Requiem for Nu Marvel

Reading Secret Invasion #3 this week, I’d turned to the last page when it suddenly dawned on me that I was a lobster.

I should probably explain (no matter how tempted I am not to).

If you ever try cooking a lobster (neither as hard nor as expensive as I always thought, by the way) you are eventually faced with that moment where you, a normal, relatively kind person, have to boil an animal alive in your house. How you approach this moment is largely determined by what kind of person you are; either you feel like a monster, or you feel like the lobster is, and with a hearty cry of “Take that, you scarlet-clawed sea roach!” you drop it in the pot before it can chop your pinkie off. Despite my reputation, I tend towards the former, and I could never bring myself to make the attempt until a cook friend of mine let me in on a secret.

“You don’t just drop lobsters screaming into a roiling cauldron,” he said. “You put them in a pot of nice, comfortable room-temperature water, and then you graaadually turn up the heat. Before they even know what happened, yum yum they’re wearing garnish on the china.”

That having been said: I like Secret Invasion. Genuinely, I do. I liked the lion’s share of Civil War. Until the last issue, when the Scarlet Witch forgot to call no backsies, I even liked House of M. But anyone who has had the misfortune to stumble upon my recent unsolicited reviews of The Mighty Avengers has opened a window into unraveling madness. After a year’s worth of issues (stretched out over two years– hey-o! Take that, Cho!) featuring a specific type of story told in a specific style with a specific type of artist, suddenly The Mighty Avengers┬ácut to a completely different story in a flat brown photorealistic style featuring none of the characters that had been in the book up to that moment. God help anybody just reading this one book. After two issues, just when the new story was about to do something, we cut to a completely different story. Where had the old one gone? Oh, it would pop up somewhere. This was a crossover. The reader’s buying every book we publish, right? The story starts in Secret War, vanishes for a year, pops up in The New Avengers, vanishes, gets two issues in The Mighty Avengers, and then BOOP there it is in Secret Invasion. To be continued in New Warriors! Or Anita Blake, or something! We’ll figure it out! The books are handled as being so willy-nilly interchangeable that as I was writing this I twice typed “Mighty Invasion.”

That last page of #3 was when I realized I was boiling. The water was not this way when I dropped in.

it happened!!I took a long hiatus from comics right around 9th grade or so, after blowing every dime of lawn-cutting and birthday money on them from roughly 1984-1990ish. I still haven’t gone back through the boxes CSI-style and determined exactly when I said goodbye, but I know I left the X-Men before Claremont did. I would dip a toe into the water every now and then, just long enough to say, “Yikes! Spider-clones?” or “What the–? Star Trek vs. X-Men?!” but I largely left the medium behind me until the X-Men’s movie prompted me to rescue the longboxes from my childhood basement in the summer of 2000. That was when I began exploring the glorious room-temperature waters of Nu Marvel.

“Nu Marvel” was the (largely pejorative) term being used by fanboys to refer to the regime of Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada that had come to power at Marvel Comics at the beginning of 2000 and the changes they had brought about in their books. Controversy was the coin of the realm at the time, and a lot of long-time readers were polishing up their pitchforks, but as far as I was concerned Nu Marvel was publishing exactly the right books at exactly the right time.

For years now, I’ve been trying to remember exactly which book brought me back (I’d have made note of it if I’d realized it would end up consuming so much of my free time years later). I would love for it to be something classy, but no matter how much 33-year-old me keeps admonishing 25-year-old me for being a Kevin Smith fan I suspect it may have been the trade of Smith’s Daredevil run. I do know that I said, at some point, “J. Michael Straczynski just took over The Amazing Spider-Man? I know that name! If he’s good enough for UHF sci-fi syndication, by cracky, he’s good enough for me!” JMS’ run was a couple of months old, but I correctly guessed that his first issue would still be collecting dust at my local grocery store and from there I was in. I subscribed the next week.

Then came Alias.

When I was 11 years old, I started hearing more and more people say, “Comics aren’t just for kids anymore, you know. This is an evolving medium like television or movies. Comics are telling more mature, adult stories now for mature, adult people.” In later years, I would reflect on this statement and realize that everyone in my life who ever said it to me was also an 11-year-old boy. But a lot had changed since I left comics, and it was clear from Alias that Nu Marvel wasn’t screwing around.

