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Marvel's Killing Spree: Changing the Guard...For Now

BY MATT TUCK

Big changes are coming to Marvel this year. From a new Venom to the deaths of Scarlet Witch, Doctor Strange, and possibly Peter Parker, the giant of the industry is shaking things up at the House of Ideas. What could it all mean?

 

TURN AND FACE THE STRANGE

It’s a time of turnover at Marvel, to say the least. Eddie Brock is no longer Venom, Magneto may or may not have killed Scarlet Witch, Doctor Strange’s murder will be the center of a mystery in September, and there are hints that Spider-Man is on the chopping block. 

Marvel and DC certainly like to spark comic sales with a good “Death of” storyline. At this point in both the Marvel and DC Universes, practically everyone who’s anyone has been written out of the script at one time or another. It’s a shorter list to find the characters that haven’t died as opposed to those who have. 

By and large, it is a cheap parlor trick to coax readers into buying comics. When a superstar character is slated to die, it generates mainstream media attention - especially in the age of the MCU - and drives the market. Once the big moment occurs, fans come back to see who will fill the shoes, so it’s a can’t-miss strategy that promises sellouts for months. 

The curious part with these four deaths/changes (since neither Venom nor Eddie Brock are dead) is that all the characters are major players in film franchises. Scarlet Witch is more popular than ever after WandaVision; Let There Be Carnage is premiering in late September followed by Spider-Man: No Way Home in December, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is scheduled for March 2022.

What could it all mean? Let’s break down the evidence.

VENOM

The great Marvel turnover began with everyone’s favorite symbiote. As Donny Cates’ run on the title came to an end, Venom #35 (or #200, whichever you prefer) saw the toll the character’s battles had taken on him. After defeating Knull and becoming God of the Symbiotes, Eddie Brock is advanced in age and maturity. His body is not what it used to be, as he needs a cane to help him walk. Not only is he not physically able to swing across town anymore, but his responsibilities as God of the Symbiotes doesn’t give him time to be a crime fighter. Thus, Eddie sets the stage for the Venom symbiote to bond with his teenage son, Dylan. The two then form the newest Venom.

For whatever reason, Marvel has wanted to get the symbiote off Eddie for decades. From the late 1990s and well into the 2000s, Marvel’s creative team has played hot potato with the symbiote. One after another, the editors used the symbiote like Cinderella's glass slipper, trying it on several characters to see where it might fit. Marvel tried it on Angelo Fortunato, Scorpion, Flash Thompson, Superior Spider-Man, and Lee Price, but no one could fit that particular shoe. No matter who donned the sentient costume, fans wanted it back on Eddie. 

Just before Cates produced the first truly compelling Venom solo run, Marvel gave in and put the symbiote back where it belonged - with Eddie. It was all just a lengthy sendoff, and the final issue in the Cates era proved that the idea was to put Venom with Dylan all along. 

Why would they do this? Venom 2 is on the horizon, and Eddie Brock is returning for the starring role. If we see a teenage Dylan appear in that film, then we will have our answer. 

Going back to the Marvel NOW! initiative, the publisher has strived to appeal to a different demographic of readers. Around that time, the editorial team replaced several staple characters, like the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and Wolverine. For a time, Thor became Lady Thor when Jane Foster lifted the hammer, and that is about to transpire in the MCU with Thor: Love and Thunder. Earlier this year, Marvel Studios followed the comics and put Captain America’s shield in the hands of Sam Wilson during The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

It didn’t stop there. Hulk stopped being angry and middle-aged when Bruce Banner was replaced by the teenaged Amadeus Cho as the Totally Awesome Hulk. Marvel went all-in for the Totally Awesome Hulk when Hawkeye killed Bruce Banner with a gamma-headed arrow. He would later return as the Immortal Hulk much to fans’ pleasure. 

Marvel is still grappling with replacing Logan as Wolverine. Laura Kinney, aka Logan’s clone, X-23, is being pushed as the premiere Wolverine in the newest volume of X-Men. We will see who gets the call as Wolverine in the MCU, but my money is on Laura at some point.

Marvel clearly wants to be more inclusive and appeal to younger audiences, both of which are understandable. When it comes to Venom, Cates delivered what fans wanted: an epic narrative starring Eddie Brock. With Eddie’s role change, it opened the door for Marvel to introduce a young, fresh Venom who, for the first time, is a teenager. That could be the play here as well in the movies as Sony could be aiming to go with a younger version of the character in the future.

SCARLET WITCH

Only two weeks ago, X-Factor #10 brought the X-Men’s Hellfire Gala to a close as it moved toward the next crossover, “The Trial of Magneto.” What’s he being tried for? Why, the murder of Scarlet Witch.

In the twist ending for X-Factor #10, Tommy stumbled across the body of his mother, who appeared to have been murdered. That immediately led to suspicions that Magneto had killed his daughter, thus we have his coming trial.

While Venom and Spider-Man’s changes could signal an overhaul in their cinematic universes, the Scarlet Witch is a different story. Wanda Maximoff truly became a star of the MCU and proved her ability to carry a franchise with WandaVision. The series firmly established her character’s rise from a superhero rookie learning her powers to the full-fledged Scarlet Witch. There’s no way Marvel Studios is looking to recast her part anytime soon, so that is out of the question.

Comic deaths mean very little, and that is why fair market value for “death” issues don’t carry much weight. This goes double for the current world of the X-Men. Under the Jonathan Hickman era, it became canon that the mutants of Professor X’s island nation, Krakoa, could not die. Using a combination of powers, the Prof transfers a dying mutant’s mind into a freshly cloned body, and it’s like nothing ever happened.

