When Marvel announced the launch of the All-New All-Different Marvel Universe, they did so in a surprising way. At New York Special Edition 2015, they revealed that Brian Bendis and David Marquez would be running the ‘flagship title’, Invincible Iron Man. I confess, having travelled to New York expecting some news, simply being told who the team were on a book was something of a disappointment.
From there, Marvel have kept up their focus on Iron Man. Invincible Iron Man #1 released on the first day of New York Comic Con 2015, with Ol’ Shellhead front-and-centre in most promotional material for the All-New All-Different Marvel range. The superb first-issue cover image swept across the Internet, becoming iconic, before becoming mundane.
The first issue did spectacularly well, dominating sales performance for October, bolstered by a wide range of variants. Unfortunately, the second issue’s sales dropped off markedly, and November’s sales showed no improvement. In my review of 2015, I couldn’t help referring to Invincible Iron Man as a “damp squib”.
Ironically enough, it’s taken #5 to persuade me otherwise. In the wake of #5, with the first arc complete and the stage almost set for the entire Bendis / Marquez run, I’m left thinking maybe I’ve been too harsh. It’s entirely possible that Marvel’s strategy has been far more long-term. So here’s Marvel’s strategy:
1. BRING ON A TOP-TALENT TEAM
Although Bendis’ run on Uncanny X-Men and All-New X-Men didn’t perform particularly well sales-wise (much to my disappointment; they were great books), the fact remains that he’s top talent. Bendis was at the forefront of reigniting the Avengers franchise, and countless major arcs – from House of M to Siege – were led by him. Putting Bendis on Invincible Iron Man – accompanied by rising star David Marquez – was a declaration by Marvel that they were serious about this book.
What’s more, before the launch of All-New All-Different Marvel, there were hints that readers were beginning to follow creators rather than heroes, and so bringing in Bendis and Marquez was a smart call.
2. MARY-JANE WATSON – AND OTHER SURPRISING STARS
Fans were shocked when they saw the cover of Invincible Iron Man #4, and learned that Mary-Jane would be joining the book’s cast. It’s no coincidence that she occupies a narrator’s role in #5, and stands on the cover of #6. Marvel clearly expect Mary-Jane to be a major draw for the series.
Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows proved that there’s still a lot of affection for Mary-Jane, but Dan Slott’s plans for Amazing Spider-Man didn’t have a place for her. Bendis spotted an opportunity, jumping at the chance to bring a popular character from another franchise into the pages of Invincible Iron Man.
Mary-Jane isn’t the only one to be borrowed from another franchise in this way. With Fantastic Four over and done with for the present, Bendis has laid claim to none other than Doctor Doom, with a hint that he’s now seeking some sort of personal redemption. Given that Doom’s personal brand has never been stronger – in the yet-to-be-concluded Secret Wars event, he’s taken centre-stage and literally become a god – this is a smart call.
Bendis’ supporting cast are just as varied. From a prospective girlfriend who believes she’s solved genetic mutation (hey, X-Men fans!) to frequent cameos from Doctor Strange and a hint that magic’s causing issues, Bendis has drawn together plots and characters who cross into every corner of the Marvel Universe.
It’s a smart play, but I do have one concern. It’s basically an attempt to make Invincible Iron Man strong purely because the Marvel Universe is strong. Yes, it fulfils Marvel’s mandate of positioning the book at the centre of the All-New All-Different Marvel Universe – but it leaves Invincible Iron Man feeling a little as though it doesn’t stand on its own two feet.
The real question is, will it work? The evidence will be in December’s sales figures, when we see if Mary-Jane’s front-cover appearance reverses Invincible Iron Man’s decline by a notable degree. If not, then Marvel’s strategy for Ol’ Shellhead will be dead in the water.