Word coming in from Marvel Comics about their new “Heroic Age” from USA Today (coming to me by way of Four Color Media Monitor) and Marvel’s own official announcement.

Marvel Comics is proud to announce The Heroic Age, the dawn of an exciting new era of heroism in the Marvel Universe! Beginning in May 2010 with the release of AVENGERS #1, The Heroic Age ushers in a brighter Marvel Universe and a bold new era for the world’s greatest super heroes as they emerge from darkness with a renewed sense of hope and optimism, leading to the formation of all new teams with new members…and brand new characters! Titles branded with the Heroic Age banner offer a perfect jumping on point for readers new and old alike, as the top comic book creators in the world deliver a Marvel Universe like you’ve never seen before!

Yes, it appears that Marvel has seen the error of its ways. That “grim and gritty” only works when it the story calls for it. Choose your President, but I’ve heard more believable State of the Union addresses.

Let me explain why, and it has nothing to do with wanting to be pessimistic to fortify some critic “street cred” or whatever else you’ll accuse me of. I just have trouble believing the Jeff Parkers, Paul Tobins, and Fred Van Lentes of the writing staff (which would be Jeff Parker, Paul “my site is too weird for even Mr. Tronix to link to” Tobin, and Fred Van Lente) have instituted some kind of storytelling rebellion over Quesada, Brian Michael Bendis, and Jeff Loeb.

Nothing against Mr. Bendis (Loeb and Quesada not so much), but darker has been the way to go since–not their reign, but the 90’s. Not that Marvel was ever really as light as DC Comics used to be. (Unless you count the “Star” imprint, which was mostly kids stuff and later licensed kids stuff.) Real world concerns, while not on the level of Watchmen, thank goodness, was Marvel’s “thing”, and that what they excelled at. That’s how you get interesting stories like Iron Man’s “Demon in a Bottle” arc, or the serious issue of drug use on Harry’s part. I don’t have anything against dark, and while I’m a “DC fanboy” if anything, I can still appreciate Marvel’s storytelling style, at least until recent.

Even Marvel points out how far down the tunnel they’ve traveled.

Over the past few years, the Marvel Universe and its citizens have found themselves living in a dark age of despair. Beginning with the disbanding of the Avengers, the heroes of the Marvel Universe have been caught in a demoralizing downward spiral that has included the genocide of the mutant population, a divisive civil war between heroes, the assassination of Captain America, a worldwide subversive alien infiltration and invasion, and the media-fueled and publicly-supported ascension of the Green Goblin’s civilian identity, Norman Osborn, to power and control of the United States. Now, the heroes have united once again, stronger than ever and are prepared to face the dangers that lie ahead.

And from the USA Today article:

It also could mark a major shift in comic book storytelling, which took a turn to grittier stories after the success of DC’s The Dark Knight Returns and Marvel’s more adult take on Daredevil in the 1980s.

Quesada says that Marvel’s return to “good guys” was in the works for two years, was finalized eight months ago and that the Disney takeover had no role.

Granted, if they’re telling the truth here about when this idea started, it was long before Disney and Marvel started really pounding their deal into the stone tablets (but was it long enough before the courtship began?). However, this speaks to the Marvel staff being drawn to these “superepic” ideas that have led to “Eventitis” in both Marvel and their Distinguished Competition. Four Color notes that the current “age” of Marvel stories started with Bendis, and his “Avengers: Disassembled” storyline. From there, it was House of M, Civil War, and so on to the current “Siege” arc. In the meantime there have even been a few events going on at the same time. (Secret Invasion and Reign of Kings worked together to keep most of the Marvel titles connected to the same story, thus killing individuality among titles.)

If the same people who gave us something so awful (“disassembling heroes”) are still minding the store, then this latest move can only be assumed as yet another publicity stunt. For all we know, the Avengers could be depicted just as badly as Peter Parker is now in Spider-Man, in terms of personality, and their adventures filled with either gratuitous violence, or just pathetic action. Plus, Bendis is the “master” of decompressed storytelling, and that too could easily bog things down.

That’s a point. The whole plan to always use multiple arcs “to better collect as a trade”, falls apart because the current group doesn’t understand what made Secret Wars or “Demon in a Bottle” work was their rarity among the 1-2 part stories that made us care about the characters. Both companies have all but dropped supporting casts and “normal” days in the characters lives in favor of the big events. Spider-Man has sneaked by so far for now, but with one of his big enemies running 616 into the ground, that can’t last much longer. And one other aspect of Spidey’s life is also notable, as Avi quotes from the USA Today article:

Quesada pushed a complete makeover for Spider-Man two years ago in a “Brand New Day” story line, which wiped out Peter Parker’s marriage to Mary Jane and repositioned the hero as the teenage loner he was in the 1960s.

In the upcoming Avengers’ story line, however, the changes will remain in continuity and will not be a “reboot” of the franchises involved.

The problems with Spider-Man now aren’t just the wipeout of the Spider-Marriage, but that since this was done, Peter Parker has been portrayed largely as a slacker and a jerk. And if Spidey isn’t depicted heroically, and even his action scenes are a cop-out, and Marvel continuity as a whole is in a shambles, how can we expect them to deliver convincingly?

Good point. The lighter tone still means the Spider-Marriage will remain wiped from continuity because none of the writers seem to be able to write about a happily married superhero and his family. (And yet Mark Waid does a great job with Boom! Kids’ The Incredibles, even without Landry Walker’s help.) Why should we believe they can write a lighter universe when they haven’t shown the ability in the past. Can anyone point me to a “light” Loeb story? (I don’t mean a good one, because I’m sure one or two of those exist somewhere by the law of averages. I mean a “light” one.) For that matter, Ed Brubaker, who has won much fan approval but also writes darker stories in Captain America and Daredevil. (I’m not sure Daredevil works any other way, much like Batman.)

There is one thing they’re finally getting right, though.

David Gabriel, Senior Vice-President of Sales & Circulation, Marvel Entertainment LLC. added “We’ve been working out the details of THE HEROIC AGE for about a year now. The plan is to give old and new fans alike the perfect place to jump into the Marvel Universe without feeling like they’ve missed out on anything that’s come before. If there’s a Heroic Age banner on one of the books, we’re serious when we say ‘the Marvel Universe Starts Here!”

I’m all for bringing new readers in, but with the mess the Marvel Universe has become I find that hard to do. Unless they’re going to sweep things under the rug, which brings to question how Tony wins everyone’s forgiveness, what becomes of the Superhero Registration Act, and if they’re really going to let Bucky remain as Captain America with Steve taking on another role in the Marvel Universe (perhaps leader of the reformed SHIELD, but then what happens to Nick Fury)?

I wish them luck and I hope they fix what’s been broken in the Marvel Universe. Maybe 616 won’t be dead to me anymore. I just have too many doubts, Disney or no Disney.

EDIT: 2 hours later> This article at  Colossus of Rhodey indicates that political perspectives aren’t going to change, either.

About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

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