something of a rallying cry that assertively illustrated the difference in philosophies between the “Big Two” comics publishers. It painted the older DC as a company at odds with its own fictional universe, eager for any opportunity to cast that history aside in a continual struggle to remain relevant at any cost.

After all, what was “Crisis on Infinite Earths” but the first of many such crises? It was the most radical, sure, but what of “Zero Hour” in 1993? Or the 20th anniversary sequel, “Infinite Crisis?” And 2011’s “Flashpoint,” the story that got us to the contemporary New 52 iteration of DC Comics. The minutiae of DC’s frequent tinkerings with its continuity becomes crushing when taken on all at once. To Marvel’s legion of exclusive fans, “Crisis” was a loaded word signifying the Distinguished Competition’s contentious relationship with its backstory — in essence, emblematic of DC’s inferiority to Marvel.

But Marvel? Marvel championed a view of embracing its history rather than treating it as a liability. Moreover, that history was integral to influencing the interactions between characters and forming a cohesive, ongoing narrative. Every major story of the day had its roots in the one immediately preceding it, establishing a clear lineage that could be traced all the way back to Marvel’s humble beginnings. At least, that’s what the company would like its fanbase to believe. As always, the truth rests somewhere in the middle. Any scrutiny of the history Marvel holds in such high esteem exposes a reality that is rather more muddled.

However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The fact is, DC’s flexible canon, characterized by multiple reboots and countless multiverses (or not, depending on what year it is) in contrast to Marvel’s single, never-ending saga can be pointed to as an objective difference in ideology between the two competitors. While Marvel has explored no shortage of alternate realities as well, they function as either entertaining companions or explicitly set out to reaffirm the “importance” of the core Marvel Universe (designated as Earth-616, to be pedantic). They’re side dishes to the main course: a comfortable, familiar world populated by the classic representations of the Fantastic¬† Four, the Hulk, Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men, and all the rest. The Marvel Universe we have followed since 1961 cannot be so easily dispensed with on a whim.

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe one company’s philosophy is inherently better than the other. Admittedly, my loyalty will always unabashedly lie with Marvel. I’m passionate about their characters like none other and love that the company has managed to keep the storytelling engine running for over 50 years. It’s a remarkable achievement in serialized fiction. I also think that stories have a natural tendency to wind down and it becomes necessary to tie a bow on the whole thing at some point. If a publisher can keep the wheels in motion indefinitely without grinding to a halt, great. But I’m not certain I’ve ever observed that in practice. DC has felt the need to bring its sprawling story to an end and start fresh on several different occasions, and that’s perfectly understandable. I might argue that they haven’t always had stellar reasons for doing so, but I don’t fault them on principle. Different strokes, and never the twain shall meet. It has always been thus.

Regardless of all the other revamps to varying degrees, “Crisis” will forever be looked to as DC’s original line in the sand. That it has since been erased is immaterial to this significance. For a generation of readers, there was DC pre-Crisis and then there was DC post-Crisis. These distinctions were crucial and well-defined. Marvel has had no equivalent – until now.

SecretWars

Worlds will collide. Worlds will die. And from the ashes, a new reality will be born. The event promises to be a celebration and a literal convergence of the past, present, and future(s) in their many and varied splendors. It may well be the final glimpse we are allowed into these familiar favorite worlds before their glorious sendoff. Including the one that started it all. If that invokes a flash of deja vu, it’s because comparisons to “Crisis” are unavoidable in talking about “Secret Wars.” It’s not just what passes for “Crisis” in the Marvel Universe, it’s Marvel doing their version of the story. For all intents and purposes, the plot mechanics are identical.

