Vincent S. Moore Presents:
I Was (And Still Am?) A Near Middle Age Marvel Zombie
Welcome back to the Omnium Gatherum for 2008.
It was a longer vacation than I thought it would be, but the Comics Waiting Room and I have returned, tanned, rested, and ready for anything.
As you readers have seen, CWR has undergone some changes, in look and in content. To reflect those changes, Omnium Gatherum will start experimenting with a new format. I will still spend the bulk of each column discussing a particular topic--maybe some issue in the realms of pop culture, maybe some personal musings--but I will also do some quick reviews of books and music, as well as talk about politics, and kick up some dust by pointing out issues I feel are cases of people turning molehills into mountains and then dragging Mohammed to them. All of that in the weeks to come.
But for now, on with the show.
When I was 8 years old (man, that was 31 years ago; wow), I saw my first comic. I mean, I had seen comics before. But this was my first comic, the first one I would buy and read. It was Fantastic Four #176 with a crazy Jack Kirby cover featuring the Impossible Man and with George Perez and Joe Sinnott doing the interior art. My mother bought it for me while we waited for her to be served at a no longer in existence department store’s customer service window. She bought it for me at my great insistence, as if my entire life depended upon my having this one comic far more than any others. She bought this simple collection of 32 pages of newsprint for her beloved baby boy, no knowing then she was buying me one of my first loves.
For I did fall in love that day.
In love with a world not outside my window but beyond the horizon painted in four colors.
I fell in love that day with the Fantastic Four and later on, with other Marvel Comics and then DC Comics and then superheroes in general.
But that issue of the FF, that number 176, was my first.
Now, as I look at the wall covered in white boxes behind me, I wonder if my mother did the right thing after all. Because the love she helped me to fall into hasn’t always been good to me or to my fellow fans it appears.
It’s a love that has hurt us many times. Wounded us. Stomped on us. Yet, we still go crawling back to our hurtful love, on our hands and knees, with our dollars in our hands like sex starved men and women at the Spearmint Rhino or Chippendale’s, ready to hand our offerings over for just one more glimpse of the paradise held between thighs and behind cold eyes.
In other words, yes, I do wonder why do I along with so many other fans continue to buy and read Marvel Comics. Especially given the ways the company has gone since Joe Quesada became editor in chief.
Why do we still do it?
What brings us back for more and more punishment (a seemingly endless river of punishment, these days) each and every week?
In returning to part time comics retail, I found myself struggling with that very question all the more and have some but definitely not all the answers.
One is love, of course. Love of those Marvel characters. Oh sure, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are icons, heroes born in the early days of superhero comics that still loom large on the landscape of comics in general. But those willfully wacky and weird characters that came from the minds of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and the many other creative voices from the early decade or so of Marvel Comics speak to different parts of our minds. Stan’s basic idea that super powers don’t necessarily rid a person of “normal” daily life problems was innovative during the 1960s. That, combined with Kirby’s larger than life sensibilities and belief that the impossible could lie around any and every corner and Ditko’s Objectivist viewpoint of a humanity led by its best and brightest despite itself, gave superhero comics readers something they had never experienced before: more “realistic” characters.
Characters the readers could love.
Peter Parker a/k/a Spiderman was that nerdy kid in your class that no one paid much attention. (Okay, okay, maybe many of us were Peter Parker in our daily lives.) The Fantastic Four was like being stuck with those crazy relatives of yours on a never-ending holiday trip. The X-Men was that gang, that gathering of friends you put together in high school, the anti-clique clique, that sense of a family you could call your own. The Hulk was how you felt on the inside and what you daydreamed about when those “stupid” people in your life pissed you the hell off. Characters such as these endeared themselves to us because, besides their powers, they were like us in ways that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were not.
No wonder we fell in love with them.
Another reason is habit. After all, comics are habitual entertainment. Most of us comics readers go to our local comics shop once a week, once every two weeks, once a month, to buy our stash. Many of us out there have logged in years worth of reading Marvel Comics. I had one customer mention how he’s been reading Marvel’s books for nearly 40 years; that is nearly all of his life. It’s a habit and as we all know, habits are hard to break.
In talking about habits, one can’t avoid using drug metaphors for long. After all, when talking about habits, we can argue we are talking about bad ones and not good ones, ones in need of breaking. So in this context, we can talk about buying Marvel’s books as a habit akin to an addiction. Like addicts, many of us go to the comics shop week after week, buying books out of ritual and habit, complaining at times but still trying to get back that cherry high, that first rush of how it felt to read a Spidey or FF book that first time. I know I’ve been guilty of it. How about you?
