At C2E2, Marvel Comics announced Marvel Legacy, a new publishing initiative launching in fall 2017 with Marvel Legacy #1. Marvel promises that Marvel Legacy will be a return to form for the publisher and it's most iconic characters as Marvel returns to its roots in both storytelling and publishing.
For many Marvel fans, the Marvel Legacy announcement seems like a reason to cheer. For DC Comics, the pitch sounds pretty familiar.
In 2016, after five years of stories under the “New 52” banner, which featured more modern takes on what DC Comics’ biggest characters should be, DC Comics launched into DC Rebirth with DC Rebirth #1. The promise of DC Rebirth, much like the promise of Marvel Legacy, was that DC Comics would get back to telling the kinds of stories that made fans fall in love with their characters, to begin with. In the case of some character, like Superman, this even meant literally returning a version of the character from an older, abandoned version of the DC Universe back to life to replace the New 52 version.
DC Rebirth has proven to be a success for DC Comics. Fans didn’t take to the fresh continuity of the New 52 the way DC Comics had hoped and sales suffered as a result. Many of those fans seem to have returned home with DC Rebirth.
Now Marvel Legacy seems poised to attempt the same thing for Marvel, which has seen sales slump following the relaunch of all of its titles under the “All-New Marvel” banner in 2015, and even more so since the doubling down on pushing its newer, younger character with the 2016 Marvel NOW! Initiative.
Now, with Marvel Legacy following just one year after DC Rebirth, fans are accusing Marvel Comics of biting DC Comics’ style. Those fans may have a point, but they’re missing a much larger picture.
This isn’t the first time that Marvel Comics has launched a publishing initiative that promised to return the Marvel universe and its heroes to the good old days. In 2010, after destabilizing the Marvel Universe and eroding its heroes’ ability to trust one another through events like Avengers Disassembled, Secret Wars, Civil War, World War Hulk, and Dark Reign, Marvel Comics launched into “The Heroic Age.” After years of tension, the Heroic Age saw Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor finally bury their respective hatchets. The Superhuman Registration that caused the Superhero Civil War was abolished. The Avengers started spending more time battling supervillains and less time fighting each other.
DC Rebirth is also not the first time that DC Comics has tried to present fans with a more classic and familiar take on the DC universe. After pushing the Justice League and other DC Comics hero, and the DC Comics universe itself, to the brink in the lead-up to Infinite Crisis, and the near-cataclysmic events of Infinite Crisis itself, DC Comics decided to try to tell some simpler stories with less extreme versions of their characters. The “One Year Later” initiative picked up a year after the events of Infinite Crisis and promised fans a take on Superman that would be more inspiration, a take on Batman that would less paranoid, and a take on Wonder Woman that would be less quick to snap a guy’s neck.
Because superhero stories do no end, they are forced into a cyclical pattern. They start with a concept, but only so many stories can be told while keeping that concept pure before the stories become stale, redundant, and boring. So creators experiment, change things up, alter the idea in interesting ways. Sometimes those changes and ideas are great and they revitalize the concept. Sometimes they aren’t so great and fans become frustrated. Either way, regardless of quality, the new status quo can only go on for long before it simply becomes the status quo, and sooner or later fans begin to yearn for the old status quo, that same tired old idea that had seemed to outstay its welcome.
Marvel and DC Comics aren’t the only ones influenced by this cycle. In 2016, Valiant Comics made a concerted effort to push new characters in titles like Generation Zero, Britannia, and Faith. At Valiant Summit 2017, Valiant announced that their theme for the year would be “Icons,” focusing on pushing its biggest and best-known characters – X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, Ninjak – back into the forefront.
Superhero comics are a reflection, or at least a refraction, of our own world, and so they are driven by zeitgeist and collective ideas. This can be seen in shared ideas that are much more specific ideas than top-down publishing initiatives. The Doom Patrol and the X-Men, each claiming to be the world’s strangest superheroes, debuted within 4 months of each other in 1963. Man-Thing and Swamp Thing debuted within three months of each other 1971. In the mid-2000s, both Batman and Captain America saw long-dead sidekicks return from the grave as brutal killers, died, had one of their former partners take up their mantle, and were revealed to be alive and adrift in history before ultimately returning to the present day.
So is Marvel Legacy the same DC Rebirth? Probably, more or less. The X-Men’s ResurrXion relaunch has definitely had an “X-Men Rebirth” vibe to it. Some of the publishing tactics like returning long-running series to their original numbering and double-shipping, at least with the X-Men books, are exactly the tactics used by DC Comics to sell DC Rebirth. There’s no doubt that Marvel is aware of DC Rebirth and what it has done for the company.
But to say that Marvel Legacy is Marvel Comics copying DC Comics is incredibly reductive. Maybe it was just time that the narrative pendulum swung back towards telling more traditional stories, and maybe DC Comics starting going in that direction first, but in the end, it was inevitable for both companies, and it will only be a matter of time before that pendulum starts to swing the other way.