Building a legacy is a long, tedious process that usually involves twice as many mistakes than it does successes. In some cases, a half-century of world-building is hardly enough to forge the kind of legacy that stands the test of time, changing writers, and retcons. For Marvel and the extensive world that continues to unfold after over 50 years of continuity, it’s safe to say that its legacy has proven its worth. The world that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created decades ago is worth an entire workshop of Mjölnirs.
The legacy of the Marvel universe is often in flux with the times. There are all sorts of eras that vacillate from grim and dark to upbeat and optimistic. Events like Onslaught, Age of Apocalypse, and Civil War define and redefine what the world of Marvel stands for. Sometimes it takes years to appreciate the way in which these events shaped Marvel’s legacy. That will likely be the case with Marvel’s latest legacy-shaping event, Secret Empire.
Being an event so controversial, coming at a time when all things related to fascism inspire Hulk-level outrage, the current legacy of Marvel is in a tenuous position. It’s at one of those forks where it can either go down a dark, dire path or re-invent itself in a new, more positive light. These are uncertain times for Marvel and Marvel Legacy #1 is in a position to shape a new path, provide a sense of certainty, and showcase the strengths of top-level writing and artistic talent.
Jason Aaron, one of Marvel’s top writers, and an all-star team of artists that include Esad Ribic, Russell Dauterman, Stuart Immonen, Ed McGuinness, and many more, have a chance to use Marvel Legacy #1 as a gateway towards the future of the Marvel universe. With so much talent to work with, the scope and scale of the story can be nothing short of awe-inspiring. While that bar may be impossibly high, Aaron and his all-star cast of artists come very close to matching and exciting it.
The structure of Marvel Legacy #1 is both fitting and overdue in that it revisits elements from Secret Wars that have been absent for years, namely those of the Richards family. In a sense, their presence acts as a reminder regarding what the greater Marvel universe is missing. To date, Marvel operates in a world where the Fantastic Four are no more, Thor is unworthy, the X-men’s leadership is dead or time-displaced, and Steve Rogers is a secret Hydra agent. To say that legacy is on shaky ground is like saying the Hulk is moody.
Aaron doesn’t try to fix all that in the span of a single issue. However, the story in Marvel Legacy #1 does establish links to the past, present, and future. It doesn’t just provide hope that the missing elements of Marvel’s legacy will return. It provides a potential mechanism. It doesn’t just offer promises. It offers solutions that don’t involve time machines, retcons, or deals with Mephisto.
The links to the past offer the most intriguing and complete part of the plot in that it establishes a period in the history of the Marvel universe that has major implications for the present. It takes familiar faces and forces like the Phoenix Force, the Iron Fist, and the spirit of the Black Panther and personifies them in a battle against a Celestial. That added personality gives greater weight to the events that unfold in the present.
Those events are a little less cohesive, though. Marvel Legacy #1 is understandably ambitious, attempting to jump around into multiple areas and explore a wide variety of elements throughout the greater Marvel universe. It touches on the Avengers, the X-men, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the remaining members of the Fantastic Four. It even tries to deal with the lingering aftermath of Secret Empire, from Steve Rogers’ efforts to rebuild his credibility to the disillusion of SHIELD. There are so many elements to explore that the narrative gets downright erratic at times.
There’s only so much Marvel Legacy #1 can address, but it manages to avoid Deadpool-level eccentricity. While the transitions from setting to setting aren’t all that seamless, they never feel totally random or out-of-place. If anything, they feel like a succession of teaser trailers that offer glimpses into the near and distant future of the Marvel universe. Some are more subtle than others. Others, namely the ones involving Norman Osborn and Loki, offer a more overt hint. Certain characters, despite being actual gods, just aren’t capable of such subtlety.
Beyond just the teaser elements, though, Marvel Legacy #1 adds some significant upheavals to the mix, namely by revealing the return of a certain grumpy Canadian that helped make Hugh Jackman a star. His appearance comes off as sudden, but it also comes with purpose, like part of a larger story that’s just beginning to unfold. In many respects, that’s the core theme of the entire story. It doesn’t just lay the foundation. It provides some very specific, very compelling building materials.
That’s not to say every element is equally compelling. Some are underdeveloped and overlooked. Some aren’t effectively linked to the larger narrative, but they still have a place in the greater legacy of Marvel so their presence never seems too random. That, in many respects, is the most revealing accomplishment of Marvel Legacy #1. It crafts a story in which everything is connected on some level. While some connections are stronger than others, it still conveys the sense that Marvel has a vision and that vision is worth exploring.
While the Marvel universe seems to get redefined at least once a month, it’s rare for a story to feel as large in scope as it’s trying to be. Marvel Legacy #1 succeeds in conveying that feeling. From those disillusioned by Marvel’s recent direction and enamored by its past, it offers something to latch onto. The fact it does all that without a time machine, clones, or magic spells makes it all the more astounding.