And why not? “Crisis” is the rare epic that lives up to the hype. It’s as big as superhero storytelling gets and hits every mark. Criticism can be lobbed at the event for being impenetrable to new readers, and that is entirely accurate. But “Crisis” wasn’t particularly concerned with accessibility – that would be found in the destination, not the journey itself. “Crisis” was conceived as a means to an end, delivered in the form of an overstuffed love letter to DC’s lifelong fans. If art is best judged on the basis of what it sets out to do, “Crisis” flawlessly achieves its goal. There’s no bulletproof argument for Marvel not to run with that same mission statement.

Besides, Marvel has taken the lead for years, leaving DC as the perennial runner-up. When interactions between the two competitors so often come in the form of petulant low blows, it’s sort of encouraging to see Marvel acknowledging one of DC’s finest ideas and putting their own spin on it. We can lament the dearth of truly original storytelling in today’s genre fiction, but “Secret Wars” isn’t really the most appropriate target of such consternation. “Secret Wars” is as much an agenda as it is a story, and one that isn’t without precedent in superhero comics. That agenda is a poor outlet for originality. If Marvel isn’t going to tell a wholly original story, at least they have the good sense to steal from the best.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

As always, the devil is in the details. The premise alone makes “Secret Wars” sound like a far too easy and cheap crowd-pleaser. Critically, I know I shouldn’t be letting Marvel off so lightly. But as a diehard Marvel devotee, the possibilities that await in a a deliberate exercise in “Crisis”-style fan service are impossible to ignore. Don’t get me wrong, I have tremendous affection for DC too. But I’ve rarely been able to get as emotionally invested in their universe. Earth-One, Earth-Two, Earth-Three, Earth-Prime, Earth-S, Earth-X, Earth-Haney, and so on? It’s all a bit much even for me to keep up with. Marvel, though, was my first love. A mash-up of the core Marvel Earth, Ultimate Universe, Age of Apocalypse, Marvel 2099, and Days of Future Past – and these are only a sampling of what we know so far? It’s purely a subjective observation, but I simply can’t help but salivate in anticipation like the Pavlovian Marvel Zombie that I am.

Quesada’s mantra echoes to this day. “At Marvel, we don’t have a crisis.” Someone more cynically-inclined will be eager to throw these words back in the company’s face as evidence of retreating on their promise. I fail to see what, exactly, this proves. That Marvel should be beholden to a pithy comment made under a different regime and publishing strategy? It’s absurd, faux outrage and a refusal to accept that the industry has evolved. The Marvel of today is not the Marvel of 2005. More importantly, it fails to recognize the good that can come when Marvel does have a Crisis. As obstinate stands go, it’s a really dumb hill to die on.

I call it the other shoe dropping because, inconceivable as the whole thing seems on the face of it, there have been rumblings for awhile now. Marvel had all of their upcoming major events mapped out as far back as “Avengers vs. X-Men” in 2012, with tentative release dates and titles listed all the way up until the ominous-sounding “Time Runs Out.” “Time,” appropriately, has been the operative word throughout this preamble. We’ve seen Ultron wreaking havoc in the past, Celestials making a mess of the future, and time-displaced original X-Men kicking it in the present with no designs on resuming their proper place in history. From all indications, something is catastrophically wrong with the linear flow of time in the Marvel Universe. The reverberations are being felt throughout nearly every current title.

This evidence alone would be sufficient, but consider as well the status quo “drift” that several major players and franchises have undergone in recent times. Steve Rogers being incapacitated and replaced as Captain America; Thor Odinson deposed as the God of Thunder; Tony Stark’s new found superiority complex as Iron Man; the X-Men splintered between two factions; Wolverine dead. Meanwhile, there is the simultaneous reintroduction of several popular, nostalgia-inducing alternate timelines such as the Age of Apocalypse and Marvel 2099. Finally, the Ultimate Universe has been utterly strip-mined, leaving Spider-Man Miles Morales as one of the few heroes left standing on that earth. Is the timing of these stories coincidental, or are Marvel’s creators cleverly priming the readership for a big pay-off? Clearly, something has to give.

