(Editor's Note: "The Cosmic Triune" is a series of opinionated articles focusing on Marvel Cosmic.)
The Cosmic Triune
An Opinion-Editorial Article
Re-Launching Marvel Cosmic
Based on recent comments from Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada, EIC Axel Alonso, and SVPP Tom Brevoort, we now know that the re-launch of the Marvel cosmic headliners, Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy, is on the books for 2012, and will possibly occur with or without the involvement of Marvel Cosmic’s most recent and beloved creative team, DnA. In fact, speculation is pretty strong that Jeph Loeb will be helming the re-launch.
While some of us within the Cosmic Elite (i.e. those uber-fans who regularly visit and contribute to cosmic forums and websites) have expressed some reservations about Loeb’s involvement, the general consensus at this point seems to be: “give him a chance and let’s see what he can do.”
As a veteran uber-fan of Marvel Cosmic, beginning with my first purchase of The Man Called Nova back in 1976, I’ve closely followed the evolution of Marvel Cosmic for 35 years. I have been party to many fan discussions and debates about the path Marvel Cosmic should follow for success – with success being defined as appealing to a broad enough base of buyers to keep sales consistently above Marvel’s cancellation threshold.
Even the most hard-line cosmic purists among us (and I proudly and un-apologetically consider myself one of said hard-liners) realize that Marvel is first and foremost in the entertainment business, and must turn a profit to stay in business. No matter how critically acclaimed a title might be or how ardent it’s fan base – it eventually must justify its continued existence by consistently selling enough copies to cover the expenses of production and to meet Marvel’s profit expectations. We’ve tried to get the cancellation threshold number from Marvel before – but no one will tell us. Based on CBR’s sales figure estimates at the time various titles have been cancelled, my best guess is that the threshold number is somewhere between 30,000 and 35,000 in monthly sales consistently.
While today’s Marvel Cosmic headliners, Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy, began life selling well above the presumed cancellation threshold, and were critically acclaimed throughout their recent runs, they lost readership/sales, fell below the cancellation threshold, and were “placed on hiatus” (a.k.a. cancelled).
Why the losses in sales after a promising start? Many theories have been posited. Some blame a downturn in the economy that negatively affected comic sales in general and hit the niche (i.e. anything involving non-legacy characters) markets, such as cosmic, particularly hard. Changes in storyline and characterization are suggested by others; in that as Nova and GotG progressed, the storylines and characterization became less like Annihilation (the trigger for last decade’s Marvel Cosmic renaissance) alienating fans newly made by Annihilation who wanted more Annihilation-esque storylines/characterization, and weren’t consistently getting it from the ongoing Nova and GotG series. A lack of marketing/advertising for cosmic is touted by some. Still, others blame Marvel Editorial decisions resulting in sidelining or outright excluding Nova and GotG not just from major events in the Marvel Universe, but – unbelievably, even from some major cosmic events such as Secret Invasion, War of Kings and Realm of Kings.
Likely, the actual reason for losses in sales is multi-factorial – comprised of all the reasons listed above coupled with the difficulty of sustaining niche market comic sales in general. Whatever the true reasons – we’re soon to be faced with a re-launch of Nova and GotG, and if they are to be successful per criteria defined above, sales will have to stay above the cancellation threshold. So, the question in my mind is: How to broaden the sales base?
Here are some suggestions:
1. Military Science-Fiction Sells. What do Annihilation, Thanos Imperative, Sinestro Corp War, and War of the Green Lanterns have in common? They were all best sellers, critically acclaimed, and they were all Military Science-Fiction/Science-Fantasy oriented storylines. This should be a surprise to no one. Today’s fans grew up on Star Wars and Star Trek. Fans like the military SF themes that stand at the core of the entertainment they grew up with – high stakes space battles between heroes and powerful villains. I know Mr. Brevoort argues that Nova and GotG are not legacy characters to Marvel, like Green Lantern is to DC, but the fact remains that regardless of legacy character's status, the pathway to broad based appeal for any Marvel cosmic re-launch is going to need to be military SF storylines. I personally wish that the Nova Corps had remained Xandar’s Elite Military Unit as originally portrayed back in the 1970’s rather than being transformed into the Marvel Universe’s Space Cops, because I think military stories are inherently more interesting and important. That being said, I know it’s too late to change back, and I can live with Nova Corps being para-military space cops – but they need to band together to fight in epic space battles like a military unit would.
2. Keep the Annihilation Characterization. Gritty, bad-ass characterization appeals to male power fantasies. We like Wolverine’s and Punisher’s bad attitude and their ability to back it up physically. Deadpool is a smart-ass who actually says things we all think, but never say – only he can get away with it because he can back it up physically.
