In my previous post, I suggested that the time had come for Marvel to reboot their comic book universe. Rather than start completely from scratch, though, I thought Marvel would do better with a starting point developed by updating where the Original Marvel Universe stood just before the Fantastic Four first gained their superpowers. Thus, I outlined the “current” circumstances of over 240 characters, which offered myriad tantalizing story possibilities. I thought this would serve as a firm foundation on which to rebuild a shared universe in the tradition started by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and all the others who contributed.
As I continued to think about it, I realized this was just the first step. As others have done, I came up with a plan to relaunch the entire line of Marvel Comics as a response to DC’s recent “New 52” initiative. For what it’s worth, here’s how I would do it.
Fifty-two being an arbitrary number, and somewhat unwieldy, I would trim it down to forty titles a month, released ten per week. This isn’t too far off from Marvel’s current output of regular ongoing titles. Next, I felt variety was extremely important -- variety of subject matter, tone, genre -- which has been sorely lacking in the tunnel-vision strategy of mainstream comics for some time. This also keeps readers from feeling they need to buy all 40 titles to keep up with what’s going on. Some are more interconnected, more “plugged in” to the shared universe, than others. Some can easily stand alone, though all share common elements that reward taking a completist, or “big picture” approach to collecting. A “win-win” for everybody.
Also, many of the titles below would be designed to have a limited life-span, to be replaced by “all-new, all-different” properties after they’d run their course. This would help keep things fresh as the new Marvel Universe rocketed onwards and upwards.
If it were up to me, I would relaunch the Marvel Universe as follows:
1. Fantastic Four
While testing an experimental warp-drive spacecraft in high Earth orbit, Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Sue Storm, and her brother Johnny Storm are exposed to strange energies that transform them into something more than human. Celebrated as the Fantastic Four, they use their superpowers to explore the world’s most mysterious places, and battle whatever weird menaces they find there.
High school student Peter Parker receives superhuman abilities in a bizarre laboratory accident, and does what any self-respecting teenager would do: he tries to cash in! Unfortunately, his show-biz career as the mysterious Spider-Man is cut short by personal tragedy, forcing Peter to learn a bitter lesson about responsibility. Desperate to earn money as a news photographer, Peter uses his Spider-Man identity to get spectacular shots of New York’s most infamous criminals, whom he invariably ends up fighting.
Professor Charles Xavier has created a school for mutants, where he trains his first class of students in the use of their uncanny powers. Fearing persecution, the students have adopted the codenames Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Iceman, Beast, Banshee, Havok, and Polaris. Xavier dreams of peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants, but realizes his students may have to fight for their place in a world that hates and fears them.
4. Iron Man
Tony Stark has felt like a target since his parents died under mysterious circumstances, leaving him in charge of the family business, an international technology firm. When he is nearly killed during a kidnapping scheme, Stark constructs an invincible suit of high-tech battle armor and swears he’ll never be vulnerable again.
Thor, son of Odin and prince of Asgard, has been banished to Earth because of his bad attitude. Good for Asgard, bad for Earth. This is one thunder god who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, least of all foolish mortals. His hair-trigger temper and unstoppable magic war-hammer spell trouble for anyone who gets in his way. But learning to be a better man is his only hope of returning home. The beautiful emergency-room doctor Jane Foster wants to help, but can she survive the chaos that surrounds Thor long enough to try?
A laboratory accident turns withdrawn scientist Bruce Banner into the ultimate Jekyll & Hyde. His green-skinned alter-ego Hulk is a distorted mirror image: physically strong but morally weak, and may prove to be the most dangerous man on the planet. After Hulk makes a shambles of Banner’s life, the fugitive scientist goes on the run, trying to keep his inescapable “enemy within” from hurting anyone else.
7. Black Panther
The noble king of the prosperous African nation of Wakanda, T’Challa, the Black Panther, upholds his sacred duty to protect his people’s greatest treasure, the unique substance called vibranium. He’ll need all his intelligence, cunning, and fighting skills to fend off spies, mercenaries, and thieves from every corner of the globe. He soon discovers, however, that his greatest enemies may lurk within his own government.
