By AlexLaVelle 1 Comments
Marvel's decision to relaunch some series at issue #1 in conjunction with their All-New Marvel Now initiative has garnered much discussion lately, with a strong focus on the negative aspects of this decision. Many have cited a preference for traditional, continuous numbering due to nostalgia, concern about a negative impact on an ending volume, or even simple personal preference. Others have pointed at higher sales figures for first issues than for those with higher numbers as a driving factor; in this case, the tone of the argument can vary drastically from simple analysis of a distinct market trend to a more cynical view that the goal is to do whatever sells. Certainly, those arguments and concerns are completely legitimate. But I believe there is something else behind this decision: the ways we have numbered and collected comics in the past simply isn't consumer-friendly.
A little background on where I'm coming from: despite being in my mid-20s, I only started to read comics about two and a half years ago, during Flashpoint and the launch of the New 52. I had followed the characters for most of my life in cartoons, movies, video games--basically everywhere but the comics. I'd never managed to make heads or tails of where to start, what to read, or how to determine what older arcs might be important (and in some cases, how to get my hands on them). I know now that some of those concerns are pretty irrelevant, but it took getting into comics to understand that.
When I did get in, it was because there was a clean break and a clean starting point. Very quickly, I realized that the best thing I could do would be to follow the works of writers who I liked, and then to spread out to other writers like them, or who they recommended. There were a couple of podcasts (Comic Vine's included) that happened to reiterate this idea. The few Marvel series I read prior to Marvel Now were ones that I had picked up because I'd gotten hooked on the writers: Aaron's Wolverine and the X-Men, Remender's Uncanny X-Force, Slott's Amazing Spider-Man, and Fraction and Aja's Hawkeye. (I can't mention Hawkeye without Aja simply because it was reading the pair's run on Iron Fist with Brubaker that made me so excited for Hawkeye, much to the confusion of both comic shops I frequented at the time.)
This brings me back to the point: by establishing more contained volumes that hinge on distinctive creative teams, themes, or tonal shifts, I believe that Marvel is steering into the idea that creators make memorable runs on series; and that they do so by laying out stories with specific ideas, questions, takes on characters, and goals. We hold our writers and artists in the same regard as the characters and stories they shape and build. We talk about Waid's Daredevil, Snyder's Batman, Remender's Uncanny X-Force. The Fantastic Four books written by Hickman, Fraction, and soon to be Robinson are all different beasts, with different ideas and themes and tones. When I tell a friend to check out Hickman's run, I have to look up what issue to start with every time; then I have to explain the gap in numbering when the series ended and restarted and that at some point, it's necessary to switch to FF, then to read both series. But if I do the same for Fraction's, or in the future for Robinson's, all I will have to say is, "Find the copy with Fraction's (or Robinson's) name on it and start at the beginning." It's simple. It's not intimidating. And perhaps, most importantly, it lets people set aside the idea that to understand this story, they'll need to understand all the stories before it.
And this is a minor note in the grand scheme of things, but it certainly seems today like there are more stories that span multiple titles from a single writer than I'm aware of in the past. Remender has picked up threads from Uncanny X-Force in Uncanny Avengers. Morrison's Batman work spanned multiple titles, saw major developments in a flagship DC event, and survived a universe-wide reboot. And Hickman, and Fantastic Four, then FF, then both; and, well...Infinity came with diagrams just to explain what order to read it with Avengers and New Avengers, and that was just the first of three acts; we know Act II will include Avengers World and likely other titles that will pop up over time.
It is worth noting that Marvel isn't reserving the All-New #1 treatment just for creative shifts. Two titles come to mind that are seeing new first issues coming from the same creator(s) who worked on the current volumes of those books: Captain Marvel, still written by Kelly Sue DeConnick; and Daredevil by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, et al. I think this is no less legitimate than starting out a new volume for a new creative team that will do things differently, as my understanding before these series launch is that the new volumes will explore new places, ideas, and conditions for these characters. Certainly, much will stay the same in both cases, but these stories represent a clean break from the status quo and a change or evolution in the scope and/or tone of the stories told. In that regard, the new volume works like a sequel might in a book or movie franchise: The Empire Strikes Back follows the same characters as A New Hope, but moves the story to new places and complicates the ideas put forward by its predecessor. These new volumes of Captain Marvel and Daredevil will likely be much the same: one story comes to a close, and a new one emerges that expands upon and complicates it to take it to a new, equally satisfying place.
There is also the concern that building out volumes this way will damage the momentum or sales of a particular book. The degree to which that is a factor surely varies based on reader preferences, and I couldn't even begin to gauge whether I'm indicative of any sales trends on my own, but I do know this: if I'm looking to get on or off of a book, I already look ahead in the solicitations to see when a story arc ends, when writers change, and when it is "safe" to start or end a story. For me personally, I actually think this way of dividing volumes will ultimately lead me to read more. To use Fantastic Four and FF as an example, I had decided months ago that while I wanted to see Fraction's story through, I was going to jump off when his run ended. Had Robinson come on with a #17, I might still have checked it out because I like his work, but I'd have gone in with an expectation that he continued directly from the aftermath of what Fraction had done. But since he is coming in on an All-New #1, my expectation is different: I assume that he will be allowed to do his own thing, acknowledging that Fraction's run left an impact on the team he inherits in the same way that Hickman impacted where Fraction started from, but ultimately to move beyond it freely. The same is true of my perception of Secret Avengers: even though Kot has co-written the current arc of the current volume, seeing a new volume with a different voice even in its solicits makes me excited to give a book I was beginning to tire of another chance.
Ultimately, what this idea really boils down to is the way we preserve and discuss comics in the future. To those of us who read monthly issues, the decision may seem arbitrary or the product of a marketing plan, but once issues are collected in trades (especially at the Omnibus level--I don't think I have a single Omnibus on my shelf that isn't creator-centered by design), single issue numbers don't hold much relevance beyond the excitement of hitting particular milestones. By shifting our focus to the discrete entry in a character or team's larger story that comes with a change in creators, tone, and/or theme, we give ourselves a unified way to talk about comics both now and in the future that is easy to talk about and accessible to both new readers and veterans trying to manage the avalanche of high quality titles on the shelves today.