Or maybe, if we add love into the mix, we can say we have a fatal attraction to these characters. That we just can’t quit them for some unknown reason.
Another reason we still pick up these books are a love (there’s that word again) of stories featuring people with fantastic powers, having larger than life adventures, living by high ideals. Definitely not the world outside our windows these days. But, even knowing about the consequences of violence, would not some of us want to live in that world where a dose of radiation might just make you better than you were or where a suit of new age armor would make you a new age knight or knight-ess? A place where science fiction and fantasy, horror and mystery and soap opera, can fuse just as often as they clash? Where else, in the world of fiction and multimedia, can we get that?
Because of love and of habitual behavior, we invest our time, money, and just plain mind space into these characters. These books, these Marvel Comics, occupy large chunks of our lives. Whether it be space in our homes or ideas on our minds, the Marvel World occupies considerable real estate in our lives. If we’ve been buying the books for this long--five, ten, fifteen, twenty, forty or more years--maybe we can buy them a little while longer.
After all, we love them, right?
Yet, more so than with love or with habit, this idea of investment is where the trouble begins.
Unlike buying a stock, this sort of investment is not ownership. It is support, yes. But not ownership. As much as we feel that these characters are so much a part of our lives and times, we do not own them. They--Spiderman, the X-Men, the Avengers--are not ours. They are owned by those who own Marvel Comics itself. That is a fact we as fans cannot escape nor can we deny it.
However, it is our love that allows us to deny this.
This is how the whole fan-as-victim vibe began and continues.
And it does no one any good at all.
I mean, to put it as indelicately as I can, if you act like a crack ho, you will get treated like a crack ho. If you whine and moan but still go back for more, you deserve what you get. We deserve what we get. No matter what. That is a simple fact of life. Victims get victimized for as long as they consider themselves to be victims, to not be the actors in their own lives. As superhero comics fans, as long as we continue to buy Marvel Comics each and every month--particularly the ones produced by the current powers that be--then we will continue to be victimized and to see the characters we love be treated the very way they are being treated today. At the very least, let’s start to own that fact, shall we?
For if we do not, then we Marvel Comics readers will continue to deal with the frustration we feel over the current state of the books made by them. And isn’t that the definition of insanity? Expecting that someway, somehow, this week’s Marvel books will be better, will be like those we grew up loving? This is what happens now with every new Marvel title bought by us fans each and every week.
This is how our love turns into our frustration.
Frustration with these so-called realistic superheroes. A realism that is really more like cynicism, distrusting the very idea of people who can and do live by higher ideals. A realism that squashes the very idea of larger than life stories. A realism that renders heroism into a commodity to be bought and sold, legislated and regulated. A realism that believes that power can only corrupt and nothing else. A realism applied to a world and beings fantastic.
And our frustration grows.
Frustration over talking heads superhero comics. Where the characters we love spend the bulk of their time sitting around and flapping about their lives. An activity we surely partake of ourselves, so why should we read about it as entertainment? Except where is the drama, where is the conflict? All there is… is talk, talk, talk.
And our frustration grows.
Frustration with attempting to read vaguely cinematic storytelling and trade paperback oriented story arcs. Except, as seeming no one has bothered to point out, comics are not movies. After all, movies move; long scenes of characters talking are alive on the big screen through the magic of film. Meanwhile, comics are read more like prose. What works on film doesn’t work as well on the printed page. Long sequences of dialogue on stage or on film excite because of the power of the actors’ voices, giving life to the words being said; long sequences of dialogue in comics, especially if the dialogue tries too hard to imitate actual conversation, lays there like a lazy bum not working and bogs down the reading experience just as sugar in the gas tank does. And I am not knocking the existence of the trade. But in skewing the writing solely towards these collections, everyone involved seems to have forgotten the serial nature of superhero comics. That each issue has the task of being nearly complete unto itself as well as being part of a larger whole. It worked for Dickens and others. Why can’t the writers and editors at Marvel get it to work for them?
And our frustration grows.
Frustration with editorially driven books, a necessary evil of corporately owned characters. However, simply being an editor does not mean they know fully well what is best story-wise. It can’t be, given how very much like poorly written fan fiction the current Marvel titles read. The days of such knowledgeable writer/editors like Archie Goodwin and Denny O’Neil are long gone at Marvel. And it is noticeable. For now, we faithful Marvel readers are drowning in fan fiction written large and somehow made legitimate.