It reaches a tipping point when, indeed, Time Runs Out and the walls between worlds fall. The phenomenon has a name – the Incursion – and it will see an intersection of the core Marvel and Ultimate universes (among others), killing both realities as we have come to know them and combining the remnants into chaotic medley. These gestalt entities assemble to form Battleworld, and lo, “Secret Wars” will be upon us. I don’t think it makes me a visionary to say I saw this on the horizon, but I never imagined it coming about quite like this. I’m still fighting through some denial with respect to the degree of Marvel’s ambitions.

I will say, the promotion behind "Secret Wars" has been wickedly fun, highlighted by an interactive map revealing the known realms of Battleworld -- and lots of guesswork as to the identity of the ones that remain classified.
I will say, the promotion behind “Secret Wars” has been wickedly fun, highlighted by an interactive map revealing the known realms of Battleworld — and lots of guesswork as to the identity of the ones that remain classified.

It’s all very meta the way this is unfolding. What’s that, you say? Brian Bendis does not follow the longstanding “laws” governing time travel in the Marvel Universe? No kidding. He’s so bad at it, in fact, that a familiar refrain has emerged commenting on this trend in the comics themselves! Time is broken. Creators and characters alike can frivolously skirt the issue, but soon, very soon, this hubris is going to circle back on them with dire consequences. It’s a type of self-awareness that can be disdainful towards the readership, but in this case, I find endearing. The creators are having some fun at the expense of themselves rather than the audience, and that’s the key difference. They’re rewarding savvy readers for perceiving cracks in the writing. One can’t ask for more decisive validation of his criticism than the implosion of the entire freaking narrative, which “Secret Wars” promises to deliver.

Now, I realize some will call this an overly generous reading and an example of my company bias showing. Fundamentally, careless writing is careless writing and it shouldn’t get a pass, even if it might be by design. At the end of the day, I suppose that all depends on how strictly one demands Marvel’s writers adhere to the tenets of their multiverse. I’m not particularly bothered by the fact that creators today do not rigidly uphold mandates handed down by Mark Gruenwald in 1992 (much as I respect the man and praise be his name). And I reiterate, it isn’t a thing that’s being done without repercussions. The creators are cognizant of the rules they’re breaking, and I admire how they’re playing at it.

Shout-out to the Time Variance Authority
Shout-out to the Time Variance Authority

While a preference for Marvel can lead my objectivity astray at times, it’s not all wine and roses. Occasionally I feel like I’m too invested in these fictional people, a byproduct of lifetime fandom. Quite simply, I have no recollection of any period when Marvel comics were not a part of my life. The passion I have for this thing that to some is merely one of many casual pastimes gets expressed both in bouts of unbridled praise and jaded derision. Comics, Marvel especially, just feel intrinsic to my make-up as a human being. I can get a little overprotective of “my Marvel,” to put it mildly. There’s no stronger trigger for such a response than that primal fear of the unknown. Here is where I must do my best to maintain a sense of perspective. There are rational fears and irrational ones, and knee-jerk judgments founded on incomplete information are about as far into the spectrum of the latter as it gets. Of course, this is not to say I don’t have some legitimate trepidations heading into “Secret Wars.”

Event fatigue. Let’s go ahead and get that one out of the way right now. Not a single 12-month period has transpired since June of 2005 without a major event story and/or line-wide crossover in Marvel Comics. These have been a hallmark of the industry since 1984, with the exception of a fallow period of about five years in the early 2000s. Where once a 3-month, 19-part crossover was considered excessive, contemporary event comics stand in contrast by their vastly more expansive breadth and length, eating up large chunks of the publishing calendar. Dedicated fans are allowed little breathing room between events, leading to desensitization and burnout. This complaint has been intractable for about the better part of six years. Publishers always try to offer reassurances that readers don’t have to commit to every individual tie-in issue, but it does little to dissuade the overall exhausting effect of the permanent event cycle. And as modern big event comics storytelling goes, “Secret Wars” looks to be the mother lode.