Who are the stand-out characters in modern Marvel Cosmic? Nova, Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Drax the Destroyer, and Quasar are the first that come to mind – and for good reason. They embody characterization types most appealing to fans. Star-Lord is often compared to Han Solo in characterization – gritty adventurer with a heart of gold. Rocket is the smart-ass with a heart of gold who can get away with being a smart-ass because he can back it up despite his small stature. Drax the Destroyer is the classic anti-hero obsessed with killing his mortal enemy. Quasar is the classic Sir Galahad-ish hero – ultimately principled, idealistic, and powerful. Then there’s Nova.
Nova has had several characterization iterations ranging from teenage Peter Parker-ish in the 1970’s Nova series, to Don Johnson-ish Miami-Vice-ish tough guy (with accompanying stubble beardedness of course) in the 1980’s New Warriors and Nova series, back to teenage Peter Parker-ish in the 1990’s Nova series, to the mid-2000’s Annihilation characterization combining Captain America-ish leadership and principles with Nick Fury-ish attitude and battlefield tactics (rolled into a new welcome upgrade to Alpha-Plus power set and a killer new uniform), to the late-2000’s Nova series which, bewilderingly, alternated Nova’s characterization between and among all the iterations listed above – no doubt completely confusing and disappointing new fans made during the Annihilation series.
Worrisomely, Mr. Brevoort has stated that his favorite characterization of Nova is the 1980’s characterization. In contrast, most cosmic fans prefer the Annihilation characterization. Why? Because Keith Giffen got it right - cosmic needs a lead hero, and cosmic’s lead hero needs to embody Captain America-ish nobility and leadership, yet still have enough of the Nick Fury-ish bad-boy gritty attitude and “swagger” to appeal to the male reader base – and most importantly must retain that Alpha-Plus power set to back up the attitude. Annihilation found that perfect mix for Nova, and any new re-launch of Nova should retain the Annihilation characterization and Alpha-Plus power set in order to successfully appeal to the broadest base of fans.
And while we’re talking about Nova’s characterization – let’s drop the non-sensical glorification of Rich’s “average-ness.” Rich is the Nova Prime. That’s about as far away from average as you can get. I don’t want to read stories about average people. I want to read stories about exceptional people. Casting Rich as a self-doubting average young man disrespects his exceptional history of heroism. Sure, he started out as an average guy, and its fine to look back to those roots occasionally to inspire young readership. The point is, that he grew out of average-ness and into exceptionality. Emphasize that! He's Alpha-Plus power set now, and he's proved he deserves it - and can handle it! No more getting chumped in his own book by equal or lesser power characters.
3. Keep the space setting for the ongoing series, but have Rich be part of an Earthbound Avengers team, and have the Guardians of the Galaxy guest star in some Avengers and FF stories. Spacebound versus Earthbound has long been debated among cosmic fans. There seems to be a prevalent, yet completely unfounded belief, that Earth has to somehow be involved in every cosmic story in order to make the story interesting and relatable to readers. Need I point out that Earth was never visited or mentioned in Star Wars, and never visited in Star Trek: The Original Series – yet both are revered in Science-Fiction history? Earth stories are played – and cosmic heroes have to be powered down to do stories on Earth because few on Earth can stand against them. Keep the stories in space for the Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy ongoing series where anything can happen, and the heroes will always be able to run into someone as or more powerful than they are. However, use Nova like DC uses Green Lantern; GL’s ongoing is set mostly in space – but he’s also active in Earthbound stories via membership in The Justice League. Put Nova on an Avengers team. Renew his membership in Secret Avengers if nothing else. Let Star-Lord’s team of Guardians guest star in some Avengers and FF stores.
4. No More Hackneyed Plot Devices. Hackneyed plot devices disappoint/disgust, bore, and anger the fan base in equal measure. Cases in point – repeatedly destroying Xandar, repeatedly de-powering Nova, repeatedly killing and resurrecting beloved cosmic characters. Marvel Editorial – stop fooling around, put a moratorium on the hackneyed plot devices, and just bring back Nova, Star-Lord, and Drax the Destroyer. Xandar has been destroyed and resurrected three times now. Enough! Resurrect it again, and next time a writer needs to kill a bunch of good guys to make a cheap dramatic point - tell him to look elsewhere. Nova has been de-powered three times now. Enough! We get it, that it is soul crushing to him when he loses his powers. Drax has been killed three times now. Enough! Bring him back with his flight and energy projection powers, and let him be the Captain Ahab of the spaceways – forever obsessed with chasing and killing Thanos. I’ve lost track of how many times Warlock has been killed, but bring back Adam Warlock, too.
