There’s been a lot of speculation and excitement surrounding Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso’s recent claim, during interviews with the New York Post and Fast Company, that the company wide All-New, All-Different Marvel, which will see over 50 titles relaunched with new first issues, is “not a reboot.”
And it isn’t, or at least it doesn’t appear to be from the images we’ve seen so far. Any Marvel-watcher could have predicted that the post-Secret Wars “refresh” of the Marvel universe was going to include popular characters from other continuities, most notably the Ultimate universe’s Miles Morales and the Gwen Stacy version of Spider-Woman. But it isn’t a reboot in the sense that it doesn’t claim that prior Marvel Universe continuity “never happened.” Instead, Alonso compared the new structure to a “seasonal model,” presumably one in which new runs on a book will be treated like seasons on a television show — linked by characters but often thematically quite different from one another. Comics Alliance’s Andrew Wheeler — a vocal advocate of the self-contained comics story — sees this model as one of discrete runs, perhaps with relatively frequent “refresh” moments.
In a sense, this isn’t too different from the situation that already exists. Creators’ runs on comics have been markedly different from one another ever since John Romita replaced Steve Ditko in Amazing Spider-Man #39 and every character suddenly became much more attractive. It’s hard to look at old issues of Journey into Mystery and Walt Simonson’s Thor run and claim that they’re meaningfully the same. It’s something that Marvel in particular has struggled with for a long time: although giving creators personalities was an important part of the strategy that distinguished them from DC in the 60s, ultimately publishers want readers to be fans of characters, not of individual artists and writers.
And, of course, although Marvel has always been known as the company that never reboots, in contrast to reset-happy DC, DC’s resets vary in intensity as well. Some DC books were more like puzzles than stories in the late 1980s and early 1990s as writers struggled to get to grips with the implications of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Grant Morrison’s cavalier disregard for the specifics of the New 52 reset set an example more writers should have followed; after all, readers weren’t going to forget stories they’d read even if those stories were “no longer in continuity.”
So is Marvel embracing the inevitable? Are we going to get relatively short runs and less long-term continuity? It might not be such a bad thing. Some have suggested that Marvel is hoping to attract readers who love their characters and the idea of superhero comics but who might be confused by years of continuity. It’s what they tried with the Ultimate line — except that that, too, quickly became buried under years of baroque continuity. Others see the frequent refresh rate as a lab-like approach; if Marvel characters are valuable insofar as they make money from licensing outside comics, then testing as many versions of those characters as possible makes sense. And, of course, it could be another piece of marketing hoo-hah, a way to keep fans excited after Secret Wars comes to a close, and not have any overall effect on the direction of the Marvel Universe.
But if it is an attempt to find a model of comics continuity that appeals to a style of reading driven by trades and Unlimited, it’ll be interesting to see how it works out.