Remember "House of M" in 2005, when crossovers felt fresh and exciting again? You know, ten years ago.
Remember “House of M” in 2005, when crossovers felt fresh and exciting again? You know, ten years ago.

I don’t think it’s simply the frequency of events that contributes to feelings to indifference towards each new announcement, but their content as well. I can’t say I’ve found Marvel’s latest offerings all that inspiring. The recently-wrapped “AXIS” seemed like an entertaining gimmick, but didn’t have enough steam to run for months on end. Just prior to that, “Original Sin” petered out despite a great opening hook. I still don’t know exactly what to make of “Infinity” or “Inhumanity.” “Age of Ultron” was… certainly a thing that happened (actually, this may read better in the context of planting the seeds for “Secret Wars”). It sounds like a game of word association more than a progression of stories with meaningful impact, and this is only accounting for the past two years!

In addition to the titular Secret Wars series, Marvel has already announced the companion titles Battleworld and Warzones. Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso has all but assured that Marvel’s entire slate of books will be subsumed by the event, as all creative teams were given ample notice that “Secret Wars” was on the horizon. I worry about the future of books like Captain Marvel, Rocket Raccoon, Miles Morales, Ms. Marvel, Storm, Cyclops, and Magneto. All under-the-radar or offbeat solo titles that offer an alternative to the glut of redundant Avengers, Spider-Man, and X-Men fodder. What these series may lack in sales figures is more than made up by what they offer in their diversity and critical acclaim.

They rather look like intro screens for an old school arcade style beat-em-up. That's kind of fitting, actually.
They rather look like intro screens for an old school arcade style beat-em-up. That’s kind of fitting, actually.

This is to say nothing of the likes of Silk, Ant-Man, All-New Hawkeye, and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (yes, really) that will barely have even gotten off the ground come May. I hope there’s still a place for these characters – if not the actual series they inhabit – following the Incursion. And what of the new takes on iconic characters like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor? If Marvel were looking for an opportunity to push the reset button on these directions any time soon, “Secret Wars” offers the most immediate, easy out. It’s precisely what I don’t want to see happen.

I was critical of the early Marvel NOW! branding campaign, characterized by a doubling down on Marvel’s guaranteed sellers (albeit an appropriate countermeasure to DC’s New 52 relaunch at the time). The brand has since diversified greatly and settled into a nice little grove. In fact, Marvel has experienced something of a creative renaissance in recent years. More than the sum of the individual publications, what Marvel NOW! has come to embody is a spirit of experimentation and willingness to take risk. Sales will win out over substance just about every time, but there’s still something to be said for the prestige of supporting something simply because it’s better than everything else on the stands. It’s a value position that Marvel seems to recognize at the moment, and I despair at the notion of “Secret Wars” being treated as an excuse for regression.

So what’s so special about “Secret Wars” that has me feeling more hopeful than I’ve been towards Marvel’s overheated event stories of the recent past? For one thing, it promises a scope to truly justify its girth. Comparatively speaking, “Age of Apocalypse” was a crossover spanning four months and running through all eight monthly X-Men family books in 1995 (plus a couple of one-shot bookends). It consisted of nearly 40 issues, all told. At no point did that storyline feel decompressed or stretched thin. If anything, the amount of world-building it entailed made for a dense read. The Age of Apocalypse is but one cog in the wheel that is Battleworld. If we’re genuinely allowing the plot to dictate the volume of physical product it is divided into, this one is going to need a lot of space to stretch out. It is far and away the most panoramic of Marvel’s undertakings. Nevertheless, I find myself more intrigued than overwhelmed.

