The Next Big Thing

Marvel: Point One #1

Marvel Comics sets its sights far in the future in an ambitious and puzzling anthology.

The Next Big Thing is a weekly column where I go back and look at what I’ve been calling “preview anthologies”; one-shots released by superhero publishers meant to establish a new status quo and highlight new titles due for release soon. This week’s anthology marks a major shift in how Marvel tried to entice readers to try new books and also sees the publisher playing a much longer game, thinking ahead to not one, not two, but three future line-wide crossover events!

The “Point One” initiative launched by Marvel in early 2011 as a linewide jumping on point for readers. Pretty much every ongoing series received an extra issue numbered “.1” to serve as an easy entry point for readers to try out something new. Some comics like Invincible Iron Man #500.1 served as catch-up issues for readers to learn what they’d missed while others like Amazing Spider-Man #654.1 served as jumping off points for new status quos with new characters.

The “Point One” initiative ran through 2011 but the specific issue we’re talking about here is a preview anthology titled Marvel: Point One which is one of the oddest types of these issues we’ve covered, because it doesn’t just serve one purpose. There’s some traditional preview anthology stories in here, setting up ongoing titles like Scarlet Spider or Defenders but some of the stories are looking way into the future and are more focused on with the framing sequence not paying off until 2014! That’s not even mentioning the one story here which never went anywhere at all, so let’s dive in.

The Watcher in “Behold The Watcher”
(Ed Brubaker, Javier Pulido, Javier Rodriguez & Chris Eliopolous)
Javier Pulido, Javier Rodriguez & Chris Eliopolous (Marvel Comics)

The first story in this anthology also serves as a framing sequence, but I’m going to tackle it all at once. A pair of unknown infiltrators sneak into The Watcher’s home on the Blue Area of the Moon and take advantage of a loophole to move around undetected and steal some information. Only one of the infiltrators gets named, referred to as Andrew, and they seem to be working for someone or something called “The Unseen” who is going to use what they stole to kill The Watcher.

This story here is setting up the events of Original Sin in which The Watcher is killed by Nick Fury, kicking off a massive manhunt and ultimately ending in Fury becoming the new Watcher, known as “The Unseen”. I’m really curious about the three year gap between this vignette and the event it’s setting up and the change in creative team behind it. Ed Brubaker wrote this story but by 2014 came around, he had left superhero comics and Jason Aaron was at the helm for the Original Sin event. 

Looking at what takes place here and what takes place in Original Sin, I have to wonder if Brubaker was originally more involved in the planning stages and story beats changed over the course of three years. The dialogue makes it seem like “The Unseen” is a group, rather than an individual and Nick Fury doesn’t become “The Unseen” until the end of the series. The two infiltrators are revealed to be Nick Fury LMDs in Original Sin but I can’t help but think that wasn’t the original plan. I’d be curious to know what the truth behind all of this really is.

Nova in “Harbinger”
(Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines, Morry Hollowell & Albert Deschesne)
Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines, Morry Hollowell & Albert Deschesne (Marvel Comics)

In the second of three stories which set up crossover events, we’re introduced to a brand new Nova in the form of Sam Alexander. Sam is trying to warn the people of the planet Birj that they need to evacuate, but is met with resistance by Galactus’ former herald Terrax, who assumes Sam is working for the Nova Corps and looking to bring him in. Sam is forced to flee as The Phoenix Force engulfs the planet and destroys every living thing on it and he turns his focus back to Earth to warn its inhabitants that The Phoenix is coming.

Sam has become a fan-favorite character in recent years, but those early years under Jeph Loeb were rough because he could not write a teenager in a convincing way. Just look at Sam’s reaction to the entire planet, billions of lives, being wiped out by The Phoenix Force; he says “…All those people… I… Epic fail…” which even in 2011 when the phrase “Epic Fail” was at its peak still came across as very “How do you do fellow kids?” The fact that Richard Rider was at the peak of his popularity as Nova in the late-2000s and early-2010s also led to some resentment towards Sam, whom fans saw as replacing a hero who had just got his chance to shine.

While this is Sam’s first appearance, it’s not setting up a new Nova ongoing — Sam wouldn’t get an ongoing until 2013 — it’s actually setting up for Avengers vs. X-Men which centered around the imminent arrival of The Phoenix and the two teams’ debating what to do about it. We’ll talk more about Sam’s ongoing and his journey to a character people like next installment when Loeb and McGuinness return for another tale but from here, Sam is going to crashland into The Avengers’ lives in Avengers vs. X-Men #1 five months on from this appearance.

Roberto De La Torre, Lee Loughridge & Cory Petit (Marvel Comics)
The X-Terminated in “The Myth of Man”
(David Lapham, Roberto De La Torre, Lee Loughridge & Cory Petit)

I found this to be a really interesting vignette because it definitely did the job of making me want to read the comic it’s advertising. Set on Earth-295, the world of Age of Apocalypse, it depicts a world where mutants won and humans are near extinct but a group of people we known on Earth-616 to be villains, like Graydon Creed, Donald Pierce and William Stryker, are fighting back against the mutant regime.

