Feature Article

Marvel Report Card 2017

Plenty to look forward to

It's putting it lightly to say Marvel had a tumultuous 2017. With the comics end of the business seemingly hopscotching from controversy to controversy, the Marvel Cinematic Universe dug its heels into some vibrant, fresh new ground, making the sharp divide between the two divisions of the brand even more stark than they were before.

From major editorial and creative shake-ups to baffling promotional snafus, it's been a wild ride all around. Let's take a look back at how it all adds up.

The MCU Maintains Momentum

Marvel's film franchises had a spectacular year. They released three films this year: Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and finally Thor: Ragnarok, all three of which netted themselves high scores on Rotten Tomatoes with Thor and Spider-Man sitting at 92% and Guardians coming in at 83%. Beyond the MCU proper, Sony released Logan to massive acclaim, providing a renewed sense of confidence and voice for the X-Men film universe after 2016's X-Men: Age of Apocalypse provoked a mixed response from fans and critics.

While Logan pushed the conversation about the future and place of R-rated superhero films at large, both Ragnarok and Homecoming signified the start of a major shift in the MCU's filmmaking ideology, breaking away from the formula of near invisible direction and lack of "personal" style that corralled the first two phases of the film franchises. Ragnarok especially got its fair share of accolades for director Taika Waititi's unique directorial voice.

Now, with both Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War on the docket for next year, the MCU seems to only be getting better and more confident with age--and Marvel, understandably, seems to have no interest in pumping the brakes now. This year also saw the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, a new ride at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, the first MCU-themed ride in either of the America-based Disney parks.

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It's apparently not the last, however. Despite being (understandably) dominated by Star Wars announcements, this year's D23 Expo also dropped some teases about future Disney Parks projects relating to Marvel properties both in the US and abroad, confirming that a "Marvel Land" was in the works.

Small Screens Keep Up The Pace

While less universally acclaimed than their big screen cousins, Marvel's TV efforts had a decent showing this year. 2017 brought the next phase of the Netflix universe with the much-maligned Iron Fist and Defenders, but The Punisher picked up the pace. Meanwhile, Hulu entered the ring with Runaways, and Freeform debuted the first teaser for their Cloak & Dagger project set to premier in 2018.

The non-streaming TV projects, however, did not enjoy the same sort of energy. ABC's Inhumans fell flat almost immediately after its release, despite an ostentatious IMAX screening initiative. It completed its first season this year, but the current buzz is that it won't be receiving a second.

ABC's other Marvel project, Agents of Shield, entered its fifth season this year despite declining numbers and the looming threat of cancellation with the promise to shake up the status quo. However, its late-in-the-year start (episode one dropped on December 1st) makes it difficult to predict how successful it will be going forward.

In The Shadow of Secret Empire

Unfortunately, things begin careening downhill just about everywhere outside of theaters for Marvel this year. The comics inherited a storm cloud from 2016's much maligned Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, which revealed that Steve Rogers had been cosmically manipulated, an agent for the fictionalized Nazi organization Hydra his entire life. This reveal had the unfortunate timing of coming hot on the heels of a massive, unrelated, and unofficial social media hashtag effort--#GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend,--which, needless to say, didn't prime many fans in a positive way for the fascist twist.

This year the reveal finally paid off, building into a line-wide crossover event called Secret Empire which nailed down the bulk of Marvel's publishing and promotional efforts between April and September--and surprising no one, considering the tone of the original twist reveal, critical response was incredibly polarizing. Social media became a battleground between those in favor and those against, with creators and industry pros often coming down on one side or the other in ways that only drew further lines in the sand.

Things got even more heated when Marvel announced a retailer promotional incentive where comic shops would be encouraged to stage "Hydra takeovers" of their stores by putting up Hydra-oriented branding. Some retailers were happy to participate in the viral campaign while others were adamantly opposed, citing Hydra's Nazi-flavored ethos being in poor taste given the political climate of the country.

Secret Empire came to a close in September, which meant, for better or for worse, it dominated nearly a full nine months of Marvel's year on the comics end--a big chunk of time for something that proved to be as brutally divisive as it was.