8. Ant-Man & Wasp
Pym particles are the key to all superpowers, but only one man understands how they work: Dr. Henry Pym, the molecular biologist who discovered them. Of course he becomes a target for every terrorist group, subversive organization, and two-bit crook with delusions of grandeur. However, the wealthy young socialite Janet Van Dyne has taken a shine to Dr. Pym and is determined to keep him from meeting the same tragic fate suffered by her renowned scientist father. When Pym’s wife Maria is murdered by his enemies, he agrees to empower Van Dyne and himself to fight back. As Ant-Man and the Wasp, this unlikely couple finds action, adventure, and romance!
9. Black Widow
International superspy Natasha Romanova goes rogue when her handlers try to have her killed after a botched operation. She searches for allies she can trust while tracking down and getting revenge on the men who betrayed her.
10. Tales from the Swamp
An anthology of strange tales of suspense featuring a rotating cast of eccentrics in the steamy swamps of the southern United States. In the Florida everglades, disgraced biochemist Ted Sallis agrees to help Dr. Wilma Calvin re-develop the lost “super-soldier” serum of World War II, unaware that his sexy girlfriend, Ellen Brandt, is working for a subversive organization. Her meddling causes Sallis to be transformed into a terrifying monstrosity called the Man-Thing. Meanwhile, not far away, young sorceress Jennifer Kale explores the astonishing alternate worlds she finds within a spacetime rift called the Nexus of All Realities. Elsewhere, Jericho Drumm battles zombies in the bayous of New Orleans and southern Louisiana.
11. Doctor Strange
Master sorcerer Stephen Strange protects the earth from all manner of mystical menaces as he travels the world collecting occult artifacts. Whether he’s exploring mind-boggling alternate dimensions or fighting off demons and monsters, the dashing Doctor Strange knows how to use magic with style.
Former carnival performer Clint Barton uses his unparalleled skill with a bow-and-arrow as a modern-day Robin Hood on the streets of Chicago. He is equally adept at busting corrupt corporations and protecting the people from street crime, all while living according to his mantra: free-wheeling, free-loving, and freeloading!
The Canadian secret agent known only as Logan is the best there is at what he does, and what he does is covert-ops! A mysterious experiment stripped him of his memories, but left him with an unbreakable skeleton and razor-sharp claws that can slice through anything. His most closely guarded secret is that he is a mutant with enhanced animal-like senses and the ability to rapidly heal any wound. The rough-and-tumble Logan frequently crosses paths with straight-shooting CIA agents Carol Danvers and Michael Rossi, as well as their gruff superior, Nick Fury, in the course of his globe-spanning missions.
Since the dawn of time, the Inhumans have dwelled apart from humanity in the lost city of Attilan, hidden deep in the Himalayas. Each member of their race possesses a devastating super-power, which makes ruling them a challenge for their young king, Black Bolt. Palace intrigue and Machiavellian machinations are the order of the day as Black Bolt pursues the beautiful princess Medusa while fending off his traitorous brother Maximus. But how long can the Inhumans hide their existence from the world outside?
15. Department H
As head of a secret project within the Canadian Ministry of Defense, James MacDonald Hudson has been tasked with creating the perfect superhero to protect his nation and its people. High-tech research & development, radical biochemical experiments, tracking down mutants, and even magic and mysticism are all fair game as Hudson and his team seek to accomplish their mission.
Since he was a boy, Kevin Plunder has been lost in the mysterious Savage Land at the bottom of the world. Now calling himself Ka-Zar, this brutal and savage young man sets out to conquer his jungle home before he is enslaved by its bloodthirsty inhabitants or eaten by its prehistoric flora and fauna. But the greatest threat of all may prove to come in the form of beautiful scientist Bobbi Morse, the last survivor of a doomed expedition who sees Ka-Zar as her only hope of getting home alive.
Mutant shape-changer Raven Darkholme is perhaps the world’s most devastatingly effective covert operative, due to her ability to precisely mimic the appearance of anyone she meets. However, when she stumbles on a top-secret multinational initiative to build mutant-hunting robots called Sentinels, her priorities change. Raven begins investigating the Sentinel project while continuing her government missions, knowing that tipping her hand could make her lover, Irene Adler, a target.
18. Patsy Walker
Former reality-TV child-star Patsy Walker is having difficulty settling into life as a celebrity “has-been,” a process not made any easier by her vicious and demanding “stage mom,” Dorothy. Patsy’s sunny, Orange County lifestyle suddenly takes a dark and frightening turn when dabbling in the occult gets her involved with a mysterious orphan named Daimon Hellstrom.
