Marvel announced a new line of comics that will be set in Marvel's regular continuity, but accessible to new readers who aren't entrenched in the goings-on in the Marvel Universe. It's the Ultimate line all over again, except...not. The first "Astonishing" titles - Astonishing Spider-Man/Wolverine and Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis - should hit stands this May.
Marvel's VP of Sales and Circulation, David Gabriel, says, "They are firmly set in Marvel continuity but also accessible to new readers. If you're looking for big changes and character developments or a place to start reading if you are new to comics, this is where you come." My question is, if a reader is so unfamiliar with comics that he needs a fresh starting point, how is that same reader supposed to know that the Astonishing titles will serve that purpose? I can't imagine someone going into a shop for the first time and being able to distinguish Astonishing X-Men over Uncanny X-Men or Astonishing Spider-Man over Amazing Spider-Man.
This is what the Ultimate brand was intended for - a fresh start for new readers, free of years worth of backstory. The trouble is the Ultimate Universe created its own convoluted backstories, and now even those titles carry the burden of continuity. The Astonishing line seems confusing -- it's in-continuity, but ignores continuity; it's for brand new readers, but also old fans. Personally, I think monthly comics should be accessible to new readers all the time, but that's how the books were when I grew up reading. Seems like it's becoming more and more of a lost art amongst comic book writers and editors. Newsarama seems slightly baffled by the brand as well, and asks some obvious questions about it here.