And our frustration grows and grows.
And our love turns to hate and anger and we lash out at those who are the source of our frustration. We lash out with all the strength of a drug addict, flailing feebly and uncontrollably and ultimately ineffectively, at Marvel.
Some of us may actually quit the habit, turn their backs on the love.
What of us that don’t? That can’t?
Would I, or any of us, rather simply read about these characters we love as they are done badly than not at all?
The answer appears to be yes.
Besides, what are our alternatives truly?
Switching to manga? Well, I’ve tried that. I say this as someone who has been into manga for 20 years, not as someone who wants to knock the “new” kid on the block or take away from something the young’uns like because I don’t understands it the way they do. I do understand manga and I do like a number of manga titles. Books like Bleach and Negima, shonen mangas that are full of fights and action, triumphs and tragedies, just like the superhero comics. I read them and enjoy them. But--and y’all knew a ‘but’ was coming--these fight mangas don’t quite push the same buttons for me as superheroes do.
The struggles of Ichigo in Bleach don’t resonate with me the same way those of Peter Parker did. The lessons learned by Negi Springfield don’t impress me the same way the discoveries and inventions of Reed Richards did. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s the cultural gap. Maybe it is simply because fight mangas and superheroes are not the same.
There is something else to consider.
Recently, an argument has been made about how fight mangas are in some ways better than superheroes. That the shonen heroes struggle more, struggle harder, struggle to a point. All of this is true. All of this is also true of many Marvel superheroes. At least at one point in time it was. Spiderman struggled to manage power with responsibility. The Fantastic Four banded together to use their powers for the betterment of mankind. The X-Men fought for Professor Xavier’s dream of a world where mutants and humans could live in peace and against all evil mutants who would subjugate humanity. Nearly all of the heroes originated in the early days of Marvel and many more of the later additions had central operating premises. If anything can be said about the last decade’s worth of writing, it is that these driving goals have been forgotten, that the stories generated by such ideas are untold simply because the writers and editors are not trying.
Unlike the heroes of manga.
Besides, the very success of manga on the international scene may be part of the problem with Marvel. In some ways, editors at Marvel may be trying to imitate manga’s more visually oriented storytelling styles, greater development of character interaction, and more relaxed pacing. Marvel may be imitating these things and doing it badly.
So, manga isn’t the answer.
Perhaps just growing up is.
Growing up and reading so-called comics for grown ups. The non-superhero titles. I do read a number of such books. Titles like Love and Rockets, PvP, Scalped, Fables, The Sword, The Game Keeper, Iron and the Maiden, and many, many others. And I am satisfied with what I read. Still there is this itch these books can’t scratch. Also, not counting the fantasy based titles, there is only so much reading about other people’s “real” lives I want to do. I already feel all this does is reinforce today’s culture of mediocrity and I don’t want to participate in that movement.
Re-read the older Marvels?
As in buying the Essential volumes of series I once loved, if not digging out my already bought back issues. Going that route, I could re-experience those first feelings, that initial rush, I found in the early days of reading the heroes I love.
Could I do this?
No, because it would be living in the past, it would be that sad reliving of the glory days washed up, failed jocks to at the sports bar on Saturday nights.
And isn’t it the nature of Marvel to be true to its name? To lead its readers into the new and the novel? Stan Lee and many of his successors did it. Why can’t Joe Q?
So, where else can I go for my thrills?
There’s always video games.
More active and interactive, more visceral than comics, capable of taking me places the superheroes can go. And there are some really nice superhero games out there. Even though I do play a small number of games--mostly superhero ones--they don’t stimulate my imagination and curiosity the same way the comics do and did. God of War didn’t stimulate my interest in mythology, Thor did. Halo didn’t stimulate my love of science and science fiction, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men did. Again, close but no cigar.
There’s always book books.
Oh, I already do plenty of that too. It might be said I read too much, across too many genres. Superhero comics led me to reading. A few of my favorite writers would be unknown to me if not for the mention of their names by Marvel writers like Chris Claremont. Still, I have the same problem with books that I do with manga: the buttons pushed by superheroes are not pushed by other forms of reading.
And don’t get me started on movies. The problems I see with Marvel are related to the problems of Hollywood. And quite honestly, I think much better movies are made in Porn Valley than in Hollywood anyway. At least those companies haven’t forgotten who their audience is and how best to provide stories for them.
So, what do I do? What do any of us Marvel fans do?
