Marvel Legacy #1 from Marvel Comics, written by Jason Aaron and featuring art by Esad Ribic, Steve McNiven, Chris Samnee, Russell Dauterman, Alex Maleev, Ed McGuiness, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger, Pepe Larraz, Jim Cheung, Daniel Acuna, Greg Land, Jay Leisten, Mike Deodato Jr., David Marquez and Matthew Wilson (damn, that's a lotta dudes), is the publisher's attempt to course correct the Marvel Universe in a manner that it can continue to appeal to both the old readers who want all their old characters back in the spotlight, and the fans of the newer characters and trying to bring in those ever elusive new readers too.
By trying to marry together these disparate demographic goals, Marvel hopes to pull a DC Rebirth, and both remind the readers why they fell in love with the Marvel Universe, and also remember themselves what the heart of the Marvel Universe was all about – hopefully ending the continued and louder voices of dissatisfaction with the continuous cycle of major events and 'nothing will ever be the same again' promises that are inevitably unfulfilled.
And it is fairly successful at that. Fairly so. However, there are some major pits that causes the story to stumble somewhat.
This is not entirely the fault of Aaron, who manages to pull off an engaging story, even if the majority of it feels like a trip through a creative version of a Marvel Previews catalogue, with a page or two dedicated to a number of the major titles in the Marvel Legacy line and showing the directions they will be heading in.
Now, you could of course argue that this is also essentially what DC did with their DC Universe Rebirth one shot a while back, which was incredibly well received (if controversial in some quarters due to it's choice to incorporate the Watchmen) and which I myself gushed over – this is essentially Marvel's Rebirth, where they try to mimic what their Distinguished Competition pulled off using what is seemingly a similar structure…why am I not as enthusiastically sold on this one?
Basically, it comes down to this: in DC Rebirth, the major return was connected to the events we were being drawn through – and similarly, the entire story revolved around Wally West's quest to return into reality and be remembered again. It made the jaunt through the DCU and it's potential future plot threads emotional, gave us a connection: to use an apt analogy, it provided a lightning rod to connect the reader to the story.
Rebirth Legacy, we don't really have that. We run through the disparate threads and hints at future plot lines of other titles, all the while narrated to by a mysterious narrator who when finally revealed, yes, is indeed a good example of the heart of the Marvel Universe, but also is little more than a spectacle reveal. These characters don't return here, they don't really connect to the story, they are merely seen in a 'oh hey, it's these guys!' moment that while hopeful, doesn't carry the same impact. Moreover, the arguably bigger reveal of Wolverine also returning equally doesn't carry the same weight, and is played much more for the 'cool image' shot. It's cool, but also just that…cool.
However, the bigger problem with the whole issue for me is the complete and utter mischaracterisation of Starbrand that serves as an utter disservice to the character.
Now, dear reader, an aside: I have a Starbrand tattoo on my left hand. It may in fact mean I'm a little biased here. But bare with me, and I'll explain what I mean.
In this comic, Starbrand comes roaring in, bossy as anything, and self-assured. He talks like an old hand at the superhero thing, with commanding tone and brash directness. He's kill happy, even casually slaughtering two Agents of SHIELD with no thought.
Now, Starbrand in the Marvel Universe is a relatively new character, but here's some key things to remember. He's awkward. He's unsure. He may have the most powerful weapon/tool in all the universe, but he's scared of it and himself. He has an inability to connect with the world around him (quite brilliantly emphasised and written in a Secret Empire short by Magdalene Visaggio recently, actually). And more than that, he is horrified at the death and destruction the Starbrand itself wrought when it found him. It's a big part of why he is so scared of his own power, because he knows how lethal it is.
For him to joylessly but thoughtlessly slaughter with little care is so out of character for him. I kept hoping it would be explained, or elaborated on, or wasn't really him, but this was not forthcoming.
Instead, it was another example of when a character is taken so out of context of any previous history to fit a needed plot point in the story, instead of finding a character that organically fits the role. Marvel has been doing this in events for a while now, as far back as Civil War, ignoring years of characterisation in order to push a round character into a square plot hole, for the needs of progressing the action over the progression of the story.
It's partly this that has turned many readers off Marvel with their events, as beloved characters wind up becoming okay with genocide, or take up arms against fellow heroes for arguments you find it hard for them to believe in. Ultimately, this kind of cookie cutter storytelling, ignoring the make up of a character just to make them fit into a story, is a bit of a disservice to their characters, and I had hoped we wouldn't see it in Marvel Legacy. Yet here it is, bright as day.
All this being said, the overall story is engaging. The writing is sharp and fun, even if some characters seem out of sorts, or out of place. While the emotional engagement doesn't quite reach peak levels, the story does produce a number of intriguing set ups that will hint at important titles to follow going forward (The Mighty Thor and Marvel Two-In-One and All New Guardians of the Galaxy seem the big ones) and it does end on a sense of hope, which Marvel had been missing.
Also great in the story is how it does fairly successfully marry the old guard characters with the new, and the narration serves this dichotomy well early on.
There are so many of us now. In all different shapes and colors and creeds. Or maybe there always were and we just didn't notice.
This gives a lovely sense of how the Marvel Universe is big enough for the classics and the new, no matter what anyone says. This in itself is hopeful, and rings true to the heart of the Marvel Universe – it's the world outside your window, and that world is more diverse than you ever gave it credit for.
Finally, there is absolutely no denying that the book is beautiful. Every artist involved brings their utter A game, and it shows. Each page feels like a gorgeous moment, and seeing the characters portrayed so lovingly and vividly is a joy to behold.
Overall, Marvel Legacy #1 almost gets it right. In fact, it gets very close. However, it is far from the perfect, emotional and genuinely earth-shattering shocking moment that DC Rebirth provided. But it does come ever so close, and it is certainly enough to renew some cautious hope for the future of Marvel and where this continuing story will lead.