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Nov 8

Jean Grey vol 1: “Nightmare Fuel”

Posted on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 by Paul in x-axis

Jean Grey has been around since 1963 and has never previously had a solo series.  Given Marvel’s enthusiasm for X-Men spin-offs, this can be a bad sign about the character’s suitability to carry a solo title.  And we’ll get to that.  But I like this book.  Issue to issue, it’s been good fun; it works in the format of largely self-contained stories all helping to advance a bigger picture.  And despite a barrage of different artists, it’s good to look at.

But at the same time there are some niggles and some odd choices – this is practically Jean Grey Team-Up, and sometimes that feels forced.

Dennis Hopeless is coming off a run on All-New X-Men where he was writing all the time-traveller X-Men except for Jean.  It seems a curious reassignment, since inevitably he finds himself picking up some of the same themes with Jean – the time-travel gimmick pretty much overshadows all of these characters at the moment.  Still, the emphasis is different.

The series starts off with Victor Ibanez on art.  I like him, he’s a humaniser – he sells Jean as a teenager, he can do the locations.  And with the age gap such a big thing here, you need to do a convincing teenager.  Anyhow, an opening monologue makes a big thing about the idea that Jean’s nightmare is to become the original adult Jean.  She mostly talks about Dark Phoenix, but also refers interchangeably to other stuff about Jean’s adult life.  With hindsight, there’s a point to this; though Jean seems to focus on the obvious practical problem of the big mad firebird that’s potentially coming for her, she’s really rejecting what she’s heard about her older self in a broader sense.  Dark Phoenix is very much Jean’s signature story, and the “trying to avoid repeating a catastrophic fate” plot seems like one that makes sense for her – but it’s territory that’s already been done with Cyclops, so it makes sense to broaden Jean’s issue into a wider rejection of her adult self.

The actual plot of issue #1 is pretty much secondary.  It’s her fighting the Wrecking Crew, and the main point of the exercise is to introduce a subplot – which doesn’t actually come back for a while – about a voice in her head.  At the same time, she’s having visions of the Phoenix coming for her, which sets up the major plot for the series.

Issue #2 starts my niggles, as Jean goes to ask the older X-Men for advice about Phoenix, and kind of gets the brush-off.  This doesn’t really work.  It’s pretty obvious what Hopeless is going for – it’s the classic set-up of the teenager who’s right but isn’t taken seriously by the grown-ups.  But of all the things for the X-Men to brush off, the return of Phoenix?  It’s one of those scenes where everyone has to act dumb in order to advance the plot, and it isn’t needed because she could have just avoided the main team altogether.  What makes more sense is her decision to track down other ex-Phoenix hosts who are still around, in order to get advice from them.  So, much of issue #2 (against the background of a tacked on fight with the Reavers) is about that.

This is confronting head-on a problem with Phoenix, which is that there are so many former Phoenix hosts around that it’s rather diluted the concept, especially since none of them seem to have been much changed by the experience.  Hopeless tries to square that circle by claiming that they’re all horribly scarred under the surface, which is perfectly reasonable for this series, though you can argue how much it really reflects the way those characters are being written in their own titles.

At this point we get a detour into team-up land, as Jean spends issue #3 visiting Namor, on the logic that he might be a dick, but that’s precisely why he’ll know how to handle Phoenix.  In the end it’s largely a repeat of the same point as the previous issue, since Namor turns out to be in precisely the same condition as everyone else.  But Ibanez gets to draw some gorgeous underwater environments, and Jean and Namor get to fight a metaphorical relentlessly-pursuing sea monster.  Somewhere along the line this convinces Jean that she needs to become a warrior in order to prepare herself for the Phoenix, and to that end she… goes up a mountain to speak to the original Thor?

This is where we go meandering off into forced team-up territory, because there’s no particularly clear reason why Jean would go to all this trouble to learn a few homilies from Thor – who, in turn, has to stray far from his current “unworthy” character in order to engage with her at all.  Yes, it allows for some cute comedy; yes, Harvey Tolibao’s art is very nice; but there’s no actual point to it that isn’t open to the objection “wouldn’t it have be a lot easier just to go for a drink with Logan?”

