Marvel’s Stealth Reboot

Moon Knight #1

Moon Knight #1

The last few months of comics have been a thrilling exercise in rejuvenation, haven’t they? Across the line, we’re seeing fresh new takes on characters and shaking off more cobwebs than spring cleaning at the mausoleum. The Powers That Be have reassessed what worked and what didn’t, and unwieldy baggage is being jettisoned out the airlock and/or conveniently forgotten. It’s new creative teams and #1 issues as far as the eye can see, lately.

And DC’s been doing some pretty interesting stuff, too.

I’ve been thinking about this idly for a while now, but my friend (and probably yours) Timmy Wood crystallized those thoughts perfectly for me over the weekend when he took to Twitter and nonchalantly said, “DC actually came out and called it a relaunch, but Marvel has a soft relaunch happening right under our noses.” Last month, all we talked about (and bought, largely) were a barrage of #1 issues from Geoff Johns & Co., but take a second to think about all the books you bought from their chief rivals those same weeks that had numbers smaller than “12” on their covers.

The Incredible Hulk, Wolverine and the X-Men, and Uncanny X-Men will all be new from top to bottom with #1 issues and (one assumes/hopes) wide open storylines this month.

Moon Knight, Punisher, and Daredevil all started from scratch roughly simultaneously a few months ago, fairly gloriously. To one degree or another, thank goodness, all are unrecognizable from their previous incarnations. A year ago, Daredevil was like a cancer patient getting hit by a car at Jim Henson’s funeral; suddenly, it’s Six Flags with a buzz on, and not only is the transition not jarring, it’s amazing. The Punisher has turned into the shark from Jaws, and Moon Knight has turned into a character I want to read.

Equally new and twice as unrecognizable is Venom. Previously, my go-to example of How The Nineties Went Wrong has been “Well, they made Venom an antihero and started giving him his own series, and that should tell you everything.” Not only do those previous incarnations tell you nothing about Rick Remender’s book, they undercut the fact that it’s quietly one of the best on the shelves these days and pretty damn user-friendly. (I think. More on that in a moment.)

Everything I just said, from the “How The Nineties Went Wrong” to the “unrecognizable” to the “Rick Remender”: see also Uncanny X-Force.

Captain America just relaunched two times over; whether you’re a movie lover who wants to see him punch some Ratzis or prefer the here-and-now, there’s a book for that, one of which carries the ever-popular, new-reader-friendly low issue numbers on its cover.

We’re a month or two away from The Defenders #1.

They’re bringing back Scarlet Spider. Do you understand me? The Scarlet Spider. Making a character like that entry-level is going to be like juggling on a unicycle on a tightrope, but if they did it to Venom anything’s possible.

Although they are relatively more heady/baggage laden, even FF and The Mighty Thor have gotten new coats of paint and new direction this past year. To say nothing of your Hercs, your Black Panthers, your Iron Men 2.0, your Heroes For Hire….

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1

And this Ultimate line? It’s like frickin’ DC Junior over here. Miles Morales? Are you kidding me with this? From out of nowhere, my favorite new book in forever. And an Ultimates book has gotten to #3 without me dropping it. I’ve been known to drop Ultimates faster than a plate fresh from the microwave.

This has all happened in stages, and without the spotlight that the “new” 52 has gotten all summer. In fact, with all of the attempted focus on whatever Fear Itself turned out to be and whatever the hell this “Point One” clusterfumble has been, it starts to feel like they were creating a diversion or something. Rather than dumping us in the boiling water like DC, they’ve been gradually turning up the heat around us while we sat here oblivious, carping about hammers.

You wouldn’t necessarily know it from hanging around here, frankly, but a lot of the line is as good as or better than it’s been in years. And coming out digitally, for whatever that’s worth.

Is any of it as welcoming to the new reader as DC would have you believe their line now is…? Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) I’m in no position to say, and I don’t want to presume. I have owned many a Marvel comic in my day, starting when I was in third grade or so, and I probably don’t have a whole lot of business telling you or your sister or your coworker, “Oh, yeah. You could pick up FF right away, no problem. Jonathan Hickman is super accessible.” I can’t pretend to unknow who Dragon Man and Artie & Leech are. My greatest unresolved frustration with the DC relaunch was having people who started reading DC books three Robins ago telling me how everything I needed was in, say, Wonder Woman #1. Listen: I respect (most of) you, but I do not want to hear a whisper about how new-reader-friendly that book was. I was an actual new reader, and I assure you that book did not want to be my friend. It was such blank paper, it hurt my feelings. I don’t want to be responsible for making anyone else feel that way.

