I get really tired of having to explain reality to liberals. I’ve talked about this a couple of times before, but the liberal stupidity keeps rolling along and I’m putting this here to keep from overly politicizing my other blog. For those in the dark, there’s been a “movement” of sorts, I suppose, to pressure Marvel Comics to put out more predominantly black comics and if they don’t do so, they’re clearly racist. This whole debacle started when it was revealed that the new Mighty Avengers comic, which has a largely non-white cast of characters, was being “underordered” by comic retailers, thus, comic retailers must be racist! These people are clueless in the highest degree and have no clue, or interest, in how business actually works.
Comic book retailers operate on a shoestring profit as it is, they have to be very careful what books they order for their shops and which ones they don’t. They have to gauge, based on their experience, which ones will likely sell immediately and which ones will just sit around for months and have to be sold at a loss to clear space. By and large, and I certainly can’t say this is true of everyone, but for the vast majority, the owners don’t give a damn who the team is or what color they are, they just want to make money. The lowest-selling comic in July, 2013 was Aspen’s Legend of the Shadowclan. The fact that most retailers didn’t order many, if any, of that title doesn’t mean that they’re biased against ninjas. It’s absurd.
The fact is, comic shop owners have no control over who comes into their stores and buys what. Neither does Marvel for that matter. It is a fact, whether anyone likes it or not, that the top-rated comic superheroes, both for Marvel and DC, happen to be white characters. That isn’t necessarily a racist thing, these are almost all characters that were created between the 1930s and the 1970s and have demonstrated their popularity and longevity. It is an undeniable fact that, in the comic book world, the overwhelming majority of characters created in the past 20 years have failed to garner much popularity or traction with comic book fans. Therefore, it’s only common sense that a company would cater to their demonstrable audience and sell things that people have proven they’re willing to buy.
See, that’s how business works. I know liberals seem incapable of understanding this so I’ll go slow. Business exists to make money. It does not exist to make social statements, it does not exist to engage in social engineering, it does not exist to push a social agenda. It’s there to make a buck. Full stop. Sure, some companies can work some social justice into their business plan, lots of companies donate money to different causes, both for the tax write-off and for the customer good will and additional purchases that it invariably creates. Charitable donations are not losing any of these companies business, trust me. Liberals seem to think that business exists to make them feel good and if the business has to lose money to give them an ego boost, so be it. They don’t seem to care that they’re wrong about pretty much everything across the board. These are the same folks who are out trying to get minority actors in movies and on TV, just because of the color of their skin. Movies and TV producers aren’t racists either, they’re trying to make a financially successful product. They want to keep their show on TV so they keep getting paid. They want to be high in the ratings so advertisers are willing to spend more putting their ads on during the show. This is how it works.
Yet these crazy liberals are convinced, for some reason beyond my comprehension, that there are secret back rooms right now where rich white men are twisting their mustaches and working out devious means to put even more white actors on TV. It’s utterly insane. I just don’t understand where they get the absurd idea of racist bugaboos hiding under the bed, waiting to pounce on the unwary. This is the stuff of the conspiracy theorist, not of any rational, intelligent person.
Now you can argue until you’re blue in the face why some characters are popular and some are not, it doesn’t change the fact that, at least at this moment in time, characters that happen to be white happen to have the most popularity. But it isn’t the fact that they’re write that makes them popular, it’s the fact that they’ve had a long history, have been well written and have struck a chord with comic book readers. Whether those readers are reading them because they’re white or not, I can’t say, all I can say is that I pay absolutely no attention whatsoever to the skin color of the characters I like. Heck, in comics, half the time the characters are green or blue! It doesn’t matter, to anyone, except these people! They’re the real racists! They’re the only people who are making a big deal about skin color! And they’re the ones who scream the loudest when you point that fact out to them.
I guess that’s yet one more thing liberals are clueless about.
I was talking today with a friend who went to see the midnight showing of Man of Steel. Now I am not a Superman fan, in fact, I’m not a big fan of any of the major DC superheroes, I have a fundamental problem with the way that DC handles their characters. DC, at least traditionally, is more concerned with having costumes than characters. They always want a Superman. They always want a Batman. They always want a Wonder Woman. If anything happens to their characters, say… Doomsday comes along and “kills” Superman (we know nobody ever dies in a comic book), they find someone else to get into the costume, or at the very least, someone with very similar powers to put on a very similar costume so that the fung shui of the DC universe is not damaged.