Alias was the story of Jessica Jones, a former superhero who had left the costumed lifestyle behind her and opened a private investigation firm. The first word in the book was “fuck!” and by the end of the first issue I would see Jessica take it from behind from Luke Cage, a character I had last seen wearing a silver tiara in Secret Wars II.

To people who had stuck with comics all along, people who had already read Maus and Sandman and had been keeping the faith on the indie scene, this was probably nothing new, but to my Evolutionary War-owning ass it was like a bomb had been dropped on childhood. Who were these characters now? What had happened? Where could I get more? Alias is single-handedly responsible for my continued readership of comics, my love of the work of Brian Bendis, and the hundreds upon hundreds of dollars that my child’s college fund will simply never see. Sorry, kid! Skrulls!

From there, I discovered that there was a whole new world waiting for the Marvel zombie. There was Spider-Man’s Tangled Web, a series that showed the ripple effect that Spidey created in the world around him; it was a Spider-Man series that almost never featured Spider-Man, a Spider-Man series that instead featured creators like Paul Pope, Sean Philips, Garth Ennis, and Darwyn Cooke. I didn’t know who any of those people were when I read it; I only knew that they were blowing my frickin’ mind. The last issue of the series was typical of why I loved it; it featured a one-shot story about those petty crooks who get webbed to the lamppost by Spidey and showed that 90% of them get released immediately because there are no witnesses, no evidence, no one to press charges… it was a magnificent-yet-depressing injection of reality into the stories I had read as a kid.

There was Muties, the 2002 anthology series that followed a similar line of thought as Tangled Web; each issue told the story of a different mutant from somewhere on the globe and how his/her mutation had changed everything. Happy endings were few and far between. Around this same time, “Nu Marvel” published a miniseries named X-Factor by Jeff Jensen and Arthur Ranson that followed two federal agents a la X-Files on the trail of mutant hate crimes and featured the familiar X-Men characters for roughly a page and a half.

All of these series pursued an angle of storytelling I loved as an adult: never mind the guys in the outfits, what would it actually be like to live in this insane world? What effect does a Spider-Man have, or do mutants have, or does the superpower-endowing accident have? Given this outlandish premise, what happens to the people?

where have you gone?I could not get enough, and soon I was forking over the cash all over again. I don’t even know where to begin as I remember the books. Do I touch on Morrison’s New X-Men again? Do I mention Banner, the Brian Azzarello mini about what dealing with the Hulk would actually be like? Do I sing the praises of X-Force/X-Statix by Milligan and Allred, which looked at the X-Men phenomenon in a postmodern celebrity context? What about Deadline, the mini about being a cub reporter at the Daily Bugle? Or, my God, how could I neglect The Craptacular B-Sides, the best superhero team ever to come out of Raven’s Perch, New Jersey? Or Unstable Molecules, the most high-concept book ever created by human hands (based with a stony straight face on the premise that The Fantastic Four was based on real people, and this was their biography)? These were just the new books that sprung from the “Nu” ethos; I haven’t even mentioned Waid & Wieringo’s Fantastic Four (the only team that ever made me care about this book) or even Bruce Jones’ Hulk (featuring some of the best covers to appear on superhero comics in years, those covers being the only place one would see the goddamn Hulk in the book for months at a time).

Not every one of these books was a home run. A couple were not even ground rule doubles. But I was so deliriously gobsmacked by the fact that they even existed in the marketplace that I didn’t care. “Peter Bagge’s Megalomaniacal Spider-Man? Are you kidding me? Evan Dorkin doing a Thing mini? Wait, did you just say they’re telling Wolverine’s origin story?!

Decompression was king, and pin-up covers were vice king. Dead meant dead. Continuity didn’t go completely out the window, but it sure was hanging onto the ledge by its fingertips. Just because Thor parked Asgard atop Manhattan in his book didn’t mean the guy writing Daredevil had to deal with that bullshit; all that mattered was telling a good story in your own book. Joe Quesada seemed to get off a zinger about variant covers killing the industry in just about every interview I read.

Obviously, this is not where we are now.

trouble indeedAt the moment, characters are basically dying and coming back like they’re effing Super Mario. Writing this piece, I tried to research Joe Quesada’s original stance on variant covers, but all my Google search returned was a list of the variant covers that have been drawn by Joe Quesada over the last couple of years. I was too depressed to continue. Alias became The Pulse, and from there we got Front Line. And continuity? Well, maybe I’ll start talking about that here and suddenly continue the essay over on my blog; you’re reading both, right?