That having been said: I gotta tell ya, a lot of this stuff feels super accessible. I can’t swear it. I haven’t done any testing. But from where I’m sitting, if you hand somebody a couple issues of Daredevil or Moon Knight and they don’t get it, this type of thing may not be for them at all.

Maybe I’m wrong. The sad thing is knowing I’ll never hear about it if I am. I just wish I could get you guys to open up about this topic in the comments for once.


Jim Mroczkowski knows a thing or two about a thing or two, no matter how it usually seems on Twitter.



  1. Bottom line … Miles Morales is a heckuva a lot more young-new-digital-reader-accessible than, say, a nearly naked Starfire.

  2. I remember reading TimmyWood’s tweets on the subject last night and it was like:

    “Yeah….he’s on to something here.”

    To be clear though, I don’t think Marvel is OFFICIALLY doing a reboot/relaunch of any kind. I think Marvel has unknowingly done it because we still see a bunch of comics with no changes at all. All the Avengers books are still the same, Thor is still the same, FF is still the same, Thunderbolts is still the same, Spider-Man is still the same despite being rebooted years ago. Plus I think books like Moon Knight or Punisher don’t count because it’s still the same characters and same situations, they’ve just been given a new writer and artist to work with. Daredevil is a total reboot though because Mark Waid has completely changed the character.

    If the Avengers line starts to completely change (which it might because of the movie) then I think it’ll be officially confirmed that Marvel is rebooting the whole line.

  3. i previously only purchased comics in trade, so i decided to use the new 52 as a chance to get into buying single issues. although there are some great books in the dc relaunch, i tend to think that the marvel #1s are actually more new reader friendly. wolverine and the x-men worked for me even though i only knew the characters who were in the movies or the 90s cartoon when i started reading. daredevil is my favorite since the frank miller ones that i have in trade. even the incredible hulk was pretty fun (although i have no idea how bruce and hulk got separated). it’s actually the first hulk comic i’ve bought ever, and i haven’t bought any hulk trades, but i still didn’t feel lost.

    the new dc comics were tougher to catch onto. batman and action comics might be the only ones that i didn’t feel at least a little lost in.

  4. But how much better would these books be if there WAS a pink lady in the background? I think we all know the answer to that question.

  5. I don’t see a huge point to a stealth reboot without all the media attention that it would garner – I mean Swamp Thing is still making the news at issue 3.

  6. YES!!! Amidst Fear Itself, I feel like a all the marvel books I read have had a rejuvenation. Remender has taken characters and titles I would never care about and made them the top of my pull list. Daredevil is just ridiculous on how good it is and I am actually buying comics that say Ultimate Comics. This seems to be giving readers are breath of fresh air without having to beat them over the head about it.

  7. I think Marvel has just adopted a more “a la carte” approach to continuity. Use it when it improves stories, leave it in the past when it doesn’t.

    Marvel has long contended that they don’t need a reboot or a Crisis-event, and while that’s debatable, a stealth reboot is certainly consistent with that mindset.

  8. I think Marvel saw flagging sales and decided to rejuvenate some titles. However, that said, The X-Men is a division-wide reboot, clearly meant to draw attention. But I have to say, I don’t see the point of doing a stealth reboot when there’s no attention being given to anything outside Miles Morales.

    Also… what was your issue with WW#1? I was under the impression that outside of having a basic knowledge of the big names in Greek Mythology none of the things going on in that issue had anything to do with what’s come before.

    • I agree… Wonder Woman #1 was my first Wonder Woman book, and I didn’t feel there was some continuity I needed to know.

      The “new reader friendly” argument is so pointless. Who are these elusive new readers we all talk about but never show up? Who cares…

  9. This is nothing new from Marvel, every few years one or more of the lines get a soft reboot. Avengers Disassembled, Civil War, Planet Hulk. Like a few years ago (Doctor Voodoo, Captain Britain, SWORD) we’re already seeing cancellations (Herc, Heroes for Hire, Iron Man 2.0, Alpha Flight). It’s sort of Marvel’s MO. Constantly relaunching/rebooting lines.

    • By the same extension, Marvel is quicker on the trigger in killing books which produces higher turnover of creative teams. There’s aboslutely no logical reason there should have been two Moon Knight #1s within a year and a half of each other.

    • @StoreGuy – It is weird, but the theory is they started running a tight ship to show Disney that they aren’t afraid to cut fat as soon as they see it. Also they’re better off killing a book and bringing it back as a number 1 with a new team because sales for that first issue will be way higher than if the new team came in on issue 13 or something.