Now it’s been decades since I first made that observation and I will admit that Marvel has tended to do the same thing for it’s big properties, although at the time they didn’t. There is only one Wolverine. If Logan goes down, they don’t find someone else to don his duds. I can only think of a handful of times where someone jumped into another man’s outfit in the Marvel Universe, Captain America and Winter Soldier comes to mind, it’s just not the way they do business.
Anyhow, this isn’t about costumes and it isn’t about Superman. I told him I’m not a big DC guy and he asked if there were any recent DC superhero movies that I liked and… nope, not really. Didn’t care for the previous Superman outing, Superman Returns. Didn’t like Green Lantern. Didn’t care for Watchmen, which isn’t really a DC universe movie, but still. In fact, to get back to some DC movies I liked, you’d have to go back to the Burton Batman in 1989 or the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies. But what about the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy? Nope, not my thing, and in fact, my least favorite of them was The Dark Knight. I hated Heath Ledger’s version of Joker, but then again, I hate Joker. Worse than Joker, I hate the whole Batman menagerie of villains and how they are handled in the DC universe.
Now I understand that everything I’m about to talk about is a marketing and merchandising decision, but I don’t buy into the idea that marketing and merchandising ought to fundamentally affect the way you tell stories, even if, in the real world, they often do. See, I think Batman should have killed Joker a long time ago. Yes, I understand Batman’s “code against killing”, but the fact is that Batman doesn’t kill Joker because Joker is a valued licensed character (see the aforementioned marketing and merchandising). However, in the context of the Batman storyline, it makes no sense that he, or someone else, shouldn’t have offed the majority of the Batman rogues gallery long ago. Now depending on what version of Joker you’re going with, he may have been the guy who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. He’s certainly the madman who has killed thousands of innocent civilians, who crippled Batgirl (in the pre-New 52 continuity), who killed (with the help of fans) Jason Todd, and of course the whole “Death of the Family” thing, when does there come a point in time where enough is enough? It’s not just Batman’s family that has suffered greatly from this madman, but all of Gotham (and the entire universe if you read the Emperor Joker stuff). When does it end?
And even if it isn’t Batman that takes him out, I have a hard time believing nobody else would. Why, in all this time, hasn’t a guard at Arkham Asylum pulled his sidearm (or any weapon for the matter), stuck it in Joker’s mouth and pulled the trigger? But let’s talk about Arkham for a moment, it’s just a giant revolving door for psychos. Why is it still open with as many escapes as crazies have made from there over the years? Batman drops someone off at the front door and it’s about 30 seconds later that they’re running out the back door. What gives? The whole criminal justice system of the DC universe is absurdly flawed. It’s not just Joker that should have been offed years ago, it’s the majority of Batman baddies. Penguin? >BLAM!< Clayface (any version)? >SQUISH!< Killer Croc? Poison Ivy? Mr. Freeze? >KA-BOOM!< Give me one rational, legitimate, comic-world reason any of them should be kept around. It’s clear that none of them can ever be rehabilitated, it’s clear they’re going to escape from Arkham over and over again. Why hasn’t there been a public uprising demanding the heads of these villains? Makes no sense to me.
Now outside of the mainline DC universe, people like Frank Miller have turned Batman into the semi-badass that he should be, in fact it was Frank Miller who came up with the Dark Knight concept, but he’s still not open to really protecting society and getting things done regardless of the circumstances. I always thought that Batman should be DC’s version of Punisher, without the insanity and without the utter bloodlust, someone who was willing to do the job that needed doing. If Batman was introduced today, without the 70 years of history and backstory, maybe that would be possible. Now, though, rebranding Batman as anything other than a non-killing hero is virtually impossible.
Now I know I’m railing against the Warner Brothers marketing department, nothing really bad will ever happen to any of these villains, or to any of these heroes. As I said before, nobody ever dies in comics because they’re too busy milking their properties for money, both in comics, and now in the movies. That’s why the Arrow TV series is such an anomaly, it doesn’t follow the “code against killing” schtick from the comics, the Hood kills a dozen bad guys an episode. Yes, they are faceless minions, by and large, but big-name baddies always get away, but it’s a show where people die and I suspect, nobody besides Oliver Queen is really truly safe from the writer’s hatchet. That’s the way I’d like to feel about comics and about comic movies. The story is the thing and anyone who gets in the way of the story is expendable.