EIC Axel Alonso stressed, “Secret Wars is not an intermission from our regularly scheduled program; it is our regularly scheduled program.” This framing of “Secret Wars” as the status quo, unorthodox though it may be, actually lessens my sense of obligation to buy every single title tying into the concept. That’s because all the titles will be carrying the burden, so to speak. It’s somewhat counter-intuitive, but when Secret Wars is thought of as the Marvel Universe rather than a tale within the Marvel Universe, the relevant choices in terms of the market are really no different than those of today. I fully expect I’ll skip the books that aren’t of interest to me the same way I do now. Alonso’s decree notwithstanding, I know “Secret Wars” cannot be sustained indefinitely. The line will eventually stabilize, which necessitates a new adjustment period. In other words, business as usual. The chief difference is there will be no going back to a baseline that existed pre-Battleworld. “Secret Wars” is changing the playing field altogether. That fills me with a lot more enthusiasm than a bunch of heroes and villains trading places for a day.

The Marvel Universe meets Freaky Friday in "AXIS."
AXIS, or the Marvel Universe meets Freaky Friday.

Too often, fans are let down by the obvious story they thought they were going to get in the first place because so much misdirection is purposely baked into the hype on the part of publishers. The apparent strategy of building interest by obfuscating and casting doubt on the plot, sometimes the very premise, of a big event arguably does more harm than anything in the pages of the actual comics. Clarifying at least the set-up when heading into an event would go a long way towards retaining goodwill and managing expectations. It allows the story to stand on its own, even if it’s one that readers could see coming from a mile away. If predictability is the worst accusation that can be leveled against an event before it has actually started, I’d say that’s evidence of a job well done in the build. If nothing else, it seems like a better policy than trying to swerve the readership. That’s my impression of “Secret Wars.” Though it leaves plenty of questions unanswered, the story offers no pretensions of being something it isn’t.

“Secret Wars” is raiding the toy box and banging all the action figures together, plain and simple. On the surface, it’s fun, unadulterated wish fulfillment. Still, that does not a story make, so we need some narrative glue to hold this thing together. Said glue will be supplied by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic, two inspired choices for the daunting task at hand. Hickman is synonymous with big ideas, and he is arguably without peer in the superhero genre when it comes to actually making good on those ideas. He works from a massive playground of high concepts, yet has a talent for articulating his ambitions coherently and concisely. Under Hickman’s pen, what I often think should fly way over my head instead feels tangible, even downright lived in. Through all of this, he manages to infuse his plots with humanity, never losing sight of the characters that must be at the heart of all of these stories. It’s a balancing act that is so rarely executed successfully. These sensibilities are exactly what “Secret Wars” will need in order to meet its lofty remit.

Esad Ribic most recently made his mark on a fabled two-year run penciling Thor: God of Thunder. Cliche though it may be, “epic” is the most direct, evocative descriptor of his work. As designer of the new female Thor as well, Ribic is so stranger to controversy or the kind of high-profile storytelling that surrounds “Secret Wars.” Prior to his association with Thor, Ribic illustrated the likes of Silver Surfer and the Sub-Mariner, two other characters steeped in mythological archetypes. It’s a resume that will serve the legendary aspirations of Battleworld well. Long after “Secret Wars” has wrapped, the one debate that future comics historians won’t be having is whether Marvel picked the right artist for the job.

I have faith that the qualities I have come to adore in Marvel NOW! will carry over to Marvel in the Secret Wars, even if the environment does not. Furthermore, I foresee “Secret Wars” embedding some of the recent changes to the flagship characters even deeper, rather than serving as the means to wipe them out. It would have a nice streamlining effect, if, for instance, Sam Wilson was retroactively slotted into the position of having always served as the modern day Captain America. This does not preclude a return by Steve Rogers at some point, in some capacity (that’s the beauty of suspended animation). In the same vein, Kamala Khan may well find herself in the position of being the one and only Ms. Marvel, rather than a legacy character carrying on in the tradition of Carol Danvers. Perhaps Carol was simply known as Captain Marvel from the day she got her powers; the names aren’t really integral to the foundations of either character.

