Tuesday, 3 November 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 1996

1996 was a crunch year for Marvel. While the X-Titles were doing ok, the Spider-Books were embroiled in the seemingly-everlasting Clone Saga, and the Avengers were just emerging from The Crossing, a crossover event which had seen Tony Stark go evil, the Wasp turned into a real giant-size woman-bug, and many readers jumping ship. Captain America, written at the time by Mark Waid, was well-regarded, but nothing spectacular, sales-wise. And the Fantastic Four had been lumbering along under Tom DeFalco's guidance for years. With sales crashing all over as a result of the end of the speculator boom, Marvel wanted to try something radical.

Their answer was Onslaught, an ultra-powerful mutant (with a dark secret) who tried to destroy the world. A couple of months of group-wide crossovers led to a final battle, in which the Avengers and the FF sacrificed themselves to stop Onslaught. The public, seeing their heroes killed, blamed mutantkind, and the X-Men's lives got that little bit more difficult.

But the Avengers and the Fantastic Four weren't dead. Oh no, not at all. Instead, they faced a worse fate: outsourcing! Marvel hired Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, founders of Image Comics, to "reimagine" the two teams, in the Image style. So it was farewell to the classic Marvel style, and hello to this...

It worked, after a fashion. Sales went through the roof, and everyone was talking about Marvel again. And that the the books weren't very good didn't really matter. After a year, the books would revert to being written and drawn in-house, with yet another set of #1 issues. And because each restart was accompanied by a bump in sales, we could henceforth look forward to pretty much every Marvel title restarting every couple of years.

In other comics news, the Clone Saga did eventually finish, at the end of this year, accompanied by the return of Norman Osborn. It says something for how much people were tired of the whole clone thing, that the resurrection of Spidey's most famously dead arch-nemesis seemed like a pretty neat idea. 13 years on, and with Norman appearing in pretty much every comic pretty much every month, it doesn't seem like such a winning plan.

1996 was also the year of Amalgam Comics, in which Marvel and DC Comics collaborated on a shared universe, with characters made up of blends of both companies' heroes and villains.

A novel idea amongst a sea of detritus, Amalgam Comics managed two runs, in '96 and '97, before vanishing without trace.

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