So, when did the water get so bubbly? I can’t pinpoint it, can’t figure out exactly how we got here from there. Was it when Tsunami didn’t take off? Was it U-Decide, or Trouble? Was it just when Marvel starting making money again? As fondly as I remember all these books, there weren’t many of them that survived more than a year or two. Muties: 6 issues. Tangled Web: 22 issues. You haven’t seen my beloved B-Sides anywhere in years. In the end, maybe there just wasn’t any money in it. On the other hand, it made them all of my money for the last seven years, so who knows? They say everything is cyclical; this is a stage of the cycle I wouldn’t mind seeing again. It’s getting hot in this pot.

 


If you trick Jim Mroczkowski into saying his name backwards, he has to go back to the 5th dimension. He is too young to be nostalgic for his twenties. He can be found never updating Jimski.com or by e-mailing jim@ifanboy.com.

Comments

  1. Another great article – thanks.

    As maligned as Nu Marvel was (and still is by many), there were a lot of great books that came out of that. Jemas had co-plotting credit on Ultimate Spider-Man and the beginning of the Ultimate Universe. There was BKV’s The Hood – until recently, a pretty much forgotten masterpiece. JLA/Avengers finally getting off the ground. Geoff Johns short-lived but entertaining run on Avengers and his Vision min (I think he had a Thing mini as well around this time). 

    Muties was a great book – Dean Hapsil (sp?) did a great issue. I think we may be the only two to have bought B-Sides, but that was also a really good book. And Tangled Web had some amazing Spider-Man (no pun intended) stories – Rucka’s Severance Package stands out, but that last issue mentioned was also an interesting idea I hoped would have gotten picked up.

    One thing that bugs me is how Marvel buried Jones’ Hulk run once it was finished, despite singing its praises for almost three years straight. I recall all the complaining about how it wasn’t a super-hero book any more, but it turned out the whole story of the run was an evil-genius type plan by the Leader. Once Jones signed with DC, Mavel just pretty much buried it, saying the following storyline (by PAD) was a return of the Hulk and blah blah blah. Ticked me off, man!

  2. Jim,

    I’ve got 5 years on you, but otherwise your personal comics arc and mine are damn-near identical. Smtih’s Daredevil? Check. Alias? Check. Unstable Molecules, Banner, Tangled Web? Check check check. Plus Bendis’s Daredevil, Fantastic Four 1234, and countless others. Not the comics I left for dead at 15 (1984-5). aAnd now, here I am, eight years later. Buying crossovers. And crossover tie-ins. And trying to figure out where Tony Stark director of S.H.E.I.L.D. fits with Mighty Avengers fits with Secret Invasion fits with… What happened? Well, your lobster in a pot theory is a pretty good one. Here I am – like you – boiling to death. But hey, at least we lobsters taste good, right?

    Fuck it. I’m going to reread my Alias Omnibus and try to figure out if Jessica was taking it "from behind" or "in" the behind. My heart tells me it’s the former, but the purient side of me says its the later. 

  3. @Dan: Make that 3 who bought B-Sides. I initially only picked them up because Sam Kieth did the covers (I buy ANYTHING with his art, even if it is just a cover). I remember reading the series and liked it. I will have to dig it out of my long boxes and give it another read and see how it holds up.

  4. I saw on Good Eats the other night Alton recommended putting the Lobster in the freezer where they slowly go to sleep before expiring. That may be better than sweating to death;)

  5. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I always have my lobsters fight to the death. The fallen becomes dinner. The victor gets to go back to the jar with the twig and the leaf. To fight another day.

     Wow, I was away from comics during all of this.  What was going on at DC?

  6. @Paul– Lex was Prez, Aquaman was dead, and Imperiex was blowing s–t up.  Oh, and there was the Bru on Batman

  7. RobAbsten: she was definitely taking it IN the behind.  My wife and I now refer to that particular act as "Luke Cage."

