Monday, December 25, 2017

We're long past the point where it's harder to find something that hasn't been cancelled. Try impossible.

Nine years of looking at last issues--and we'll ignore stuff like picking up old numbering for Blackest Night or Marvel Legacy, thank you very much--but this year feels somewhat topical. Marvel just announced, by not announcing, several cancellations: books like Gwenpool, Hawkeye, and Iceman were left off the company's solicitations for March 2018; stealth cancellations. Tom Brevoort and Joe Quesada tried to defend the cancellations, but to some it feels like Marvel is gutting their "diversity" books--several had female or LBGTQ leads--and while some are disappointed, there are some tools rooting for the end of Marvel's "SJW" agenda. (Those guys are losers. There are comics I have outright hated, but even if a book isn't for you, that doesn't mean it's not for someone else to enjoy.)

Still, I suspect Marvel is doing what Marvel usually does: launch a ton of new titles at the same time, then when they don't immediately take off cancel them inside of ten issues, twelve tops. It's why I'm not running out of last issues anytime soon. So let's hit--cracks knuckles--seven Marvel last issues!

From 2000, X-51: the Machine Man #12, "Space Odyssey" Written by Karl Bollers, pencils by Joe Bennett, inks by Bob Wiacek. This was one of Marvel's M-Tech books, along with Deathlok and Warlock, neither of which made it this far. It's a text-heavy issue, without traditional word balloons, recapping all of Machine Man's history and burning off some unused plots, like MM becoming the hero of Central City (Not the Flash's!) or his older "brother," prototype X.E.R.O. organizing a robot apocalypse with Dragon Man, the Super-Adaptoid, Arnim Zola, and Ultron! And former biker gang members in mech suits versus A.I.M!

Man, maybe if they had gone with those sooner, it might've got the book past issue #12! X-51 alters the timeline to keep X.E.R.O's future from happening, then goes into the monolith from 2001, which is Celestial-related here, which seemingly places him where he would be at the start of Earth X.

And where he would be prior to Nextwave, for that matter. One brief note: I really like Bennett's art this issue, just nice and crisp.

In no particular order, next we've got Black Widow #12, written by Chris Samnee and Mark Waid, art by Chris Samnee. This would be the final showdown between the Widow and the Recluse, the daughter of the Headmistress of the Red Room; Natasha's trainer. Natasha had always been a better trainee, and overshadowed and jealous, the Recluse plotted revenge, training girls in a new "Dark Room." Here, she has a brutal choice for Natasha: kill one of her students, or let them turn the self-destruct sequence that would destroy all of S.H.I.E.L.D's equipment and data!

Natasha knows Recluse's girls are where she used to be: an expendable asset, and not even one to be used responsibly. She points out how Recluse was using them, and the girls realize it and walk away from her. Maria Hill arrives to give Natasha a bit of ribbing, but knows she was working to save S.H.I.E.L.D, and Tony Stark arranges for adoptions and schooling for Recluse's former girls. ("You know they're all underage, right?") Maria suggests Natasha come in from the cold--literally, in this case, but Nat takes it figuratively as well. This was a solid twelve issues from Samnee and Waid, who were just coming off Daredevil, and they've gone on to Captain America since; but I wonder if Black Widow didn't take off for them, or if it had been intended as a twelve issue run. Marvel claims limited series don't sell, but I still think they're a better idea than trying to make everything an ongoing book at once. (Or, the title page notes this issue takes place before Civil War, wait: that was when Tony was kind of written out. I was jumping the gun there, Natasha was allegedly killed in Secret Empire #7. Friggin' crossovers.)

Sometimes, Marvel will try to give a title a new number one, to show a new direction for a character. Sometimes, it might not be the right direction. From 2012, Herc #10, "Storybook Ending" Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, pencils by David Hahn, inks by Roy Richardson and Rebecca Buchman.

