All-New Marvel NOW! and the Avengers’ “Second Season”
By Brian Martin | Graphic/Novels Editor Published: 09/10/2013 10:00 am EST
Marvel Comics has announced the next phase of its ongoing Marvel NOW! initiative. This January, the publisher will debut two new titles—All-New Invaders, by James Robinson and Steve Pugh, and Inhuman, by Matt Fraction and (for the first few issues, anyway) Joe Madureira. That Marvel is continuing to launch new titles featuring its Marvel NOW! branding is unsurprising, since they haven’t really stopped doing this since last October (the first issue of the new Mighty Avengers ships this week). However, this particular announcement holds an interesting clue to Marvel’s new approach to current ongoing series.
According to the press release, the “All-New Marvel NOW!” officially begins with the December release of the not-at-all-confusingly-numbered “Avengers #24.NOW (=Avengers #1 in All-New Marvel NOW!).” This issue, spinning out of Infinity and beginning the “Rogue Planet” storyline, appears to be a “soft relaunch” of the title, maintaining its ongoing numbering while also touting itself as a first issue.
This isn’t the first time Marvel has used “double numbering” on its books. In the early 2000s, several long-running but rebooted titles carried both the original numbering and the smaller relaunch numbering (ultimately, most of these series simply reverted back to their original numbers, largely to coincide with anniversary issues). At that time, the presence of the higher numbers was nothing more than a bone thrown to longtime fans who liked the sense of history that those numbers brought with them, while the smaller numbers were meant to entice new readers who were intimidated by jumping into a series 500+ issues deep.
But what does this approach mean now? Obviously, this is still a ploy to attract new readers with a big ol’ # 1 on the cover. But the purpose of also including the larger issue number is much different this time. It’s not just for established fans, it’s for everyone to know exactly where in this particular continuing story we are. At its core, this isn’t a new #1. It’s the first issue of the book’s second season.
Infinity is, essentially, the “season finale” of Jonathan Hickman’s first year of Avengers books. In their press release, Marvel says Avengers #24.NOW/Avengers #1 will feature the team reassembling after Infinity in a story that “sets the stage for 2014’s boldest Avengers epics.” Typical hype and rhetoric, sure, but they certainly seem to be emphasizing that this is a fresh start while also being part of an ongoing story.
Back when DC launched its New 52, there was some discussion about the likelihood that the publisher would restart each title in its line annually, mirroring the structure of network television by breaking its ongoing series up into “seasons” and avoiding new-reader-unfriendly high issue numbers. While DC didn’t take this route, this was still an idea that seemed logical and organic in the age of popular shows like Mad Men or Breaking Bad. Primetime dramas have become gradually less disjointed and more continuity-driven, and now it seems like comics, which have always been tied to continuity, are trying to meet them structurally in the middle.
With the launch/relaunch/whatever of Avengers, Marvel seems to not only be debuting a “second season,” but making the lines between seasons more clear than they’ve ever been before. In a medium where these lines used to be evident only by the departure of one creative team and the arrival of another, it’s significant that such a clean break is being made while maintaining the series’ chief architect (Hickman). There’s still a sense of an extended story, but the ebb and flow feels different, as though each year might stand a bit better on its own and have a distinct beginning, middle, and end.
Drawing an even stronger parallel between television and comics, Marvel has announced that certain .NOW issues will feature digital download codes for the entire first collection of that respective series (Avengers #24.NOW, for instance, would come with the Avengers World trade). What do people who want to get into a show do before the new season starts? They binge-watch the previous season on DVD. Marvel isn’t just encouraging potential readers to do this, they’re giving them the means to get started!
It remains to be seen just how many other current Marvel titles will follow Avengers’ lead in 2014, but if this move proves successful, perhaps annual season-to-season relaunches of series will become increasingly common in mainstream comics as it is in television.
Brian L. Martin is an educator, writer, and amateur curmudgeon. An avid fan of novels, movies, and beer, he would much rather spend his time reading comics, a lifelong love since receiving a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man # 242 from Spider-Man himself in 1983. His favorite books include The Grapes of Wrath, Siddhartha, and The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which is heavy enough to be considered the only real defense weapon he has in his home. He currently lives with his wife in Uppsala, Sweden.