You’ve come a long way since the days of near bankruptcy in the late 90’s, you’ve managed to turn things around for the company, and the buyout by Disney has only strengthened the company as a whole, and brought it to many more audiences now than ever before. Movies, TV shows for adults, kids, the whole family? Got all those bases covered. But there is one distinct area where it seems you’re lacking, that I and many other fans have noticed.
It’s called the Marvel Universe, it’s a shared universe where all these stories, all these characters, are all connected, to borrow a marketing line from your Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series, but a lot of times, in both the comic books and in the movies/tv shows, it doesn’t feel connected at all, not anymore. It’s a bunch of stories, a bunch of individual writers and artists coming up with these great (and sometimes not so great) stories for these characters to live out and experience and for us fans to enjoy, and characters from one thing will crossover to another from time to time, but that’s it. Except for the big crossover events, which in the comics seem to be happening at more of a frequency than they used to.
Time was, these big crossover events were maybe a once a year thing growing up in the 80’s-90’s. An event so big that it needed it’s own limited series, and of course tie in issues with all the books. And you didn’t need to read every single book to get the whole story, but those tie in books fleshed out certain aspects of the big story, and you could see where each individual story fit into the big story, it really was a Marvel Universe, and it was awesome.
One of the moments from my young comic book reading days that still sticks out to me was in the late 90’s, when I was reading an issue of the short lived Green Goblin solo series, and the Human Torch flies by in one panel, seemingly a throwaway bit. But, if you happened to read the Fantastic Four issue that same month, you see that same panel again but from the Torch’s perspective, and that just blew my mind. It really was all connected.
At that point I did some research and learned more about the man who was responsible for most of that stuff back in the day, the late Mark Gruenwald. He was a genius of continuity, he had the whole Marvel Universe’s history seemingly in the back of his head, who could rattle off when things happened in what book, no matter how far back or obscure it was. And it was with his influence that kept that sense of continuity together. It’s all connected wasn’t just a marketing line, it was the glue that kept the Marvel Universe a shared universe experience.
Cut to the Marvel of today: I’ve been a huge fan of using your Marvel Unlimited app for over a year now, and I’ve been reading through the history of the Marvel Universe, (just now hitting the mid 70’s stuff, 1974 to be exact) when Marvel was entering it’s “Phase 2” as some of the comic book covers reflected in that era, and continuity was still strong there, even editorial explanations written for why characters are at Point A when they were last seen at Point B in another comic that came out that same month, little touches like that.
I’m also reading the new stuff that hits the app as well, so I’m 6 months behind on my comic book knowledge, but for the price, $9.99 a month for all this, rather than $4-5 for a single issue, I can wait 6 months. And I noticed something that struck me as odd this past week’s reading. Three separate comics all have appearances or references to the Mad Thinker. In the Illuminati series he’s a member of the team, in Uncanny Inhumans he’s playing poker with the Leader in Black Bolt’s resort/casino, and in one of the Avengers books he’s set out a robot to attack people that Ms. Marvel stops. No mention in any of them how/why/where/when he’s done all this.
This is because you’ve lost that sense of continuity. It’s not a burden, something that keeps new readers from getting on board, not if you do it right. If you do it right it’s something that brings the stories to life, that makes them more than just a bunch of individual stories from different writers and creative teams. It ties them all in together, and you can bring back the old editorial footnotes like Stan and Co. used to do back in the day “last seen in Fantastic Four #350 or whatever) especially now in the days of your app, fans can pull that issue up and read it and get that sense of a shared universe again. It’s not just for the big events it’s supposed to be that for everything. And while I’m here, the same goes for your movies and tv shows as well.
It’s not a burden, it’s not something that says,”Hey, you need to watch this and this before you watch this” I did appreciate the nod to the Daredevil series on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last season, that was a nice touch. And I’m not saying that you need to have Chris Hemsworth, Evans, or Pratt on your tv shows, that might put the whole thing over budget, and who has the time really, but just keep all of your productions in the loop of each other is all, a slight nod to events of something else would really make things feel more like a proper shared Universe.
You need a fan on your staff somewhere, someone who knows and loves these characters like family, a continuity expert like Mark Gruenwald was back in the day. The world, and the comics industry was left a slightly darker place when he passed. It would really make your long term fans happy, and your new fans, it would get them even more intrigued to read and watch about the other characters in the Universe. You don’t even need to reboot your series to “All New, All Different” anything cause it’s not All New or All Different, it’s the same stuff, but with a bunch of disjointed events because every writer is writing their book like it’s the only book their characters are appearing in. I’m not sure if anyone at Marvel will even read this, or even if anyone besides my four readers will read this, but it’s a plea, for the fans, from a fan, bring back the Marvel Universe.