By issue #5, Anthony Piper is on art – a bit less spectacular than previous issues, but still very nice – and Jean is trying to get guidance from Psylocke, portrayed here as a sort of hardcore meditator.  Psylocke takes Jean to different situations to try and figure out the mental state that will draw out inner weapons that might protect her against the Phoenix; somewhat unhelpfully, it turns out that mainly the fight-or-flight response will do the job.  More to the point, the subplot about the voice from issue #1 finally comes back into focus – having been largely ignored until now – and Psylocke sends Jean off to have it checked out.

This all brings us to issue #6 – oh, and by now Paul Davidson is on art, the fourth artist in six issues.  Honestly, he’s a bit too jagged and nineties for my tastes, and doesn’t have the subtlety of expression of some of his predecessors.  Anyway, Jean goes to visit Dr Strange, who diagnoses that the voice belongs to an unsettled spirit.  Where this is heading – and it’s the set-up for the series going forward – is that Jean is being haunted by the ghost of the original Jean Grey, who apparently also wants to get her ready for Phoenix.  So it’s an odd couple series in which Jean Grey is both members of the couple.

Except… neither of these characters is particularly recognisable as the original Jean.  Ghost Jean is written as very bitter and grumpy, both about not having lived up to her potential during her lifetime, and also about how young Jean so emphatically rejects her.  At the same time, the big idea of issue #6 seems to be that the two Jeans’ feuding is actually displaced self-loathing, and that Jean has to come to terms with the fact that the older Jean is in fact just the same person.  The idea, I guess, is that she needs to find her own identity in order to prepare herself for Phoenix.

think where Hopeless is probably going with this is the idea that the original Jean, as a sixties female character, never really blossomed into a strong personality of her own, and that a 2017-era do-over will emerge very differently, and be ready for Phoenix in a way that the original Jean was not.  There’s something to that.  The obvious problem with a Jean Grey solo series is that the original Jean is a rather bland cipher who happens to have a classic story attached to her.  Her Silver Age creators didn’t leave much to work with: on a team with the angsty one, the brainy one, the juvenile one and the rich one, she was the girl.  Even her relationship with Scott isn’t that big a deal in the Silver Age issues; it’s Claremont who elevates her to soulmate status.  Leave the Phoenix story aside, and Jean winds up drifting over time into a role as team mom.  There are some pretty explicit references in issue #6 to the idea that Jean was allowing herself to fall into the role expected of her.

This isn’t to say that young Jean is exactly a better-defined character at this stage – she’s arguably more of a stock young adult hero at this point – but then her search for identity seems to be kind of the point of the series, so there’s no harm in using the time travel schtick to carry the load for now.

This could turn out to be an interesting series, though issue #6’s insistence that these are definitely both the same character (despite older Jean’s vastly different and more traumatic experiences) makes me wonder whether it might have a rather reductive view of identity.  Still, that’s not an issue if the real point is a metaphor about coming to terms with growing up.  More dubious calls are having older Jean seem so off-character (which seems to detract from the point), and the over-reliance on guest stars.  But despite that, and the artistic revolving door, it’s a stronger start than I was expecting.

Bring on the comments

  1. Suzene says:

    I think Hopeless would have gotten more criticism for Jean not seeking the X-Men for advice, honestly. It’s the first obvious place for her to go for advice. But yes, having them be so dismissive was a very WTF? moment. Having them either expect too much of Jean because of her older self’s connection to the Phoenix or being smotheringly overprotective would have both been easier reasons to swallow why Jean would strike out on her own.

  2. Mikey says:

    I’m really baffled by Marvel doing a marketing blitz for the return of the original Jean Grey, including her new book, X-Men: Red.

    For starters, we’ve had Teen Jean for a few years now – she has her own book, for Christ’s sake. So it’s not like there’s nostalgia for a Jean that, what, is old enough to rent a car?

    And in the time between her death in New X-Men and now, we have also had her daughter Rachel around, and we have had Hope Summers, who is basically just another version of Jean.

    It’s stuff like this, and the recent reveal that Original Wolverine is coming back, that totally throw me. How am I supposed to care about the return of Logan when an older version of him has been running around for the last few years. AND his son from another universe and X23 are also running around.

    How can we get excited or nostalgic for long-dead characters when Marvel already has a bunch of versions of them in the current books?

  3. Moo says:

    I hear you. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

    Unfortunately, Marvel can’t sell “absence” so absent characters get stand-ins to mind the store while they’re away.

  4. Col_Fury says:

    MAYBE (and I’m being hopeful here), they’ve listened to fan feedback and they’re hitting the reset button (without having a Crisis). “Too many replacements at the same time” people keep saying.