Might wanna make your peace with this.
Might wanna make your peace with this.

Point being, I don’t see Kamala Khan going anywhere. Marvel has invested too much in Kamala’s development to just allow her to be callously steamrolled by their own shifting narrative. Similarly, the company would not have introduced the specific types of changes that they did in the Captain America and Thor mythos just to sweep them under the rug less than a year later. “Secret Wars” has been on the calendar for years, so there would have been no point making those alterations in such close proximity to the event unless they were part of the long game. More likely, I’d wager these new directions were eased into the familiar Marvel Universe first as a means of getting readers acclimated to the newer versions of the characters before more firmly cementing their status.

I single out Kamala because she's really in a unique position as the company's goodwill ambassador. Please, Marvel, can we keep her?
I single out Kamala because she’s really in a unique position as the company’s goodwill ambassador. Please, Marvel, can we keep her?

The movies — either produced by Marvel or competing studios — really have no part in this discussion. A reboot of the shared universe would need to be wrapping up right now (or already in the rear view) if Marvel had any real intentions of synergistically aligning their properties with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The default versions of the “Big Three” Avengers would be at the forefront of any new projects and the company would want to have enough material for collected editions to be available by the Avengers: Age of Ultron May opening. As it stands, “Secret Wars” will just be getting underway at that point, so the comics will in no way mirror the films for any curious moviegoers. The timing is completely off for that to be a going concern. Historically, movie ticket sales have not translated to comic sales and Marvel has evidently decided it is not worth sacrificing their publishing strategy in trying to chase a fickle audience that may or may not show up.

All this is to say, if certain characters are put into hibernation for a year or two — and I’m looking squarely at Wolverine and the Fantastic Four — this shouldn’t be taken as evidence of a conspiracy theory to sink the fortunes of 20th Century Fox. In the same way that movie money is not correlated with an increase in comics money, publishing revenues do little to drive ticket sales. Wolverine is an established film commodity at this point, so taking him off the board in an effort to marginally undercut profits for Fox is akin to Marvel cutting off its nose to spite its face. There may well be some genuine corporate-level talks about conflicts of interest over heavy promotion of the characters in future projects, but this does not a conspiracy theory make. The characters need a damn rest, badly, and absence makes the heart grow fonder. It worked wonders for Thor, after all.

Still the best there is at what he does. And what he does... is stay dead.
Still the best there is at what he does. And what he does… is stay dead.

With “Secret Wars,” Marvel will make history by rewriting it. For better or worse, keep in mind that Marvel doesn’t have to do this. Yes, the continuity has gotten pretty long in the tooth, but it hasn’t reached some desperate point of no return. Marvel sees opportunity (dollar signs), and the cost/benefit analysis clearly favors a reboot of some sort over the next forgone alternative. It’s risky of course, but the greater the risk, the greater the potential reward. If the past decade-plus of Marvel’s leadership has taught me anything, it’s that the company always has a plan, even if it’s one I’m not entirely keen on. When they take a risk, it’s a calculated one.

Besides, what is Marvel’s official policy on continuity but an ongoing exercise in rewriting history? While it is one, long, open-ended tapestry, the characters are, concurrently, frozen in time. This conceit is made possible by the sliding timeline. It compresses Marvel’s complete history into a 10-15 year (depending on who you ask) in-universe chronology. In the context of their own past, the Fantastic Four didn’t take their fateful mission to the stars in 1961; it was more like 2001. Topical references and holidays observed in the pages of the comics? We’re to dismiss those as immaterial, the specifics never having happened exactly as shown. The problem is, the more the actual, real-life years pile up, the more the fictional history gets crunched. Eventually, it becomes so compacted that it’s hard to imagine the heroes having a moment of undocumented downtime or a single day where all of existence goes unthreatened.