I know that’s too much to ask from Hollywood, or from the comic producers. I guess that’s why I pay so little attention to what they produce these days. Oh sure, I’ll buy Man of Steel when it comes out in DVD, just like I did with the Batman trilogy and Green Lantern, but I suspect it’ll get the same kind of negative reviews from me that the others did. I don’t expect absolute realism from a comic book movie, after all, we’re talking about people flying around in spandex fighting crime, but I do expect some human reactions and some human behavior, something that we largely don’t get from these movies. That’s why so many of them are so utterly forgettable and that’s a shame.
Believe it or not, I’m a die-hard optimist. I know it might not seem that way to read some of the things I write, but I want people to generally succeed, I want the situation to generally improve and I want people to overcome obstacles and become better people for it. In fact, that’s one major reason I want to do away with religion because I don’t think the human species can really improve while it’s so weighted down with irrational beliefs. I want a better world.
Perhaps nowhere is this more clear than in the entertainment media that I consume. I want to watch generally hopeful stories about a future world that I’d actually want to live in, where the people can and do overcome their problems and generally end up in a better situation than they started in. Yes, I understand this isn’t necessarily always realistic, but it’s my enjoyment, I can make whatever requirements I wish.
That’s why I generally dislike dystopian futures, where mankind generally fares badly. I want a story where the “heroes” have issues, and they can be truly horrific issues to overcome, but they succeed in the end and the future looks, if not bright, than at least brighter than it had previously.
This applies to all forms of entertainment: television, movies and books. It also applies to all genres of entertainment, including, and this might surprise people, horror movies. I love good horror movies, I’ve talked about it before, but a lot of things that go on in the modern horror genre really are a turn-off for me. I want humans to win in the end. I want the monster to be defeated. That is very, very important to me. There’s been an unfortunate trend in recent years where the people are doomed, the zombies are going to win and the only point to the movie or the TV show or the book is to put off the inevitable extinction of the human species for a few more days. Why would I want to read that?
It doesn’t necessarily mean that the heroes in the story have to survive at the end though. I watched John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing the other night and I think that’s one of the top 10 best horror films I’ve ever seen. It hits all of the bases. It’s got a moderately realistic monster, it sets up the situation well and in the end, while we’re supposed to be left wondering if the monster really died, both MacReady and Childs sit in the snow waiting to freeze to death, with the understanding that they’ve saved the world from alien takeover. It’s very dark, it’s very depressing, nobody survives and you’re not even positive that the alien isn’t going to go dormant in the snow and still take over the world when the rescue crew shows up in the spring, but there’s a certain hope that these twelve men have, through their sacrifice, saved the world, even if you never know for certain that it’s so. Take that and compare it to a movie like Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, where the characters spend the whole movie fighting the zombies, finally getting to an island where they’re supposedly safe, only to find that the island is overrun with zombies and they all die. The end. Um… what? Why did I just waste two hours of my life on that depressing crap?
Every book I read, every movie I watch, I want to feel like the people are going to win in the end, that they are going to improve their situation, that they are going to be better off than they were when they started. It might not be a huge improvement and I certainly don’t want any utopias, but moving forward, even incrementally, is what I’m looking for. It’s such a shame that so many movies today, especially in the horror genre, but in most genres to a certain degree, only want to show the most dark, dank, awful future possible, one where people are destined to fail, where everyone is going to die and where the bad guys, be it a criminal or a monster, is going to win in the end.
Someone please explain where the positive outcome is in that!
I’ve been an open critic of the modern endless “event” mentality that has been going on in Marvel comics for a number of years. In the past, they’d have a major “event” once every couple of years. By major, I’m referring to events which affect most of the Marvel Universe and have far-reaching effects on almost every series they produce. They did Secret Wars from 1984-1985, followed by Secret Wars II from 1985-1986, but thereafter they didn’t have a massive “event” on that scale, maybe until 1993’s Mys-Tech War. Frankly, I’m glad I took most of the 90s off from reading comics, it was just an awful decade.