    I mean, they’ve already brought Steve Rogers back as Captain America, they’ve announced Tony Stark is returning as Iron Man, Jean Grey’s coming back, Wolverine’s been announced as returning, and I’m pretty sure Professor X is coming back (in Astonishing?), etc.

    But that’s only the first step. After the originals are back in place, they NEED to clean up the duplicates. Either give them new identities (like the Eric Masterson Thor became Thunderstrike, or the Johnny Walker Captain America became USAgent), send them home or kill them off.

    Part one is happening. I’m hopeful part two will as well. If that’s really the case, then I’m not concerned about nostalgia too much (on a smaller, individual character scale). It’s the universe getting back to a recognizable place that I’m nostalgic for (bigger scale).

    Fingers crossed!

  5. Luis Dantas says:

    I just don’t follow the logic regarding replacement heroes. I have already complained in the past about X-23 rebranding herself as “Wolverine”, which has no upside except from a meta perspective as a marketing device.

    I would assume that very little, almost nothing of a character’s appeal and even marketability comes from whether there are very broadly comparable implementations of somewhat similar concepts around. Romances, soap operas, westerners and other whole genres rely on perhaps a half dozen concepts each, after all.

    Of course, Marvel has a difficult time creating truly new, succesful characters. Perhaps that has become a bit of a truism and people automatically expect “worthy” characters to have decades of history despite the clear lack of true character continuity as well as of plot continuity?

  6. Col_Fury says:

    You know, I just realized something:

    When fans are questioning the meta aspects of the books, something’s gone terribly wrong.

    Get back to basics! Then, let things flow from there. When things get to far/flow from the ground zero, pull it back and restart.

  7. ASV says:

    “no upside except from a meta perspective as a marketing device”

    That’s what it’s been from the beginning. The earliest instances of this sort of thing were about retaining trademarks. In some cases it makes sense internally — the nature of Iron Man really is it could be anybody in there. But of course that can lead to other narrative issues — if it could be anybody in there, why isn’t there an army of Iron Men?

  8. Chris V says:

    The hardcore fan base usually doesn’t react all that well to characters being replaced by someone else.
    DC tried it in the 1990s, and most of the replacement characters ended up being failures.

    Sure, anyone could be Iron Man, and it worked reasonably well for James Rhodes to replace Tony Stark, but in the end, the fans still wanted Tony Stark back as Iron Man.
    Coming up with a new character who is a teenager to be the new Iron Man out of nowhere, or expecting fans to buy that Dr. Doom was the replacement Iron Man are harder ideas to accept.

    I expect that Marvel’s long-term plan is to replace the Avengers and X-Men with legacy teams.
    You’ll have X-Men:Red made up of every iteration of Jean Grey.
    You’ll have X-Men:Wolverine, same idea, but with every iteration of Logan.
    Amazing Avengers, will be all versions of Spider Man.
    Etc. Etc. Etc.
    Then, you spin out the solo books for each character. Jean Grey, Phoenix, Rachel…
    That sounds like a great idea!

  9. Moo says:

    In fairness to Marvel and DC, we’re quite past the days when creators were willing to come up with genuinely new characters for the publishers to own outright. Variations of the same characters is about all they can do, really. No way am I gonna pitch them “Atomic Stork-Man” if I think I can self-publish that idea somewhere down the line and maybe get a movie deal out of it.

  10. Moo says:

    Oh, and by the way, I’ve already trademarked “Atomic Stork-Man” in case anyone was thinking of stealing my idea.

  11. Chris says:

    Marvel and DC don’t pay enough for NEW characters.

  12. Chris V says:

    How many new characters actually become popular?
    It is a truism amongst hardcore superhero comic book fans that unless a character has been around for (at least) 30 years, they won’t be able to sustain their own titles.

    I mean, how many characters who have been invented in recent years have been able to maintain an ongoing comic?

    Kamala Khan has done ok.

    How many books launched since 1970 have been able to make it to 100 issues (not including spin-off books like X-Men or Spectacular Spider Man)?

  13. Moo says:

    I wouldn’t even count Kamala Khan. She’s a Ms. Marvel variant and owes at least some of however much popularity she has to her namesake. She’s more along the lines of a Julia Carpenter or a Kyle Rayner than a wholly new idea.

    I can’t think of an example of a relatively recent popular character who could conceivably have been self-published without altering a thing (ie superhero name, origin story, source of powers, if applicable).

