We all could see this coming right? The writing was on the wall at least a year ago. The Marvel Universe is dying, and when summer 2015 hits, this old friend that has fostered generations of imaginations and generated billions upon billions of dollars will pass into legend. We would all do well to pour a glass of our favorite beverage, regardless of (depending on your age) how hard or soft it is, and offer tribute to the legacy born from Timely Comics and decades of often great storytelling.
As I mentioned before, we could all see this coming for a while. If you haven’t been paying as much attention to the comic book side of things, Marvel’s events over the past few years have driven them into a corner editorially. With the time-spanning (and eventually time-breaking) Age of Ultron event that took place in 2013, one could say that the classic universe was officially put into hospice care. Yet, we’d be remiss in thinking that the Marvel Universe wasn’t already suffering from an advanced stage of cancer and had been suffering for years since the mid-2000’s. The beginning of the end could probably traced back to one incredible event: 2006’s Civil War. Civil War saw the previously united superhero community torn asunder by government regulation and oversight, and turned Captain America against American policies choosing to instead become a vigilante and fight against them and his former teammate Iron Man. The downward spiral continued with One More Day, Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada’s editorial edict to eradicate Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane by essentially having him cut a deal with the ” devil” (known in this guise as Mephisto) to save a dying Aunt May. Mephisto re-arranged time and space to restore Spider-Man’s secret identity (publically revealed in the Civil War storyline) and return him to the swinging bachelor he was in his heyday.
The Avengers vs. X-Men storyline saw the two superhero factions squaring off once again, only this time the stakes were incredibly high as the Phoenix Force heads to Earth to take control of its new vessel. The Avengers wish to capture Hope and prevent her from possibly turning into a destructive force of nature much like Jean Grey had done before. The X-Men interfere and attempt to protect Hope believing she will restore the mutant race to being born once more. Iron Man’s plan to kill the Phoenix fails, resulting in it being split apart and it’s remnants placed inside of 5 mutant leaders: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus and Magik. After defeating the Avengers, they make sweeping changes across the entire world, but eventually they turn on one another in a slow descent into madness. Cyclops is eventually left the last one standing as the new Dark Phoenix and kills Professor Xavier. The Dark Phoenix is defeated and Hope uses it to fix the damage done but she also wishes the Phoenix out of existence. None of these events had the damaging effect that Age of Ultron however.
Unlike the movie for which it’s named, Age of Ultron saw the maniacal automaton travel finally take over the world and decimate humanity to the near point of extinction. A last ditch effort is made to reverse the effects, sending two separate teams on time-travel journeys with Sue Storm following Wolverine back in time to murder Hank Pym, Ultron’s creator. Wolverine succeeds, but makes things far worse instead. Resolving to go back and stop himself(!!!) from killing Hank, he succeeds this time in coming up with the correct recourse. Yet, this also has drastic repercussions for him as he has his younger self, kill him in order to escape the traumatic world he witnessed after initially killing Pym. A resulting shockwave across all of time irreparably breaks time and reality leading us to where we are now editorially.
Breaking time and reality carried over to the Ultimate Universe, which itself had already been ravaged by massive events that drastically decimated it’s landscape (see, Ultimatum and Ultimate Doomsday). Because of the events of Age of Ultron, the classic Marvel Universe Galactus is shunted over there and nearly destroys the Earth. Before that though, the Ultimate Universe wasn’t shy about offing many of its heroes and villains which left the playscape barren for editorial to do much with it. We did end up getting Miles Morales out of the deal, but the trade-off isn’t quite equal. Marvel, over the course of time (heh, see what I did there?) has written themselves into a corner. The only recourse is of course something they’ve avoided for 75 years: Reboot the whole damn thing.
That’s what this summer’s Secret War is all about. Bringing elements of both the classic and Ultimate Marvel Universe’s together and breathe new life into a new Universe that frees them up to do more great stories. What about the history? The legacy of what came before? I would argue that they aren’t going anywhere. Much like DC’s New 52 initiative, the foundation of the Marvel Universe (origins, important events, etc.) will most likely remain intact to prevent a complete alienation of generations of fans. Let’s not also discount the burgeoning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and in a ploy to attract more readers, they will bring the new universe to be more in line with that one. I’m not entirely convinced that is a good thing, as the reason the MCU has been so good is it had the classic Universe to derive inspiration from.
Make no mistake though, this HAS to happen. Why? Well look at where they are right now in the classic Universe: Wolverine (cash cow) , Uatu The Watcher, Professor Xavier, Classic Nick Fury are all dead; Deadpool (cash cow) is supposedly about to be killed as well; Captain America (legacy, cash cow) is now a Super Soldier Serum-less old man; Thor is no longer the God of Thunder; Hulk is a super-smart and super-strong, egomaniac; The original X-Men are time-displaced and can’t get back to their own time; Iron Man is a borderline super-villain; The Fantastic Four have fallen from grace. It’s not really worth mentioning what’s happened in the Ultimate Universe as outside of Ultimate Peter Parker’s death at the hands of the Green Goblin and the subsequent introduction of Miles Morales, they have been mired in mediocrity since the end of Ultimatum caused that Universe to die a slow, agonizing death.
We should remember all of the great things that came from both of them however. Imaginations fueled by generations of great stories like The Kree-Skrull War, The first Secret Wars, Infinity Gauntlet, Age of Apocalypse, Secret Invasion, Civil War, Planet Hulk, World War Hulk, and so many more. The game changing Superior Spider-Man storyline, the Death of Captain America, Avengers: Disassembled and House of M, the list goes on and on! We should not only celebrate the great history of 75 years of unblemished continuity with not one reboot ever taking place. By contrast, DC has rebooted 3 times and might be on its way to a 4th reboot.
So here’s to the House of Ideas. May it forever be remembered with fondness and the respect in which it deserves. Here’s to you Stan The Man, and to you King Kirby. As well as all the many men and women who have presided over literary wonders and artistic treasures.