In the fall of 2012, following the conclusion of the Avengers vs. X-Men event, Marvel took a new approach to their publishing line. Called Marvel Now, the new initiative saw the entire line-up at Marvel shift, with almost every book being headlined by a new creative team and relaunched with new first issues. It was a brilliant move, one that gave Marvel all of the strengths of a rebranding that DC found with the New 52 in 2011 without completely rebooting the universe.
The idea of Marvel Now has since become an annual fixture at Marvel, with a large number of books either premiering or relaunching in the fall. However, the first three years – every book published between Avengers vs. XMen and 2015’s Secret Wars – existed within their own specific branding, with Marvel adopting a specific look and style for all of the books in their line, both for the individual issues and the eventual trade collections. The fall of 2015 saw a shift to All-New, All-Different Marvel, which saw the entire universe jump forward eight months following the conclusion of Secret Wars.
This year, Marvel is officially bringing back the ‘Now’ branding for the next wave of titles this October. Given how great the creative rejuvenation of Marvel Now has been for the company – and for all of us readers out here – I thought it would be a good time to look back at that original era of Marvel Now and take a look at which runs were the very best.
Also, as a note, you won’t see Mark Waid’s Daredevil run on this list. Though the majority of the issues came out during Marvel Now, his run on the title started well before Marvel Now began. Other than that, take a look below for our picks for the top ten runs of Marvel Now.
10. Uncanny Avengers (W: Rick Remender, A: Daniel Acuna, John Acuna)
Created as a direct result of the fallout from Avengers vs. X-Men, Uncanny Avengers followed the members of the Avengers Unity Squad, a team made up of both human and mutant superheroes. Initially positioned as one of the mainline books of the new line, Uncanny Avengers instead settled into its own groove, telling two major stories over its 25-issue – plus annuals – run.
Remender wrote a great team book exploring human-mutant relations, with his Apocalypse Twins storyline serving as one of the best of the Marvel Now era, bringing creative new takes on both the classic X-Men villain and Kang the Conqueror. The action’s all illustrated well by a number of talented artists, with Daniel Acuna’s work a major highlight.
What keeps this run from reaching higher on the list – as is the case with a few of the lower entries – is that as good as the Apocalypse Twins story is, the same can’t be said of the Red Skull conflict, which never gains much momentum and falls apart completely in the Axis event. Still, the high highs make Uncanny Avengers worthy of its place on the list.
9. Iron Man (W: Kieron Gillen, A: Greg Land, Joe Bennett)
One of the more underrated titles of Marvel Now, Kieron Gillen’s vision of Tony Stark was a solid one, fusing a familiar take on the character with an interstellar setting. The opening arc finds Tony having to recover Extremis from around the world, an adventure that leaves him questioning if he’s going far enough to discover new ways to help humanity. What followed was a year-long trip to the stars that led Tony to the mysterious Recorder 451, a robotic entity that has surprising ties to the Stark family and Tony’s destiny.
Like with Uncanny Avengers, though, the run takes a dip towards the end, with a Mandarin-focused story that starts interesting but branches into weird territory with the arrival of Dark Elf Malekith. The art can also be a bit distracting at times; Greg Land is a great fit for the Iron Man armor and other robotic creations, but his reliance on photo referencing can be a bit distracting in the human and alien faces. Still, for those looking for a star-spanning adventure with a great twist ending, The Secret Origin of Tony Stark is well worth a look.
8.Young Avengers (W: Kieron Gillen, A: Jamie McKelvie)
Gillen and McKelvie did a lot of great things with their brief run on Young Avengers. For one, they assembled a great team of characters, from the devious Kid Loki to the no-nonsense, Miss America. These were heroes that felt like true reflections of the youth of today (technically, three years ago), and watching them grow into an unlikely group of friends was a blast. Also, like previous great teen books, it felt like a great entry point to the Marvel Universe, much like Runaways was a decade ago.
It was also great that Gillen and McKelvie were able to craft a unique look for the book, giving the characters a bright, colorful world to play around in, even as they began bouncing around the universe. The book’s main villain was a bit of dud, but this was a run about the characters, and there’s a reason many are still clamoring to see more of this team – ideally with the same creators.
7. Secret Avengers (W: Nick Spencer, A: Luke Ross, Butch Guice)
Though his work on Superior Foes of Spider-Man and Ant-Man were bigger hits during the Marvel Now era, Nick Spencer’s work on Secret Avengers deserves just as much praise and attention. With a focus on international espionage and the shadier side of S.H.I.E.L.D., is a great reimagining of the Secret Avengers concept, as well as proof that Spencer is the right person to be writing Captain America.
The run is a short one, but it does a lot with the concept of mind-wiped Avengers and the mad science being performed on A.I.M. Island. There are big, crazy elements, but the focus on more grounded superheroes like Black Widow, Mockingbird, and Hawkeye keeps the story relatable. Plus, like Young Avengers, it tells a satisfying, complete story with a unified visual style throughout.
