Monday, November 17, 2014

Spider-Verse - Cheap Heat

Editor's Note: Today, I'm happy to present a new post from MattComix! For long time readers, you may remember when Matt used to write columns on a regular basis here. Newcomers will recognize his name from the comments sections as he is regular commenter. Today he presents his thoughts on the Spider-Verse event:

In professional wrestling there is a term known as "cheap heat". Basically when a wrestler does or says something just to get a cheer, a boo, a chant, or other "pop" from the crowd that has nothing to do with their skills as wrestler or an entertainer, but they know the crowd will react regardless. Probably the most prime example of this is saying the name of the town they're in during an interview. It's a very easy way to make a crowd of wrestling fans pop.

There is an annoying fanfic writing impulse, one which seem to dominate modern superhero comics which is to take something from the readers have familiarized with some degree of positivity or innocence and doing something horrible with it that would never be done in that property's canon due to standards and practices, target audience, or common sense.

Cheap heat.
The latest in a never ending number of convoluted and of course blood-soaked events coming out of the big two, the current Spider-Verse arc involves a vampire-esque family that crosses dimensional barriers to feed off and kill in horrible and usually on-camera ways various versions of Spider-Man and other "Spider Totems". 

These dimensions include everything from comics, cartoons, live-action, to even Spider-Ham and the Spidey from the old Hostess ads. I figure Japanese Spider-Man is safe as long as he can get to his big robot in time but Nicolas Hammond Spidey is probably doomed. Maybe Electric Company Spidey can prevent Morlun's son from having access to vowel sounds and contractions. That would at least trip up his usual threats.

The latest victim in all of this is Mayday Parker aka Spider-Girl. While Spider-Girl and the whole MC2 experiment was by no means perfect, Spider-Girl really feels like where much of everything I ever liked about Spider-Man apparently went to after being fired by Marvel.

For myself, I didn't really get on board when it was first coming out but after finally reading the book I decided that Peter Parker's future in Spider-Girl felt far, far more genuine and enjoyable as any kind of actual extension of what Lee, Ditko, Romita started. Much moreso than any version of his present being shown in the mainline  titles. This is even before One More Day and the so-called "Superior" Spider-Man.

Yeah, it kinda sucks that Peter had to lose a leg and that the Clone Saga basically counts as irremovable backstory (also have mixed feelings about that goatee) but he was happy with his family and helping his daughter who was doing his old mantle very proud standing out as an a great character and hero in her own right.

I felt that just the existence of this continuity at least gave me some sense of closure for the whole Spider-Man thing. Such that if an enjoyable Spider-Man series in any media never actually happened again before I leave this mortal coil I could at least be reasonably satisfied with the idea that Spider-Girl is how the story one of my favorite heroes ended while also leaving another hero I'd enjoyed open for more adventures. I could be content with this being the image I left both Peter and Mayday Parker behind on:

Ron Frenz commented on the story in a recent interview with Swerve magazine:

“Pete learned through the death of Uncle Ben that if he doesn't act, people die; Mayday learned in her first couple of issues that when she does act, people live. That subtle, but significant difference put her in a much more positive and proactive headspace, which was pretty much the whole vibe of the MC2 Universe. MC2 was unabashedly a universe wherein heroes existed and helped make the world a better place, so that a second generation of people who get powers are inspired to do the same thing."

But of course I should have known that the relentless event cycles and the anti-joy stance of modern comicbook writing would not let such a thing pass in to history with its dignity intact. So of course in Spider-Verse no. 8 Peter Parker and Mary Jane are killed and Mayday not only swears vengeance but is also sure to emphasize that she will do so at the total expense of her fathers ideals. Because there is such a huge gaping void of superheroes with dead parents and revenge driven berserkers in comics that Mayday Parker just had to be the one to fill it.

Cheap heat. 
Apparently killing off the Parkers in Spider-Girl is something Marvel editorial has been salivating to do for a long while and something the creators fought against during their run. Again from the Frenz interview at Swerve:

“There was more than one editor in our run of 'Spider-Girl' who thought it would be great to kill Pete because then it gives her the whole tragic origin just like his. The very first annual, Tom DeFalco and Pat Olliffe did that cover with Mary Jane and Pete laying dead, and Spider-Girl's kneeling there mourning them, and they did it deliberately to 1) give the editor's what they wanted in the shocking cover, and 2) stick it to them because it didn't happen in the story. It was a story with Misery and she's showing May her worst fears."

“Our problem with it is, if you take away the family, then you have taken away the core of what Spider-Girl stories are about. The same way Spider-Man stories are about 'With great power, there must also come great responsibility,' Spider-Girl stories are about family and the positive aspects of being a superhero."

Now it's possible all this is will be retconned before the Spider-Verse event is even finished. I'm willing to acknowledge that Spider-Verse is a story that is still in progress even as predictably grimdark and eyerolling as this whole thing is. But I think there's a difference between building drama and having to wade through relentless misery for the big payoff.

A payoff that will likely just lead into yet another event anyway given the track record of these things. A lot of these stunts seem to be made under the pretense that there's nothing that can be done to these characters that can break or ruin them and so often it feels like Marvel is constantly playing chicken with Spider-Man to test that theory.