However, these days, they’ve figured out that having constant events is a money-maker so they have an almost endless series of “events” going on. Just the big ones include 2005’s House of M, 2006’s Civil War, 2007’s The Initiative, etc. In fact, there are so many “events” these days that if you just compare the raw numbers, even including minor events and crossovers, the total number of “official events” from the 1970s-1990s totals 39, including just long runs in closely-related books. However, just 2000-2012, the number is absurd. In 12 years, the number of “events” has been 67. There were twice as many events in the last 12 years as there were in the previous 30 combined.
As a comic reader at the time, I had recognized this attempt by Marvel to milk more and more money out of the readers by having these absurd mega-crossovers that often branched out to a dozen or more individual titles as well as it’s own core story, so beginning with Civil War, I simply bowed out and jumped off the “event” train. I carefully avoided reading any of those stories or any comics that were directly affected by those stories. It saved me a lot of money, I’ll tell you, especially since the majority of those stories just weren’t that good. Civil War, for instance, was the era where Iron Man took over running S.H.I.E.L.D. and Spider-Man took off his mask in public. It was the time of mutant registration and I detested every bit of that, hence I didn’t miss not reading it. Oh sure, I ended up dropping some of my favorite books, like Spider-Man and Iron Man but at least I retained my sanity. I want good stories, not blatantly obvious cash grabs. In fact, it was the prevalence of the Marvel “event” that eventually led me to give up reading comics at all.
But you know, it’s hard, after having read them for many decades, to give up cold turkey. Even though I probably “officially” stopped reading comics around 2007, I’d still pick one up occasionally, just to see if it grabbed me. None really did but I kept checking in with my fingers crossed.
In 2012, Marvel started releasing it’s most recent “event”, Avengers vs. X-Men, an event which they promised would completely change the way we looked at the Marvel Universe. With a great deal of trepidation, I decided I’d break my years-long boycott of the Marvel crossover and give AvX a shot. It would be just a read through the 12 issues of the maxi-series, I wouldn’t touch any of the crossovers, any of the tangential material, just the main story. Now that AvX has finally finished, let me give you a rundown of what I thought, from the perspective of a former Marvel reader with virtually no knowledge of the current state of the Marvel Universe.
To be totally up front about it all, it wasn’t bad but it certainly wasn’t great. There are elements that I enjoyed and frankly, things I thought were ridiculous. I’m going to give a very cursory explanation of the series, there will certainly be spoilers but nothing too in-depth. I’m sure anyone who really wanted to read it has done so already anyhow. The story begins as the Phoenix Force, the same cosmic energy that turned Jean Grey into the Phoenix/Dark Phoenix, is headed for Earth. Hope Summers, the time-travelling future relative of Jean Grey, is assumed to be the natural host for the Phoenix. The X-Men, still devastated over the events of House of M, where the Scarlet Witch’s powers erased every mutant from the planet except 198, are seeking a way to revive their race and see the return of the Phoenix as their ticket to renewed mutant-dom. However, the Avengers see it differently. They think the Phoenix is coming to destroy the planet and they can’t allow that. Both sides begin a long, drawn out fight over the future of Hope, dragging her one way and then the other until she gets upset and tells both sides what to go do with themselves. It becomes a free-for-all, the X-Men trying to keep Hope safe so she can rebuild mutant-kind, the Avengers trying to take her into custody so they can prevent her from merging with the Phoenix. Captain America splits the Avengers into different task forces and sends the most powerful to slow down the approach of the Phoenix, which they fail miserably. I think it’s important to see that even against the most powerful of the Avengers, the Phoenix kicks their ass with no problem whatsoever. After all, it has always been a god-like power, an elemental force of nature, even someone as powerful as Thor shouldn’t have a chance to stop it. As the Phoenix approaches, Hope starts to draw power from it and become exponentially more powerful, easily defending herself from the wishes of both sides. Everyone worries what will happen, but once the Phoenix arrives, she refuses to bond with it, rejecting it’s energy, afraid she may not be able to handle it’s immense power. Tony Stark, however, uses experimental super-science in an attempt to break up the Phoenix Force into smaller, more manageable parts, but instead causes it to bond with the five X-Men, thus creating godlike beings out of Cyclops, Colossus, Namor, Emma Frost and Magik. These five mini-Phoenixes, led by Scott Summers, set out to change the world for the better. Scott, after all, has been trained by Professor X, the morality is strong with this one, he doesn’t have a self-centered