Shared universe storytelling. Complicated plots crossing multiple comic titles. Some people love it. Others find it a barrier to enjoying superhero comics.
Personally, I enjoy the rich tapestries of the Marvel Universe and the DCU. When I was a kid, the first comic I adored was Marvel's Transformers comic and the brief appearance of Spider-Man was wonderful. Every boy imagines that his toys can interact. Imagination isn't bound by constraints of publisher, film studio or TV network.
However, others hate the fact that comics will sometimes require you to read other issues to understand the impact on their favourite characters. J. Michael Straczynski spoke in the comic media about how he disliked guiding Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four through Civil War, bound by the decisions of Mark Millar and the Marvel editorial policy. Indeed, he allegedly left Thor rather than compromise his storytelling again during the current Siege event.
JMS is a writer I admire and I appreciate his viewpoint. In 2000, a writer who's work I really don't care for also weighed in one this issue. Dwayne McDuffie (a writer fired from JLA by DC and Fantastic Four by DC - just saying) wrote a blog entry called Crisis On Mono-Earth! where he stated that:
"Shared universes are too hard to follow. The vast amount of information a reader has to master, simply to understand a typical monthly superhero comic is ridiculous. That's all well and good for geeks like you and me but it's become impossible to be a casual reader anymore. Casual readers should be our bread and butter; they certainly used to be. But I defy you to pick up a random issue of most current comics and be able to understand what's going on in it without the equivalent of a Ph.D. in trivia."
Whilst I dislike McDuffie's writing, he maybe has a point. In recent times successful events like Secret Invasion and Blackest Night have thrown readers in at the deep end. Civil War brought many lapsed comic book fans back into the fold, primarily because you could get by with just the main book and little or no knowledge of the then current continuity.
Marvel launched the Ultimate universe to give new readers a fresh take on their famous characters. The recent Ultimatum refresh of the Ultimate Comics range has shown that the need for gateway comics for new readers and accessible stories for casual readers are still very important.
Marvel's Astonishing X-Men series was the home of Joss Whedon's X-Men storytelling for a few years and then moved on to Warren Ellis' custody. It will now be relaunched as part of an expanded line of Astonishing comics.
Marvel's press release said:
"Pioneered to be the books for both the casual and hardcore fans, this new imprint kicks off with two can't miss series: ASTONISHING SPIDER-MAN/WOLVERINE by superstars Jason Aaron and Adam Kubert, and the series that started it all back for a bold new era, ASTONISHING X-MEN: XENOGENESIS #1 by the duo of Warren Ellis and Kaare Andrews.
Here's how Astonishing works: set firmly in the Marvel Universe and providing the perfect starting point for all readers, new or old, these books will tell the most epic stories of heroic action set against the back drop of the real world. New readers will be able to jump right into these epic adventures, while die-hard Marvel fans will also find exciting insights and dramatic changes for Marvel's most prestigious characters."
Marvel's David Gabriel (Senior Vice-President of Sales & Circulation) added:
"The Astonishing line is exciting for us and the entire industry because it provides the top creators the chance to take on our top characters in stories that you won't find anywhere else," he says. "They are firmly set in Marvel continuity but also accessible to new readers. If you're looking for big changes and character developments or a place to start reading if you are new to comics, this is where you come. Thanks to Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, the name Astonishing is synonymous with excellence. That's what this line is all about, from the creators to the characters."
All of that long hyperbole leads me to the review itself because the first of these new books is now out. Part one of the six part Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine is a bold piece of storytelling, hurling the titular characters back to prehistoric times.
The writer Jason Aaron has been writing Wolverine's core solo title Wolverine: Weapon X for sometime now, to great acclaim. It's nice to see that his writing voice for Peter Parker is suitably different and at points I'm reminded of the superb JMS/John Romita Jr. run on Amazing Spider-Man. Peter's scientific mind shines through, an aspect of the character that is regular forgotten in the crappy post-Brand new Day era of Spidey storytelling.
I urge Spidey fans who - like me - despair at the current state of Amazing Spider-Man to try this book. It's also well known that Wolverine is one of my least favourite Marvel characters, but here he works in a way that feels true to the character without being as arrogant or obnoxious as I usually find Logan. In fact, I am slightly reminded of Mark Millar's excellent Old Man Logan story arc.
Topped off by beautiful art from Adam Kubert (Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Superman: Last Son), this first issue is a joy and it's easy to see why IGN gave it 9.1 out of 10.
Here's the first few pages, taken from Comic Book Resources.
Ben Fardon is the owner, proprietor, manager and filing clerk for Proud Lion. Bascially, Ben is Proud Lion is Ben. He often uses the personal pronoun 'we', in an attempt to not feel like a man alone. In that context 'we' refers to Ben, the bricks and mortar, the stock and the branding that comprises Proud Lion. It also makes him sound kind of crazy. 'We' are OK with that.
Ben has been reading comics since he was five years old and his Dad bought him a Transformers comic at the local newsagent. In the same comic were reprints of Iron Man in the red and silver armour. To this day, Tony Stark is his favourite superhero.
He likes eating, swimming and science fiction Tv series. He recently became addicted to The West Wing.
One day, he'll finish a script for something.