    The Punisher. Seriously, that’s about as recent as I can come up with.

  14. Thom H. says:

    Runaways doesn’t seem to be doing too badly, and as far as I know those are completely new characters (mostly) unattached to the larger Marvel universe. At least they’re making a strong comeback in another medium, which has revived their comic series.

  15. Moo says:

    Oh, right. Good call. Runaways. Makes me wonder if Vaughan isn’t a tad regretful he didn’t just self-publish it under Image.

  16. Taibak says:

    A couple points:

    Surely Deadpool has to count as a ‘relatively recent popular character’ by this point, no?

    In all of this, did nobody think to have young Jean have a long conversation with Rachel? I mean, the whole time-lost daughter thing will add a layer of weirdness, but Rachel knows how to handle herself in a fight – she’s gone toe-to-toe with Galactus, after all – and was most definitely damaged by her time with the Phoenix Force.

    And I know that there’s always going to be a demand for the classic characters, but Jean might be the one character who’s more interesting dead. The question of her turning back into Dark Phoenix overshadows everything around her and she’s so insanely powerful, even by Marvel standards, that it’s tough to see a reasonable threat to her. Might be better off to keep her dead and let the rest of the team (especially Scott, Emma, and Logan) be haunted by the sense of loss and the fear that she’ll come back.

  17. jpw says:

    Anything involving the time traveling O5, i just don’t care about. It was a bad idea from inception And Nothing I’ve seen or read since has changed my mind.

  18. jpw says:

    Re: Deadpol. Didn’t he debut in 1991? He’s only recent in comparison to marvels ornery characters. If Deadpool is the best we can come up wit, that’s a problem (I guess there’s Runaways from 2003, but nothing in between)

  19. Voord 99 says:

    Taibak: In all of this, did nobody think to have young Jean have a long conversation with Rachel? I mean, the whole time-lost daughter thing will add a layer of weirdness…

    Good point. And “adding a layer of weirdness” isn’t a minus, it’s a plus. Developing a relationship with your daughter, who’s older than you are, who isn’t exactly your daughter, but a daughter of a you from what is from your perspective a possible future but from the perspective of the time to which you have been transported an alternate future. — *that’s* the basis of an X-Men subplot.

    On new characters, I’m not sure if it’s actually true that DC’s replacements in the ‘90s were such a failure. Wally West had a very long period as *the* Flash. Kyle Rayner did fine for many years.

    From my perspective, there’s a significant element of a choice to the new (or rather old) editorial direction to the Geoff Johns Nostalgia Tour of the early 2000’s that brought back Jordan, Allen, etc. – I’m not sure that it was as inevitable as the way in which every has assumed since Death of Wolverine that Logan coming back was inevitable. Certainly, if Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow had not been a big hit a few years earlier, I think you can wonder if they might have stuck with the more successful of the ‘90s replacements until the present day.

    And I do think there is a certain effectiveness to “legacy” as the basis for a character in superhero comics, because of the way that superhero readers read everything in terms of what has been done before and the aspect of being an adult superhero reader that’s about reading something that you loved as a child while being aware of all the ways in which you don’t read the same way as you did when you were a child. Barry Allen dead was far more valuable for telling stories about Wally West than Barry Allen alive has ever been for telling stories about Barry Allen.

    In Marvel terms, this is why I think they’re passing up a golden opportunity not to leave original model Logan dead. As everyone knows, they’ve effectively kept him around anyway as Old Man Logan, so they don’t lose much. But the original is just dead enough for it to matter that Laura has taken on his name. When they killed off original model Logan, it had been a long time since anyone had complained that he was underexposed. It’s not unlikely that a lot of the worthwhile stories about original model Logan have been told, and told well. On the other hand, there may be a lot of stories still to tell about how Laura copes with the Wolverine legacy.


    On yet another note, how much of this comic being good is just because Dennis Hopeless is a strong writer who maybe should have been given something more high-profile? I’ve only read the first issue (Unlimited), and it made me want to keep reading – but I’m not sure how much of that was because it was about Jean Grey, specifically, and how much because it was simply a well-executed “Let me tell you what this book is about and in the meantime here’s a fun little fight with charming character touches for long-established villains to keep you reading while I do that.”

