It’s a dark time in the Avengers corner of the Marvel Universe. Steve Rogers has lost his super soldier serum and has aged to his 90’s. Thor has lost the right to wield Mjolnir. Red Skull has turned the former mutant nation Genosha into a country of mutant concentration camps. Oh, and the multiverse is collapsing. That’s right every single Marvel universe is bleeding into it’s neighbour and destroying one another. The only way to stop the collapse of both universes is if one of the two Earth’s is destroyed before universal annihilation.
With Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers jumping forward 8 months in time we see where the Marvel Universe will be May 2015, and it’s bad. The world is falling apart. The Illuminati is on the run, as the Avengers blame Iron Man, Black Bolt, Namor, Mr. Fantastic, Beast, Captain Britain, Doctor Strange, Hulk, and Hank Pym (who is going by Yellowjacket, Ant-Man, or whatever) hunt them for the murders of alternate worlds. Meanwhile it’s in fact Thanos and his Cabal who are responsible for the deaths of Billions as alternate Earth enter the 616 reality.
What initially started as a review of Avengers # 35, soon became a review of New Avengers #24 as well. But after reading both issues I felt I really had to address something that has got me very nervous about Marvel’s future. Is Marvel headed for a continuity reboot?
Rumor of a line wide reboot began back with 2013’s Age of Ultron crossover which saw the mad robot kill most of the
Earth’s heroes, and wipe out the remnants of humanity. The surviving heroes believed their only recourse was to go back and fix what happened. Well time travel being time travel that rarely works out as planned, when Wolverine and Invisible Woman take it upon themselves to kill Hank Pym stopping him from ever inventing Ultron in the first place. Again this being time travel, this just makes things worse, so Wolverine has to make things right, killing HIMSELF before he kills Pym… Damn it Bendis! All of this time travel strains the space/time continuum, damaging time itself, and ripping a hole into the Ultimate Universe letting Earth 616 Galactus into the Ultimate U, where he proceeds to F S up.
The crossover seemed to steer clear of what people thought was going to be Marvel’s equivalent to DC’s Flashpoint. A time travel event that remakes continuity, and starts everything over again.
With Age of Ultron not hitting the restart button hit, things went back to normal for a bit. But lately Marvel has still been laying seeds of the possibility that we could see a new Marvel Universe.
In Thor God of Thunder # 25 alluded to a “time of great change” and “upheaval of cosmic decay”. Somehow Old Thor survives whatever this "war" was. It seems odd that if there is going to be a reboot Thor would be able to recall the possible old universe, unless he is one of the only people who remember the way things were, like Psycho-Pirate remember Pre-Crisis Earth over in DC.
All New X-Men finds teen versions of the original 5 X-Men pulled from the past to present day by our time’s Beast. During the Battle for the Atom crossover when The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants from the future (It's complicated. Chalk it up to to me travel) attempted to send the teen X-Men to their home time period but some unseen force blocked their path. How and whether this is linked to the Multiversal collapse remains to be seen. Or whether it somehow ties into the Age of Ultron crossover.
Even more time travel ballyhoo occurred over in Uncanny Avengers, when the Apocalypse Twins, tried to stop Kang from entering our time period, so they could create a Mutant Eden. It was revealed by Kang that time had splintered because of some “mysterious event”, creating multiple primary timelines. Seven timelines in fact. The Apocalypse Twins are inadvertently causing time to decay further with their actions, leading to the destruction of all seven primary timelines. What follows is the destruction of Earth, the creation of a Mutant Utopia, and the fight from Havok and Wasp to set things right. With the help of Kang and his Chrono Corps (oh Remender don’t ever change), and some more time travelling, the Avengers manage to set things right. While the Apocalypse Twin’s chrono dam was destroyed, we still don’t know what happened with these multiple timelines. Could Hickman’s Avengers tie closer to Rick Remender’s Uncanny Avengers than people thought? Could we be in the darkest timeline?
Even over in Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man, there was this little nugget:
Throwaway gag, or hint at what’s to come? Bendis has done these kind of jokes before in Ultimate Spider-Man, but what if it’s not just a bit this time?
If Marvel does in fact do a line wide continuity reboot where does that leave fan-favorite books like Waid and Samnee’s Daredevil, or Wilson and Alphona’s Ms. Marvel? Would Ms. Marvel exist if Marvel did a reboot? Kamala Khan is a fan girl who took up the mantle of Ms. Marvel out of reverence to the hero she most admires, and if continuity is wiped away, would that no longer be the case? Would a character who is less than a year old have a new origin, or would she be dismissed altogether? If it’s the case of the latter that would be a real tragedy as Marvel needs more characters like Kamala, and it being one of my favorite books. Not that I’m biased...
