Marvel’s brand synergy often takes precedence over innovative storytelling, limiting the ability to take risks in the main Marvel Universe. Imprints have allowed Marvel to explore risky ideas and push creative boundaries in the past, proving to be valuable assets for the company. The future success of Marvel may lie in the revival of imprints, providing a platform for new talent and allowing for the exploration of new concepts and unique storytelling outside of the traditional Marvel Universe.

Marvel is always looking for new ways to innovate and continues to search for creative concepts to explore. But, they aren’t able to take as many risks as perhaps the editorial team would like. Marvel Comics is a globally recognized brand and with the weight of the TV shows and films relying on the ideas of the comic book team, sometimes brand synergy outranks imaginative storytelling. The Marvel landscape is a carefully balanced shared universe, and creators rely on a recognizable status quo to base their own runs on.

So the main Marvel Universe might not be the best place to push forward with risky ideas, even though the company did so on occasion in the past. However, imprints have proven themselves to be valuable assets in this department and could provide the key to future success. While companies like DC Comics are being implored to bring back imprints like Vertigo, perhaps this same discussion should be had concerning Marvel’s upcoming slate. Returning and debuting Marvel imprints allow for freedoms that the brand currently doesn’t have.

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Marvel’s Universe Is Becoming Very Familiar

It’s fair to say that because of the need to return to the status quo, the Marvel Universe is becoming a little too familiar. The current slate is built around a few key characters that will survive into the next few decades, that are bolstered by a revolving door of “flavor of the month” supporting cast members. The Marvel roster is certainly expansive and new heroes are often debuting. However, it’s rare for a narrative or a specific figure to completely break the mold of what’s come before. Indeed, many new sidekicks for example, that are being positioned as the future of the Marvel Universe, are simply replicas of pre-existing heroes. And although Marvel is willing to occasionally play with genres, they rarely push heroes and villains out of their regular paths. It’s all too common to see Blade featured in a horror arc for example, but why doesn’t the character get the chance to star in a rom-com? Sue Storm has been an FF member for so long that maybe it’s time to give her the long-term solo run she deserves. There are countless examples of Marvel continuing as they always have, and this status quo isn’t just about individual characters. Earth-616 is the primary reality these stories are set in, and that rarely changes. The organizations, cities, teams, and structures are always the same with no room for deviation. Imprints can change all that.

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Comic Imprints Have Always Encouraged Innovation

Marvel’s imprints have a long history of allowing its creators to take story-based risks. MAX for example was an adult-orientated line that delivered on modern classics like The Punisher and Alias based on Jessica Jones. But the comic book company has also boasted lines like Icon Comics, an imprint that did help support franchises like Kick-Ass and Kingsman. Epic Comics was unique again in its approach to the industry, featuring original titles like Wild Cards while boosting Marvel characters through runs such as Iron Man: Crash. New worlds, new characters, and new realities helped to build up these imprints, which became famous not because of their shared universes and massive Marvel event-style storytelling but because of the individual arcs that were executed with genuine vision.

Multiple titles from these imprints then went on to influence the main Marvel Universe, demonstrating that the risky ideas that had the space to be explored eventually acted as benefits to Earth-616’s status quo. Plus, some of those comic runs would become massive franchises unto themselves, but Marvel unfortunately failed to hold on to many of those major properties. As the comic book company looks to the future and attempts to decide on its next steps it’s vital that imprints are brought back into that discussion. It’s a great proving ground for new talent and an incredible platform for veterans who want to commit themselves to a limitless passion project. Right now, creators are turning to independent publishers to take advantage of those kinds of opportunities, but to continue to compete Marvel has to step up their game.

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Marvel’s Future Could Be Found In A New Imprint

The future of Marvel could thus genuinely be found in an imprint. A new creator could come in with an espionage idea in mind, featuring a completely unique cast of characters. It might flop, it might be incredibly popular, and it might even be able to find a place in the classic Marvel Universe for years to come thus elevating Earth-616. Perhaps an ongoing writer wants to create a detailed fantasy realm, ignoring Marvel’s history and instead taking inspiration from the wider genre from Tolkien to D&D. If it’s successful it could spawn a new shared universe for Marvel to tell stories in, either crossing it over with Earth-616 via the Multiverse or genuinely attempting to craft a different brand from the ground up. There are so many possibilities that imprints throw up that it seems obvious that there should be further exploration into this publishing initiative.

Ultimately, Marvel’s desire to create new imprints will rely on budget and the size of the audience. The company would be wise to try something completely different, but it’s more likely that if a Marvel imprint was to return, it would be a recognizable name like MAX. After all, existing IPs sell much better when there’s nostalgia attached to them. Marvel can certainly continue on as they are, and the industry will continue to ebb and flow. But in 15 years’ time, the Marvel landscape will probably look much the same as it does now. If there’s ever been time for change it’s in the present. Readers are more open than ever to the industry and are looking for new narratives to get stuck into. The best way for the Disney-owned publisher to distinguish itself from the competition is to back imprints once more. The return of the Ultimate Universe and the company’s willingness to support non-Marvel franchises like Alien, Wild Cards, Predator, Star Wars, and Ultraman could be the first steps to starting that expansion project.

 Marvel Comics has to create new characters and worlds to ensure they don’t become stagnant, and an imprint will provide opportunities to take risks.  Read More