bone in his body. They make crops grow in deserts, they clean up the environment, they purify the water, it seems like they’re actually doing a lot of the things they had hoped that Hope would accomplish as the Phoenix. However, there is a dark side to the Phoenix and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When you can do virtually anything, no matter how moral you are, chances are that eventually you’ll give in to your baser impulses. Instead of saving the world, the X-Men decide they ought to rule it. Instead of fixing the planet’s problems, they start thinking it may be better to wipe everything out and start with a clean slate. The remaining X-Men and Avengers, hunted by the mini-Phoenixes, join forces begin covertly attacking individual Phoenixes from their hidden base in a pocket dimension. Namor is the first to fall and when he does, his portion of the Phoenix Force is split among the rest, increasing their power. Next, realizing that they are being hopelessly corrupted by their power, Colossus and Magik take each other out, greatly increasing the power of the remaining two. Cyclops and Emma Frost give in to the dark side, which isn’t that much of a surprise, and while engaged in a battle against the Avengers, Cyclops shoots Emma in the back, thus taking all of the power. He transforms into Dark Cyclops, the Phoenix-powered agent of evil. Professor X shows up, demanding that Cyclops stop before it’s too late, but he is summarily killed by the now evil Cyclops. No human or mutant can now stand against him, it’s up to Hope, who they’ve been secretly training on K’un-L’un. With the help of the Scarlet Witch, Hope wrests control of the Phoenix Force from Cyclops and together, they destroy the Phoenix, but only after Super-Hope repairs all the damage to the world caused by Cyclops and, surprise surprise, brings back all the mutants! Cyclops and his depowered cohorts are placed in chains for their crimes and Captain America announces a new team of Avengers, this time made up of X-Men.
It’s not the greatest story ever but it could have been worse. Maybe the biggest problem though, as anyone who has read a Marvel comic, or any comic for that matter, knows that Professor X isn’t dead and the Phoenix Force sure isn’t destroyed. Nobody ever dies in comics, not really. They just sit it out for a while until someone comes up with a reason to bring them back. Especially in this currently movie-dominated genre, copyright laws require the characters to keep appearing in the comics every now and then to keep them as viable candidates for big-budget box-office blockbusters. This has been going on for so long now that nobody with even a passing familiarity with comics cares if anyone dies. It has no emotional impact. They’ll be back. It’s only the clueless noobs who don’t understand that death is for… a while, make a big deal about it. Remember 1992’s Death of Superman and the media hype? Tons of mainstream, non-comics people crying that Superman, the cultural icon, was dead? Sorry, just a cash-grab.
So why do comic companies keep playing these games? Why do they keep hyping the death of major characters when they know nobody believes them? Certainly, it can’t be for emotional impact, we just look at Spider-Man splattered all over the concrete or Batman blown to kingdom come and shrug. It’s no more real now than it was the last 47 times they did it. Professor X is dead? How is this any different than Uncanny X-Men #167? Or during Legion Quest? Or Messiah Complex? Or Ultimatum? Or heck, if you want entertaining, the new X-Treme X-Men where alternate universe Professor X’s are killed repeatedly and he ends up as little more than a head in a jar? He’s dead? So what? I guess it could have been worse, the cover to issue 11 could have been emblazoned “In this issue, an X-Man will die!” It wasn’t that hyped, even though Marvel blew the surprise in interviews done the same day the issue was released.
I guess the biggest problem is that it was a stupid fight to begin with. Where Captain America started out wanting to protect Hope from the Phoenix Force, he ended up doing exactly what Cyclops wanted to do the whole time. There was never a reason for both sides to start swinging, had Cap and Cyclops not been acting like immature asshats. You’d think that after all these years, both of the, would have learned to talk things out before unleashing superhuman abilities? But no, if any of these characters were actually reasonable, they’d actually have to work to come up with decent storylines. Another absurdity comes with the fact that Cyclops really only killed one person throughout AvX, yet he’s being treated as one of the greatest monsters in history, yet he stands beside Wolverine who has killed hundreds or thousands of people in his day and the Phoenix caused Jean Grey to detonate a star and kill millions. Sorry, Cyclops just doesn’t seem that bad, especially since he was being controlled by an extraterrestrial elemental force.
So now that it’s all over, we move into the ridiculously named era of Marvel NOW! Sorry, frankly not impressed, any more than I was with DC’s New 52. I guess we’ll see if decent writers can save anything from this mess in their Avengers vs. X-Men: Consequences. I’m not really holding my breath, but we’ll see.