If we do anything, we do nothing. We resign ourselves to our fate as victims and as fans.
Then again, there is something I haven’t thought of, something that may be in the backs of the minds of many Marvel fans.
So, why do I, like so many other fans, continue to buy and read Marvel Comics?
For the reasons stated above, naturally.
Also, because we have hope.
Hope and knowledge that bad editors, bad writers, and bad artists pass in time. That all new company paradigms change and change and change again. But the heroes we love still remain.
And we have faith.
And the patience born of that faith to wait out the bad times as best we can. I’ve done so many times before and I may continue to do so for as long as I live. There is a saying about suffering what there is to suffer and enjoy what there is to enjoy and accept that suffering and joy are parts of life.
And, most of all, we have love.
As Saint Paul says, love suffers long, and is kind, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and love never fails. For each of us, we do still love those wonderful Marvel heroes, no matter what the current creators are doing to them to make us hate that which we love.
Okay, folks, here’s where I get to feel like Jack Benny for a moment. Just Google it if you don’t know who or what I’m talking about.
I’m running long and late with this column, so my plans for a new look will have to wait until next time.
However, I do want to take a moment to comment on the latest Tempest In A Teapot on the comics scene. In the February issue of Playboy, 2005 Playmate of the Year Tiffany Fallon appears in a body-painted Wonder Woman costume and thigh high red boots. As a longtime subscriber to Playboy, I am waiting for my copy to arrive rather than buy it off the newsstands.
So, naturally, the internets got hold of the cover and sent various and sundry peoples running off and foaming at the mouth about it.
Here’s my two cents about it:
The cover was primarily designed to promote Ms. Fallon’s appearance on The Celebrity Apprentice, no more, no less. Of course, as it hit the stands, Ms. Fallon was eliminated very quickly. And use of the images to accompany an article on sex in America was again natural given not only the patriotic colors of Wonder Woman’s costume but the mixed sexual messages the character has had associated with it from its very beginnings.
Now, issue was not taken so much as with the images themselves but with Playboy’s linking of Tiffany Fallon to Lynda Carter, TV’s Wonder Woman of the late 70s, early 80s. That somehow Playboy’s claims were an affront and an insult to both Ms. Carter and Wonder Woman.
Which is patently ridiculous.
Has no one ever heard of hyperbole?
Ms. Fallon is referred to as “a modern-day Lynda Carter”. This could mean that like Ms. Carter, Ms. Fallon is moving from being a beauty queen into acting. It could mean that Ms. Fallon considers Ms. Carter and Wonder Woman to be role models; she is of the right age group to have seen the show. It could mean lots of things. What it doesn’t mean is any kind of insult to Lynda Carter or Wonder Woman. To compare two beautiful women of two different time periods is something Playboy has been known to do. To find sexy play with icons of American pop culture is something else Playboy is known for.
Yet the reaction so far is along the lines of “you touched my stuff,” an attitude some of these very same bloggers find reprehensible in comics when done by writers.
Is Playboy doing this to besmirch a beloved American icon and role model to women everywhere just as it appears a new golden period is on the horizon for her? No, not in any way. If anything, Playboy has spent a number of pages in the last couple of years talking about the growing up of comics and comics culture. If any of the bloggers bothered to research Ms. Fallon, they might find that she’s a college-educated woman, former beauty queen, and that she didn’t pose for Playboy until she was 30. Sounds like a perfectly modern woman who knows what she wants and how she wants to get it to me. Isn’t that what Feminism is supposed to be about anyway? A choice of weapons, as Gordon Parks put it?
But, of course, it’s Playboy touching Wonder Woman and Lynda Carter and getting their cooties all over it. Eww!
Which is sad, really.
Lynda Carter was and is a heroine of mine as well. Her portrayal of Wonder Woman showed that beauty and brains, strength and compassion could exist side by side. That her WW could stand on her own two feet and uplift everyone in her circle as well. Even if that was Steve Trevor, too. At no point in time did I feel that Wonder Woman was less strong if Steve Trevor helped her out, nor that he fell into the dude in distress mode Joss Whedon seems to throw his heroes into if the heroines need to run the show.
Oh, well, just another tempest in the teapot that is fandom.
That’s all for this time.
If Marc doesn’t kill me for being late this time, I’ll be back next issue with more to say about all kinds of things. And I’ll be better prepared as well.
See y’all in two weeks.
Copyright 2006- 2010 Marc Mason/Comics Waiting Room. All rights reserved