This team, dubbed “The X-Terminated” in reference to humanity’s dwindling numbers, go from here into Uncanny X-Force #19.1 which serves as a prologue issue of a new Age of Apocalypse ongoing focusing on Jean Grey and Sabretooth working with The X-Terminated against Weapon X, who has taken over as Overlord following Apocalypse’s death. I definitely wasn’t interested in this at the time because I hadn’t even read the original “Age of Apocalypse” crossover back then but reading this vignette here and now did make me curious enough to back and check out the ongoing.

Overall, it’s a weird series that didn’t need to exist but it’s an interesting kind of weird; it kinda plays out like the aftermath of House of M in reverse, with humans fighting for survival in a world that seems to be actively trying to wipe them out. David Lapham seemed a weird choice at the time and still kinda does; best known for his instant classic indie series Stray Bullets, he just does not seem like the guy you get to do a spin-off based in an alternate reality but he brings a humanity and a grounded feel to the series that really benefits it. I’ve been a fan of Roberto De La Torre’s since Iron Man: Director of SHIELD — yes, I will talk about it given the chance — and his work here is another level. I’d definitely say to look into it if any of that sounds interesting to you, I didn’t think it’d be for me but I had fun with it.

Ryan Stegman, Michael Babinski, Marte Gracia & Joe Caramagna (Marvel Comics)
Scarlet Spider in “The Scarlet Thread”
(Chris Yost, Ryan Stegman, Michael Babinski, Marte Gracia & Joe Caramagna)

Speaking of things that were popular in the nineties getting ongoing series in the 2010s, we have Kaine Parker emerging from the events of “Spider-Island” and charting his own course away from Manhattan and away from Spider-Man. Kaine started out as the “failed” Parker clone; The Jackal’s first attempt before he succeeded with Ben Reilly and he spent the infamous Clone Saga as a wild card that couldn’t be trusted either way. However, by the end of “Spider-Island” he had been cured of his unstable genetic nature and given a new lease on life, which he took as far away from anything Spider-Man related as he could.

However, Spider-Man related stuff tends to follow Peter Parker around and that applies to his clones as well as we see in this story here, as Kaine reluctantly dons a costume and helps stop a bank robbery. From here, Kaine would go on to his own ongoing series as the new Scarlet Spider which is still fondly remembered to this day; seriously, there’s a dedicated Kaine Parker fanbase out there that will let you know how much they want him to have an ongoing series again. 

Kaine’s series lasted a respectable twenty-five issues and Chris Yost carried him over to a new New Warriors series which went for another twelve. Since then, Kaine has made supporting appearances in interdimensional Spider-Man stories like Spider-Verse and Spider-Geddon and clashed with his clone-brother Ben Reilly who took up the mantle of The Jackal during the Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy event.

Salvador Larroca, Guru-eFX & Joe Sabino (Marvel Comics)
Coldmoon & Dragonfire in “Yin & Yang”
(Fred Van Lente, Salvador Larroca, Guru-eFX & Joe Sabino)

Full disclosure; this is the one vignette which inspired this entire series of articles. I think about this vignette way more than I should and probably way more than most people who ever read it. It haunts me, and I finally get to talk about it.

The story here is standard Marvel superhero origin stuff as we’re introduced to two new characters; Zaoxing and Wanxia, a brother and sister pair who were born conjoined at the heart. They were raised in isolation by the Taiji Corporation, with Zaoxing developing fire powers and Wanxia developing ice powers, but they were both told that their sibling died in the procedure to separate them. Eventually, their connection to each other grew too strong and they escaped their isolation and set their sights on bringing down Taiji Corp and their attempts to take over the world with alien technology, crossing paths with the Avengers in the climax of this story in the superheroic identities of Dragonfire and Coldmoon.

However, these characters never appeared again. To this day, as I write this, these characters have not appeared in a single comic outside of Marvel: Point One #1 which was a comic specifically designed to serve as a jumping off point for future stories. The fact that this story made it into this comic and then they never appeared again haunts me, because it makes me want to know everything about how the characters were created and why they never appeared again. I looked it up and I found that Fred Van Lente had made reference to the characters being created to appear in either the Marvel Heroes MMO game or for a mobile game, either way, he said that they were crated to cater to the Chinese market.

I had to know more, I had to know everything. So, I reached out to Fred Van Lente to ask him what he remembered about the characters, what he was told prior to writing this story and what he knew about the plans for them after that and he very graciously wrote me back the very same day with the following answers.

“I am pretty sure I was given their names — both their code names and their given names — from Marvel. Attached are the original character designs by Kaare Evans, back when they were called “Yin & Yang.” Their temperature-based powers are part of the whole Yin-Yang Taoist cosmology.

They were created to be playable characters in a mobile fighting game that was going to be released in China, so they were created literally to appeal to Chinese gamers. Whether or not this game ever came out or if these characters were ever seen again I couldn’t tell you!”