I don’t think the sliding timeline has become too unwieldy or implausible yet. Marvel could probably squeeze another 10-20 years out of it. But the fact is, we’ve already had to edit out not just inconsequential topical references, but large chunks of the backstories of certain characters. For instance, Reed Richards and Ben Grimm were once intended to have served in WWII. Like most characters with military experience, their service records were deleted and bumped ahead to place them in some other unspecified engagement. Then there are cases like the Punisher, whose tactical expertise and personality are informed by his experience as a Vietnam veteran. As a man of no superhuman abilities, he sure doesn’t seem like he’s pushing 80. Similarly, Magneto is a Holocaust survivor, a facet so intrinsic to the character that writers have jumped through extraordinarily convoluted hoops over the years to justify this remaining part of his origin.

Pictured: the far-flung future of 2013. As envisioned in 1981 comics.
Pictured: the far-flung future of 2013. As envisioned in 1981 comics.

Even if we ignore the most blatantly problematic characters, it isn’t just the details that matter. JFK doesn’t really have to be in office at the dawn of the Marvel Age, but Marvel is still built on the notion that its universe is our universe. The very real culture that shaped our experience also shaped that of the characters. Maybe they can go unblemished for never having known disco, but where does it stop? In ignoring the current events of the day, the sliding timeline also necessarily ignores the culture. At some point, we have to concede that the characters as they exist in the permanent “now” cannot possibility bear any true resemblance to their depictions in the comics we were reading 25 years ago. The timeline slides forward ever so gradually, so we don’t perceive the full extent of the impracticalities. But when we actually stop to consider the implications, it becomes irrefutable.

If the sliding timeline means that all we’re left with, for all intents and purposes, are the broad strokes of these characters’ histories, what’s the point in maintaining the illusion? Marvel doing a hard reboot would basically be nothing more than a consolidation of all the soft changes they’re constantly making to the timeline anyway. Like ripping off a band-aid, it’s momentarily painful but does no lasting harm. Marvel may not need to do this now, but it’s something that has to be addressed sooner or later. It’s a choice, to do today what’s only going to become much harder tomorrow. In that sense, they’re not so much jumping the gun as getting ahead of the curve.

I’m probably coming off as unusually chipper in talking about the end of something that has been a lifelong source of joy. Maybe that’s the denial at work, a coping mechanism that will give way to pessimism as the ramifications of “Secret Wars” ensue. Yet I can’t shake the thought that immediately bursts forth whenever I contemplate Marvel’s future: “this needs to happen.” Where once that was a vague tingle in the back of my mind, the years have seen it build to an inescapable, thunderous roar. Part of me will push back, will resist and cling to what I hold dear, but intellectually I know it’s for the best. Every so often, it becomes time to clear out the detritus and scrape off the barnacles. If only we were so fortunate to have this option when it comes to the baggage in our real lives.

“Meaning” is an awfully arbitrary concept in the context of genre fiction. Time, especially, becomes meaningless when there is too much of it – as is the case in the indefinite nature of serialized superhero storytelling. Inserting some touchstones along the way to mark the passage of time is healthy, lest we take the present for granted. Marvel’s signature characters existed before I was born, and they will almost certainly continue beyond my expiration. Immortality is a terrible burden to bear. Marvel can try to keep the narrative frozen in time, in defiance of the ever-shifting forces of the marketplace, increasing consumer apathy, and irresistible march of eternity itself. I’m glad to see the company seizing control of its legacy instead of surrendering to destiny after it’s too late. It remains to be seen quite how drastically the canon will be altered. Some are already accusing Marvel of overreacting, even panicking, by pushing the reset button. That it’s a rash decision occurring too soon and going too far. On the contrary, my biggest disappointment with respect to “Secret Wars” will be if it doesn’t go far enough.

Author: Tim Capel

Tim Capel has a PhD in X-Men continuity with a minor in post-Crisis Superman. His other interests include travel, food, 1990s network primetime dramas, staying out of jail, and going to the bathroom at work. He's even dumber in person. Send Tim an email