6. Avengers Arena (W: Dennis Hopeless, A: Kev Walker, Alessandro Vitti)
Though it was derided by many as being a Hunger Games rip-off set in the Marvel Universe, Avengers Arena ended up crafting a unique, engaging narrative that took the metaphor of high school being a battlefield and made it literal. The series featured a number of recognizable young heroes like Nico Minoru, Hazmat, and X23, but it also introduced a bunch of great new faces, like the innocent and confused Death Locket and the manipulative Apex.
Yes, the book features the death of several young heroes, but they work to serve the story and don’t occur frequently enough to feel gratuitous. The art, meanwhile, is a perfect fit, capturing the intimate character moments and big action with equal skill. The storyline was cut short in the cancelled sequel series Avengers Undercover, but the original run remains a highlight.
5. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (W: Ryan North, A: Erica Henderson)
Proof that any character can be great given the right tone, direction, and creative team, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl gives Doreen Green the book she’s always deserved. Easily one of the funniest books coming out of the Big Two, Squirrel Girl is a goofy gut-buster of a title, one that’s fleshed out Doreen’s world with even crazier characters like Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi.
Humor, though, can be the basis for some of the best, most relatable characters. The bonds of friendship that have grown between Doreen, her roommate Nancy, and her fellow bizarrely themed heroes are the heart of the book. Squirrel Girl’s adventures may be wacky, but she remains one of the most sincere and lovable heroes in Marvel’s lineup.
4. Captain Marvel (W: Kelly Sue DeConnick, A: Dexter Soy, Emma Rios, etc.)
Alright, this one is technically a bit of a cheat – the first issue dropped just before the official launch of Marvel Now – but I think there’s enough wiggle room to make an exception. Put simply, what Kelly Sue DeConnick did for Carol Danvers was transformative. Not only did she allow the character to finally rise to a much-deserved position of prominence within the Marvel Universe, she helped shape an amazing, involved fan base with the real-world Carol Corps.
More importantly, this was just a stellar book in both runs, offering great action and adventures of both the terrestrial and interstellar variety. Plus, like the best solo books, DeConnick gave Carol a great supporting cast, fleshing out and expanding her life both in and out of costume. Though DeConnick is no longer with the character, her influence on the book will be felt for years to come.
3. Ms. Marvel (W: G. Willow Wilson, A: Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa)
Creating a new character is easy; creating one that breaks out in a genre dominated by decades-old icons and becomes the go-to hero of a new generation of comic readers? That’s practically unheard of, and that feat alone would be enough to secure Kamala Khan a place on this list. However, Ms. Marvel creators G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona have accomplished all that and so much more, from providing much-needed representation for Muslims in comics to truly capturing the experience of being a young girl in the modern world. But again, just like Captain Marvel, what’s great about Ms. Marvel is that it’s earned all the praise and adulation by telling fantastic stories about an amazing character. Kamala’s sheer enthusiasm for being a superhero is infectious, and it’s impossible not to root for her and want to see what adventure she goes on next. Like Ryan North on Squirrel Girl, G. Willow Wilson has remained on Ms. Marvel post-Secret Wars, and she’ll hopefully keep writing the character for years to come.
2. The Superior Spider-Man (W: Dan Slott, A: Ryan Stegman, Giuseppe Camuncoli)
While Dan Slott had already been writing Spider-Man for years before Marvel Now, The Superior SpiderMan rebrand is pretty much the perfect embodiment of what the relaunch was all about. A complete reinvention of the franchise, the series saw Dr. Octopus take over Peter Parker’s body and become Spider-Man. Due to Peter’s influence, however, Otto decides to prove himself a better hero than the original Spider-Man ever was.
Though a controversial twist early on, Superior Spider-Man ended up being the best thing to happen to the franchise in years, delivering an unpredictable, chaotic storyline that left readers unsure where Otto’s journey was going to take him next. Sure, the status quo was restored just in time for the release of the next Spider-Man movie, but what we got before that was a fantastic journey of self-improvement and redemption for one of Spider-Man’s greatest foes.
1. Avengers & New Avengers (W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Jerome Opena, Esad Ribic, etc.)
There’s one story that truly defines the Marvel Now era, a massive, overarching epic that ran from the rebranding’s beginning and served as the main focus of the era’s final event, Secret Wars. That story was architected by writer Jonathan Hickman across three years and two Avengers titles, and ended up as not only as one of the best things to come out of Marvel Now, but the entire history of Marvel Comics.
Mr. Fantastic declaring that everything dies; Captain America and Iron Man seeking to make Earth a true Avengers World; Namor’s dark turn in the face of an unstoppable Incursion: Hickman’s writing features a constant stream of jaw-dropping moments, character turns, and twists. From large, cosmic developments to smaller character beats across a cast pulled from the entire Marvel multiverse, Hickman’s Avengers epic is a masterpiece, one that every Marvel zombie should dig into.
And that’s our list! What say you, readers? Any greats we left off the list? Let us know your favorites from the Marvel Now era in the comments!