Marvel Legacy: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

[Spoiler free article]

«I suppose we do what our kind has always done. What has become our Legacy. We stand on the shoulders of super geniuses and space gods, close our eyes and imagine a better, brighter, more amazing tomorrow. Then bring it to life something grand and fun and mind-staggeringly ridicolous. Something full of hope and compassion. Something both real and profoundly unreal. Something mad. Something magical. […] And I am closing my eyes now. And imagining my way home. I’ll see ya when I get there.»

Jason Aaron: Marvel Legacy. The cast. © Marvel Comics.

These are the closing words of Marvel Legacy. It is an emphatic declaration that occurs at the end of a succession of micro-teasers of Marvel worlds to come as the glue that tries to keep together an endless fist fighting sequence that recurs as a refrain in the 50 pages of the preview.
Marvel universe sets sails for a new journey and each character claims her/his/their spot, showing his/her/their own strengths in a dense patchwork of anticipations. The result is a brilliant collection of samples in which every fan can find a little, familiar piece, while looking for the important detail – the “return”, for example – he/she was waiting for.

Jason Aaron: Marvel Legacy, pag. 7 © Marvel Comics.

Simply put, Marvel Legacy is the next season promo; there is no change of vision in it, it is no manifesto-issue like the DC hit Rebirth one shot, which was specifically created for that purpose. The different goal of the two operations accounts for their quite different emotional outcome. Marvel Legacy one shot is a sort of catalogue of main characters and new heroes of the upcoming season, a simple and effective report: “hero A is back, villain B strikes again, team C changes in such a way that…”. It is is a successful trailer that, first of all, must convince the fans. It tells them the whos and whats of this operation, so fans can decide whether to join or not. Marvel’s trailer delivers contents this way because it must convince you. DC’s Rebirth, on the other hand, announced a change in values. Since it asked its fans a change in belief, it had to move them.
We could say that, while Rebirth focused on a “strong principle” – a new (or probably recovered) poetics built under the slogan “love is back” – Jason Aaron’s Legacy seems to develop from a catchy, fascinating mystery, a “case to be solved”, as Starbrand loudly points out during the fight against Robbie Reyes, the new Ghost Rider: “Our mission is to keep this world safe from the ones like us” (clearly, Legacy does not stand our for elegance and sensitivity in tone). Starbrand’s statement is directly linked to some “original sin” from ancient Avengers’ past, but this is a story with which the next Marvel adventure cycle is supposed to deal.
Retired heroes, who once had taken a step aside, and new characters (such as the 1.000.000 B.C. Avengers and Voyager) and scenarios (the galactic Wakanda) are going to take charge of Marvel universe’s near future. This move replicates the approach recently adopted by House of Ideas in restarting narratives. According to Hickman and his Secret Wars experience, we could define Marvel Legacy as “brand new adventures in brand new universes, keeping the bests of the ones that come before. Thus, characters from All New All Different cycle will play a role inside the Legacy universe. Since they performed well, they are confirmed.

Marvel Method: Learning from Experience

Amidst this bundle of announcements and comebacks, it is worth pointing out a specific trend and an important absence in Marvel Legacy. The trend is represented by a certain re-adaptation of some Marvel Cinematic Universe’s suggestions – for example, the little detail of the naming of the Infinity Stones, previously called “Gems” – , which confirms the will (the “strategy”, perhaps?) to lower the entry barrier to comics for MCU cinema-goers.
The absence is that of The Inhumans. Their absence is not unexpected, given their poor outcome in recent comic book series and the disastrous response to the TV series.

Jason Aaron: Marvel Legacy, pag. 7 © Marvel Comics.

It is interesting to see how Marvel’s choices come from from a “learning from experience” approach to production, through fast plan-test-evaluate-adjust cycles. In this perspective, a cycle allows to test both scenarios and characters: during the cycle, audience’s response and feedback are collected in order to improve publishers’ knowledge base, on which editors will rely during the successive planning phase. Every cycle is a sort of experiment in view of the next one, so that it is possible to make a statement such as “Marvel stopped the Jonathan Hickman research project that led to Secret Wars”. In this process, opening and closing scenarios, as well as creating and dismissing characters are on the agenda, because it is just the natural breathing of Marvel narrative.

DC, on the other hand, is much more emotional and linked to certain “traditions”: the whole Rebirth operation seemed a true abjuration, “please, forget the past 15 years, the New 52 and especially the DCYou: we have never meant to make such a mess“.
The Legacy’s and Rebirth’s kick offs almost appear as “spontaneous renditions”, and in their different approaches we can see a reflection of the two majors, Marvel and DC; we can trace their history, tradition and views on superhero storytelling, which in turn inform their way of dealing with ongoing social, political and cultural debates and tendencies. For instance, the House of Ideas shows a great irreverence in managing characters: these are (amazing!) performers at authors’ disposal, even to tell daily chronicles or to stage their creators’ own views or feelings about current times. The most striking evidence of Legacy characters’ subordinate role is represented by Nick Spencer’s Captain America and the Secret Empire saga, which dealt with the actual US political landscape (and speaking of politics and social issues that characterized the ANAD era, the strong “cosmic” atmosphere feeding Legacy arises major concerns regarding a possible “sterilisation” of this civil and social criticisms). Marvel’s will to persist in having continuity makes it harder for the publisher to overcome this cycle of transitions. It seems as though Marvel is acting stubborn, trying to piece together that which has irremediably changed. The Distinct Competitor seems more careful in modifying main characters: experiments take place in specific initiatives, such as Young Animals, through bizarre crossovers (e.g. with Hanna & Barbera’s ) – or alternate tales (for instance, Superman: Red Son reveals a lot about the superhero concept). DC’s difficulties in managing major transformation arise clearly looking at its attempts to incorporate other narrative universes, from Fawcett to Wildstorm through Milestone.

Marvel Legacy acts as the announcement of a new cycle for Marvel universe, an invitation for the fans to explore this world together. The fact that Legacy has appeared in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of Jack Kirby’s birth leads us to read the closing words of the trailer (with which we has opened this article) as an homage not just to the King, but also to the whole superhero universe. Though not a manifesto, Marvel Legacy is a declaration of intent: the publisher professes to be ready to travel through endless worlds and face new ways to deal with current issues, because decades of stories have built something amazing, moving, and fun. It is true that all these colorful “super-people” must look ridiculous, “mind-staggeringly ridicolous“, to people looking “from outside”. After all, these characters have immense powers but they often save the day with saloon brawls; they wear unrealistic costumes to cover even more improbable bodies; they carelessly “glide in and out of life“, step aside and go back to the stage, tell again and again the story of how and why they became what they are. And yet, all things considered, we cannot deny the presence of magic and wonder that invite us to lose ourselves in these new worlds. These worlds follow different rules, sometimes disturbing, sometimes subverting values and hierarchies to which we are used. Hence, we are encouraged to watch the world through the lens of emotion, for reason alone is not enough to tell Good from Bad.

In conclusion, we cannot just ignore and decline Marvel’s invitation to join this new adventure. Sure, we understand that Legacy is a spectacular, almost bombastic, catalogue issued by a very special travel agency. We rationally investigated its means and ends, presences and absences, comebacks and farewells; we considered editorial policies and commercial tactics and we have checked Diamond distribution figures. We are fans and this is how fans do it.
And, as fans, we long for sharing a thought, an emotion, an insight with all those people looking at the superhero worlds from outside: a new universe of stories is born and there is room for everyone.

(Translation by Sara Dallavalle)

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