    • @StoreGuy – The last Moon Knight book wasn’t all that good. The current one is. I’d say that’s much more than “absolutely no logical reason” to reboot a series that wasn’t working or selling.

  10. Trying to jump in to Marvel’s mini-reboots and same-day digital efforts reminds me of trying to hop into the window for double dutch. I keep flinching because I’m not sure what’s going on or if I’ve got the timing right for a particular series.

    DC was much easier to get into, but I’m not that will matter 6 months from now.

  11. Plus, there’s these Season One OGNs, giving us all-new origins too.

  12. I think what makes this stealth relaunch different from others is the approach. The other relaunches/reboots/reruns we taking lots of continuity and also prior knowledge and applied it to the characters. Avengers Disassembled, Dark Reign, etc..
    Where as this soft relaunch that Jimski is referring to, is taking the Spider-Man Brand New Day approach.
    “Let’s take out everything that isn’t working about this character, the marriage, the outed secret identity, the lack of everymanish-ness, and throw it out. Taking it back to square one without completely negating everything that has come before.
    Daredevil, Moon Knight, and Punisher are all doing this. And I would also argue that X-men and Incredible Hulk as well.
    Marvel is making a lot of their characters more accessible, slowly, and it’s working. Wolverine and the X-men was the first x-book I was able to read and enjoy…ever.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if we see #1’s from the Avengers, The Fantastic Four, and Iron Man by next year.

    • Gotcha, you guys are right there’s definitely more streamlining going on this time around.

    • I agree. Although I didn’t really see it as a stealth relaunch I guess :P. All of the books I’ve enjoyed reading for Marvel recently are the ones where they’ve dropped much of the prior continuity and started fresh. I got the first couple issues of Punisher and then forgot to order it for subsequent months. Now I can’t wait for the Trade. If they had played off of previous stuff I would have been less interested.

      On the other hand I do love when Daredevil references something from the Bendis/Brubaker/Diggle run. Mostly because you don’t really need to know that it happened, but it’s always done in a fun way.

  13. Oh and one last thing..GREAT ARTICLE JIMSKI!

  14. I’ll give my two cents on Marvel accessibility, based on the books I’ve been reading.

    Daredevil – You’re fine. Nothing here is “need to know”. There’s a casual mention or two of Shadowland, but it’s more “Bad shit happened to Matt, but that’s in the past”. One of the best books Marvel is doing too.

    Punisher – You’re fine. If you don’t know Frank from that other Castle, it doesn’t matter. This book is completely fresh. Also, it’s GREAT.

    Incredible Hulk – New reader friendly. Light mentions of the past, but all you need to know is that Hulk is strongest there is.

    FF – You’re fucked. I’ve been reading comics for 17 years, and I don’t even know who some of these people are. Good book, but heavily mired in continuity.

    Moon Knight – I say you need some decent working knowledge of the Avengers. It’s not overbearing, but you need to at least know about some of the big guns of the Marvel U.

    Journey Into Mystery – I’m counting this as a reboot. Need a little working knowledge of Fear Itself, but you get that along the way. One of the best books Marvel is doing.

    Mighty Thor – 1-6, you need some working knowledge of Galactus/Silver Surfer. Eight on may be a great fresh start.

    Captain America – Good for new readers, and those who gained interest in the character after seeing the movie. Also great for prior fans of the character.

    Captain America and Bucky – Same as above

    Avengers/New Avengers – Less than two years old, so I’m counting them. Takes some decent prior knowledge. Avengers is great if you grab trades of the first two arcs and just want some “gee whiz” cool shit happening, though it’s not exactly new reader friendly. New Avengers hasn’t had the blow the doors off the place awesome stuff happening that those first two Avengers arcs did, but it’s been consistently good.

    Ultimate Spiderman – I am almost virginal to the Ultimate Universe, and felt that this is a book that anyone could pick up and not feel lost.

    Wolverine and the X-Men – Catch up on Schism and you’re good to go.

  15. I don;t really have the feeling that most of these titles are true “reboots,” in the same sense as most of the new DC52. As far as I know, no prior continuity has been abandoned, and no characters have been deaged. Even in the light reboot of the Batman line you had one major do-over with Babs as Batgirl, plus deaging across the line. Meanwhile at Marvel, Shadowland still happened and Loki still died as part of Siege only to return in new form as a teenager. The old plots are not being discard, but instead have been built upon.