With few exceptions, character death is cheap heat and like in professional wrestling it will always give you that initial pop to fire up the crowd but it's not sustainable as the entirety of the show. What isn't cheap are monthly comics and I've now been given just one more reason not to go back to buying them on a regular basis.

- MattComix

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Family Comics: Captain Marvel to Spider-Verse

Marvel's big Spider-man event for this season is the Spider-Verse storyline, which involves a multi-dimensional threat to every incarnation of Spider-man ever presented.

Normally, I shy away from events, but the prelude to this event was assigned reading for a podcast I'm involved in, so tried it out. (You'll get to see what I thought when the podcast is posted.) Reading the prelude caused me to reflect on what I think is a growing trend in modern comics to create Families for super-heroes.

First, where did this start?

While I'm not certain, I believe the first instance of a family of superheroes was Fawcett's Marvel Family (which was very popular).

However, in the 50's, with the pressure to change the types of stories in comics, DC's Superman comics developed into a family of titles (Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, eventually Supergirl) which led to an actual Superman Family comic in the 70's...

...and a similar title for Batman.

However, that sort of storytelling fell out of favor in the grim and gritty 80's. It wasn't until Mark Waid resurrected the concept in Flash that we would see an actual new family of superheroes.

The next modern instance I think was in the Hulk titles

I could also see an argument being made that the the multi-colored lanterns of Geoff John's Green Lantern run were based on the family motif. (Though it's hard to say whether they are more toyetic or family based.)

Possibly you could make the same argument for Grant Morrison's Batman Inc. run. (Though that's more of an homage to earlier family-like stories)

I think the family concept has generally worked better for DC heroes than Marvel heroes, as the angst driven storylines of Marvel comics tend to work against having any sort of family-like support network. IE: If Spider-man has a group of friends he can hangout with, it sort of undercuts his hardluck hero appeal. I think the family feel of the Clone Saga and an attempt to capitalize on some of its success (and it was successful early on) that led to this most recent Spider-verse event.

Now, with the success of the Spider-verse event (and mark my words, it will be a success.) I have to wonder will we see more comics like this down the pike?

- Jim

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

How would you revamp The Inhumans?

So it seems that Marvel has plans to try and turn The Inhumans into an A-List property.

I've written about The Inhumans, stating (half tongue in cheek) 5 Reasons The Inhumans are Boring, and while part of that article was tongue in cheek, the group has never succeeded in carrying their own title for longer than a year. On the sales meter, they seem to fall  somewhere in between Agents of Atlas and The Runaways.  So, with that in mind, here is what I think Marvel will do to make the team more appealing to modern readers:

Disclaimer: Many of the suggestions I'm going to put forth are not the sort of thing I would like myself, but my sensibilities are out of touch with current trends, so that's your fair warning.

One: Kill off some of the old crew and introduce some new blood.

There are just some members of the old guard that are a bit quaint by todays standards. Ditch Gorgon, Triton and Karnak in favor of the new Ms. Marvel and a few other younger characters. Killing them off is a much better solution than just putting them in the background and focusing on the newer characters. Nothing says This story is important! than a few deaths here and there.

Two: Put the female characters front and center (in the way that modern comics are so good at.)

 Three: Make all the characters talk like 20-something coffee shop patrons. (A tactic that's worked so well the Avengers...)

Hahahha! It's so funny! Carol Danvers who used to be an officer and Security Chief for the United States Air Force talking like a ditzy wallflower. That's what I'm talking about!

I'm pretty sure if Marvel follows the tactics above, they will end up with a comic that is every bit as successful and enjoyable as many of their other top-selling comics.

- Jim

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Secret Origin of Secret Wars?

Bleeding Cool has a nice retrospective on Marvel's Secret Wars, which had me wondering what exactly was Jim Shooter's inspiration for that story? It's well know among comic historians that the series was written to support a Mattel toyline...

...but I don't ever recall reading where Jim Shooter came up with the idea for the series. Thinking about the series and Shooter's previous work, here are some other places where we see some of the concepts that appeared in Secret Wars.

First, The Legion of Superheroes - there are a number of stories which are similar to Secret Wars, including:

The Super-Stalag of Space

In this story, the Legionnaires find themselves trapped in an unescapable super-hero prison camp, very much like how the Marvel heroes are trapped on the Beyonder's man-made world. Also like Secret Wars, death is used to heighten the dramatic tension of the story.

The Menace of Beast Boy

Like Secret Wars, this story has the Legionnaires trapped and forced to fight one another. The interesting thing about this story, is that while in the Marvel Universe, superhero vs superhero battles were common place, they were rarely seen in the DC Universe during the Silver Age. Even during the Bronze Age, DC lagged far behind Marvel in this plot device. 

Another interesting idea from Secret Wars was how the story was introduced to readers. What Marvel did was in all of their regular monthly comics, they had a weird cosmic bubble appear in Central Park. Heroes would go into the bubble and then come out altered in some way with a reference to some mysterious adventure. For instance, the Hulk went into the cosmic bubble and then returned with a broken leg.