Spinning out of World War Hulk, Hercules had a solid couple of years with the Incredible Hercules, having adventures with Amadeus Cho. Herc went with another tack, Herc as a street-level vigilante in Brooklyn, even though some mythological elements were still there, like the resurrected Zeus. Or this issue, the Baba Yaga, and her henchwoman, Elektra? She had taken the job to get back at the Kingpin, who warns Herc the Baba Yaga may be more dangerous than she thought.

This may have been wrapping up a plotline sooner than intended, but Zeus is restored to his godhood here: he offers the same to Herc, who prefers to stay a man. (Zeus thinks Herc's just trying to impress Elektra, but Herc just doesn't want to be a jerk like his dad.) I thought this book never gained any traction since it was bogged down in crossovers: three issues to Fear Itself, two to Spider Island. But it wouldn't be long until Herc would show up in other books, anyway.

Speaking of crossovers and bogging down, here's one that may have been hung up from the start: from 2015, Superior Iron Man #9, "Freedom" Written by Tom Taylor, art by Yildiray Cinar.

I got to read most of Avengers & X-Men: Axis out of the quarter bin a bit ago, and for a buck an issue it was an okay read. But that crossover ends with a few characters still having their alignment reversed, namely Iron Man, who also inadvertently shielded Havok and Sabretooth. While Havok is left evil and Sabretooth good (and neither appear in this series!) Tony has become an arrogant, profiteering dick; selling his new Extremis app to improve people, at a cost. Pepper Potts tried to activate a fail-safe Tony left, a digital copy of Tony's mind from eight years ago. Digital Tony and Pepper, in a new Rescue armor, think they have Tony beat, but he only pretended so he could get in past the Stark Resilient firewalls and destroy the digital version, forcing it onto a "quarantined" flash drive. Tony thinks he's eight steps ahead of Pepper; but she tells him he won't quit, and she'll tell the world what he's become. (Which sounds like trying to convince people to give up Apple: a brutal, uphill struggle with not much return.)

Well, except she wouldn't really have to, since Secret Wars was next, and I think Tony would be reset after that. But if you play the Contest of Champions game, you may still see him! I know I have a four-star Superior Iron Man...

Which would've been a smoother segue if he appeared in this next book! From 2016, Contest of Champions #10, "Earth's Fightiest Heroes" Written by Al Ewing, art by Rhoald Marcellius. Hmm. I think this came out before I started playing the game, but this last issue does feature a few characters prominently featured in the game: like the Maestro and the Punisher 2099. In the aftermath of Secret Wars, the Collector and the Grandmaster had been making heroes and villains fight in the Battlerealm, leftover pieces of alternate worlds. But they had been forced out by the new boss, the Maestro; and today's fight features the Thunderbolts and the Avengers, but not quite the ones we know: they were from a universe where Civil War "went really well for Tony Stark." Also fighting today: our ragtag band of heroes, including Guillotine (from the game), Ares, and Outlaw. Outlaw? Yep! He's a pretty good viewpoint character here, as the former Punisher wannabe doesn't want to be a killer anymore, he wants to help. (An alternate Frank Castle tells Outlaw what he does wasn't "political," but British Outlaw has had a different experience.)

Oh, and it's this Outlaw, not this one from Gail Simone's Deadpool/Agent X. Several heroes and villains die this issue, Iron Patriot/President Tony Stark's secret is revealed, there are a few dramatic returns; and the Contest is wrapped up in a way that it could be brought right back as needed. I wonder if this book was advertised in the game: I kinda suspect it wasn't, although I'm also not positive that it would've helped, either. I'm not sure I knew about this book until I stumbled across this last issue!

Conversely, next we have a book that I was reading until the end, and another that echoes recent complaints about Marvel's cancellations: too soon, should've waited for the trade sales, it was finding its audience. Also, it pissed off the right people, as in, colossal man-babies. From 2016, Mockingbird #8, written by Chelsea Cain, pencils by Kate Niemczyk, inks by Sean Parsons.