This time, my regrets aren’t focused toward a single comic, but toward an entire imprint, put out by DC, called “DC Focus”. It was a very short-lived imprint, consisting of 4 titles, where the superpowered individuals didn’t necessarily become heroes.
Now as I’ve said before, at the time I was really looking for stories of superpowered individuals that didn’t fit into the typical four-color superhero mold and on the surface, DC Focus offered just that. It was around for less than a year and really didn’t fare well in sales, the majority of books were cancelled in 8 issues or less. Here’s what they offered:
Fraction was the story of a top-secret military powered armor suit that was stolen by a group of four criminals, each one of which took part of the suit. As you might expect, their major activities included in-fighting over who should control the whole suit and committing crimes.
Hard Time told the story of a 15-year old kid who was involved in a fatal school shooting and put into prison for 50 years, only to discover that he was starting to develop psychic powers.
Kinetic was the story of a disabled youth who lives vicariously through the comic book adventures of Kinetic, but doesn’t realize that he’s actually got powers of his own.
Touch was the story of a Las Vegas promoter who finds people with superhuman abilities and tries to market them into a financial success. Little does anyone know that he, himself, gives people these abilities, but only to one person at a time and with no ability to control which powers each individual actually gets.
The real problem that I had with all of them is that they went too far the wrong way. I did want non-traditional superhuman books, but all four of these ended up making the “heroes” complete douchebags. They just weren’t people you’d want to have special abilities, even though, I’ll admit, some of the things that happened were probably more realistic than putting on a costume and fighting crime. Still, I really wanted people who weren’t heroic to begin with, who weren’t necessarily good people who did nice things, but who came to that realization once they had special abilities that working to help people was a good thing to do.
While I’ll be the first one to say that an integral, objective moral code doesn’t exist, we all do share in the inherent social contract and we are all evolutionarily programmed with an understanding of enlightened self interest. We know that if we want others to treat us well, we need to treat others well. We reciprocate good treatment with good treatment, we reciprocate bad treatment with bad, but we understand what kind of behavior we ought to engage in, unless we’re mentally unstable, that brings about the best result for ourselves and for society at large. I don’t think I’d even mind if you had someone who had been a criminal, who found themselves with a super suit or amazing powers, continuing that life that they had known for a while. However, as time goes on, as they realize that they don’t have to hurt people, they don’t have to break the law to be successful, that they can go from being an underground criminal to an above-ground citizen, the overwhelming majority of people would do so if given the chance.
That reminds me of another, entirely unrelated comic done by DC called The Power Company. It was a great concept, someone who decided that instead of fighting crime, they’d charge companies and individuals to protect their assets and serve as bodyguards. It’s hard to understand how they hadn’t come up with that idea before. Very early on, they decided that they’d also do some pro bono work for those who couldn’t afford to pay and that was a good thing, but unfortunately, the comic decided to go largely down that road, with the freebie cases being much more common than the pay cases. That’s not how capitalism works, sorry. I want that reality. I want the recognition that these superheroes need to eat too. They need to make money. They need to put a roof over their family’s heads. That doesn’t mean they can’t also be decent human beings, it doesn’t mean they’re going to ignore the cries of the victim if they’re not getting paid, it’s just a bit closer to reality and, at least to start, Power Company did it well.
It’s unfortunate that so many of these comics that, I suppose, have a shot at being more “realistic” also fail so badly. Power Company never gained a strong readership and died at issue 18. All of the DC Focus books died within their first year. There are others that I’ll go into in later posts which did the same thing. Either they were too dark and gritty and failed to attract a readership from comics fans who wanted a more upbeat tempo or they started out light and eventually slid right into the same old tired superhero stereotype.
Why can’t we find stories that have a well understood goal and can walk that tightrope, balancing realistic stories against dark realities? I know if they could, I’d be reading it.