19. Where Monsters Dwell
FBI agent Jimmy Woo takes the cases no one else will touch: crimes so gruesome they could only be committed by inhuman monsters. Jimmy has learned the hard way that humans are not necessarily at the top of the food chain, especially after the sun goes down.
20. Werewolf by Night
High school student Jake Russoff has a problem. He’s a werewolf. Luckily his mother, Laura, and his step-father, Philip, know all about it, because Jake’s father was a werewolf too, until the night a silver bullet brought him down. Jake has another problem: his annoying little sister Lyssa. She’s not a werewolf yet, but in a few years, who knows? Jake is ready to run away and lose himself in the Sierra Madre Mountains when he meets a mysterious teen beauty named Topaz Taboo, who tells him if he helps her find an ancient book of spells called the Darkhold, it contains the cure for his curse. Topaz then leads Jake into a dangerous world, where he finds there are worse things than being a werewolf.
There are some menaces too great for any single superhero to withstand. Thus, Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and Wasp band together as the Avengers. Their first mission leads them to recruit both the Black Panther and Hawkeye, as the renegade robot Ultron and its spectral android servant the Vision try to steal a sample of vibranium from the University of Chicago. A loose-knit, ever-changing membership roster allows the Avengers to respond to all manner of threats with just the right force. Captain America, the Black Widow, Hercules, and others soon join their ranks as well.
Prince Namor is forced to leave his undersea kingdom of Atlantis to search the ocean depths for three ancient artifacts: Neptune’s Trident, the Sword of Kamuu, and the jewel known as the Eye of Zartra. However, the despotic warlord Krang is determined that Namor’s quest should fail. Mystery and adventure await as young Namor tries to prove himself worthy of being the one, true Sub-Mariner.
23. Captain Marvel
The world believes Captain Marvel to be one of its greatest superheroes. No one suspects he is really a spy for the galaxy-spanning Kree Empire. His mission is to test earth’s super-powered population, to determine who will be allowed to serve the Kree and who must be destroyed when their invasion armada eventually arrives. What better way to do that than to help superheroes battle supervillains? Only one thing threatens his mission: his own emerging sense of justice.
24. Magneto and the Brotherhood of Mutants
The mutant known as Magneto knows a war with mainstream humanity is inevitable, and it’s a war he is determined that mutants will win. As such, he has rallied a group of militant mutants to his cause: Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Mastermind, Toad, Pyro, Gypsy Moth, Mesmero, and Unus the Untouchable. Though strong-willed and fractious, Magneto believes they may be mutantkind’s last, best hope for survival.
Bored with life in eternal Olympus, Hercules has defied the edict of his father Zeus and come to earth in search of adventure. His love of wine, women, and song quickly earns him as many admirers as do his amazing heroics. But he must stay one step ahead of the implacable Huntsman the gods have dispatched to drag Hercules home. Like all challenges, Hercules meets this one with a hearty laugh.
Teenaged Shiro Yoshida hates living in New York, but his father’s job at the United Nations gives him no choice. His attitude begins to change when he manifests mutant powers that enable him to fly and shoot flames from his body, inspiring him to become the brash superhero Sunfire.
The mysterious cyborg soldier-of-fortune known as Cable knows something bad is going to happen in the year 2025, because he’s traveled back in time to stop it. Unfortunately, he arrived twenty-five years early and has been forced to live in an era that seems very primitive to him, while trying to pick up the threads of his original mission. His inscrutable motives make Cable shockingly unpredictable as he tries to avert the coming global catastrophe.
Though only a teenager, the girl called Mantis may be the world’s greatest practitioner of the martial arts, and she will need all of her skill as she leaves the temple of the Priests of Pama to search her native Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia for her missing father, a German mercenary named Brandt. Her unique philosophy makes Mantis an enigma to everyone she meets, from international financiers to drug-smugglers and pirates. But those who underestimate this young girl soon regret it.
29. Red Wolf
Will Talltrees joined the military to escape life on an Indian Reservation in Montana, and is now a member of Navy SEAL Team 11, performing special-ops missions around the globe. Will has a unique advantage over his fellow SEALs, though—the mystical entity Owayodata appears to him in the form of a red wolf to guide him in times of danger.
