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 we enter the “Marvel Now” era of Marvel which kicked off in late-2012 and was characterised by a character-first approach to comics inspired by Mark Waid & Paolo Rivera revitalisation of Daredevil and Matt Fraction & David Aja’s fresh take on Hawkeye.
“Marvel Now” was the start of the kind of new era in publishing that Marvel: Point One hinted at and over the course of the next few years, every year would see a slightly differently named initiative that tried to do the same thing, with arguably diminishing returns each time. The original line, kicked off by this issue, really did feel like Marvel was kicking off something new and there’s at least two runs that spin out of this issue that I consider to be stone-cold classics, so let’s dive in.
Nick Fury in “NYSE”
(Nick Spencer, Luke Ross, Lee Loughridge & Clayton Cowles)
Just as we saw with The Watcher’s story in Marvel: Point One, this issue features a framing sequence with Nick Fury Jr, Phil Coulson and Maria Hill interrogating a man who claims to be one-hundred years from the future. Just like with The Watcher’s story last issue, we’re going to take the framing sequence as one story but before that, I want to dive into where Nick Fury was at coming into this story because the long-lost son of Marvel’s ultimate super-spy was still a green-in-the-gills rookie at this point in his history.
Nick Fury Jr was introduced in the aftermath of Fear Itself in a series called Battle Scars where he was living a relatively normal life as Staff Sergeant Marcus Johnson who returned home from Afghanistan following his mother’s death, an event which triggered an international search for his true origin and put him in the crosshairs of every supervillain mercenary from Taskmaster to the Serpent Society.
Along the way he learned that his real father was Nick Fury, former Director of SHIELD and he even lost an eye and had all his hair burned off to give him that synergistic Samuel L. Jackson appearance. It all felt very contrived, but nothing felt more contrived than the revelation that his best friend, referred to only as “Cheese” throughout the series, was actually Phil Coulson. I’m not against bringing Coulson into the Marvel Universe, but they way they did it was so forced it was just kinda cringe.
In this story, the mysterious stranger from the future gives vague hints about events happening now, setting up transitions to the other stories in the issue but in the end he utters a single word which brings a hit squad into the room to kill him. The word is “Kobik” and after the firing stops, Coulson realises that the real threat was whatever was possessing the time traveller that could jump into other people’s bodies.
This story here sets up the start of Nick Spencer and Luke Ross’ Secret Avengers run but the big thing here is “Kobik” which won’t mean anything until Nick Spencer takes over the Captain America titles in 2015. Kobik is going to be revealed to be a sentient Cosmic Cube who takes the form of a little girl and it’s her power that turned Steve Rogers into an Agent of Hydra for like two years. I get the feeling that Spencer didn’t know exactly what “Kobik” was during this story and it was just a mysterious sounding codeword, but it is cool to be able to see stuff like this seeded three years prior, like the Original Sin stuff last issue, even if it doesn’t always line-up exactly with how things play out.
Star-Lord in “Guardians of the Galaxy”
(Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven, John Dell, Justin Ponsor & Cory Petit)
This is an interesting one because it’s not an original story produced for this anthology, it’s an excerpt from Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1 which was released four months after this issue. In it, we see an aspect of Peter Quill’s childhood that we hadn’t seen before as his humble home life is destroyed forever when his mother is killed by a Badoon hit squad and he discovers his father’s element gun.
This was the start of Bendis making some significant changes to Star-Lord’s origin, to try and stay in line with what the movies were doing as much as he could. In his original origin, Star-Lord was the son of Meredith Quill and Jason of Sparta, an alien from beyond the stars. He grew up to be a NASA Astronaut and while on a space mission encountered the Master of the Sun who made him the Lord of the Stars, or the Star-Lord, as it were. Bendis’ new origin ended up making some big and little changes; Jason was changed to J’son and Sparta was changed to Spartax but the entire Master of the Sun aspect of his origin was retconned to be false memories of another life.
