Marvel NOW! To relaunch popular Marvel properties

Coming out of a summer that saw “The Avengers” become the top grossing film of the year, Marvel finds itself at a critical juncture. The company has the opportunity to convert fans of its films into consumers of its print comics but Marvel also can’t forget its long time readers which have kept the company going. A year after DC’s controversial New 52 initiative, which re-launched all of DC’s comic books in order to bring new readers into the fold, Marvel announced its response—Marvel NOW!

Toted as “re-launch, not a reboot because nothing is broken”, Marvel NOW! seeks to provide a jumping on point for new readers to the Marvel universe while maintaining continuity for longtime readers. With Marvel NOW!’s first book hitting shelves the Wednesday before New York Comic-Con started, it made sense that Marvel spent the weekend promoting the initiative in almost all of its panels.

Marvel’s first outing was its House of Ideas panels with members of its editorial, digital, and publicity departments discussing the company’s plans for the coming year. As expected, Marvel is exploring the digital aspects of the comic book industry with various ventures, most notably its Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited service which, for a fee, allows readers to access almost 12,000 comics on Marvel’s website. As innovative as the service is, the company has received numerous complaints for the inability to access the service on mobile devices. Director of Digital Strategy Kristin Vincent assured attendees that the service would come to smart phones and tablets by the end of the year.

The panel also discussed the company’s biggest digital push, Infinite Comics, which are comics developed specifically for the digital medium. Award winning writer Mark Waid, who has developed some Infinite Comics for the company, explained that it allows the writer to slow the pace of the story while creating a more cinematic experience. A select few attendees were asked to read an Infinite Comic on stage and the reviews were generally positive.

Marvel’s next panel focused on the “X-Men”, which will receive a facelift under Marvel NOW! The flagship book of Marvel’s mutant characters, “All-New X-Men”, will see the iconic mutant first class, which consists of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Angel, and Iceman time traveling to the present to prevent some kind of mutant genocide. The book is already generating a lot of buzz as Jean Grey, one of the most popular characters from the X-men, has been absent from comics for years because of her death. Among the other announcements at the panel were the return of Cable, a popular mutant character from the early 90s, in his own book “Cable and the X-Force”, a new creative team for the wildly popular “Uncanny X-Force”, “Savage Wolverine”, and new details around Deadpool’s new solo book.

Yet, it was “The Avengers” panel on Saturday that was easily the most attended out of Marvel’s comics panels. The panel started with a discussion about “Uncanny Avengers”, a story that grew from Marvel’s summer event, Avengers versus X-Men. Uncanny Avengers, which was the first Marvel NOW! book to be released sold out in less than a week and at the time of the convention was already into its second printing. The panel continued with a discussion about “New Avengers”, which would focus on the Illuminati, a group of Marvel’s biggest heroes that meet every so often to discuss pressing world issues.

Next, the panel discussed “Avengers:Arena”, a Hunger Games style book that will show the young heroes of the Marvel universe fighting against each other for their lives as well as “Secret Avengers”, which will shift from its current focus to become more of an espionage book with an emphasis on S.H.I.E.L.D, the Marvel universe’s version of Homeland Security. Also announced was the comeback of One of Marvel’s most popular series, “Young Avengers”. Finally, a new creative team was announced for Avengers Assemble, a book that focuses on the team of Avengers from the popular film while still being true to the comics universe.

One of the most controversial stories going into Comic-Con weekend was the announcement that one of Marvel’s longest running series, “Amazing Spider-Man”, was coming to an end with issue 700 in December. In a move that only added fuel to the fire of grieving Spidey fans everywhere, Marvel announced a new Spider-man book, “Superior Spider-Man”. The relief was short lived as Dan Slott, the writer of “Amazing Spider-Man” and the upcoming “Superior Spider-Man”, announced that the new Spider-Man comic would feature someone else donning the mask, not Peter Parker. “The Amazing Spider-Man” panel on Sunday did little to assuage feelings of discontent for the Spider-Man creative team but the panelists assured the audience that the payoff would be worth it after Amazing Spider-Man’s final story arc.

However, it wasn’t all bad news for Spider-Man fans as Sunday had been declared Spider-Man day by Mayor Bloomberg for the comic book hero’s 50th anniversary. Marvel also set up a giant birthday card at its booth on the show floor to break the record for most greeting card signatures. The panel also announced a new creative team for Avenging Spider-Man, a book similar in vein to the old Marvel team-up books of the company’s past. In a spin-off from the pages of Spider-Man, Marvel announced “Morbius, the Living Vampire”, which will focus on the sometimes enemy of Spidey.

Another former Spider-Man enemy who received his own book, Venom, was announced to be moving to Philadelphia in a upcoming story arc. Venom, who has become a government agent in the books, will follow the tradition of other Marvel heroes who live in assorted American cities, unlike DC’s fictional United States with cities such as Metropolis, Gotham, and Star City.

Moving on from Spider-Man, the panel discussed upcoming plans for the award winning “Daredevil” as well as the incredibly popular “Hawkeye”, “Captain Marvel”, and “Punisher: War Zone” solo books.

Marvel’s certainly feeling the pressure to bring new readers to its pages and its efforts to attract them have been met with great response so far. While the attendees of New York Comic-Con seemed enthused with what Marvel has in store, it’s the casual readers and new fans at home that the company is counting on.