Comic books are king right now, and Marvel is the king of comic books. This pertains to all aspects. Not only are Marvel’s movies are raking in the millions, its actual superhero comics are fresher than ever, acclaimed by critics and audiences alike. In this week’s edition of Musings from the Multiverse, we’ll be talking about what Marvel’s comics are doing right.
In geek terms, a “reboot” refers to a fictional continuity revamping itself for the sake of freshness. Casino Royale was a reboot of the James Bond franchise, for instance. As I was beginning college, DC decided to completely reboot their superhero comics, cancelling all their series and starting from scratch. Marvel also went through a change last year, but instead of rebooting, they simply refreshed. The result is "Marvel NOW!," a breath of fresh air for Marvel's 50-year-old franchises. The decades of fictional history are still intact, but new teams of artists/writers are tackling the characters from new angles.
Check out some "Marvel NOW!" favorites out if you’ve been looking to jump from Marvel’s movies to the comics.
Young Avengers has been my favorite superhero comic ever since The O.C. writer Allan Heinberg launched it with artist Jim Cheung back in 2005. Unfortunately, Heinberg’s TV schedule kept him from consistently writing comics, and the Heinberg/Cheung only ever produced 18 issues in seven years. Luckily, "Marvel NOW!" relaunched the series with an all-new cast, an all-new creative team and (at last) a consistent schedule. The 15 issues of writer Keiron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie’s run single-handedly sucked me back into comics.
Marvel’s trademark has always been believability, but don’t tell that to this iteration of Young Avengers. They’ve got a girl who can kick through dimensions and a pint-sized trickster god obsessed with blueberry pancakes. That's right: Loki, the Avengers villain who has become such a Tumblr sensation, is a member of the Young Avengers here in magically pint-sized form. His role isn't the only thing that makes Gillen and McKelvie's Young Avengers a comic for the Tumblr generation. Panels are laid out like Instagram posts and there's hardly a single straight white male to be found.
The last few issues of the run are admittedly kind of weak, but all the crazy, comic-book fun along the way makes up for it.
The jewel in the crown of "Marvel NOW!" is Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye. You may remember Hawkeye as the rather ineffectual archer played by Jeremy Renner in The Avengers. In that movie, Renner alternated between brainwashed-badass and Legolas-wannabe, but Fraction makes him into the best loser hero Marvel’s ever seen (which is really saying something). Fraction's Clint Barton can't do anything right, whether it's catching bad guys or mentoring his sidekick.
Sidekick? Yes, Barton is only half the story. The best part of Hawkeye is that it actually features two Hawkeyes: the older Barton and his young protégé, Kate Bishop, who took his name while he was temporarily dead a few years ago (comics, amirite?). Bishop, also a member of the Young Avengers, is this comic's true star. She is brash and independent and keeps the schmucky Barton in line. She is an amazing character for superhero comics, given their history of unfair portrayals of women, and I wait with bated breath for her film debut.
Together with a rotating team of artists, Fraction makes Hawkeye into true Pop Art with innovative storytelling techniques. One issue is told from the perspective of a dog, for example. Infographics are often used and the whole thing feels kinetic. It really shows off the potential of the comic book form, the way cool interactive stories do for online journalism. Think of Hawkeye as the “Snow Fall” of superhero comics, if you will.
DC has long been the go-to place for comics about the multiverse, but writer Jonathan Hickman has made it the prevailing plot of "Marvel NOW!." In fact, Hickman seems pretty unabashed about repurposing old DC storylines recently. In New Avengers, he casts Marvel’s Illuminati (a secret cabal of superheroes form each of the main teams) against a multiversal crisis not unlike DC’s 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths. Alternate universes are colliding with the Marvel Earth, and somebody needs to figure out how to stop it. Black Panther, one of the biggest badasses in the Marvel universe, takes center stage, if you needed another reason to get psyched for his upcoming movie.
Those are just my favorites. There are several more interesting "Marvel NOW!" series out there. The focus of the line is movie properties like the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, but hey, isn't that what you want to read anyway?