Promotional Confusion And Controversy

Secret Empire wasn't the only controversial move Marvel made this year with their comics. Things got a little strange starting with the announcement of Marvel Legacy, the newest line initiative supposed to be spiraling out of Secret Empire's finale. Announced via press release in April, Legacy seemed to many fans to be aping the DC Rebirth formula--a giant sized one-shot event book that would kickstart a new slate of ongoings.

In practice, that wasn't what happened. Legacy turned out to not be a line-wide reboot at all, but instead a line-wide renumbering of current ongoings to their cumulative totals (Captain America jumped to issue #635, and so on). Only a handful of books changed creative tracks at all, leaving fans and critics wondering just what Legacy's lasting effect on the disparate parts of the greater Marvel Universe would be.

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Leading up to and following the release of Marvel Legacy #1 in September, a slate of new limited series and one-shots were added to the Legacy slate, as well as a new ongoing, Marvel Two-in-One, which set about to return the Fantastic Four to active duty after a nearly three year absence. Later still, a new X-Men ongoing was announced, X-Men: Red, bringing Legacy's ongoing slate up to an intimidating 55 books, set for a staggered roll out into 2018--meaning the question of just what Legacy will mean for the the Marvel Universe as a whole is still very much unanswered.

Meanwhile, Marvel suffered two major editorial and creative shake ups this year. The first was the departure of long-time exclusive writer Brian Michael Bendis, who announced in November that he would be leaving to work exclusively for competitor DC Comics for the first time in nearly twenty years. Almost immediately following Bendis' departure, it was announced that long time Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso had been let go from the company. His replacement came from within: Longtime talent scout C.B. Cebulski officially stepped into the role in the last week of November.

But the transition was anything but smooth. On Cebulski's first day in the new position, news broke that he had adopted and written comics at Marvel and Dark Horse under the false identity "Akira Yoshida" nearly a decade ago while also acting as a Marvel editor.

That was met with a mix of shock, offense, and support from both fans and comics pros, continuing Marvel's 2017 trend of starkly divisive news.

Other Matters, In Brief

  • Despite not fitting under the official MCU banner, the first trailer for New Mutants dropped this year to a generally positive reception.

  • Female Marvel employees launched a hashtag campaign, #MakeMineMilkshake, after editor Heather Antos was subjected to vicious online harassment following the posting of a selfie on Twitter. The campaign garnered both support and criticism from comics pros and fans, but had the net-positive effect of drumming up discussion about the comics industry's ongoing and systemic issue with gendered harassment.

  • At New York Comic Con, Marvel announced a promotional tie-in comic for military contractor Northrop Grumman, which garnered immediate backlash for what fans viewed as pro-military, pro-violence propaganda aimed at children. The tie-in comic and at-con "activation" for Northrop Grumman was canceled almost immediately following the outcry.

The Verdict

2017 was a rough year for Marvel. While the MCU tried its level best to pick up the slack, the comics side of the company seemed unable to keep itself from repeatedly stumbling, making the two halves of what ought to be a singular whole feel more disparate than ever before.

Regardless as to which side you came down on on any of Marvel's many 2017 controversies, the recurring motif was widespread polarization between fans and creators a like, something which fostered escalating and extreme reactions with very little middle ground to be found--not a very healthy or comfortable state for any part of pop culture to exist in long term.

With any luck, 2018 will bring some of the positive energy and momentum being experienced in the MCU over to the comics, but the all around gloomy shadow of 2017 is going to be a challenging one to escape from.

The GoodThe Bad
Auteur focused films made the MCU fill fresh and vibrant despite its longevity.Secret Empire set the tone for the year with divisive and polarizing takes from both fans and critics.
Logan brought new mainstream credence and respect to superhero movies as a genre.Confusing and muddled promotional efforts with Northrop Grumman sent mixed messages.
Women at Marvel spearheaded an effort to bring harassment in the comics industry to the forefront of conversation.Following its confusing announcement, Marvel Legacy has yet to provide any tangible change or rejuvenation to the line.
The long awaited return of the Fantastic Four was announced with Marvel Two-in-One.Newly promoted Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski revealed that he had been writing under the assumed identity of Akira Yoshida, prompting more controversy still.
Legendary and 20-year Marvel exclusive creator Brian Michael Bendis jumped ship after signing exclusively with DC.
TV efforts, including Iron Fist and Defenders, fizzled, including a bombastic attempt at an IMAX debut for Inhumans.
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