  8. Yeah, the look she has on her face just kind of says it all.

    Not that I know what kind of face a woman makes when that’s happening or anything… 

  9. Man, Bruce Jones’ first 12 issues or so on INCREDIBLE HULK was some really fun comics.

  10. @Jimski

    the link to your website isn’t working for me. Where is  this blog of wich you speak? I was hoping that the new Ifanboys wouldn’t make my wallet cry more. Silly, Silly me. Great piece. I wasn’t reading comics back then, so thanks for the heads up. 

  11. Hardly an exaggeration: every time I post a link to my site, it gets advance warning and goes down the previous day. Three iFanboy articles, three unexplained disappearances. It’s like owning Twitter.

  12.  Ha. good luck! Be sure to us when the mothership is backafloat.

  13. Oh man. A whole new list of books to add to my "to read" pile.

    Great article, BTW.

  14. great piece, jim. though I am still enjoying secret invasion and the tie-ins, I do think it would be better if it were more self-contained. But I don’t think marvel has become a complete quagmire of continiuty, cross-overs, and varient covers. Captain America stands alone, Invincible Iron Man looks like it means to keep to itself, The Twelve hardly touches the rest of the universe, Spider-Man just came out of a continuity car accident that left it looking ten years younger, but now we’re getting good arcs that stand by themselves. The big summer crossover is not a good indicator of what an entire line of books is like. It’s just old-timey, nerdtastic, don’t mention it to girls you’re into, fun.

  15. It’s evident I missed the whole ‘Dead means Dead’ era, since I think the first Marvel series I ever read started out by resurrecting Colossus, and the second started out  by resurrecting Bucky.  People seem to evoke the "DMD" edict fondly, but did it ever actually affect anything?  Doesn’t it essentially just mean you can never kill a character that people might want back one day, so it’s full scale war on redshirts?

  16. It basically meant that when Claremont wanted to bring Psylocke back after killing her off a few issues before, that he actually had to wait a few years instead.  Really, I don’t think any pre-existing characters outside of her, Karen Page, and Richard Fisk… and Magneto and Jean Grey if you cunt them in the time period.

  17. That’s just an unfortunate typo right there.  I’m so sorry.   Let’s try that again:

    It basically meant that when Claremont wanted to bring Psylocke back after killing her off a few issues before, that he actually had to wait a few years instead.  Really, I don’t think any pre-existing characters outside of her, Karen Page, and Richard Fisk died… and Magneto and Jean Grey if you count them in the time period.

  18. Jimski, nice article my man.  I think one of the great things about the "Nu Marvel" scene is that they were telling stories from different perspectives, something that the current comic reader may take advantage of.  I appreciate many of the ideas spawned from this period, espeically Alias, whose Omnibus is one of my personal favorite reads. 

    But I agree with your assessment of the current situation at Marvel.  It’s a muddled mess, and while we get really good stories occassionally, it’s damn confusing to readers.

  19. @Tork  Re: typo, there are SOOOO many places I could go with that, but I’m being good.

    Wasn’t Magneto’s "death" retconned several times within the run of New X-men?  If not, it was as soon as it was over.  So it’s the end of the DMD era, at best.  (Probably not a coincidence that Claremont immediately brought Psylocke back, and Whedon resurrected Colossus — which he says Marvel told him to do — shortly thereafter).  

    I kind of suspect those other characters would have stayed dead, anyway.  I mean, how many people have died and been resurrected since Jean last bought it?  I suspect she’s stayed dead for the same reason it took Bucky and Jason Todd forever to come back — it’s easier to use these characters as grief/guilt fetish objects than to tell good stories with them.

    I guess my overall point, though, is that I don’t see any inherent virtue to ‘Dead means dead.’  Resurrection stories are well-established in comics canon, and you can have good ones or bad ones.  At best, I guess it makes a writer think twice about using character death as an easy plot device.

  20. It was six thirty in the morning!  I was groggy!  Somebody stole my sandwich!  There was an earthquake!  A terrible flood!  Locusts!  IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!  Antways…

    Well, I see the "Nu Marvel" as the time between when Bendis started up on Ultimate Spider-Man and when he started on Avengers Disassembled, which Planet X falls in.  Morrison intentionally wrote Magneto’s "death" with the purpose that he’d reveal him alive at the end of his run, so it wasn’t a retcon so much as misdirection (nobody could confirm his death in the story, anyway).  To me, the "dead means dead" was officially broken when he popped up again at the start of Excalibur.