  20. Loz says:

    I just hope the next time they decide to ‘kill off’ a load of Marvel heroes they just decide to go use a randomiser to decide who takes on their name as a tribute.
    Thus The Odinson becomes The Invisible Woman,
    Ms. Marvel becomes Storm,
    Even better The Wrecking Crew insist that they are the Avengers but still do the usual petty crime shit they always do…
    Peter Parker proclaims “I am Spider-man no more! Now I am The Council of Cross-Time Kangs!”

  21. mark coale says:

    I think “there are no new successful characters” is one of the hallmarks of the podcast, along with Paul bemoaning why the Fantastic Four still exist. 🙂

  22. Thom H. says:

    @Taibak: The X-Men have been ignoring Rachel pretty much from the moment she traveled back from the future. At this point, it’s a proudly held tradition.

    And: yes! I feel bad saying it, but Jean is much more interesting dead, either as a possibly returning threat or as a reminder of past failures. They should either leave her dead or give someone license to revamp her a la the current Mister Miracle mini-series.

  23. mastermahan says:

    I wouldn’t even count Kamala Khan. She’s a Ms. Marvel variant and owes at least some of however much popularity she has to her namesake. She’s more along the lines of a Julia Carpenter or a Kyle Rayner than a wholly new idea.

    Except that Kamala Khan has jack all to do with Carol Danvers besides the name. Powers, origin, culture, setting, personality – they’re completely different.

    My theory is that fans read giving a character a legacy name, even a minor one, as a sign the company is going to throw some support behind the new addition, and thus bypass the Firefly Effect of not wanting to get invested in something that looks doomed.

  24. Moo says:

    Her having no relation to Carol Danvers is totally irrelevant. My broader point was that if Marvel and DC seem bereft of new ideas, it’s because no creator is going to willingly hand one over if they think it’s worth keeping to themselves. And nobody thinks “Ah, a Muslim shape-shifting superheroine! I’ll just hang onto this idea for later and self-publish it. It’ll be like printing money!” Had she been published as “Amazing-Woman” under the Image banner, she’d likely be just a footnote by now.

    Kamala Khan was created in recognition of the fact that Marvel is sorely lacking in diversity. So, they have an existing IP (Ms. Marvel) that’s just lying around unused since Carol Danvers moved on, and they attach it to a new Muslim character. They keep the IP in circulation while taking a step to address the diversity issue, and the Ms. Marvel name helps them sell it.

  25. Joseph says:

    Ms. Marvel’s been successful because G Willow Wilson has been doing an amazing job telling good stories with a strong sense of place and character development. I’d say exactly 0 of the book’s success has to do with Carol or Ms. Marvel or even an inhuman (I mean, obviously). She could easily have been branded something else and been just as successful. And a Muslim character could easily have fallen flat in less capable hands. But she also works in part because of her interactions within the Marvel universe, but she’s at her best doing self-contained, character focused stories in Jersey City.

    Now, as far as Jean Grey, Hopeless deserves the credit for making this series enjoyable. I agree the art’s been good and sells her as a teen, although some artists have done so less successfully, likewise with X-Men Blue. I’m glad that Hopeless and Bunn have had a chance to continue on the line, along with Taylor’s Wolverine they’ve been the bright spots in the line the last couple years.

    It seems to me that Jean is a much better opportunity to get the story they tried to do with Cyclops right. The future didn’t turn out to be what we hoped it would be, or what we were promised it would be, and in fact it seems downright dystopian from a certain perspective. OK, sure, there’s a story there. But on a more personal and allegorical level, we all face a similar realization about our own lives, coming to terms with adulthood and responsibility and having to make choices and limit the path we take in life. What better character for exploring that than Jean? The most recent arc in Frost’s mind also felt like the right time to revisit Morrison and Quitely’s New X-Men run. This book’s been fun, what can I say. I even enjoyed the Thor team up. As nonsensical as it was, it works in a single issue, and considering Jason Aaron’s recent use of Phoenix and the fact that he clearly has plans for the Phoenix it also works on setting up some kind of story with Asgard.

  26. Voord 99 says:

    I think it would be a mistake to say that the Ms. Marvel name is essential to Kamala’s success. In part because Carol Danvers herself until recently was a character for whom a solo title was hardly something automatic. In fact, it’s not even all that long since one would not take for granted Carol’s presence in a team book.