Actually, this is the story of two regrets. See, I loved the original Firestorm. It’s one of the few comics from DC that I ever really got into, the tale of Ronnie Raymond and Professor Stein, two men who were stuck together through accident and had to find a way to coexist. It was a great story, it originally ran, in 2 series, from 1978-1986. It also had wonderful writing, something that I think was missing from DC comics. Series creator Gerry Conway introduced a great sense of humor into the pages, expertly walking a narrow line between being too serious and too silly. The original run lasted 5 issues and the second, 100 issues until Conway left the title and it took a turn, tragically, to the absurdly serious and topical. Firestorm became a crusader against nuclear proliferation and as Professor Stein was dying of terminal cancer, Firestorm was transformed into a combination of Ronnie Raymond, Russian superhero Pozhar and the disembodied Stein running the show. It just wasn’t the same and I left it then, really missing the original series and hating what it had become. It wasn’t too long until, in DC’s 2004 Identity Crisis saw the death of Ronnie Raymond.
That didn’t stop DC though, shortly thereafter, DC revived Firestorm with a new character taking over the reins. This is one of the things I absolutely hate about DC, they are very costume-driven. It doesn’t matter who wears the suit, the only thing anyone reads the comic for is the suit, not for the character inside of it. This time, they put Jason Rusch, who had received the “Firestorm matrix” from the dying Ronnie Raymond, into the suit. I never cared for Rusch. I gave it a shot, but Rusch came off as a “token black kid in a superhero costume”. He was purely stereotype. Smart kid, living in the ghetto, with a single parent who wanted to do good by him but never could. I don’t remember the details anymore, but at the time it occurred to me that his father kept pushing him to be “blacker”. I couldn’t stand it. It lasted a couple of issues before I dropped it.
More recently though, they gave it another shot with their “New 52” reboot in 2011, this time teaming Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond together as Nuclear Men. They hated each other, they fought and frankly, the chemistry was awful. It was a complete reboot, nothing from their past ever happened and that could have been either good or bad. Both Jason and Ronnie were high school students from “different sides of the track”. They were involved with an accident, caused by Professor Stein’s “god particle” that gave them both the ability to transform into different versions of Firestorm. While the concept, I suppose, was interesting in theory, in practice it was horrible. They spend more time squabbling and beating each other up than they did actually learning how to work together. They could combine their powers into an incredibly powerful nuclear monster, but even when combined, they still yelled at each other. It was just a mess, I think I made it through 6 issues before throwing in the towel.
It’s really a shame because the original 2 series were really excellent, but I have to chalk that up to the writing of Gerry Conway. After he left, the series was never the same and it devolved into the same kind of suit-swapping nonsense that makes up the majority of the DC universe.
I still miss it, but I think I’ll give up trying new Firestorm offerings in the future. It just doesn’t look like they’re capable of recapturing the original magic or fun.
This is probably going to turn into a short series, focusing on comics that I once collected, but I realized, over time, that I just had no interest in where they were going. Since my wife and I have been going through boxes of comics, trying to figure out what to get rid of and what to hang onto, there’s a massive amount of stuff that we bought, we thought we’d like, but ended up not being able to stand.
One of those comics was the Brian K. Vaughn vehicle, Ex Machina.
Now at the time, I was really looking for more “realistic” superhero comics. I was hoping to find something that presented superheroes as they might be in the real world. Marvel and DC were really pimping fantastic tales with guys in flashy costumes who were largely loved and/or tolerated by the non-powered public and allowed to run wild by the government and frankly, I had enough of that. So I was hoping to find something that showed how someone with extraordinary powers might fare in the modern day real world. Certainly I expected it to be relatively dark, as I didn’t think your regular Joe would embrace the idea of someone who could do superheroic stuff with open arms, more likely it would be met with fear, but it had to be better than everyone waving at the guy flying by in his underoos.
Ex Machina is the story of Mitchell Hundred, a guy who found he had the ability to talk to electronics and influence their actions. He donned a costume, took on the mantle of The Great Machine, and ended up changing history on 9/11 when he intervened in the terrorist attack. As such, it launched a political career as mayor of New York City and set him on the path toward the White House.
So far, so good I guess. It was certainly realistic, it certainly had a lot of the elements I wanted. People admired the Great Machine for what he’d done, but people also hated and feared him because he was different. It could have been exactly what I wanted, except Vaughn turned it into a liberal political comic and the superhero elements became entirely secondary. You saw lots of flashbacks with the early days of the Great Machine, but once Hundred was in office, he rarely actually used his powers for anything significant and getting into costume? Forget it. The comic became about liberal politics in New York City. It was about gay marriage. It was about racism. It was about political backstabbing. It was really about everything but being a superhero in the real world. Maybe that made it even more realistic, but that wasn’t what I wanted to read. Even though I knew it was ending with issue #50, I dropped it somewhere in the early 40s. While the writing and art was always good, it just wasn’t the story that I was looking for. It isn’t that I didn’t enjoy it for what it was, at least in the broad strokes, but when you had issue after issue after issue of “is Hundred gay? Is he going to support gay rights? What does his staff think?”, it got tiring. What did any of that have to do with the genre? Nothing. Therefore, I, as a genre-enjoying reader, just couldn’t stick with it. I moved on. Ex Machina might have been a critically acclaimed comic that busted genre stereotypes, but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted superheroes in the real world. I got liberal politics on a barely-superhero backdrop.