That sort of glimpse into an untold story was pretty novel at the time and really hooked readers on the series in advance. In many ways, it was similar to the Adult Legionnaires story from Adventure Comics which showed Superman walking through a memorial to fallen heroes.

The last story element that may have come from the LoSH was the Beyonder himself. As he was presented, he was an omnipotent being who dwarfed the powers of the assembled heroes. This could have been an extension of the Legion's most feared foe, Mordru. may have just been a lingering idea in Shooter's mind after his Avenger's storyline where another being with such power threatened the universe: Michael (Korvac)

We may never know for certain, but knowing Jim Shooter's relationship with the Legion of Superheroes, it's hard to imagine the stories above didn't play some role in the formation of the Secret Wars saga.

- Jim

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pat Broderick back at DC

From Bleeding Cool comes this news that warms my Bronze Age heart: Pat Broderick is returning to DC. What the project is hasn't been announced, but hopefully it will be something that suits his art. I've been a fan of his art style since I first encountered it in the pages of What-If 19.

What I liked about this comic was that at the time, in other titles, Spider-man was being drawn with a more standard superhero build, losing his original teenage lankiness, Broderick drew him with a angular, agile frame. In many ways, Broderick's style harkened back to the original feel that Steve Ditko had on the comic. Check out this fight scene between celebrity Peter Parker and his Judo instructors in What-If 19.

 While Broderick got to work on a number of Marvel titles, including one of my favorites, The Micronauts, where he really got to shine was at DC when he worked on Firestorm.

 He was also responsible for helping relaunch Captain Atom

Probably his most famous work at DC was his time on the Legion of Super-heroes where he and fellow ex-Marvel artist Keith Giffen helped usher in the Great Darkness Saga:

 One of my favorites from this time period was his work on the non-Superhero comic: The Lords of the Ultra-Realm.

 Also, while at DC he co-created the Creature Commandos...

...I've always liked the idea of this group, and you would probably have guessed that if you've seen the Flashback Universe comic: The League of Monsters  In many ways, Pierre's art often reminds me of Broderick's style. Check out the faces on the cover of our Saturn Knight comic. Amanita's face in particular has a very Broderick angularity to it.

While it's probably too much to hope for, wouldn't a Creatures Commandos movie seem like a no lose proposition in this era of super-heroic blockbusters? I wonder if Broderick is going to be working on a new Creature Commandos limited series? Whatever it is, I'm looking forward to seeing it.

- Jim

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Daredevil, Civil War and Wonder Woman's Origin

Here's a catch all post on some of the news that came out last week about comics in movies and television and what I think about the news.

First up: The Netflix Daredevil show was previewed at NYCC. Judging by what some of the people who saw the preview are saying, most came away saying they liked what they saw. Unfortunately, the rest of us outside of NYCC only get this image of the new Daredevil costume:

Which sort of reminds me of the Daredevil costume from The Trial of the Incredible Hulk television movie.

And while this costume probably won't please some people, if I've learned anything from Arrow, it's that the costume does not make the show. I was originally turned off by the boring ninja looking costume used on Arrow, so much so that I completely passed on checking the show out during the first season. It wasn't until StevieB and my Father-In-Law recommended the show to me that I watched a few episodes and discovered how good it was.

Also, Ben Affleck's costume in the Daredevil movie was quite true to the comics version and that movie was pretty bad.

Next up comes the news that Captain America 3 (and Avengers 3?) may follow the Civil War storyline.

On paper, this sounds like a no lose scenario. Civil War was perhaps Marvel's most successful event comic of all time and many Marvel movie fans seem to ask for anytime Marvel movies get discussed anywhere. (A bit like how that one drunk guy constantly yells Play Crazy Train at Black Sabbath reunion concerts.)

Here's the thing - the whole premise of Civil War was the superhero registration act which would require heroes to reveal their secret identities to the government. One of the bigger story points in Civil War was the revealing of Spider-man's identity.

So, how would that work in the MCU where no hero actually has a secret identity? I suppose they can find some other reason to divide along party lines, but without the motivation of keeping secret their identities, I'm not sure the us/them plot works as well. (And let's not kid ourselves - the original Civil War storyline was a bit contrived as it was.)

Finally, Blstr has a quote from one of the producers on the Batman v Superman movie about Wonder Woman's background in the movie:

"She's a demigod. Her father was Zeus."

Why this may be significant is that up until now, there was speculation that Wonder Woman (and all Amazons) were going to be descendents of a lost colony of Kryptonians. That they may be going with a more traditional origin with greek gods also suggests something about the world Superman and Batman exist in.

Then again, Zeus could have been a Kryptonian and the term demigod could be getting used liberally here.

Ultimately, I don't think Mom and Pop America  care about her origin. It was never a major concern of the television appearances or the DC animated features. By and large, I think most non-comic book people just see her as sort of a generic female action hero.

Which is how we get stuff like this:

Just like Thor, Wonder Woman _exists_ and that's all most people need to really know to enjoy a Summer Blockbuster.

- Jim


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