5. Involvement in the Greater Marvel Universe is Important. As previously stated, cosmic needs a lead hero. That lead cosmic hero needs to be Nova, since Nova is the top space cop in the Marvel Universe. The top space cop needs to act the part, have the Alpha Plus power set to back it up, and needs to be involved in all the major storylines in the greater Marvel Universe.
6. Emphasize Long-Arc Hard Cosmic Storylines. One of the reasons the most recent Nova/GotG ongoing series lost readership was that the storylines lost their cosmic hard edge and became too superhero-ish. Annihilation was hard superheroic military SF. Thanos Imperative was a bit softer and more super-hero-ish. TI is about as soft as cosmic should get. When it gets any softer than TI, it begins to get too standard super-hero-ish and not enough superheroic military SF-ish. If the stories become too standard super-hero-ish, core readership loses interest. Also - don't be afraid of extra-long war story arcs where some stories in the ongoings can be concerned with the war story arc, and some stories can occur independently of it. Look to Babylon 5's or Battlestar Galactica's revered five-year story arcs for great examples of how this can be successfully accomplished.
7. Don’t EVER do a Miles Morales Treatment on Nova. In the past, it has been contemplated killing off Rich and replacing him with someone else. DON'T DO IT. Rich Rider is Nova. Period. In a related point, Peter Quill is Star Lord. Don’t even think of replacing him with Sinjin Quarrell.
8. Give Rich a Romantic Interest (or Two). Namorita, Gamora, or both? I personally like the love triangle option, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If Rich hooks up with Namorita, that’d be just fine. Rich needs a love interest to make his life more interesting and more complicated. Look at what Kirkman is currently doing with Invincible along these lines if you want an example of just how much a love relationship can add interest to a comic storyline.
9. Bring Back the Original Worldmind. The Ko-Rel Worldmind just doesn’t work. It not only doesn’t work – it makes no sense. The Xandarians would never allow a Kree personality to dominate the gestalt. Besides, she just comes across like a bitchy girlfriend/wife. Guys read comics partly to escape from things like that. They don’t want to pay money for more of what they already get for “free.” The Lethal Weapon-ish buddy cop dynamic between Rich and the original Worldmind was great. The My Mother the Car-ish dynamic with the Ko-Rel Worldmind is not so great. Go back to what works – the original. Never fear Ko fans – she can still be resurrected via cloning (along with the rest of Xandar). She made a better reluctant Centurion than she did the guide personality for the gestalt anyway.
10. Bring Back The Nova Corps. The Corps needs to exist as a back up to Rich. Use them the same way GL uses the GL Corps. When a group story makes sense, Rich can have adventures with the Corps. When a solo story is desired, Rich can be the “Lone Ranger.” That will satisfy both groups of fans – those who like to see Rich solo, and those who like him being part of a greater organization. So resurrect Xandar, re-build the Nova Corps Academy, commission a new fleet of Xandarian Starships, and make the Resolute Duty starship the flagship of the new Xandarian fleet. Oh – and send Robert Rider back to Earth without Nova powers. The sibling rivalry thing with the Nova powers just doesn’t work.
11. Bring Back DnA’s original Guardians of the Galaxy Line-Up. Let Star-Lord lead, and give him back both Ship and his Star-Lord powers. Let a resurrected Drax be the needed powerhouse of the team. Bring back Rocket and Groot for the snarky humor. Bring back Warlock as the magic user. Keep Gamora as the bad-ass female. Keep Cosmo and Mantis as the telepaths. Bring back Jack Flagg, Captain Victory, Martyr, Moondragon, and Starhawk only if the plan is to have the larger team break into smaller teams to address multiple problems at once. Assemble the Annihilators under the GotG banner only when there exists an extraordinary threat to the local group of galaxies.
Take heed of the above Mr. Alonso, Mr. Brevoort and Mr. Loeb. None of the fan base wants to see the awe and majesty of cosmic reduced to Earthbound street level storylines. Without the fan base buying books, there’s no chance cosmic will be successful. Give us great Annihilation-esque military SF-ish storylines, and cosmic will succeed as the fan base will broaden. Give us cosmic heroes stuck on Earth fighting the Hobgoblin or street thugs on the subway - and “cosmic” will fail.
Article by: Timelord
This is an opinion-editorial column and as such the opinions expressed herein are purely the opinions of the author of this article and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of CosmicBookNews.