I’ll admit, Marvel’s new line of Season One original graphic novels just leaves me feeling peculiarly ambivalent. On the one hand, it’s good to see Marvel finally doing some OGNs that aren’t licensed material – I guess they finally got over that “It’s not financially viable” idea they’ve been concentrating on, having looked at the success that DC had with Superman: Earth One and Joker – but on the other… I can’t help but feel that this line is a weird half-assed attempt at the same mainstream, non-comic-buying audience that Earth One was courting that seems almost doomed already.
Firstly, the lack of big name creative teams is simultaneously refreshing – “Hey, no Marvel Architects on this at all!” – and underwhelming – “Hey, Marvel isn’t putting its top talent on these books! Who are these guys?” – but leads to one of those weird Catch-22 situations that will both likely result in low orders in the direct market and absolutely nothing in the bookstore market, where Marvel is already traditionally weak (Earth One, by comparison, has the dual hook of big name character relaunch and J. Michael Straczynski’s name recognition within and outside of the direct market, as well as DC’s strength in bookstore sales).
Secondly, the content: These are stories that retell origins in Marvel continuity as we know it, which seems… honestly, just weird. Keeping them in continuity seems like an odd decision from everything other than a brand extention viewpoint (“Did you like Fantastic Four: Season One? Jump ahead to all the other FF collections already available – They’re the same characters!”), because it makes the Season One (and, presumably, seasons two onwards) line a creative dead-end: You can have the greatest creative talents on the world working on retelling a story, but in the end, if they’re saddled with having to retell that story, then… what’s the point?
I keep coming back to that question. What’s the point of saying that this line is all official Marvel U canon? What does it actually really gain Marvel? Why not just start over, a la Earth One (or even the Ultimate line)? Bookstore audiences presumably wouldn’t care, new readers wouldn’t care, and it would give the line some narrative purpose and urgency. Or, better yet, why not do all-new stories featuring these characters altogether? After all, it’s not like there aren’t already multiple versions of these characters’ beginnings in book format already (including Paul Jenkins’ Mythos, which updates them in the manner Season One is supposed to).
(Also, wasn’t Point One supposed to be this, only in single issues, with more material, and by the writers tasked with taking care of the characters already?)
Part of me feels that, if Marvel really wanted to do something interesting with these characters and the OGN format, then the latest Ultimate relaunch should have been OGN format, with the same creators attached: It would have allowed for Spider-Man, X-Men and Avengers OGNs, big-name creators to satisfy the DM readers and retailers, and the narrative demands of having a “new” story that readers don’t already know the end of, and will therefore be looking forward to the next volume expectantly. Season One as is may end up being entertaining and enjoyable enough, but it’s a nervous, safe and essentially weak entry into a format that’s already been proven to be sustainable when done right. When did Marvel become the gutless publisher?