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2015 has drawn to a close, so it's time to cast our eyes to all things superhero over the past year! Over in the comic book world, this was a massive year, with Marvel's new Star Wars series, a top-selling Batman run featuring the Dark Knight's death, and countless changes to the superhero status quo! Over in the movies, it was the year that Marvel and Sony reached an agreement to bring a certain Wall-Crawler into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while Fox proved that not every superhero film does well...
MARVEL RETURNED TO A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY!
It was hardly a surprise that Star Wars returned to Marvel – both Marvel and Lucasfilm are now owned by Disney! But what was surprising, was the runaway success of the franchise. The main Star Wars series, which runs from the aftermath of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, has absolutely dominated comic book sales through the year. The first issue, helped by variant covers, sold an estimated 1,019,121 copies across January and February. That looks all the more impressive when you remember a book’s doing well to break the 100,000 barrier in the current comic-book-reading climate.
The franchise’s success has been tested time and again through 2015, not least with the low-key and pretty much redundant Chewbacca series (#1 still sold an estimated 122,952 copies). But it’s ended with Marvel’s first Star Wars crossover event, “Vader Down”, in which Rebel forces finally got the drop on the Dark Lord of the Sith!
The Box Office success of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is sure to transform the comic book landscape through 2016, as it opens up a whole new era for Marvel to explore…
A DISAPPOINTING YEAR FOR SUPERHERO MOVIES...
Let’s face it, 2016 will be the Year of the Superhero Film, with no less than seven superhero movies hitting the big screen! 2015 was a bit of a damp squib in comparison, not least because it included Fox’s dire Fantastic Four. Josh Trank’s vision was likely to fall flat anyway, but when details leaked on to social media in 2014 the studio muscled in, losing confidence in him. The final result was an oddly mismatched film, neither one thing nor another, and universally derided. Needless to say, Fox swiftly cancelled Fantastic Four 2, and seem to have given up on the idea of broadening their superhero universe out from the X-Men franchise.
Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron was generally viewed as weaker than The Avengers, and Joss Whedon found the experience disappointing enough that he left Marvel; in interview he’s mused that it’s been a while since he created a new universe, so it’s likely we can expect great things from him in the near-future. More successful – albeit surprisingly so – was Ant-Man. In spite of directorial difficulties, the movie performed well.
Matters within Marvel seem to have come to a head, with a restructure that separated Marvel Studios – responsible for the movies – from Marvel Entertainment, who run the TV / Netflix series. In the wake of the separation, Marvel swiftly rearranged a few dates in order to fit in a surprising sequel, Ant-Man and The Wasp. This marks the first time a female superhero has appeared in the title of a Marvel movie.
One thing’s for sure: this year was effectively the calm before the storm…
REALITY-WARPING EPICS IN SECRET WARS AND CONVERGENCE!
Jonathan Hickman’s long-running Incursion plotline came to a head in Marvel’s multiverse-wrecking epic, Secret Wars! The book was used to transform the entire line, with almost every one of Marvel’s core books brought to a shuddering halt and replaced by alt-reality “What If?” style stories based in different realms of Battleworld. Unfortunately, Marvel’s event has struggled to come to a conclusion – the October ending is now due in early January 2016 – and Marvel have been pretty candid about the reason. Check out this scene from spoof one-shot Secret Wars Too:
In a strange twist, the year saw DC run a pretty similar event that brought different realities into collision, entitled Convergence. Although retailers weren’t massively impressed with DC’s approach, and the main plot – by Jeff King and Scott Lobdell – wasn’t great, that slimmer event was effectively managed and achieved its aim. In the wake of Convergence, DC’s multiverse was opened up for future exploration, giving DC a chance to unlock some very creative opportunities.
The problem with events on this scale is that they lose their human drama, and the cosmic nature of it all means they can drift into reality-warping plot devices very, very easily; a trait that both events displayed.
SPIDER-MAN HEADED BACK TO THE MOVIES - AND BECAME A FRANCHISE!
In 2014, Marvel tried to reach an agreement with Sony to allow Spider-Man to enter into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Those deals broke down, but the Sony hacking in December 2014 changed everything; after a Sony retreat in February, the two companies reached an agreement. Marvel chose to relaunch everybody’s favourite Wall-Crawler, choosing Tom Holland to play the part of the teenaged Spider-Man. He’s set to first appear in Captain America: Civil War, although Spider-Man already got a nod in Jessica Jones!
Meanwhile, over in the comics, Dan Slott continued his tremendous run on Amazing Spider-Man – and, by February, had brought the epic Spider-Verse to a conclusion. This arc unlocked a wide range of new Spider-titles, not least the surprisingly popular Spider-Gwen by Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez. Originally pegged to star in a one-shot, social media reaction alone made Marvel decide to run a first series, and she’s going from strength to strength.
Slott’s run continued with the “Secret Wars” tie-in Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, which finally gave readers a glimpse of a world in which Peter Parker and Mary-Jane were still married – but, tellingly, the first issue bore the title “Be Careful What You Wish For…” With the dust beginning to settle from this year’s event, Slott took the opportunity to give Spider-Man a whole new status quo as a successful inventor and businessman. It’s a twist that has gone down well, with the new series of Amazing Spider-Man standing at the head of the broadening Spider-Verse franchise.
The dream-team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have pretty much been defying the laws of physics throughout their Batman run – incredibly, sales of Batman have been increasing with every issue!