Kaare Andrews (Marvel Comics)

I did have more questions but Fred was very kind to answer at all and I really didn’t want to pester him about forgotten characters from 2011. I considered reaching out to other people involved in this story, like editor Alejandro A. Arbona, but I decided it was time to let my quest for knowledge end here.

One final note I have about these characters though, is that Marvel would go on to follow this strategy for character creation several years later. Characters like Aero and Sword Master were created to appeal to potential readers in China while White Fox, Luna Snow and Crescent were created to appeal to potential Marvel readers in South Korea. Luna Snow and Crescent even made their first appearances in mobile video games before making the jump to comics. 

These characters were all brought together by Greg Pak as the new Agents of Atlas, which brought together characters from across Asia, uniting new characters with established heroes such as Shang-Chi, Silk and Amadeus Cho and even featured cameos from obscure heroes based in Asia like the Triumph Division, Future Avengers and Ascendants. Now I have to wonder, did Greg Pak ever consider adding Dragonfire and Coldmoon to the Agents of Atlas? Maybe I need to send another email.

Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Sonia Oback & Clayton Cowles (Marvel Comics)
Doctor Strange in “The Shaman of Greenwich Village”
(Matt Fraction, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Sonia Oback & Clayton Cowles)

Here we get something a bit more straightforward than the saga of Dragonfire and Coldmoon, but weird in its own way. Before he was a movie star, Doctor Strange had a reputation in the late-2000s and early-2010s as someone that was great on a team, or as a guest star or in a miniseries but not someone who could carry an ongoing series anymore. While this is story is setting up the new Defenders series that spins out of the events of Fear Itself, I think it also serves as a damn good Stephen Strange solo story and it’s reminiscent of the one-and-done nature of some of Mark Waid’s best Doctor Strange stories that came about a decade later.

It’s hard to describe what happens here, but basically Strange, while trying to heal someone of a potentially mystical ailment, sees something he shouldn’t and kind of gets infected with the idea to dig into it deeper. The thing he sees is something called a Concordance Enginge and his quest to learn more about it sees him form a new Defenders team alongside Namor, Silver Surfer, Iron Fist, Red She-Hulk, Ant-Man, Black Cat and Nick Fury. 

It’s probably the most intentionally weirdest thing that Fraction has done within the realms of a shared superhero universe and ultimately it ends with the Defenders kind of making it so that the events of the comic never happen, so it’s not massively consequential on the shape of the Marvel Universe from here on out. However, the concept of the Death Celestials — first introduced in Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones’s Marvel Boy #5 — gets explored in a lot more detail here and it’s something that Al Ewing is going to pick up and carry through to incorporate into the secret history of the Marvel Universe established in Ultimates, so it certainly wasn’t all for nothing.

Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary, Paul Mounts & Cory Petit (Marvel Comics)
“The Age of Ultron”
(Brian Michael Bendis, Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary, Paul Mounts & Cory Petit)

Finally, we have our third crossover event of the issue and just like Original Sin, this one isn’t going to come out for several years. Age of Ultron was a weird one for Brian Michael Bendis and for Marvel, because it’s something that starts to get seeded around now, especially with Avengers #12.1, but it gets hit with heavy delays to the point that Hitch kinda runs out the clock on his Marvel contract and the back half of the book gets an entirely new art team to finish it off. 

The characters don’t actually spend that much time in the titular Age of Ultron, it’s more about them going back in time to prevent it from happening and the tie-ins do a much better job of exploring the Ultron-ravaged Earth than the event itself did. By the time Age of Ultron came out, it felt like everyone had moved on from it already and it just needed to get out the door to set up a couple of other big things. The series ends with time being broken, with the heroes successful attempt to avert the Age of Ultron being the straw that snapped the camel’s back.

The biggest thing to come from this wounding of the space-time continuum was the arrival of Angela in the Marvel Universe. I don’t really have the space or energy to get into in any great detail, but Neil Gaiman had recently won the rights to the character he created for Todd McFarlane and he gave her to Marvel, who incorporated her into the Marvel Universe. She would join the Guardians of the Galaxy under Bendis’ run and would later learn that she was Thor’s long-lost sister during Original Sin. The less memorable fallout from this event was Galactus falling through a hole in space-time and arriving in the Ultimate Universe. The Ultimate line had already done their version of Galactus half-a-decade earlier, but this time it was the actual big purple planet eater who had come to destroy everything.

Overall, this is a much weirder anthology than it seems on the surface. I kind of like the fact that three of the stories in here are planting seeds for crossover events that will pay off well down the line because it shows a commitment to long-term storytelling that I really appreciate in my superhero comics. However, due to the long-term nature, things change and many of the stories here don’t quite line up with the end product that eventually came out; whether it’s the story details of The Watcher’s tale or just straight-up abandoning Dragonfire and Coldmoon never to be seen again. I think this is a good first try and a new kind of preview anthology for Marvel and I think the next issue might be the apex of the form.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s