    But the name is not an unimportant part of Kamala’s character — that she’s a Marvel superhero fan within the Marvel superhero universe is a central element in how Wilson has portrayed Kamala. And that her favorite hero is (now, used to be) Carol Danvers formed a major element of Kamala’s introduction, with the whole “Pakistani-American girl finds herself shapeshifted into the uberblondeblueeyed shape of her heroine” element. (Wow, now that I summarize that plot, there’s so much there that could have gone horribly wrong.) And I think it’s fair to say nowadays that first issues usually have to go well for a book to get past the first six or so.

    Which is why Kamala is the sort of new character that you’re going to get within the Marvel universe – a character that calls for a pre-existing superhero universe (and I think Marvel works better than DC here) to function.

    She didn’t have to be an Inhuman, though.

  27. Moo says:

    Ok, my point is getting lost here and it’s probably my fault for not articulating it very well and now we’re getting into a dissection of Kamala Khan.

    So let’s get back to brands. “Runaways” is now (so far as this thread goes) the most recent example of a relatively successful Marvel concept that really had little to do with anything else prior in the MU. It could have been self-published by Vaughan without having to deviate much from what it already was.

    Is there anything else more recent than Runaways? I mean excluding new versions of Ms. Marvel, Spider-Girl, or any other character or group of characters that come wrapped in familiar packaging.

  28. Moo says:

    Something that isn’t using the name of a pre-existing IP that just happened to be available for use. Runaways was fourteen years ago now. Anything more recent than that?

  29. Taibak says:

    In addition to Runaways, don’t forget that Jessica Jones wasn’t all that much earlier.

    As for more recent, I would make a serious case for Squirrel Girl. Yes, the character goes back to 1991, but it’s not like anybody was really doing anything with her until 2005.

  30. Moo says:

    Yeah but Marvel already owned Squirrel-Girl as of 1991 and someone just decided to dust her off years later. I’m looking for an instance of someone showing the willingness to actually create a brand new intellectual property for Marvel since 2003 (Runaways). Something that the creator could have conceivably held onto and self-published with some success.

  31. Col_Fury says:

    Gravity was in 2005. Not that anyone remembers Gravity…

    Mosaic was in 2016. Again, not really successful…

    Cable (a repurposed character) was in 1990, Deadpool and Squirrel Girl were both in 1991, Jessica Jones was in 2001.

    X-23 was 2004, but she was in the cartoons first, right? So she’s an “imported from other media” character.

    Phil Coulson was 2012, but again, he appeared in the movies first.

    So yeah, off the top of my head Gravity and Mosaic would be the most recent examples that fit your criteria. If I remember right, Gravity was by Sean McKeever and Mosaic was Quesada, right?

  32. Col_Fury says:

    Oh yeah, the Avengers Academy kids (2010). Hazmat, Mettle, Striker, Finesse, etc. Sure, they’re junior Avengers in training, but that could easily just be super kids in training, not necessarily Avengers.

    And I’m sure there’s a mountain of X-kids over the last 15 years. They might be a little harder to separate from the X-universe, though. But still! 🙂

  33. ASV says:

    You could easily take the various young X-Men created by Aaron and Bendis and do a standalone superhero academy comedy series at Image, sold on the writer’s name. Similar for the Squirrel Girl supporting cast. It’s just not true that nobody’s creating new characters for Marvel.

  34. Chris says:

    Yeah the “supporting characters are new characters”


    Marvel used to make the same argument that they gave thousands if characters in their bible that can be licensed

  35. ASV says:

    I have no idea what that means. Clearly Marvel is paying enough to get people to create characters for them. It’s not up to the creators whether those characters get their own series from Marvel; it is up to them whether they go to Marvel or are retained for creator-owned work.

    In other words, “there are no new successful characters,” is not because no one is creating new characters, it’s because for the most part readers aren’t buying new characters.

  36. Jonny K says:

    Amadeus Cho was a new character concept without connection to previous characters, created around ’05 or so.

    (Yes, he subsequently became a Hulk supporting character, and then the Hulk, but the concept is good, sound, and has no dependence on other concepts.)

  37. Joseph says:

    I think Moo’s point is on the mark. Image really reinvented itself around 2010, and has since attracted both creators’ new ideas and readers who are into the medium and not necessarily the nostalgic / addiction / comfortable habit of the big two books. Marvel was a good avenue for writers like Rick Rememder and Matt Fraction to have some years of stable work but as Moo implied they kept their best work for themselves. Understandably. The big two have little interest in innovation in any case. They are stewards for legacy IP.