    This is not a dis, though. Daredevil and Journey into Mystery are both fantastic books, which also happen to be accessible. I myself have more than once recommended Journey into Mystery with the statement “yeah, it’s part of Fear Itself, but anything that you need to know about it is contianed within.” FF on the other hand might be good, but you pretty much need to know what Hickman’s been doing all along, and even then . . . I don’t read the X-books, but from what I’ve read about them, it sounds as though all the Regeneration changes grow out plot threads that have been running for a while now.

    My feeling is that Marvel is simply resorting to the tired and true marketing strategy of restarting a series at #1 simply to drive up sales, especially if there is a relevant tie-in. After all, the current Iron Man, Thor and Captian American titles all started at the same time their films debuted. Renumber at #1, it’s a marketing tool to garner more attention for your “new direction.”

    Honestly, I don’t want to see Marvel do a line wide reboot ala DC. I don’t think that they need to “simplify” the past the same way many believed that DC did. Plus, it would be like asking lightening to strike twice — I would be skeptical regarding whether fan reaction would have the same intenstity. Marvel needs to respond, but in their own way so that they might cliam some “boldness” for themselves. Stealing someone else’s policy? Not quite so innovative . . .

  16. Good article. The thing is, Marvel is kind of ALWAYS in a state of rebooting something. I’d love to see a dateline breakdown on this, but I bet you’d have to go back to the ’90s to find a calendar quarter in which Marvel wasn’t rebooting at least one of its properties.

    And I agree with the sentiment that a book like the new Ultimate Spidey seems like a GREAT product to bring in new readers. But is it? Not really. So, basically, I think the lesson to be learned here is that a) you can go digital, b) you can introduce a new character, c) you can make that character young, d) you can make that character represent a diverse ethnicity, and e) you can get mainstream media to cover it . . . . and yet you’re still not going to gain enough new readers to say so.

    We can complain all we want, but comics just don’t pull in new readers. The main problem is the medium itself. People don’t want it anymore. It doesn’t accord with most people’s sensibilities anymore. I’m not saying companies shouldn’t go digital or reboot their properties–those things do help some!–but I think the writing’s on the wall that no amount of demographic box-checking or digital initiatives can amount to a magic bullet to save the industry. Sorry.

  17. I’d always been a casual reader of trades and big events in the past, essentially reading enough to not look like an idiot when I said I really like a superhero movie around comic book enthusiasts. My compliments to DC, because their reboot work on me. I had been looking for a way to jump in for years, and then this came along. I was hoping I would be able to find something in the Marvel Universe to latch on to as well seeing as how I had loved some books in the past, but while cruising around my store I was finding nothing but gaudy Fear Itself covers. Then a NY Times article about Ultimate Spider-Man #1 caught my eye and I was sold. The book has been incredible thus far. The nearly machine-gun release of the first three issues was welcomed as well. That changed my mind about Marvel I’m just jumping in all out now. So, soft reboot or the New 52 have felt like an open invitation from the comics community to guys like me just looking for a way into the club. Definitely satisfied.

  18. This just feels like a Marvel fanboy saying, “Forget DC, look at what Marvel’s doing!” I read your reviews of the new 52, and you sounded like you didn’t want to waste time and effort on those books because they were DC and not Marvel.

    I really enjoyed Wolverine & X-Men #1, but if it’s going to be $4 for 22 pages of story, I will soon be gone. None of their other books are getting me excited, but that may because Marvel has left such a bad taste in my mouth for the past few years.

    • Most of the DC books I’ve read have been great, especially those first two weeks. But when I chose wrong, man alive, the wheels really came off the wagon.

    • @bcdx97 I felt the same way after reading this. Marvel in known for always rebooting back to number 1 it’s not a surprise. When the new Avenger movie comes out they will have a Avenger relauch at number one. They don’t even give good books a chance to establish itself like Alpha Flight cause they know Marvel Zombies will keep buying there $3.99 flag books. Why is Daredevil 2.99 but Amz Spider, Cap, Hulk, X-men, Avenger $3.99.,,,The only book coming out of Marvel that I personal enjoy is X-Force and sooner or later they relaunch that at a number one. lol to me they look like a bunch of greedy bastard sometimes but good for them I guess.

  19. This success can only mean one thing: iFanboy reboot. All high collars and piping except for a now shirtless Connor.

  20. I agree with a few posts here. Marvel has been doing restarts for many years. It’s just their thing. They think in individual titles – if a book’s sales are down, “let’s just close it down and restart with a new creative team.” Forget the idea that they could have actually just CHANGED the creative team like everyone does in every normal book.