The last two issues of the series tied into her ex-husband Hawkeye going on trial for killing the Hulk in Civil War II (a trial that apparently took about 20 minutes) and an older and iffy piece of Mockingbird's continuity: when she let the Phantom Rider die. Previously, it had been believed that the Rider--a creepy, sexist stalker, now a ghost--had drugged and taken advantage of Bobbi, but she says Hawkeye had never believed it. Instead, Bobbi admits the truth was she had cheated on him. The Rider tries to kill Bobbi by knocking her off a cruise ship, but she's saved by mer-corgis. Or maybe she just washes up on the beach: the tone this issue is a bit all over the place, which would usually be fine but a shame for the series finale.

This cancellation hurt. Bobbi would show up in Amazing Spider-Man later, and I know that it got to a point where Peter asked her out, but I also know in my heart Peter would wreck that like he wrecked his company and everything else and arrgg. (That's not really Peter's fault, the character gets rolled back every so often: I'd be surprised if he wasn't back at the Daily Bugle or living with his aunt again by now...)

Lastly, we hit a book with a surprising pedigree and an offbeat character choice, although I don't know if Marvel seriously, seriously thought Drax could maintain a monthly title in the current market! From 2016, Drax #11, "The Bitter End!" Written by CM Punk and Cullen Bunn, art by Scott Hepburn.

Huh, this issue features Killer Thrill, the bounty hunter from Deadpool: Back in Black. It also features Planet Terry, Fin Fang Foom, Terrax the Tamer, and Torgo from Fantastic Four #93! Killer Thrill has kidnapped a baby dragon, and wants to turn it into a murderous monster; everyone else is out to stop her. Drax's friend Ora caught a beating from KT, but tells Drax they used to be partners. Killer Thrill was tortured into the monster she was now, and Ora argues she deserves mercy.

Killer Thrill had lost an arm--eaten by Venom in Back in Black--and now had a Groot-style arm; which Drax later rips out. He won't kill her, at least not with the baby dragon watching. Rather than turn the baby over to Fin, since they all know he'll go bad again eventually, Drax leaves it with Ora and their team, as he heads back to the Guardians. It's a happy ending, although Drax knows his quest to kill Thanos is ultimately self-destructive. I suspect this series may have been intended to get another Guardians related trade on the shelves prior to the movie; and it was written by wrestler CM Punk, although I'm not sure if it was advertised anywhere as such.

Let's see, what have we learned here? Out of these seven books, I was reading three up to their cancellation: Mockingbird, X-51, and Herc. Black Widow I made sure I got the last issue, since I had picked up a good chunk of the rest of the series on the cheap when Hastings was closing. The other three I'm pretty sure were from quarter bins, which means some retailer probably ate the cost there. (It's actually slightly unusual to find a last issue in a quarter bin, at least a recent one: most retailers would have cut their orders down to zero before the end.) But I think the lesson is, Marvel has run this game for a long time: launch a bunch of titles, make halfway decent sales on the #1's, then cancel said titles when sales droop. Repeat. And I'm not sure it's ever worked especially well, but it seems to be working less now. The fans that were trained to jump all over a new first issue are either aging out (or dying off) or wising up. New readers don't have the time or patience to keep track of that sort of thing, even if it was presented clearly; and might prefer digital or trades.

That, and I'm now having a hard time thinking of a Marvel title in the last decade that lasted more than twelve issues. There had to be some, right?

1 comment:

Dale Bagwell said...

I played that Champions game too a few years back, and it's cool and all, I just lost interest and moved on. I was aware of the ongoing based off it, just never bothered to check it out even though the premise was solid and Al Ewing was writing it.

Man, that Tech M line huh? I remember that, and at least Marvel was trying something different. I think all the titles could've lasted longer had the creative teams included more recognizable talent, like say Claremont on Warlock or something. Probably for the best in the end either way though. Cute bit putting Aaron in the Obelisk though.

I was enjoying Mockingbird too, well the ones you sent me, but I'm no more surprised by her cancellation as any other titles Marvel gave up on way too soon, like the new Black Knight series, Weird World, Hellcat, and the list goes on. You'd think they'd learn by now about that, and yet here we are facing 2018, and nothings changed, nor probably will it until possibly Disney starts getting more hands on with Marvel.