Does Marvel’s upcoming “Fresh Start” indicate the company has given up on its Legacy initiative barely six months in?

Marvel announced that several titles, all of which had reverted to historical numbering as part of Marvel’s splashy Legacy event last fall, will re-launch with new #1 issues and new directions. Avengers, Black Panther, Venom, Thor, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and Captain Marvel (so far) will all get a “Fresh Start” later in the spring. But in a “having it both ways” move, Marvel will dual number these issues, so that they both get the new #1 issues to which the publisher is addicted, while keeping the legacy numbering.

Confused? It’s no wonder. Marvel itself has never quite been clear on what Legacy is supposed to be.

At its heart, Legacy seemed like Marvel throwing up its hands and saying “Hey, long-time fans are unhappy about our efforts to diversify our pool of heroes, so we’re going to bring back some of your favorites in a way that’s more familiar to mollify the eroding hardcore fanbase.” Cynical, but not exactly bad for business.

Of course, at the time, many observers clocked Legacy as just another way for Marvel to re-launch most of its titles. The kickoff special teased some plot points, but fans never really detected a solid overall plan for the initiative. Marvel went to great pains to specify which titles were and were not part of Legacy, though none of it seemed to make sense to readers.

So, as Legacy hits six months, more or less, what effect has it had? Several titles already are getting new #1 issues and a couple of explicitly Legacy titles have been cancelled (as have several books not “officially” part of Legacy). As for the characters?

Marvel made a big deal about the return of Famous Original Wolverine in the Legacy special, but then proceeded to do not much of anything with him for months. Steve Rogers had already stepped back into being Captain America by the end of Secret Empire, but got some exposure as a throwback hero. Tony Stark and the Odinson are poised to make big returns in Iron Man and Thor, respectively. Spider-Man is reverting back to the familiar “hapless, unlucky and broke” mode. In Marvel 2-in-1, erstwhile Fantastic Four members Thing and Human Torch are on the trail of the presumed-dead-by-the-MU Richards family. Perhaps most impactfully, the fan favorite adult Jean Grey has finally returned from the dead, after more than a decade off the board.

Those moves all feel kind of muddled, though. Other books tagged as Legacy haven’t quite had as much impact. “No Surrender” was supposed to be a high profile Avengers saga, but its reception has been tepid at best. Other books seemed to chug along as before.

Most tellingly, in spite of claiming they were swearing off big crossover events, Marvel is preparing a new Infinity event for later this year. Seemingly, the publisher’s failure to do anything of note with the returned Wolverine was because they had plans for him related to Infinity (and have only recently announced several interlocking miniseries to bring Logan back to the MU mainstream).

It’s hard not to compare Legacy to DC’s similar Rebirth umbrella. Unlike Legacy, Rebirth demonstrated that DC had put actual thought into what it wanted its books to be and what, specifically, the “Rebirth” concept meant and was intended to achieve. Fans haven’t really seen that with Legacy. So to hear that Marvel is pushing a “Fresh Start” for several titles while nominally continuing the Legacy branding is curious.

Of course, it could be nothing more complicated than that many of the characters getting a “Fresh Start” are all receiving significant multimedia exposure this year and next. Marvel may be pushing the Legacy idea aside for those franchises in order to have non-intimidating, low numbered series on the shelves for potential new fans converted by cinematic offerings.

Marvel has lost significant ground to DC over the past two years. Sprawling from one branding initiative to another without figuring out what they really mean to do with them isn’t the way to regain dominance. Whether Marvel figures out Legacy or decides to run with “Fresh Start,” the company seems to be experiencing an extended identity crisis. Figuring out who they are is crucial to any sort of sustained success for the publisher. As of now, that stills seems to be a work in process. As the last panel of a comic might say: “To be continued…”

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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