Part of it is that Snyder’s game to take a chance. He proved it this year, launching the devastating Endgame saga in which Batman faced off against the Joker for what could easily have been the last time. It was a brutal and bloody confrontation, and Batman #40 left us believing that both the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime had died.
In reality, Bruce Wayne was given a new chance at life, one without the curse of the Batman, and – in a fun twist – the GCPD turned to none other than Jim Gordon to don armour and become the Batman. But Snyder’s not done with the twists and turns yet; Batman #47 ended with Bruce Wayne, his memories recovering, being approached by a disturbingly familiar face…
With Capullo moving on, it remains to be seen whether Batman‘s incredible run can continue. Time will tell; it always does…
A BIG YEAR FOR THE SMALL-SCREEN SUPERHEROES!
From Arrow to Supergirl, this was the year when DC reinforced the idea that they seem able to do no wrong when it comes to TV series! DC have chosen to take a very different approach to Marvel, keeping their TV universe separate from the cinematic one, so allowing them to present different interpretations of characters. Nowhere has this been made more obvious than in Gotham, which presents the world before Batman. Starring Ben McKenzie’s James Gordon, the series has proved tremendously popular. Supergirl, in contrast, has shown that DC can’t just do ‘dark’ – it’s a much fresher, much more fun superhero series.
Marvel’s success with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has continued, but they also chose to take things in a whole new direction. 2015 saw the release of their first two Netflix series, Daredevil and Jessica Jones, both far darker than anything Marvel had ever produced before. Although Daredevil was quickly booked for a second season, we’re yet to hear any news for Jessica Jones.
In a surprising twist, back in October Marvel and Fox finally gave a greenlight for two X-Men TV series. Fox are apparently working on Hellfire – featuring the Hellfire Club of X-Men lore – and Legion, starring the character who, in the comics, was Charles Xavier’s son.
MARVEL'S ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT RELAUNCH WAS A RUNAWAY SUCCESS!
(Sort of) in the wake of “Secret Wars”, Marvel’s All-New All-Different relaunch saw them push new characters, teams, and concepts like never before. Some books were fresh – Moon-Girl and Devil Dinosaur springs to mind – while others were traditional (The Mighty Thor, Invincible Iron Man…). Setting up an eight-month time-jump allowed writers to be creative, with Iron Man teaming up with Doctor Doom, Peter Parker now a successful international businessman, Deadpool world-famous, and Spider-Woman expecting a baby!
Although some aspects of the All-New All-Different relaunch haven’t paid off – Invincible Iron Man seems to be something of a damp squib, sales-wise – it’s resulted in two months of confirmed market dominance by Marvel. When December’s figures come out, they’re pretty certain to show another month’s sales success.
The All-New All-Different relaunch continued Marvel’s focus on ‘legacy’ characters, with All-New All-Different Avengers even bandying a handful of them together. What’s more, All-New Wolverine saw another legacy superhero stand up and take the spotlight, with X-23 – Wolverine’s clone – taking up her ‘father’s’ mantle. The chaos of “Secret Wars” was also a convenient excuse to bring Miles Morales into the mainstream Marvel Universe, although the solo Spider-Man title hasn’t launched yet.
Most controversial of all was Marvel’s relaunch of the X-Men franchise. In what seems to be a deliberate trolling of fearful X-Men fans, Marvel have established a status quo where the Inhuman Terrigen Mist is wreaking havoc on the mutant race. Although I’m not convinced by the concept, I have to admit that the teams working on the X-books are doing a good job to date.
DC SHOOK THEIR COSMIC ORDER - AND KILLED DARKSEID!
Geoff Johns has shaken up the wider DC universe in a way few others have tried. In Justice League #44, he killed off one of their greatest villains, Darkseid! The Anti-Monitor’s relentless campaign against Darkseid was successful, but in the aftermath the nature of the DC universe has been left in flux. A wide range of superheroes have been left transformed – none more so than Batman, who became the God of Knowledge in this new Pantheon!
It’s a bold call, and one that’s really upping the scale of the “Darkseid War” event. The range of tie-ins through November and December – sadly not particularly good – were testament to DC’s confidence in this fresh direction.
VALIANT PROVED THEMSELVES A REAL COMPETITOR!
Valiant Comics may not be a big figure in terms of market share, but this year the quality of their output has been impressive. Centre-star is Book of Death, the four-issue event comic put together by Robert Venditti, Robert Gill, and Doug Braithwaite. In a year where other events have faltered (here’s looking at you, Secret Wars), Book of Death was a short, deliberate event with strong themes and even stronger characterisation. It was easily the best event of the year.
Meanwhile, Valiant fans have a lot to look forward to; the comics company has reached an agreement with Sony to begin working on a series of movies starring Valiant superheroes. Looks like Sony have their own superhero franchise to play with after all…
WHAT WILL 2016 BRING?
With no less than seven superhero movies, this is the year when Marvel, DC and Fox will battle for the Box Office. Which will perform better, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, or Captain America: Civil War? Just why are Fox making a Gambit film anyway? And will DC’s attempt to build a Cinematic Universe work out as well as Marvel’s has?
We can expect Marvel to continue passing the torch to legacy characters, while DC will be checking out the sales performance of December’s excellent “Robin Wars” to see whether a similar strategy will pay off for them, too. Neither publisher is likely to try anything on the scale of Secret Wars or Convergence anytime soon, although both companies will be working on film tie-ins; we already know of Marvel’s X-Men: Apocalypse Wars and Civil War 2!
So, as 2015 comes to an end, let’s celebrate a great year for comics – and look forward to an even better one ahead!