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The news that Marvel Entertainment is “ending” the Marvel Universe as we know it in this summer’s Secret Wars is intended to be a big deal for those following the company’s comic book continuity. (In promoting Tuesday’s press conference, Marvel referred to the news as “the announcement to end all announcements,” somewhat hyperbolically.) In that it’s the first full-scale reboot for the universe since its 1961 inception, it is something to take note of — but in the wider scheme of things, it’s difficult to get too fired up about the news just yet.
Part of the problem is that, while this is the first universe-wide reboot for Marvel’s comic book continuity, the concept is very familiar to comic fans, thanks to the many reboots offered in the last three decades by Marvel’s biggest competitor, DC. In a lot of ways, much of today’s Marvel announcement called back to the first — and arguably, the best — of DC’s multiple universal reboot stories: 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. Not only does Alex Ross‘ cover for the first issue of Secret Wars mirror George Perez‘s cover for Crisis on Infinite Earths No. 1, but the DC series also featured refugees from a number of parallel Earths emigrating to “New Earth,” the one, final Earth that remained at the end of the series — something that appears to be the core of Marvel’s “Battleworld” concept for Secret Wars.
(DC also rebooted their universe in 1994’s Zero Hour, 2004’s Infinite Crisis and 2011’s Flashpoint, the last of which also saw the publisher relaunch all of its titles with a new first issue, another cue that Marvel might take from DC, given that the former has already teased something called “All New Marvel” in September.)
Another hurdle to great enthusiasm is the fact that the idea of Marvel rebooting has been floating around for decades; Sean Howe‘s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story describes such plans as far back as the mid-1980s, and similar reboots have been teased almost every decade since. While it might be exciting that Marvel is actually going to do it this time, the idea, at this point, is far from a new one.
There’s also the fact that, for a lot of fans, the very idea of a Marvel reboot is something to be afraid of, and not excited by. One of Marvel’s core strengths, traditionally, has been that “everything counts” in terms of previously published material. While that’s not technically true — something I’ll get to in a moment — the fact that Marvel’s mythology doesn’t have to deal with the difficult-to-explain concept of “Post-Crisis,” “Post-Zero Hour,” or “Post-Flashpoint” eras has been something of a point of pride for Marvel. As recently as 2012, Marvel’s chief creative officer Joe Quesada was promoting new publishing initiatives by boasting, “We love our hardcore constituency. We’re not rebooting, we’re not saying, ‘Hey, all that stuff you read doesn’t matter anymore.'” Surely rebooting in 2015 doesn’t send an accidental message that Marvel doesn’t love its hardcore constituency anymore — but you’ll have to ask that very constituency how they feel about that.
Perhaps the biggest issue is that it’s difficult to parse the announcement just yet. “The Marvel Universe as you know it is done,” Marvel executive editor Tom Brevoort said in Tuesday’s press conference, but what does that actually mean? The Marvel Universe in today’s comics might have avoided an outright reboot up until now, but that doesn’t mean that it’s been consistent from its creation until this point in time. The portrayal of such icons as Captain America, Iron Man or Spider-Man have long depended on the writers and artists responsible, and comic book storylines have already been created to explain away contradictions, retcons and simple changes in creative directions: the 2007 Spider-Man storyline “One More Day” was created specifically to undo two decades of continuity, dissolve a marriage and bring a dead character back to life, and the climax of 2012’s Age of Ultron series purposefully “broke time,” meaning that anything and everything in Marvel’s history was already up for grabs. The Marvel Universe, as we knew it, has been done for quite some time already; all Secret Wars really adds to the situation is an emphasis to that fact.
The idea of rebooting Marvel’s comic book universe isn’t, in itself, exciting or terrifying; it will depend on what comes afterwards, and how well the relaunch is handled. There’s the potential for both great things — finding a new way to rework familiar ideas, a fresh take on characters that have been left by the wayside for whatever reason to this point — and for disaster. Tuesday’s announcement is a sign that Marvel wants to shake things up, but it’ll be some months until anyone outside of the company understands what that actually means.
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