Since this occurred in the X-Men’s corner of the Marvel-616, that means Scarlet Witch truly did die in that shocking conclusion of the Hellfire Gala. However, it also means she will be back to full power very quickly without her missing a beat in either the X-Men or any other titles that feature her. It’s basically a way to kill an important character without there being any true repercussions aside from whatever the writers need to manufacture for Magneto to stand trial.

DOCTOR STRANGE

Marvel has been very clear: Doctor Strange is going to die. After all, the company is kicking off “The Death of Doctor Strange” in September. 

Considering this is the Sorcerer Supreme (he’s like a regular sorcerer, but he comes with a side of sour cream, I think) and the Master of the Mystic Arts, it is hard to imagine death having much of a consequence for the good doctor. Anyone who can project his spirit to the Astral Plane, that kind of sounds like he is pretty familiar with death already.

Like Venom, Marvel has tried to swap the Sorcerer Supreme title for years. For a time, Doctor Strange surrendered it to Brother Voodoo. In 2018, it was handed to Loki. Most recently, Carol Danvers has been written as magical, and fans have suspected she would ascend to Sorcerer Supreme. Don’t forget that even Tony Stark from the year 2099 was crowned Sorcerer Supreme, so it’s not like Marvel hasn’t wanted to slide another character into Doctor Strange’s spot for quite some time. 

The difference this time is that Marvel has never killed the Earth-616 Doctor Strange, and the timing seems awkward since Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is due to premiere in theaters next year. My guess is that “The Death of Doctor Strange” will be a case of a misleading title. 

Remember “Wolverine Goes to Hell?” Yes, Logan finally died in that comic, and his body was possessed by a demon while Wolverine fought his way through Hell. In the end, Wolverine returned to the world of the living, only to die again in the massively underwhelming “The Death of Wolverine.” Three years ago, they did the same trick with “The Death of the Mighty Thor,” which was not exactly Thor’s death in the end, either. 

Marvel’s “The Death of…” label is less about a character dying, or at least staying dead, and more signals a changing of the status quo. Since Brother Voodoo is reportedly being introduced to the MCU via Multiverse of Madness, this all could connect to Voodoo being once again christened as the Sorcerer Supreme. With Loki confirmed for the movie as well as the second season of his series in the works, this could be the moment that the God of Mischief returns to the title.

Doctor Strange will likely “die,” but only for a brief time. He will still be part of the story, probably in his Astral form. Since his title deals with magic and the Multiverse, having a spiritual adventure could be entertaining. Eventually, he will return in full force, but someone else will be the Sorcerer Supreme until Marvel decides otherwise. 

SPIDER-MAN

I covered this topic in detail a couple weeks ago, but there is just so much to unpack. Again, the question is all about timing. Why would Marvel even consider replacing one of its featured stars of the MCU, especially on the verge of Spider-Man: No Way Home? It may all come down to marketing and Kevin Feige looking at the big picture on the screen.

This all started with the reports that Spidey’s old clone, Ben Reilly, would be coming out of comic book retirement to take up the Friendly Neighborhood mantle one more time. He did this back in the 1990s, and Marvel is very much on a kick with rehashing old story arcs. While the Clone Spider-Man/Scarlet Spider earned a modest following in the process, the idea simply didn’t catch on. So, in classic comic book fashion, the original version 1.0 stepped back into the famous spandex to the joy of a relieved audience. Was this the plan all along? Who knows, but it certainly boosted Amazing Spider-Man sales.

Starting in October, Ben will once more become the face of the Spider-Man franchise. Meanwhile, it appears that Peter could be on death’s door or at least so injured that he can no longer web sling. That is all based on art posted by Patrick Gleason as he teased the debut of the upcoming “Spider-Man Beyond” that will kick off the new creative team behind ASM. 

There could be a bigger picture at work here centered around Miles Morales. I highly doubt the plan is for Ben to be the premiere Spider-Man for the foreseeable future. It didn’t work the first time, and it won’t be anymore popular the second time. Instead, I predict he is a placeholder for Spider-Miles to slide into the spot, for better or worse.

Audiences have already met Miles in Into the Spider-Verse and Playstation’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. His key issues have ballooned to once-unimaginable prices as a result. The only logical next step is to have Miles swing into live-action. Putting him firmly in the MCU and planting him as the one, true Spider-Man for the Marvel 616 would pave the way for him to lead the film franchise going forward as well.

Of course, there is a rumor of Miles having been cast and on set for No Way Home, but Marvel has not indicated anything of the sort. However, that doesn’t mean that Feige and company don’t have a surprise up their collective sleeve. There was a Miles allusion in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and he is younger than Peter in the comics, so No Way Home would make for the perfect moment to see Miles on the big screen. 

HOW CAN I MISS YOU IF YOU WON’T GO AWAY?

Don’t fret too much for the losses of your favorite characters; they’re just taking a break.

Certainly, superstar “deaths” are merely a market tool and oftentimes a plot device. It’s the “New Coke versus Coca-Cola Classic” situation. Introduce the “all-new, all-different” flavor with the idea that it will fail, making consumers crave the original that much more. Even when a replacement is well received, such as Bucky Barnes as Captain America, there is almost always a return to the original hero. It sparks a new round of excitement for the triumphant return just when things are bleak. 

Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.



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