Bendis’ run on Guardians of the Galaxy was a weird one because it never felt like it had any real direction. With his time on Avengers, at least for the first few years, you can see the he’s laying the groundwork for these future stories like Civil War, Secret Invasion and Siege but the Guardians just kinda hop from one story to another, occasionally crossing over with an event like Infinity or teaming up with the X-Men but it just wasn’t very memorable and lacked the heart and charm of the previous run by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning which inspired Marvel Studios to make a movie to begin with.
Interestingly, the most recent run of Guardians of the Galaxy by Al Ewing and Juann Cabal has kind of gone out of its way to bring back the Master of the Sun parts of Star-Lord’s origin that Bendis’ take on the character threw away and it’s led to some really interesting storytelling. It’s still too early to say how significant this stuff will be for the character, but I think there’s an interesting comparison between a creator that tries to cut out the parts he doesn’t think work and a creator that embraces every aspect of a character and makes it work.
Nova in “Diamondhead”
(Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines, Marte Gracia & Albert Deschesne)
The third story in this week’s anthology sees us return to Nova with Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, but this time they are actually setting the stage for a new ongoing Nova series which launched a couple of months after this issue. Nova was definitely a pet project for Jeph Loeb at this time and was kind of his goodbye to comics as he dedicated more of his time to TV projects like the Marvel Netflix shows where he ended up being accused of racism and discrimination by several Asian cast members across different projects.
Back to Nova, we see Sam get into a fight with Diamondhead, one of Rich Rider’s original villains who dates back all the way to 1976’s Nova #3. I have a soft spot for Bronze Age villains like Diamondhead because before writers became so hung up on creating villains that represented something about the hero they were fighting and maybe had a point about society at large that they were addressing through criminal means, villains were just dudes with weird powers and funny names. Early Power Man stories are especially great for that, but before Richard Rider was fighting Annihilus and Blastaar out in space, he was fighting dudes named Diamondhead and Zorr The Conqueror.
So, this is continuing Sam’s journey but his ongoing would actually take place in the form of a flashback, showing us how he acquired a Nova helmet, his family’s link to the Nova Corps at large and his journey into space to search for his missing father. I think after Loeb and McGuinness gave the world the over-the-top bombast of Red Hulk, people weren’t ready for Sam’s story to be as affecting and nuanced as it ended up being and that definitely contributed to the initial backlash we discussed last time, but the Nova series that spins out of this story here really did a lot to humanise Sam and establish a unique place for him in the Marvel Universe.
Ms. America in “The New World”
(Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton, Matt Wilson & Clayton Cowles)
This is the big one of the issue, for sure. Coming into Young Avengers, Kieron Gillen had been writing Uncanny X-Men for about a year while Jamie McKelvie hadn’t yet had a full run on a series but had wowed people with his work on Cable, Defenders and Secret Avengers. As a creative team, Gillen/McKelvie had released two critically acclaimed volumes of Phonogram and teamed together at Marvel for Siege: Loki but it was their work together on Young Avengers that would cement them as superstar creators and catapult them towards what will likely become their career defining work.
The story here sees Kid Loki — who is actually adult Loki in Kid Loki’s body, but maybe something different all together? — confronting Miss America on Earth-212, an Earth which is infinitely New York. (212 is a reference to New York’s area code but also a reference to Azealia Banks’ absolute bop of a track). Loki manipulates Miss America into thinking that Wiccan is in danger from him, setting up the events of Young Avengers #1 nicely and the story ends with a fourth wall break where Loki refers to getting the Avengers together as his “greatest hit” which I always thought was a fun line.
The breakout character here, and possibly the breakout character of 2013, is Miss America Chavez. The character was introduced in Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta’s Vengeance miniseries — a series which I have tried to read several times and have never bothered to finish — but the ways in which Gillen and McKelvie reinterpret and reinvigorate her character in the pages of Young Avengers really turns her into something new and far more interesting than she ever would have been.
Young Avengers was a series about growing up and facing your future even if you had to fight the expectations placed on your by the adults in your life, a theme which was carried over and played out to operatic levels in Gillen, McKelvie, Wilson and Cowles’ The Wicked + The Divine at Image Comics which, as I mentioned earlier, will likely be the singular work all involved will be remembered for. Young Avengers took everything that Gillen/McKelvie learned on Phonogram and improved on the formula and then they went on to perfect it with WicDiv, becoming A-List comic creators along the way.
