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This past Tuesday could go down as an important day for Marvel Comics, as the publisher held a press conference to discuss what is in store for this summer’s Secret Wars, from writer Jonathan Hickman and illustrator Esad Ribic. However, the comments made by Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso and Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort were pretty cryptic and noncommittal. This hasn’t prevented many from declaring that Marvel is rebooting and that it’s the end of Marvel Comics as we know it. All of that could be true (or it couldn’t), but I think comic book fans would do well to relax and go with the flow more.
For fans of a certain age, talk of Secret Wars by Hickman and Ribic can’t help but bring back memories of 1984’s Secret Wars, written by Jim Shooter and drawn by Mike Zeck. Thinking back to reading comic books when I was young, I am struck by how matter of factly I took major changes. Iron Man is Jim Rhodes. Hulk can talk normally. Spider-Man’s suit is black. The Thing isn’t in Fantastic Four (and She-Hulk is). Thor is some sort of horse-man alien. It occurred to me that if these changes were made now, people would freak out. I might even freak out a little. So maybe we comic book fans should more frequently step away from the ledge a little and let things play out.
Many of the major, dramatic 1980’s changes that I just mentioned are now widely loved. The same holds true for major character evolution done in the 1970’s and 1990’s. So perhaps Sam Wilson becoming Captain America will work out as well as Jim Rhodes becoming Iron Man (which later lead to him becoming War Machine). Other changes – often involving recons to Spider-Man or excessive time-traveling in the X-Men – are more universally panned. Still, I think comic book fans today are too ready to jump the gun, to decry a future series that doesn’t even have creative teams attached to it.
It would be naïve to believe that culture at large is the same as it was in the past. The Internet, blogs, Tumblrs, short attention spans, and comment culture means that it’s harder to be patient and give a story time to play out before passing judgment. It’s also true that the receptiveness of young or inexperience comic book readers tends to fade as they grow older and more familiar with comic books. It’s hard to just relax and read the comics. To some degree, publishers egg on this type of nerd rage in order to create buzz, comment counts, and word of mouth.
To be fair, I’m not saying that they’re haven’t always been disputes about what happens in comic books or that people should never have negative feeling. I sympathize with those who worry that Marvel will erase the decades of stories and continuity that they’ve come to love. I’ve written about continuity and how I hope that Marvel doesn’t entirely reboot. Frankly, I have become less engaged with DC Comics since the New 52 was launched. It wasn’t because of some kind of petulant “I’m taking my money and going home fit,” though. I just wasn’t as excited by a number of title when I felt like I didn’t know or like the characters (in many ways, they are different characters than those who existed pre-New 52).
What I think comic book fans should do is be patient and not pass pre-judgments. We don’t know what will happen at the beginning of Civil War, nor what will come out of it. It’s quite likely that some of it will piss off many fans (it’s seems certain that even if there is not a reboot, some characters will not exist as they currently do). That’s fine. Readers can either say “This isn’t for me anymore,” or “This is pretty different but I’m enjoying it.” Neither is right or wrong, as long as people are making those evaluations based on their own feelings and not some Internet meme groupthink.
If comic book fans approached major changes with more of the openness of a young or new fan, I think fandom would be better. It could allow creators to make more bold and interesting choices. It could lead to less recycling of old storylines, tropes, and characters. Obviously, many times creator choices will be bold but not interesting. When those moments happen, fans should speak up. It would be nice, though, if fans picked their battles more. It’s hard to make your voice heard if everyone (yourself included) is always shouting about everything.