Thursday, January 28, 2010

Marvel Unveils Heroic Age

Marvel has officially confirmed the rumors and speculation surrounding the end of their Avengers franchise, announcing in today's USA Today that Avengers will in fact be relaunching this fall as the cornerstone of their new Heroic Age event. As I theorized earlier this week, they also confirmed that the Heroic Age signals a new, more hopeful direction for the company and its characters, with the emphasis being on old fashioned superheroics: good guys will be good guys again and bad guys will be bad guys. One figure whose position as good guy or bad guy depends on your point of view, however, will remain central to the direction of Avengers: Brian Michael Bendis.

"The 'brand new day' of the Heroic Age presents a tonal shift to optimism, a world filled with hope but quite hellish villains," Bendis, who as most of you know is a frequent target of abuse around these parts, told USA Today. "The heroes realize it's a blue-sky world worth protecting."

"This was always the whole point — the reunion, the Avengers getting back together, because this is what the world needs right now," Bendis added. "Now we get to the good stuff."

Whether or not Bendis can actually deliver good stuff, of course, depends on your point of view; personally, I think he's fine doing solo books where he can present character studies and the like but has fallen flat on his face in team books like New Avengers. However, considering that his titles have consistently been Marvel's top selling books over the past seven years, it's not a huge surprise to learn that he will in fact be remaining on Avengers when it relaunches later this year (incidentally, it is launching with a new #1 rather than picking up where the old series left off, though another renumbering when it hits 600 seems inevitable).

But even those in the Avengers and comics communities who are skeptical about Bendis's take on the team have to be pleased with the overall change in direction for Marvel (okay, they don't have to be -- someone has been buying this dark stuff, after all -- but many older fans who have been turned off by the post-Civil War era are certainly rejoicing).

"Heroes will be heroes again," Marvel EIC Joe Quesada said. "They've gone through hell and they're back to being good guys — a throwback to the early days of the Marvel Universe, with more of a swashbuckling feel."

Interestingly, USA Today almost totally glossed over the connection to the upcoming Avengers movie, which may or may not be a major reason for this tonal shift at Marvel. Instead, they chose to focus on the (much less likely, to my mind) possibility that Disney dictated this change so that the characters would be more family friendly now that they are buying Marvel. Quesada and Bendis quite rightly laughed off that suggestion, which I'm sure makes sense to the general populace but seems a bit forced for comics fans.

Creating a product that is synergistic with the expected blockbuster Avengers movie, on the other hand, could be one possible factor for this change though, as Bendis says, this seems to have been the idea all along. When Disassembled and Civil War took place, the main aims stated by Marvel at the time were to position the Avengers at the center of the Marvel Universe and to shake up the status quo, as they felt heroes were too chummy and comfortable with each other as opposed to the early days of Marvel where they were often suspicious of or even at odds with other heroes. Now that the light at the end of the tunnel is finally shining, it can be said that they have achieved both of these aims spectacularly, though, of course, the means they did it with resulted in nearly a full decade of stories I would rather punch myself in the face than read again.

With Avengers #1 now a reality, though, and the dark age of Marvel seemingly coming to a blessed end, speculation can turn to lighter, fan friendly fare such as: what will the roster of the Avengers be? Some people are under the impression that this promo art for the Heroic Age (which, I might add, looks kind of slapped together -- what's with that cheesetastic logo?) represents the Avengers lineup, but that's not really clear. Nine members is an awful lot (though it's barely one one-billionth of your typical X-Men roster) and a couple of these seem a bit out of left field (Gorilla Man and Thing?), though in general it would be an intriguing line-up.

Of more immediate importance to hardcore Avengers fans is the return of Clint Barton as Hawkeye, which I think will elicit a giant "Hell Yes!" from all right thinking Americans. And then there's the question of just which Captain America that is; the costume seems to be Bucky, though as some have pointed out, in this picture Cap has blue eyes rather than brown, which normally would indicate Steve Rogers. Plus, the USA Today article says that this will be reuniting a "reborn" Cap with Iron Man and Thor, neither part of which would be true if it's Bucky beneath the mask. Personally, as much as I love Steve Rogers, I wouldn't mind Bucky in the role either, so it's not a big deal for me though I'm sure it will be the cause of a blogosphere meltdown in some corners of the internet.

Whoever ends up being on the team (conspicuous by his absence, for instance, is current Mighty Avengers leader Hank Pym), though, one thing is certain: the Heroic Age appears to be answering the prayers of a lot of disenchanted and disenfranchised Marvel (and comics) fans. It Marvel can recapture that audience while still retaining the fan base Bendis has cultivated -- something that can be done simply by telling good stories -- then this may truly be one event worthy of the name.

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