Ant-Man in “It’s Art!”
(Matt Fraction, Mike Allred, Laura Allred & Clayton Cowles)
I said that this issue features previews for two comics that I consider stone-cold classics and while Young Avengers is the first, this is the second as Matt Fraction and the Allreds set the stage for their FF series which was as mad and brilliant as I ever hope superhero comics to be. Fraction had actually written Scott Lang briefly in the recently concluded Defenders series we talked about last issue, but it was here and in FF that Fraction got to really dive into just how fucked up things were for Ant-Man at the time.
Scott was killed in “Avengers Disassembled” when The Scarlet Witch brought Jack of Hearts back to life and used him to blow Avengers Mansion but he was resurrected during Avengers: The Children’s Crusade only for his daughter Cassie to die at the hands of Doctor Doom in the climax of that story. This story shows Scott get his own small measure of revenge against Doom by defacing a painting of the monarch in a way that reminds him of his relationship with Cassie but that’s going to be the crux of his character arc in FF in a way that I think is way more interesting than the traditional Reed/Doom relationship.
Reed sees Doom as a misguided equal but Scott sees him as he truly is, a sociopath who is excellent at mimicking the things he needs to present to the world in order to be seen as noble, even if you disagree with his methods. Scott nails Victor Von Doom to the wall when he tells him that “Your boast that “Doom never lies” is always the first lie out of your mouth at the climax of one of the most satisfying beatdowns in comics history. Like I said, stone-cold classic. You should read it.
You don’t need to read the Matt Fraction/Mark Bagley Fantastic Four that came out alongside it.
Forge in “Crazy Enough”
(Dennis Hopeless, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, David Curiel & Joe Sabino)
The final story in this anthology is mostly a bit of house-cleaning ahead of Cable and X-Force, which is sometimes necessary for creators to do when they take over a book. Sometimes a character gets put through the ringer so much that the next time a creator wants to use them, they need to find a way to bring them back to a baseline; it doesn’t necessarily mean that the previous stuff didn’t happen to them or doesn’t count anymore, but it allows for future stories to be told.
This is what happened with Forge, the X-Men’s resident tinkerer. Warren Ellis kind of broke Forge after he was done with him in Astonishing X-Men; the character was driven mad by his attempts to protect the world from an invasion from an alternate reality and seemingly died in the destruction of his compound. However, this story reveals that Forge survived that and I really like the way this story represents the healing of Forge’s damaged psyche.
Cable presents the problem to Forge as a mechanical one, something for him to fix and that’s exactly what he does, repairing the damage in his mind until he’s ready to come back to reality. I do think the idea of presenting mental illness as something broken that can be fixed isn’t great, but I think it’s more about getting yourself into a position where you can manage the machine and make sure it ticks along. It works for me but I understand if it doesn’t work for everyone.
The series that span out of this was a fun take on the X-Force concept and actually one of two X-Force books, the other being the second volume of Uncanny X-Force, and it presented Cable’s team as being international fugitives on the run for an attack they tried to stop. It has some great moments between Cable and his family members and the Domino/Colossus stuff works surprisingly well, but it gets led down somewhat by the Salvador Larroca art and ultimately outshone by its follow-up volume by Si Spurrier and Rock He-Kim.
Something worth highlighting but not spending a lot of time on is that this issue also contains a teaser in the background of the final page. There’s a double page spread that’s like “Follow these characters into these books” but the art behind it all is from Age of Ultron which hadn’t come out yet and it’s accompanied by the tagline “This is going to happen and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.” which in hindsight is actually pretty funny considering how just woefully inevitable the Age of Ultron event ended up feeling.
Overall, this anthology probably has the best hit-rate of any that we’ve covered so far; Young Avengers and FF are two of my favorite series from the 2010s and Nova really grew into a great character over the course of the decade. There are four Point One issues all together and I do definitely think you can see Marvel learning how to best utilise the format over the course of the years, so we’re not fully there yet. Next issue might be the best of the four, so join me next week for All-New Marvel Now: Point One.