About a week ago, my wife and I had nothing to watch on TV so we pulled out Iron Man to watch. It’s probably my favorite of the current crop of superhero films so I never pass up a chance to watch it. Immediately following, I threw in Iron Man 2. It’s not as good a film, but certainly I enjoy it so might as well make it a two-fer.
That got me thinking, especially since my wife and I had just gone through about a dozen long-boxes of comics deciding what to get rid of. So much of what we’ve bought in recent years is just taking up space and we’re never going to read it again so we decided we might as well dump it on eBay. We don’t care about making money, just in freeing up space. These boxes are only comics that have come out in the last decade or so, we have lots of other boxes of classic comics that we’re keeping in storage.
So I started reading through the digital copies of Iron Man that I had stored away. I downloaded them years and years ago, I got them because if I ever wanted to read some of the comics I have in storage, I didn’t want to dig through boxes, I might as well read the scanned versions because it’s more convenient. I have full or near full runs of Iron Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Daredevil, Spider-Man and many, many more. Before you ask, no, I don’t feel at all bad pirating all of them, I actually own most of them anyhow.
The first thing I must say is that the stories back in the old days were much better than the stories in modern comics. I occasionally look in on some of the modern comics, in fact going back to 1963 also made me grab some of the current issues and there just isn’t any comparison.
That’s not to say there’s nothing wrong with the old comics, especially to modern eyes. Comics from the 60s and 70s read like a thesaurus exploded. My memory might not be that great, but I don’t recall anyone talking like that back in the day. You have street thugs talking like Rhodes scholars. Nobody ever talked that way. There are also stories that come across rather silly to modern eyes, they dealt with social issues of the day that simply have no application today.
So far, I’ve only read up to about issue 45 and when I started reading comics, the first Iron Man I ever bought was #68, issued in April 1974. The first run of Iron Man comics had 332 issues and I plan on reading through them all. This includes some of the most classic, essential storylines that Iron Man ever had, including the Demon in a Bottle storyline that ran in issues #120-128 and Armor Wars which appeared in #225-231. I honestly don’t think that Marvel has come close to some of these classic stories past the Volume 1 series.
See, I love Iron Man, just as a concept. My three favorite Marvel superheroes are Iron Man, Spider-Man and Daredevil and I like them all for the same reason. They can take off their costumes and be normal people, living normal lives. They are superheroes by choice, not by chance. Unlike so many other Marvel heroes, they’re not green, they don’t have wings or tails, they are not forced into the role by the physical freaks that they are. That was sort of the X-Men schtick and while there’s certainly a place for that, it’s not what really drew me to it.
Especially in the case of Tony Stark, when that costume comes off, he’s just a normal guy. He might be a billionaire playboy, but he has no underlying abilities. Peter Parker and Matt Murdoch, even in civilian garb, have abilities to call on in an emergency, Stark has none of that. Without the suit, he might be a genius but he’s a powerless genius. I think that draws me to the character most of all. In more recent incarnations, where they’ve tried to do Extremis and the Ultimate version, where the suit is a part of the man, I’ve been much less interested because he’s no longer human, he’s superhuman.
In fact, this has gotten me into re-reading tons of old comics. We sat down to watch The Incredible Hulk and yes, I loaded up a bunch of old Hulk comics on the tablet and am reading them. I also stuck on a pile of John Byrne Alpha Flights. It’s been a lot of fun, “paging” through old comics that I know and have loved and recognizing how much better they are, even 30-40 years later, than the crap that’s coming out today.
It’s no wonder that the comics industry is in the dumper today. There just isn’t much quality and the stories that appeal to a wide audience certainly aren’t there. They’re just a vehicle for getting movies made today and when that goes away, as it inevitably will, where does that leave the comics?