So it makes sense for Marvel to try and position the Avengers as their central team, the main focus of their comic book universe. Yet the one thing which has never made sense, and yet they have continually stuck to, is the idea that only one writer should be in control of the books at once.
I’d trace this most definitively to Brian Michael Bendis, who was in charge of the Avengers titles at a time when they started branching out across into several simultaneous titles. Following ‘Avengers Disassembled’, Bendis started reassembling the Avengers into a number of books including ‘New’ Avengers, ‘Mighty’ Avengers, Avengers ‘Assemble’ and ‘Dark’ Avengers. Each book had a different tone and team, and took on a different aspect of the franchise.
Or at least… that was the idea. But actually, in ten years of being in charge of the franchise, the books didn’t ever reach a point where they felt suitably distinctive. And this is all because Bendis, as a writer, has such a strong and unique voice. His characters tend to all speak in hedged conversations, interrupting one another and having their jokes dismantled. Because of his single-minded tone as a writer, all the different Avengers books blended into one long-form piece.
Now Jonathan Hickman has stepped in, and once more Marvel have decided that he should be given all the books at once. He currently writes Avengers, New Avengers, and Infinity (which is essentially another Avengers title, given how trapped it is in the current unfolding Avengers narrative – and the fact it’s impenetrable for anybody who isn’t reading the other two books). He’s also just been announced on a new title, Avengers World, which he’ll be working on with Nick Spencer.
Again we have a writer with a singular voice. Hickman does long-form stories which normally only start to really fall into place after several years of comics. The characters fit the narrative more than the other way round, and it’s all about balancing subplots against one another in careful pyramid patterns. He’s a popular writer, but once more – why is he in charge of all the books, here?
Having one writer in charge of a franchise means one thing. It means that if somebody doesn’t like one of the comics, they’ll know they don’t want to read ANY of the comics. What’s the point of trying New Avengers if you don’t like Avengers or Infinity? It’s going to be more of the same. This is where a franchise like, say, the X-Men seem to have it right. Granted there are around ten X-Men books currently going on, but the main books of the franchise offers readers a number of different voices.
Jason Aaron, Brian Wood, Bendis – they’re all thoroughly different in tone and style. The books may sometimes lean together and share the same storylines or themes, but the writers themselves are varied in the extreme. In comparison, here’s the reading list for Infinity – every single book is written by Hickman.
What makes this all so strange is that the critical success has been so centred on the fringe Avengers titles, which don’t get the promotional push and are by other writers. Avengers Arena and Secret Avengers are Avengers titles in name alone, and don’t feature many of the characters anybody would associate with the main franchise. Avengers: The Initiative, Young Avengers — these are books which have let different writers write about unexplored characters within the Marvel Universe, and they’re typically highly praised titles.
If you currently want to read about the Avengers but don’t like Jonathan Hickman, your option has been Avengers Assemble by Kelly Sue DeConnick. And again, it’s a title which has become a fan-favourite online, and been praised pretty endlessly by critics. Why aren’t Marvel noticing this, and realising that perhaps it isn’t a wise idea to shut out your franchise to anybody who doesn’t like the single writer handling the property?
DC don’t follow this system, and neither do other connected universes like Valiant. Geoff Johns may write two of the Justice League books, but the third has Jeff Lemire. Scott Lobdell only handles two of the four Superman titles, not all of them. Batman has a number of different writers at any one time.
This isn’t a complaint about Jonathan Hickman. My question is: why aren’t Marvel offering some more variety here?