Monday, June 11, 2012

Are Comics Becoming Too Toyetic?

Last week I was reading about events in Avengers vs X-men 5 wherein five X-men get Pheonixed (they get the powers of the Phoenix with appropriately stylized Phoenix looking costumes)

It feels a little toyetic, which is to say, the characters have been given a makeover which would be perfect for creating collectible action figures. I don't actually think there will be toy versions of this new look, but this gimmick of revampng characters with thematic costumes appears to be a trend.

For example, in Marvel's last event Fear Itself various heroes got Asgardian hammers and Tron looking costumes.

And again in Blackest Night, six heroes and villains got color coded power rings...

...and soon after, DC came out with a line of action figures based on the story:

And it not just in the event comics that I've been seeing these gimmicky makeovers. Currently, Spider-man has been running around for the last several months in an outfit that looks more befitting a Power Ranger.

I mentioned this to longtime Flashback Universe contributor Trey Causey, and he agreed...

Everybody gets some special bling so a new action figure can be made. Character changes have to be telegraphed. It's all the equivalence of Battle Armor He-Man or Deep Sea Adventure Batman.

I think telegraphed changes is the perfect way to describe this trend. Because things don’t really change in comics, the appearance of change has to be made more blunt so it will stand out. At the end of the day, there is no real difference between Red Hulk and Red She Hulk from their counterparts but the change in color makes it feel new.

This made me wonder was this sense of stasis present in the Bronze Age?

Without saying yes or no, here’s what I see as some big changes from the Bronze and Silver Age:

  • Death of Gwen Stacy
  • Death of Sue Storm’s second child
  • Death of Swordsman
  • Death of Adam Warlock
  • Death of Norman Osborne
  • Wedding of Reed and Sue
  • Peter Parker leaves high school
It may be that the changes in the Bronze Age weren’t really much different than the non-changes we get now, but they felt more like change as, at the time, Marvel and DC weren’t so quick to bring back the dead. Many of those Bronze Age changes have never been undone. In other cases, it took more than a decade for some of the characters mentioned above to return from the dead. Also, when there was a big change, it was a natural part of the narrative and not an expected part of a sales driven event.
I would be curious what modern readers find so compelling in modern comics when they are so bereft of gravitas now? In a comics world were decade long marriages are undone by magic and heroes come back from the dead in next month's issue, where is the suspense?

- Jim


Trey said...

Well, I'd say "I agree"--but you already know that, since you quoted me. ;)

BrittReid said...

You left out the death of Mar-Vell by cancer.
And, to reinforce your point, how many of those deaths (plus the Silver Age death of Bucky Barnes) have been "undone" recently?

Blitzdawg said...

What you articulated so well is the reason why I read fewer and fewer books by the big two. I look to :01 Books, Campfire, and manga to find stories that are fresh and exciting (to me at least!), and I still love reading the old comics of the 40's and 50's. Change means very little except marketing ploys these days- why else would Wolverine be on the X-Men, the special-ops X-Men, the Avengers, the solo stories....

MattComix said...

My feeling is if you've got costumed heroes fighting super villains, foot soldiers, robots, and various forms of monsters using all kinds of powers and weapons your toy bases are already covered to begin with.

It can all balance so long as it's not the toy company that's sitting in the writers chair. The Japanese superhero tv shows that I enjoy are of course VERY toy driven but the better ones manage this creatively in a way where it all doesn't feel gratuitous and tacked on.

As for death in comics, well I've talked about that in a previous article so I won't go into here.

Suffice it to say, character death is cheap heat. Emphasis on cheap.

JimShelley said...

@Trey - Thanks for your help collecting my thoughts on this topic!

@BrittReid - Yep. Mar-Vell is another classic that I bet will eventually be undone one day.

@Blitzdawg - Yeah, Wolverine being on so many teams really gets old doesn't it?

@MattComix - I agree about the Japanese superhero tv shows. Maybe the difference there is that there are actual toys to begin with. Like Marvel's Micronauts, the toys existed first. That way, the writer has to use some creativity to explain how the characters come together. What we are getting now feels a bit like the reverse.

BrittReid said...

"Yep. Mar-Vell is another classic that I bet will eventually be undone one day."

I can just hear the scream of anguish, but Mar-Vell is back!
Look up Secret Avengers #27!
(Covers ears...)

MattComix said...

Gore and death in comics at this point is the dusty skeleton of a beaten horse being propped up on a stick. I think the big two are under the delusion it makes them look all edgy and "these ain't ya daddies funny books no more!"

Then when they bring the character back they want to be all "Because YOU demanded it!"

..what I demanded was a good story that didn't involve a favorite characters brains getting splattered across a horizontal panel in the first place.

Sean Kleefeld said...

I don't disagree with your overall point, but I'd argue that using the FF references don't really count as examples of change: Reed and Sue were engaged from FF #1 and the marriage itself didn't change their relationship at all, and since Sue's second child was stillborn, there was no chance for a real impact there in the first place. If anything, the actual birth of their first child had more of an impact.

Also, I'd argue that Parker leaving HS was negligible since Lee/Diko had already dropped most of the HS issues he faced by then. It was Peter juggling Spider-Man against "normal" stuff, mostly surrounding Aunt May and being broke. That didn't change when Peter went to college or after he left.

Still agree with your broader point; I just disagree with some of your examples.

JimShelley said...

@Sean - I think you are right to question some of my examples. The birth of Franklin is much more of the type of longstanding change I was looking for.

And I also will grant you there wasn't much of a change for Peter leaving HS for College. I think partly for the reasons you give and partly because, back then, comic narrative just didn't lend itself to the type of dialogue heavy interplay that would have allowed college angst to really be a compelling element of the story. So it was naturally downplayed. Sort of like how early Clark Kent's time at the Daily Planet never amounted to more than just a backdrop for the next Red Kryptonite change. Later, in the 70's, DC tried to change that a bit by making Superman a news anchor and giving him a work nemesis (Steve Lombard).


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