Every year, Marvel Comics runs what's called a 'Marvel Creative Summit', in which their leading lights gather to discuss the overarching narrative of the next few years. These Creative Summits are where Marvel set their strategic direction, where Summer Events are planned (usually a year ahead), and where writers learn what's being set up in each other's books to ensure the universe is as consistent as possible. In the wake of this year's Creative Summit, Bleeding Cool is leaking rumors about a new direction for Marvel — and even a possible X-Men animated series!
Back to Basics
Last year saw Marvel's main competitor, #DC, on the ascendant. The phenomenal #DCRebirth event transformed the comic book landscape, taking comic book sales to a 20-year record, and giving Marvel stronger competition than they've had in decades. But what really shocked everyone was the reason for DC's success; "Rebirth" is fundamentally a back-to-basics approach that focuses in on the relationship between core characters. It's a repudiation of the dark, angst-filled comics that DC has been focusing on ever since Alan Moore's Watchmen, and it's a criticism of everything comic book companies have been doing since the 1980s.
According to Bleeding Cool, Marvel's response will be to change the focus of their stories. Marvel will dial back on its famous Legacy Heroes, and instead focus in on core characters like Iron Man or Thor. Where longer-term fans find the current status quo pretty much unrecognizable, this new approach will see the Marvel Universe take on a much more familiar shape. Legacy Heroes will still be around — but they won't be the centerpiece of everything Marvel's doing, as they currently are.
Is This Accurate?
The problem, though, is that Bleeding Cool wraps it up in a narrative that Marvel is failing — a narrative that isn't necessarily supported by the facts. As is often the case, Bleeding Cool point to the Diamond comic sales figures, along with (likely accurate) anecdotal evidence that retailers are increasingly frustrated with Marvel.
But this narrative has real problems. The first is that the modern comic book market is far less transparent than the one of, say, 20 years ago. The Diamond sales figures only represent domestic retail orders of comics, not what's actually been sold, and we have literally no figures representing digital sales. Given that Marvel's Legacy Heroes are believed to sell better digitally than in paper format, that's a massive gap in our data. It's led many to question Bleeding Cool's narrative.
But let's be clear; just because Bleeding Cool places the story in a questionable context, it doesn't mean that the story's false. Think of it like receiving a birthday present in Christmas wrapping paper; regardless of the packaging, you still get to unwrap your present. If Marvel is indeed taking this approach, I'd suggest it should be placed in a very different context.
DC's "Rebirth", you see, really is a strong criticism of everything comic book companies have been doing for decades. It raises the tantalizing prospect that a back-to-basics approach may well yield greater rewards than the complex, event-cycle-focused approach Marvel has been taking since the early 2000s. Marvel would be fools not to be questioning their approach right now.
No More Politics?
As Marvel fans will know, the last ten years have seen Marvel double down on the diversity message, with the Legacy Heroes truly standing for something. Meanwhile, since last year writer Nick Spencer has moved to the front-and-center of the Marvel Universe, bringing with him a politically charged narrative that's going to peak in this year's "Secret Empire" event. According to Bleeding Cool, Marvel is beginning to deduce that this controversial approach is a mistake, and that "Secret Empire" will essentially be a 'last hurrah' for politicized storytelling.
Again, this fits with a common narrative that you'll have seen online - with many long-term fans decrying the politicized approach. There's a simple problem with this narrative, though; these books are selling. Take Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, which last year launched a massive Internet furore (complete with pretty chilling death threats). For all the fan outrage, the book kept flying off the shelves.
That said, the changing political landscape in the US — which has seen a figure as controversial as Trump elected into office — may well be exerting a force. The reality is that Trump's victory suggests that more liberal companies, including Marvel, haven't quite read American culture right; that there's a fundamental conflict between two strands of American culture, and that the media has failed to recognize that, instead thinking the liberal side is dominant. I'd be very surprised if Trump's shock victory doesn't force a lot of companies to reevaluate their strategies; they've clearly been misreading their audience. (What's more, it's worth remembering that Marvel's CEO Ike Perlmutter is actually a Trump supporter, who's been welcomed into the new administration. I'd love to be a fly on the wall in Marvel's offices right now!)
Personally, I'd be very sorry if Marvel eschewed political commentary altogether in the wake of "Secret Empire". There's a rich history of overt & implicit politics running through comics, dating back to Martin Luther's use of sequential images to present powerful messages during the Reformation. I further believe that all art forms, including comics, have a real social value; and I'd be reluctant to see the political slant that decline. An alternative approach, perhaps, would be for Marvel to try to balance the politics out, by giving more opportunities for right-wing writers like Nathan Edmondson to do their own thing too.
The Changing Relationship Between Marvel and Fox
Meanwhile, Bleeding Cool also argues that the relationship between Marvel and Fox is changing. It's an open secret that Marvel Entertainment is getting on better with Fox these days; we're about to see the release of Legion, the first Marvel / Fox TV show, for instance. Bleeding Cool has long been building up a narrative that the two companies are effectively at war, pointing to events like the cancellation of Fantastic Four and the death of Wolverine. Their claim has resonated with a lot of #XMen fans, who've believed that their beloved mutants were being sidelined.
Now, though, Bleeding Cool says that Marvel is stepping back from this antagonism. We're about to see the X-Men enter the optimistic "ResurrXion" era, Wolverine seems set to return, and Marvel and Fox are working together on more TV shows. Excitingly, Bleeding Cool even drops in a mention of an X-Men animated series that may be in the works — something fans have truly been longing for.
Before you get too excited, by the way, remember that Marvel Entertainment and Marvel Studios are now separate companies, and #KevinFeige recently ruled out the kind of MCU/ Fox deal many X-Men fans are hoping for. Sorry, guys!
Again, the problem with Bleeding Cool is their overarching narrative; it's undeniable that there was some sort of hostility between Marvel and Fox, but — to use specific examples — Fantastic Four was probably cancelled because it hasn't been selling well for decades, while Wolverine was always set to return soon. Back when he killed him off, writer Charles Soule admitted in an interview that the Canucklehead was dead until "at least 2016".
That said, Bleeding Cool is absolutely right that "ResurrXion" feels almost like a critique of the last few years' worth of X-Men stories. The existential threats are over, and it's time to get back to being superheroes. Ironically, though, in the case of the X-Men you really need to maintain that element of social commentary; the X-Men are, in themselves, a strongly liberal brand, focused on the battle against prejudice and bigotry. If "ResurrXion" is associated with Marvel's dropping the political side of their comics, then I strongly suspect it will fail.
- Will Captain America Lead A 'Secret Empire' In Marvel's 2017 Comic Book Event?
- Ten Times Superheroes Did Politics!
- How Will DC Comics' "Rebirth" Transform The Future of the DC Extended Universe?
So far, all these reports are unconfirmed. There was indeed a Marvel Creative Summit, and the comic book market is indeed changing; but it's too soon to know whether or not Bleeding Cool has accurately called the nature of those changes. If they're right, though, then the next few months should Marvel trying to launch a 'back-to-basics' approach, and redoubling their focus on the X-Men. That animated series idea? Who knows; but Marvel will surely be watching the public reaction to Bleeding Cool's rumor with interest...