Marvel has been in a bit of a renaissance with it’s Marvel NOW! initiative, relaunching all titles at # 1, seeing the introduction of new characters, as well as very different directions for old characters. Daredevil revealed his identity and is no longer allowed to practice law in New York, so he moved to San Francisco (where he once lived back in Daredevil volume 1 issue 87). Captain America is now in his 90’s so Sam Wilson formerly The Falcon has taken the mantle of Captain America. Cyclops killed Professor X while possessed by the Phoenix Force and is considered a terrorist by the government and his former friends on the X-Men. Iron Man found out he wasn’t the biological son of Howard and Maria Stark, and that their real child Arno Stark was alive and in hiding.
While some of these developments make for great reading and keep the characters fresh for old readers, it also stymies new readers coming onboard. A new reader would be a bit confused after watching Thor: Dark World and wondering why Thor is a woman. And some of these changes are hard to put back. At the end Avengers # 35 we see Invisible Woman leading the hunt for her (possibly former) husband. Marvel’s First Family would be - while more realistic - harder to root for Mr. Fantastic only had Franklin and Valeria every other weekend… actually I kind of want to see that. Sue and Reed have had troubles before, especially after Civil War, but when Reed is responsible for the deaths of billions on alternate Earths. These kinds of dramatic shakeups to the status quo, while interesting, can sometimes move the character too far away from their core. How do you go back to the FF being what they were after something like this? Namor over in New Avengers has thrown in with Thanos and is personally murdering the inhabitants of these other realities. You can’t exactly take Namor back to the character he was.
A line wide relaunch could be coming from the higher ups at Disney. With the Marvel movies practically printing their own money, the House of Mouse may have seen this as the perfect time to start the House of Ideas from scratch. Get Marvel comics more in line with the big money maker: the movies. Trim away some of the crap so kids can start reading the books again without needing a degree in figuring out the Summers’ family tree, or knowing the horrors of Cap-Wolf.
When all is said and done where does that leave the Marvel Universe. Will Marvel start all over again like DC did with it’s Post-Crisis universe? Well Crisis On Infinite Earths Post-Crisis Earth, not Infinite Crisis Post-Crisis Earth, or Final Crisis Post-Crisis Earth… And I’m not even mentioning Zero Hour. Or would Marvel go the mixed continuity route that New 52 went? A lot comic readers haven’t exactly glommed on to the New 52. Sure the first few issues saw a boost in sales, but 90’s style armour, odd characterization, rumours of Editorial mismanagement, and quickly cancelled series have hurt DC’s relaunch. A fan went as far as setting up a website keeps track of DC’s screw ups. DC recently revealed that the old DC Universe still exists and have left themselves a back door in case DC fans completely sour to the New 52. Whether they’ll ever actually pull that trigger remains to be seen. When companies do something this drastic with beloved characters there’s always going to be fanbase backlash. You’re messing with people’s heroes. And as most people know, we comic readers aren’t always the most level headed bunch.
Marvel has attempted continuity reboots before. Spider-Man’s One More Day saw Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage wiped from history, Spider-Man de-aged to his early twenties, and Harry Osborn brought back to life. All he had to do was sell his marriage to the devil. While this did put Spider-Man back to a place that made him somewhat accessible again, it also didn’t sit well with fans on how they did it. Joe Quesada was right in his belief that Peter needed to be single again, and a divorce, or killing Mary Jane off were not the ways to do it. But Spider-Man selling his marriage to the devil wasn’t the way to go about it either.
One could argue that the Ultimate Universe was a test run for a new Marvel universe. There was speculation at one point that the Ultimate Earth would replace Earth 616. For some time when the line of books launched, they were fresh takes on old characters without the restraint of 60+ years of history, but over the course of 10 years the Ultimate Universe built it’s own continuity. Writers began contradicting other writers, timelines didn’t match up, and storylines flopped due to poor writing (really any of the Ultimate stuff written by Jeph Loeb). Today the Ultimate line is a shadow of what it used to be. There’s only two series running, All New Ultimates, and Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man, that’s down from it’s highest point when you had an Ultimate series of the Avengers, X-Men, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and a gaggle of mini-series. Ultimate Spider-Man (the best book in the bunch) has been the only series that’s stuck around since the lines inception, due mainly to the fact that Brian Michael Bendis has been the writer since volume 1 issue 1.
This is all really speculation at this point. Who knows all of this can be a Dallas like dream and Wolverine was alive the whole time. Personally I don’t want to see a new Marvel universe, I like what Marvel’s primary universe has grown in to. Continuity can enrich a story with it’s sense of history. Characters can become legacy characters, like Ms. Marvel or new Thor, and add something new to the fabric of a character’s history. Continuity doesn’t have to be completely ignored to tell a good story. Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men was reverent of what came before, without being bogged by all the Grant Morrison stuff that the X-Men franchise was just coming out of. Sure, 60 years of continuity can be convoluted, and confusing. It may hinder some new readers from picking up a series. It could see writers trying to explain why Iron Man once had roller skates on his armour. Whatever happens next, whether it’s everything back to the status quo, or everybody dying, the universe being wiped out, and we get a whole new universe, Marvel has something big coming around the bend.