    As this thread has born out, it takes a good two decades for new characters to really take off. Runaways had been cancelled and wasn’t clear they’d be brought back. Even now it’s only the TV show that can account for the new book, and how well is it selling in any case? Are these characters really popular? Nico has probably gotten the most attention and even then she’s not exactly a fully rounded character. (I was a big fan of BLV’s run for what it’s worth, but I think the series would probably work better on its own. Aside from Molly interacting with Wolverine, and maybe that one storyline in SF in which the Runaways interacted with the Young X-Men being in the marvel u hasn’t done too much for the them as characters)

    Let the dusty characters occasionally serve as inspiration for work in other media (film, TV, video games) while the comics are bought out of habit by a dwindling readership. There are plenty of good creator owned titles and web comics out there. I suppose the question should be what should Marvel do to create viable new books? Perhaps invest in a title beyond 12 issues? Maybe address their egregious labor practices? I can’t believe creators haven’t organized yet. Like the 2007 Hollywood writers strike, they need to address the inconsistencies between their compensation and the way books are being read. Trades, digital, subscription services don’t seem to carry royalties the way one might expect. Is it any wonder name brand creators save their best stuff for creator owneded publishers?

  38. Mordechai Buxner says:

    Completely original Marvel characters (not sharing a codename, concept or team with more established characters) since 2003: Positron (Amazing Fantasy v2 #15), Livewires, Gravity, Freedom Ring (from Marvel Team-Up), and maaaaybe Zaoxing and Wanxia from Point 1 #1. (It’s hard to tell – like a lot of these characters, they never showed up again.)

    But of course most of the new characters are tied to existing properties. It gives the comics stores more of a sense that there’s an audience for it, even before the audience has been built up. In other words, it’s giving the characters a chance to succeed. And is this that different from what Fantastic Four did when it reused the Human Torch, or what Amazing Spider-Man #1 did in tying into Fantastic Four, of what almost every single new Marvel series since then has done by having Spider-Man show up? It’s not a lack of creativity. It’s a modicum of business sense.

    That Marvel can tie new concepts, like Amadeus Cho, Mosaic, Ms. Marvel or Moon Girl, vaguely into established concepts and characters is an advantage Marvel has over other companies. They can do new exciting things and have larger audiences than if those comics were coming from out of the blue and disappearing just as fast.

    Would Kamala Khan have caught on like she did if her series were just called “Kamala Khan”, and she didn’t have a lead-in from Captain Marvel? Doubtful. I suspect (from her name) that they were originally going to repurpose the codename Chameleon, but that wouldn’t have gotten the same attention either. Instead, they made her the “successor” to a well-known character, they tied her in with everything prominently going on with the Inhumans (which had been set up in a major crossover, Infinity), had Marvel universe characters show up regularly, and the book has been a whopping success. But if you say that Kamala is basically a variation on Carol Danvers, you’re wrong. You’re just… wrong. She’s an original character, with an original supporting cast, who just had elements from other comics added in order to make it sell. And it worked, so clearly it wasn’t a bad idea.

    So this whole argument of “Marvel isn’t making original characters anymore” is ridiculous. The Unbelievable Gwenpool started as a novelty variant cover combining Gwen Stacy and Deadpool, and continued as a backup in Howard the Duck, and is tied to a bunch of Marvel characters like MODOK, but if you think she’s still a variation on Deadpool you haven’t read her book. The variant cover provided an opening for a new character who just happened to look like that, the editor asked Christopher Hastings to pitch something to go with the look, he offered a completely original idea (comic book reader from the real world who finds herself in the Marvel Universe and decides to become an anti-hero) and they’ve been printing it. The fact that the look preceded the concept is not a knock against it – it’s what made it sell.

    So let’s not talk about Gravity and Positron. Let’s talk about Scorpion (Carmilla Black) and Mastermind Excello (Amadeus Cho) and Starbrand (Kevin Conner) and Ghost Rider (Robbie Reyes) and Power Man (Victor Alvarez) and Spider-Man (Miles Morales) and especially Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan), an original character who looks like she’ll be a mainstay of Marvel Comics for a long time to come. These creations have differing levels of connection to other characters, and all of them started out with the question of “what will sell”, but to call them “not original” is to ignore the stories themselves, and the fact that they all have mostly original concepts, fresh tones, original supporting casts and brand new plotlines. They just also all have a sellable hook that will get comic shop owners to order.

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