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Wednesday, 12 January 2011

About Marvel Comics' Rolling Status Quo System

Whilst reviewing some Marvel Comics collections I found myself again and again explaining the status quo of the Marvel Universe at the time the story was written. Rather than repeat myself endlessly I decided it would be easier to explain Marvel's system of rolling status quos in one post and simply link back to it in future. Now, to explain:

One of the big attractions of the larger comics companies is the shared universes in which their characters exist allowing their series to mix and interact in interesting ways. One of the great criticisms of comics is that the decades-old characters are not seen to change in any meaningful manner. Whilst I and my colleagues dispute that criticism (we'd hardly have founded this website if we didn't) Marvel Comics sought to overcome that perception by very publicly evolving the state of their universe.

The reason I call this a system of “rolling” status quos is that Marvel will use a big event storyline (a crossover) to change the fundamental backdrop of their shared universe which eventually leads to crisis point which leads to a new status quo. This becomes the new status quo and is explored by the writers in different ways for the next year or so. In some series it will be the major driving force of the story, in others a minor detail of the background. To use another fictional example, think of how the American Prohibition laws of the 1920s would be used differently in a film about Al Capone (the driving force of the story) as opposed to a story simply set in 1920s America (a background detail).

The banner titles of the crossovers and status quos used thus far are as follows:

Civil War
Civil War was the story that started the ball rolling, a major crossover designed to shake-up the too-comfortable environment the writers and editors felt the Marvel Universe had become. Following a disaster in which a team of young superheroes took on a villain too powerful for them and caused the deaths of hundreds of civilians on live television, the government proposes to introduce the Superhuman Registration Act. This law would require superheroes to register their identities with the government, to be trained, licensed and accountable.

Some of the heroes agree with the Act, believing that they have to become accountable to maintain the public trust whilst others see it as an intolerable invasion of their privacy, an attempt to turn them into government stooges. War breaks out between the factions.

The Initiative
The Civil War crossover was followed by The Initiative in which the superhero community was split down the middle. Unregistered heroes worked underground, fighting the good fight despite being branded as outlaws and subject to arrest. Meanwhile, the registered heroes formed the Fifty State Initiative: an attempt to place a properly trained, government sponsored superteam in every state.

Secret Invasion
In various series during The Initiative, hints were dropped of an oncoming threat working against the heroes on both sides. This threat was revealed in the Secret Invasion crossover, though for spoiler reasons I won't reveal what it was. The resolution of the crisis, however, brings the leadership of the Initiative into question leading to the Dark Reign.

Dark Reign
The new leader of the Initiative is Norman Osborn, hero of the Secret Invasion and former head of Colorado's Initiative team the Thunderbolts. Unfortunately for everyone the Thunderbolts are a team of reformed criminals, “reformed” being a relative term in most cases. Osborn himself was once Spider-Man's arch-enemy, the psychopathic murderer known as the Green Goblin. Handed enormous power Osborn proceeds to create a new Initiative based around villains disguised as heroes, building a web of villainous connections across the country.

The heroes, registered and unregistered alike, find themselves on the run in a world controlled by their enemies.

The Dark Reign culminated in The Siege, in which Osborn's villainous Initiative attempts to court public favour by fighting a short victorious war (for those wondering, Marvel has always been in the satire business since they started out in the Sixties).

Their target is the realm of Asgard which, through a complex set of circumstances, is now floating twenty feet above the American mid-west. Only in comics, folks.

The Heroic Age
The most recent phase of Marvel's rolling storylines, The Heroic Age is still gearing up, its larger themes and threats (if any) unrevealed as I write this. There is a feeling to the storyline of returning the heroes to being heroes, of toning down the over-arcing elements that have dominated Marvel's storytelling for the last several years. Its a hopeful time for the heroes but, let's face facts, that sort of feeling can never be relied upon to last...


  1. I look at Secret Invasion as a missed opportunity. It was a mess of a series, with art I did not care for and really changed NOTHING beyond bringing back Mockingbird.

    I think the promise of Civil War was very good (the kick off event was realistic, as was the reaction) but in the end, these events are what have really driven me away from Marvel.

  2. So far, my favorite Marvel event as only been Civil War.

    Also the World War Hulk(s) was quite a mess, where 3 months in nothing really happened or changed (apart from Strange losing his hands...bleh...)

    Isn't there a "Chaos War" now too? I'm not sure what it is about or is going on inside it...but I've seen the original Abomination is back and kicked off the new (Blue) A-Bomb.
    It's like, a new event imediatly takes place after a previous one, back to back, with only a week in-between each time-