Marvel's Legacy Problem*

*No, not the virus that was causing the mutants a world of hurt back in the 90s.

There's been a rash of new heroes bearing old names popping up in Marvel Comics. 

This trend seemed to begin with Miles Morales and Kamala Khan, otherwise known as the Ultimate Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel. Morales debuted in Ultimate Fallout #4 in 2011 when Brian Michael Bendis decided to kill Peter Parker, but keep Spider-Man around. Khan debuted in Captain Marvel #14 in 2013, eventually finding her way into her own ongoing. 

It was refreshing to see two young, diverse heroes step forward and take the mantles of Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel, especially with the vacancy attached to the titles: Peter Parker perished fighting the Green Goblin, and the Ultimate Universe needed a Spider-Man, while Carol Danvers ascended to the Captain Marvel moniker, leaving the lesser-sounding Mr. Marvel behind. Both of these scenarios dictated the void be filled, and what better way to do so but with energetic and eager young teens, each representing a minority that had little-to-no representation in the Marvel Universe?

These moves were incredibly well-received, and coupled with the New Hawkeye Kate Bishop co-starring in Matt Fraction & David Aja's Hawkeye title, it seemed like Marvel was actually making incredible strides in the Legacy department. ...and then things started getting a little nuts.

Thor became Jane Foster, Captain America became Sam Wilson, Wolverine died, Bendis brought the original X-Men back from the past – no paradox included! – and the universes were rebuilt as Doom saw fit. Characters were being thrust into roles where they hadn’t been before, and all this without the benefit of having the original characters absent – Odinson was still banging around and Steve Rogers was just old. All that, plus several more inane storylines I won’t go into, have led us to a point where Marvel comics has double-characters without the benefit of death.

Right now, these are the duplicate-named characters in the rebuilt Marvel Universe:

Wolverine (X-23 & Old Man Logan, not even counting adamantium-coated original)

Captain America (Sam Wilson & Steve Rogers)

Thor (Jane Foster & Odinson)

Hulk (Amadeus Cho & Bruce Banner)

Spider-Man (Peter Parker & Miles Morales)

Iron Fist (Danny Rand & potentially Pei)

Iron Man (Tony Stark & Riri Williams…also Dr. Doom, apparently)

Human Torch (Jim Hammond & Johnny Storm)

Nova (Sam Alexander & the returning Richard Rider)

Star Lord (Kitty Pryde & Peter Quill)

Black Panther (T’Challa & his dead-for-now sister Shuri)

Hawkeye (Clint Barton & Kate Bishop)

X-Men (Cyclops, Beast, Angel, & Iceman current and time-displaced)

That, my friends, is a hell of a lot of duplicate characters.

All the goodwill that Marvel seemed to accrue from a couple neat ideas has become a cluttered mess. How can a company take pride in just cranking out new heroes that don’t even get their own names?

And it’s not like death is a workable trope in the MU anymore (unless you’re poor Ben Parker….wait) – people come back from the netherworld so often in these books that it’s a nuisance more than anything else. Did Hawkeye stay dead? Steve Rogers? Will Bruce Banner? Nothing, not even death, can keep these beloved characters from returning (I see Jean Gray coming back and clashing with her teenaged self within the next few years).

Also in effect is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which the publishing side now kowtows to. Marvel/Disney is making BILLIONS off these characters, so we can assume that at some point Tony Stark will be back in the armor in the books, as will Odinson reclaim Mjolnir, as will Banner be the Hulk and Sam Wilson be Falcon, etc etc. Marvel barely tries to hide the fact that the studios lay the tracks for the books, as the films’ influence on the page are pretty damn evident (the evolution of Peter Quill alone is testament to that).

So what’s going on? How does Marvel deal with these duplicate heroes in a world where they barely suffer a hit in the market share? I don’t know. I don’t know how or when they’ll bring Logan back, or Tony Stark, or Richard Rider or anyone else, nor do I know how long all these heroes get to share the same names. It seems like things are getting so complicated that a hard reboot might be in order, or they can just pull a Bendis and completely gloss over established continuity.

I don’t know, but I’m not buying it.