It is an interesting time for comic books and their publishers, particularly for the big two (Marvel and DC). Television, live-action movies, and comics all have some major developments in the near future, and the hype in all three is beginning to rise.
Over on the movie front we have one of the most anticipated releases of the year just about a month out with Avengers 2, and the hype train for next year’s Batman v Superman will be getting started soon. Which is to say nothing of the more niche films like Deadpool and Fantastic Four starting to pick up some steam in the public eye. DC and Marvel have both laid out their long term plans for their core franchises, while Fox and Sony are beginning to let bits of information about the various X-Men movies, and the soon-to-be-rebooted (again) Spider-Man franchise. DC may be playing catchup here, but there is no doubt that buzz is starting to grow for their slowly unfolding connected universe. They have a long way to go to match the success of movies like The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy with their current offerings, but they could surprise us yet.
DC is, of course, holding up much better on the television front with several successful shows currently airing, and coming soon. Arrow and Flash are showing that an interconnected universe can work in television (too bad they’re not linked into the DC movie universe… that could get confusing), and they will soon be joined by a third series. Gotham may not be the ratings powerhouse that Fox wanted, but it is still a solid show which is slowly coming into its own. The future for Supergirl is a bit hazy, but I believe it is also supposed to connect with the CW shows, and its pilot has apparently completed filming.
Not everything is roses in DC TV with their once unstoppable animated lineup now a thing of the past. There are hints that their next wave of shows may recapture some of the old magic, but time will tell there. It certainly does make one wonder if continuing forward with Green Lantern and Young Justice (both critically well received, if not perhaps commercially) might not have netted them so good long term gains. On the other end of things their more mature show, Constantine, has been struggling to earn a season two renewal, but compared to the success of their other live-action shows that’s not a major issue.
Marvel has some catching up to do with the live-action shows, but they have certainly been making ground. Agents of SHIELD is generally agreed to have had a bit of a rocky beginning, but after it found its footing about halfway through season one it has been gaining some significant traction. A late season two guest spot from Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury probably didn’t hurt too much. The sort-of spin-off, Agent Carter, was a bit less successful critically, but did well enough to earn a second season sometime in the future. Hopefully they are able to work some of that comeback magic on that show, too.
The bigger gamble right now, though, is Daredevil, which will be launching its entire season on Netflix in early April. Early reviews are generally positive, and the trailers have shown us a dark, brutal world that is at odds with the more colorful antics of the Avengers and SHIELD (which is in line with how Daredevil typically is portrayed in comics). This is the first of the Marvel Netflix titles, and so a lot is riding on this series, but with the general quality currently associated with both the Netflix and Marvel brands these days, you can bet there will be a lot of people following the adventures of Matt Murdock once it becomes live.
Over in animated television Marvel has been making strong strides to recovering a lot of the glory they used to have in the 90s with the successful X-Men and Spider-Man shows. Currently Avengers Assemble and Ultimate Spider-Man get good – not great – ratings, but tend to be well received by comics fans (unlike, say, DC’s recent Beware the Batman series). They will be joined by Guardians of the Galaxy later this year, which will almost certainly do extremely well given the popularity of the movie.
And lastly, in the land where it all began, both DC and Marvel are planning big things for their comics lineups later this year. Both companies are currently engaged in some massive storylines which will reset/reboot their comic universes into more streamlined packages (in theory). For DC fans this is a bit of déjà vu from 2011’s “New 52” launch (which itself was some déjà vu from any number of previous relaunch attempts), so there’s a fair bit of skepticism regarding this one. Personally I have not touched a DC comics in almost two years now thanks to the mind-boggling complexity of their inter-title crossovers, but I may try a few titles once the relaunch comes about.
Marvel is another story entirely, however, as a true relaunch has only occurred rarely in their pages, and none particularly recently. You could argue that the Ultimate line was an attempt to do a soft-restart, but that never really materialized in the way its architects hoped. Instead, you have to reach back to the 90s and Heroes Reborn for the last true Marvel relaunch, and that lasted just over a year before Marvel pulled the plug and returned everything to the status quo (largely because it was absolutely terrible by almost all accounts). This new relaunch, if the rumors are true, will be far more significant in scope, too.
The X-Men and their mutant brethren will be shunted off to their own universe, separate from the rest of Marvel’s heroes and villains. From a management perspective this is almost certainly being done since Marvel has almost no chance of regaining the X-Men movie license anytime soon. From a creative perspective, though, this is actually a good thing. One of the biggest story points of mutants has always been that “the world hates and fears them” simply because they are born different. However that never really rung true since the only difference between the X-Men and the Avengers was in how they acquired their powers. In a world where radioactive animals are giving people powers, why would mutants in particular be singled out? Putting them in a world where mutants are the only beings with superpowers changes this dynamic, and actually makes it work.
The other – unofficial – objective of this relaunch is to bring the ultimate universe into the Marvel universe proper. Or, more specifically, to bring the ultimate Spider-Man (Miles Morales, not Peter Parker) into the regular universe. Grabbing ultimate Nick Fury in the same sweep would also be a boon, but I expect that other than a few characters here and there to serve as background filling (similar to how it played out in post-Age of Apocalypse X-books) nothing of consequence will come from this pseudo-merger.
Beyond that we may get the reset button pushed on some editorial decisions made in the past few years, such as Mary Jane never marrying Peter Parker, but most things will probably continue on as before. What, precisely, we can expect moving forward is yet to be known.
So there it is, a bit of a bright future ahead for Marvel and DC fans. And that is not even counting things like Star Wars and other secondary properties, or fans of other publishers like Image and Dark Horse. It is only too bad that there are not more hours in the day to enjoy this bounty of riches.