30. Tomb of Dracula
Dracula, Lord of Vampires, is revived after a century entombed in his castle in Transylvania, and is horrified to discover that the modern world has nearly wiped out all the other vampires. He sets out to rebuild his legions of the undead, despite the opposition of expert vampire hunters like the elderly Quincy Harker and his young assistant Rachel Van Helsing. Dracula’s personal code of honor and air of sophistication belie his ruthless, savage instincts, and he knows how to use the seductive power of evil to his advantage.
31. Captain America
The lost hero of World War II is found frozen solid in the Arctic, but miraculously revives upon being thawed out, due to the legendary “super-soldier” serum that made him the ultimate fighting man. Now a man out of time, Steve Rogers must find a place in this daunting world of the future, while bringing old-fashioned justice to criminals of every stripe.
Blind attorney Matt Murdock has made a reputation for himself with his skillful defense of super-villains who are brought to trial. However, using the hypersenses he developed in a freak childhood accident, he has also become the masked vigilante Daredevil, to ensure that justice is done, whether in the courtroom or on the streets.
33. Ghost Rider
For most people, the Ghost Rider is a legend they tell around campfires, a frightening skull-headed demon said to haunt the loneliest back roads of America. But for Johnny Blaze, the legend is horrifyingly real, for Blaze is the Ghost Rider, cursed to wander the highways and byways of North America on a flaming motorcycle, searching for evildoers to punish with his soul-searing hellfire.
Los Angeles street gang member Sam Wilson turned to crime in the wake of his parents’ unsolved murders, but now his 13-year-old nephew Jim has convinced him to make up for his past misdeeds. Adopting the masked identity of the Falcon, Sam uses his insider’s knowledge to thwart the crimes of both his and rival gangs. It’s a dangerous game as Sam must protect his secret identity at all costs, or see young Jim pay the price.
Frank Castle returns from his tour of duty in the U.S. Marine Corps only to witness his wife and daughter gunned down by mobsters. He dedicates himself to a one-man war on crime, using all his military skill and hardware to become the fearsome Punisher.
36. Moon Knight
Marc Spector is a special-ops commando for the United States Marine Corps with a gift for unconventional warfare. Deployed to hotspots around the world, Spector battles terrorists, insurgents, traffickers, and anyone else who threatens America or its interests. His personal code of honor and preference for striking by night have earned him the codename Moon Knight.
Nobody knows the power of hate better than Nekra Sinclair, an albino African-American goth chick who also happens to be a mutant. When she whips herself into a frenzy of negative emotions, Nekra becomes super-strong and invulnerable, as well as savagely violent, which serves her well living on the streets of Los Angeles. Her only friend is Jerome Beechman, a boy who looks like an ape but can bend women to his will using his mutant pheromones. Life is a bitter struggle for survival for these two teenaged outcasts, who are determined to live free or die.
As head of the new clandestine agency S.H.I.E.L.D., Alan Chamberlain is responsible for keeping America’s ever-growing superhuman population under control, and he’s going to do it by the book. Unfortunately, the terrorist group HYDRA, led by Wolfgang Von Strucker, has other ideas, and they’ve got Chamberlain in their sights. Besieged on all sides, will S.H.I.E.L.D. survive the forces seeking to tear it apart?
39. Masters of Evil
From his hidden lair in the Amazon Rainforest of Brazil, mercenary Helmut Zemo has decided to create an unstoppable army of super-villains. He’ll use any means necessary to imbue his unscrupulous recruits with the requisite superpowers, which leads them on a worldwide campaign of murder and extortion. With Nathan Garrett, Erik Josten, Sergei Kravinoff, Karla Sofen, Elihas Starr, and Calvin Zabo willing to do whatever it takes, Zemo’s Masters of Evil quickly become a force to be reckoned with.
40. Sword of Atlantis
In the twilight years of the legendary Age of Atlantis, some 20,000 years ago, Lemurian princess Zartra escapes from her Deviant captors and battles her way to freedom. With the help of the sorceress Zhered-Na, she seeks to forge an alliance with Prince Kamuu of Atlantis, the only kingdom still unconquered by the subhuman Deviants. Encountering vampires, werewolves, and the enigmatic Eternals, Zartra relies on her warrior skills to get her safely from one adventure to the next.
Of course, even the best approaches can be wrecked by poor execution, such as “writing for the trade,” and whether the current editors and creators at Marvel would be capable of turning around the company’s declining fortunes is open for debate. I might just have to fire everybody and get all new people in there to make my idea work. Well, almost everybody.