What to expect from Marvel’s ‘Fresh Start’

Charlottesville comic shop owners provide local insight

ae-telegraphartandcomics-Courtesy Telegraph Art and Comics

The owners of local shops Telegraph Art & Comics and Atlas Comics give their thoughts on Marvel Comics's latest relaunch.

Courtesy Telegraph Art and Comics

Marvel Studios continues to achieve incredible success in movies, but the same cannot quite be said of their comics. The year 2017 was particularly notorious for the company, as comic book sales declined and a PR crisis seemed to break out every month. 

Perhaps then, it might seem understandable that the company would want to shake things up moving into 2018. Last week, Marvel announced an upcoming line-wide relaunch with the “Fresh Start” initiative, new beginnings from new creative teams under a new editor-in-chief. But the idea of a relaunch being a “fresh” move for Marvel Comics is something of a joke — “Fresh Start” will be the seventh Marvel line-wide relaunch since 2012. How much is really changing? To understand how Marvel’s recent policies and decisions have affected the way their comics are sold, The Cavalier Daily reached out to two comic book stores in the Charlottesville area.

Atlas Comics has been operating in the Rio Hill Shopping Center for nearly two decades, and even before them, the storefront had been selling comics since the 1970s under the name Fantasia. Hank Zeman, current assistant manager and employee of five years, thinks of Atlas as “two and a half stores of merchandise crammed into one shop,” as they also offer a wide selection of table-top games and RPG materials. 

Zeman wasn’t at all surprised to hear about “Fresh Start,” and described Marvel Comics as analogous to the weather. 

“It kinda sucks always knowing that Marvel’s just going to change everything every, like, six months,” Zeman said. “But on the bright side, if Marvel’s doing something you don’t like … just wait six months.”

David Murray, owner and operator of Telegraph Art and Comics, was more optimistic. David and his wife Kate DeNeveu, both University alumni, lived in San Francisco for a few years after graduating in 2004 and 2006, respectively, and were inspired by the city’s vibrant independent art and comics culture to bring the art retailer model back to downtown Charlottesville in 2012. Murray hoped that “Fresh Start” will model itself after “Rebirth,” the widely praised DC Comics 2016 relaunch that reversed the company’s fortunes following the controversial “New 52” initiative.

Zeman pointed to how “Legacy,” the last Marvel relaunch, had emulated the “Rebirth” approach to numbering. Comic book relaunches tend to reset the series to one, a move which Zeman postulated is meant to “remind people of classic comic collecting,” of the excitement of following a new series in its infancy. But the problem with that logic was that no Marvel series could ever move past infancy with how often they relaunch. “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” only ran for eight issues before being reset with the “All-New, All-Different” relaunch, and Zeman had to figure out how to organize the new number one while the old number one was still on the Atlas shelves. 

“Rebirth” was praised by Murray for restoring classic numbering to Action Comics and Detective comics, each of which will reach an astounding 1,000 issues this year, after both had been reset to number one with “New 52”. Following this, “Legacy” also gave classic numbering to a several titles, and Murray found himself having to reassure confused customers that they weren’t missing Black Panther issues 19 through 165. “Fresh Start” will continue the classic numbering but will also feature separate reset numbering. Neither shop knew for sure what the best numbering approach was, but both hoped for more consistency from Marvel moving forward.

One area that Marvel has been praised in as of late is diversity. Many mantles held by white male heroes were passed on to characters of minority demographics, such as Jane Foster as the new Thor and Amadeus Cho as the new Hulk. But as sales continued to diminish in 2017, Vice President of Sales David Gabriel remarked in an interview with ICv2, “What we heard was that people didn't want any more diversity.” 

Neither Charlottesville comic shop agreed with that sentiment — as Zeman put it, “some people will follow a title for 30 years — they don’t care if it’s a man, woman, or alien.” The marketing for “Fresh Start” features the return of a number of classic white male heroes, but Zeman wanted to stress that the newer characters aren’t all just going away. In fact, he had always felt that moving the newer characters out of the classic roles and into team books or other series was part of the plan to give readers more options. But Murray wasn’t quite so sure. 

“I feel like [Marvel has] let a lot of good diverse books flounder because of poor publicity and marketing,” he said. “With the way the direct market is, a book needs a lot of support before it’s even released … Marvel spends so much time and publicity on the big events … The big events have been a real miss.”

Despite the trouble Marvel Comics has had, both shops see genuine signs of improvement with “Fresh Start.” Zeman believes that with the return of classic heroes, Marvel can create more jumping-on points for fans of the movies who might otherwise be too unfamiliar with superhero comics. 

Murray praised Marvel for working with new writers with non-traditional comics backgrounds, pointing in particular to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s work on the newest “Black Panther” series. Even though Marvel still makes up a significant portion of the comic books market, both shops still offer a wide selection outside of Marvel and outside of superhero comics altogether — from classic horror to kids books to manga. 

“I like to think we have a comic for everyone,” Murray said.