***Some spoilers for Marvel Legacy.***
Unsurprisingly, Marvel Legacy is a solid book. It’s pretty to look at, and Jason Aaron is a talented writer. Legacy teases some interesting new directions for Marvel, promising to honor the legacy of the Marvel Universe without undermining the newer characters.
It’s hampered a little by the shadow of DC’s Rebirth one-shot, which delivered more story and more text in a book that was half the price of Legacy. As I read Legacy for the first time, I couldn’t help thinking that it felt a little thinner than Rebirth, that it isn’t just shorter and more expensive than Rebirth, but that it spreads its story more thinly than Rebirth does. (Of course, it might have felt this way to me because I know the history of the Marvel Universe much better than I do the history of the DC Universe. Rebirth feels dense to me in part because it deals with history and a few characters that I don’t know that well.)
No, it’s not unfair to compare the two books because . . . well, they’re very similar to each other. Each is an over-sized one-shot that is meant to close a dark chapter of its publisher’s history and lead the way to a more hopeful one. Each is narrated by someone who has been absent from its universe for a while. Each follows multiple story threads, teasing new paths for some characters and a return to old paths for others.
But ultimately I’m not bothered too much by the similarities to Rebirth because Legacy distinguishes itself by it’s kairos––in other words, by the timeliness of its theme. In Legacy, Aaron clearly has in mind the debates in recent years about diversity in Marvel Comics. On the one hand, many fans want more diversity in the MU. On the other hand, many people rightly point out that the MU was already remarkably diverse, and some believe that efforts to increase diversity have damaged the legacy of some of Marvel’s beloved characters. Aaron deals with those debates in-story by having the characters themselves––from both the new and old generations––deal with the weight of legacy in their own lives.
But Legacy isn’t merely self-reflective. Like any good work of art, it imitates life. It points to something beyond itself. The heaviness of the MU’s legacy that weighs down on the characters of the book turns out to have deep resonance with the world that readers live in. Just as Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers struggle in their own ways to understand their place in the history of Captain America and Riri Williams has to find her way out of the shadow of Iron Man, Americans have been struggling more than ever to reconcile the changes that we’ve undergone as a society with the legacy of our forebears.
The problem of finding one’s place within a well-established society also weighs heavily on the narrator herself. She looks back at the history of the Marvel Universe and wonders how much of it she has a responsibility to honor.
Reading the narrator’s reflection on the legacy that she carries, it’s hard not to think of recent debates about the NFL, Confederate memorials, the heritage of the South and of America more generally, and patriotism. How much blame do we lay at the feet not only of people like Robert E. Lee, but perhaps more troublingly at the feet of people like Thomas Jefferson? Is it possible to be proud of the great good that America is and has been while also taking seriously the evils that have been committed in her name?
At one point in Legacy, Jarvis stands staring at the statue of the founding Avengers on the lawn of Avengers Mansion, and he looks at it almost as if he’s seeing it for the first time (he doesn’t seem to realize it, but there is an important change to the statue). Americans, too, have been recently gazing at statues as if seeing them for the first time and wondering what relationship those memorials (many of them over a century old) have to us today.
Legacy lays a groundwork that good creators could use to build compelling stories that honor the heritage of the Marvel Universe while also allowing new characters a space in which to live and breathe and build upon that heritage. Here’s hoping that Marvel makes good use of that groundwork.