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Cue the Welcome Back, Kotter theme music: At a live press conference from NYC’s Midtown Comics today, Marvel unveiled “Fear Itself,” a line-wide event beginning in March. Featuring a prologue one-shot by Ed Brubaker and Scot Eaton, tie-ins, spin-off stand-alone miniseries, and an April-launching seven-issue core limited series by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen, it’s very much in the vein of past mega-events like “Civil War,” a comparison company personnel made repeatedly at the presser. If anything, it sounds even bigger than “Civil War,” as the two core Marvel franchises who’ve traditionally been kept at arms’ length from the big events of late, the Hulk and the X-Men, look to be playing an integral role right along with the Avengers, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and so on.
As such, it’s a marked departure from the post-“Dark Reign”/”Siege” direction of the Marvel Universe, which has seen the era of big line-spanning events give way to franchise/family-specific crossovers and mini-events like “Shadowland,” “Second Coming,” “World War Hulks” and “The Gauntlet,” under the loose “Heroic Age” banner.
The past year, during which smaller events were the norm at the company, has seen a marked decline in sales, and editors like Tom Brevoort have noted that fans appear to be confused and overwhelmed by the proliferation of smaller events, even though the thinking behind them (along with avoiding creator and reader burnout on the bigger crossovers) was that they’d be less demanding of consumers’ energy and cash than the mega-events. Now, correlation does not imply causality, and there are any number of explanations for slack sales besides the relative merits of different event-comic business models, from the overall economy to price hikes on individual titles to readers simply being less interested in the stories on hand.
Keep in mind that DC’s sales have suffered, too, the success of “Blackest Night” and “Brightest Day” and even the franchise-specific “Return of Bruce Wayne” (not to mention future plans for “Flashpoint” and “War of the Green Lanterns”) notwithstanding. But by returning to the mega-event model, Marvel appears to be saying that in their eyes, at least, a change was needed, and the way to move forward was to go back to what worked in the past.
As a pundit, I find this stuff pretty fascinating. As a reader and critic, I don’t give a crap — all that really matters to me is that the comic in front of me be entertaining. Personally, I think “Fear Itself” has a lot of potential in that regard. “Straight-up supervillain comes hard at all of the superheroes, even the gamma and mutant ones” is a long-overdue structure for a Marvel mega-event, which from “Avengers Disassembled” onward have all either pitted heroes against heroes (“Disassembled,” “Civil War,” “World War Hulk”) or heroes against villains who appeared to be heroes to someone, at least (“House of M,” “Secret Invasion,” “Dark Reign,” “Siege”). An old-school good-vs.-evil crossover from character-conscious talents like Fraction and Immonen could be just what the doctor ordered this spring and summer. And judging from Marvel’s move away from the business plan they announced with much fanfare when unveiling “Siege” over a year ago, that’s what they’re banking on.