    Still, if you’re going to compare it to DC’s 52 “restart,” MrLuke is a great example of why Marvel’s strategy continues to work. Psychologically, it’s a heckuva lot easier to buy a new, single #1 during a particular month – and add it to your pull list – than try five or six or seven new #1 restarts a week for four weeks. I just wish they’d put out a book and stick with it, Moon Knight being the prime example. However, if you want to compare which strategy will bring in more readers AND non-readers, I gotta go with DC. I love the new Ultimate Spider-man. I never could read the Peter Parker version no matter how many times I tried. But yeah, Marvel isnt creating a new version of Superman or Wonder Woman (but is DC?…), just restarting books. Anyone who wasn’t reading Moon Knight before probably won’t read the new series either. DC is so much better at mainstream advertising than Marvel. I’m willing to bet they’ve attracted more new previously non-readers into the fold than any of Marvel’s new #1s in the past year.

    That’s a whole other couple of columns or three.

    P.S. If Marvel is ever allowed to tap into Disney’s advertising and marketing budget, watch out.

  21. I never read a Wonder Woman comic ever but had a very easy time following the story. I guarantee it be easier to jump Into WW #1 then it would be to jump in Wolverine X-Men #1. That comment just seemed kinda silly to me.

  22. Just sounds like Marvel hedged too much. they didn’t take the big risk and missed on the big reward. may not mean a lot in the long run, but their conservative approach didn’t pay off as well as the brash approach DC did.

  23. DC’s reboot is the way to go if you’re interested in generating tons of hype and getting maximum interest for a couple months from a lot of people that are not all that likely to stick with you. But Marvel’s approach is a lot better, IMO, in terms of getting books right. For me, there have been way more recent Marvel reboots that I’m sticking with than DC. And there have been a whole hell of a lot more DC rebooted books. This is coming from someone who read all 52 #1’s. If Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-man, Venom, The Punisher, Captain America & Bucky, or Moon Knight were part of the “Nu 52” mass attack, they’d all be considered part of the cream of the crop. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a handful of new DC books that I’m digging and I’m reading more DC than before. But overall, there is also a ton of mediocrity and a lot of crap. Sure, there’s crap Marvel books too. But I can’t think of too many Marvel reboots that have felt unnecessary or inaccessible, like many of the DC nu-52 did.

  24. I’d love to try some of these comics, but the only one I’m willing to pay $3.99 a pop for is Ultimate Spider-Man. I get my comics digitally right now, and this is the only comic I’m willing to pay more than $1.99 for. It’s a shame that Marvel doesn’t drop the price to that level after a month or two like DC does.

  25. Don’t think it was a stealth reboot, just Marvel’s usual process of flooding the market. Fling as much stuff at the wall and some of it may stick. Sure there are a lot of low numbered books but the majority of them are just spin offs or continuations of existing stories in different books.

    Ultimate Spider-Man 1 not a reboot, just a continuation of the story after Peter died. Incredible Hulk, not a reboot picks up after fear itself. Uncanny X-Men, not a reboot just a renumbering. Wolverine & the X-Men, not a reboot just a spin off continuing the story. etc. etc.

    If anything, Marvel’s line is in desperate need of a proper reboot like DC did – it’s tired, bloated and needs refreshing. And if they started matching DC’s prices at the same time then all the better.

    • As we saw when the guys did the video show about it, “reboot” is a tricky term.

      I think Jimski (and TimmyWood) are using the term reboot in a larger sense than you are. Reboot meaning a new beginning. It’s arguable (and not that important), but I think that may be more accurate definition — if you reboot your computer, is all your data gone?

      That’s kind of what Marvel’s been doing here — establishing new status quos around the universe one or two at a time (“reboot”) but not making an enormous fuss over it (stealth). Yes, they’re usually continuing the story, but they’re also resetting the stage, bringing in some different creative teams, and trying to put the characters into new or unfamiliar situations.

      But I’m with you that a proper Marvel reboot could be nice, however I’m not convinced the New 52 is a “proper reboot”.

    • Yes. What KenOchalek just said.
      I don’t think Jimski’s post is about the number 1 on the title, which Marvel has done over and over again, and more about the content inside the books. All of which really feel like new beginnings.

  26. Really, Marvel does this every few years with most of the line. New creators, maybe an updated origin here or there, change up the supporting cast a little, a slightly different line-up for team books, and tweak the status quo. Cap each of these eras with a big event.

    People often complain about continuity, but for no reason when it comes to Marvel, at least. Most writers don’t do much more than the occasional reference to previous runs.

  27. Can I repost this article on my site without giving you credit, Jimski? I hear it’s all the rage these days.
    k thx bai bai

  28. I’m personally really enjoying many of the renumbered titles and the great variety of jumping-on points.