With Avengers: Age of Ultron still in theaters; Ant-Man opening July 17; and A.K.A. Jessica Jones, the second season of Agent Carter, and the third season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. coming to TV shortly, Marvel Entertainment is now figuring out how to get its audience on board with the comic books that spawned its movies and TV shows. This fall, Marvel Comics is launching a gigantic initiative: their entire superhero line is relaunching, with around 60 new series, all starting with an issue #1. The company just announced it this week, and details are still trickling out — but here’s what we know already, and what it all means.
1) It’s called “All-New, All-Different Marvel.” (That name follows 2012’s “Marvel NOW!” — 28 new series, plus a few more added later on — and 2014’s “All-New Marvel NOW!,” which launched or relaunched 35 more series.) It may seem like they’re running out of ways to describe their titles as fresh, but “All-New, All-Different” actually has a specific connotation in this context: it’s the phrase that appeared on the cover of X-Men #94, the most successful comics relaunch ever, in 1975.
2) Marvel has, as of this writing, released two comics that appear to be set in the A.N.A.D. period: an Avengers special that came out on Free Comic Book Day, and a standalone graphic novel, Avengers: Rage of Ultron. (Not to be confused, of course, with the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron, or with the 2013 miniseries Age of Ultron, on which the movie is not actually based.)
3) They’ve also released two teaser images, with Iron Man (or, to be more specific, somebody in a suit of Iron Man armor) front and center in each, surrounded by other characters whose appearance offers clues as to what’s changed about them. Some of them are very familiar from Marvel Cinematic Universe productions: a couple of Guardians of the Galaxy, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson, the Vision. Some are a bit ambiguous: there’s someone in Peter Parker’s Spider-Man costume and someone else in Miles Morales’. (In that Avengers special, Miles is referred to by his first name, and as “Spidey,” but not as “Spider-Man.”) And a few are characters you have to be a hardcore fan to identify, like Red Wolf, Citizen V and Doctor Spectrum.
4) When are all these new series happening? We’re not sure. Marvel hasn’t yet named a specific date; Secret Wars, the surprisingly awesome “event comic” to which virtually all their superhero comics this summer are tied, and which will probably have to end before the new #1s appear, is currently running at least six weeks late, so… October, maybe?
The most interesting thing to come out of the first wave of A.N.A.D. publicity, though, has been a comment from Marvel’s editor-in-chief Axel Alonso, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly: “I think that the comics industry — certainly, we are (sic) — slowly working into a season model that’s not too unlike what we see in our favorite cable TV shows: a seasonal model that offers accessible entry points for new readers.”
That’s a very smart way of thinking about it. The question that comes up constantly on every single comics-related message board is: Where do I start? If you like The Walking Dead, and you want to read the source material, there’s a pretty clear path: you start with the first issue (or volume), and continue from there. If you like the Avengers (or Batman, or whatever), and you want to read the source material, there are thousands of books and comics spanning decades. But a big red ALL-NEW #1 on a front cover suggests that even if you haven’t read the previous 25 or 250 issues, you won’t be completely lost.
A similar strategy worked for DC Comics with their “New 52” initiative in 2011 (in which they renumbered their entire line from #1). It’s been working for Marvel over the past few years, too — Captain America, for instance, got a new “season” and a new first issue in 2002, then in 2004, then in 2011, then in 2012, then (as All-New Captain America) late last year — not to mention the time early last year when Captain America #16 got a big “#1” at the top of its cover to indicate that it was a good place to start. Likewise, the Iron Man series was relaunched as The Invincible Iron Man in 2008, then Iron Man again in 2012, then Superior Iron Man last year — and each of those three series had a single writer and a specific dramatic arc.
And now Alonso is making it more or less official. The “season model” means that the idea is no longer to keep series going month-to-month forever, and frantically splice in new creative teams or new directions when sales flag too far. It’s to think about where stories can end, as well as where they begin, and to make sure that some sort of starting point is never too far behind.
Douglas Wolk is a freelance journalist and critic who writes about music, comic books and other things for TIME, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, and a bunch of other places. He’s also the author of Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean and Live at the Apollo. He also wrote the Judge Dredd: Mega City Two comic series, recently collected as a graphic novel.