Although there may be certain characters who inhabit my wild fan-boy heart more than others, I don’t choose sides when it comes to my imagination. Marvel does some amazing funny books. So does DC. So does Image. So does Fantagraphics. So do the quintillion other publishers out there. I don’t see the purpose in drawing sides. It only hurts the industry we love so much and damages the future of comic books. You love ’em, you try ’em, you buy ’em and keep ’em alive. Simple as that.
With all that having been said, what the hell’s happening at Marvel these days?
I know, I know; every true believer out there just clenched their collective asses awaiting yet another Marvel-bashing article. But take a breath Marvelites, as that is not the case. I am one of you. Honest. One of my all time favorite comic runs is Amazing Spider-Man #233-#236 (the heart breaking Tarantula storyline), I was the one who liked New Excalibur and I swear, one day I’m going to get that Willie Lumpkin tattoo I’ve always been promising (whereabouts is between me and my gods). Lately though, I must admit, it feels to me that Marvel is changing and it doesn’t seem to be for the better.
Of course, change is not only good for comics, but necessary. All art forms must evolve and grow. Yet when the product is moved too far from its original premise, then problems arise. If Coke slowly started to taste more and more like pork over time, then it’s not really Coke any more. Marvel, in their urgency to appear more diverse and contemporary have made major changes to not only their characters, but their whole universe. This is not always a bad thing. I loved Civil War and the changes it brought. It seemed to inspire the whole creative process within Marvel. I even liked the recent Secret Wars mini series, which had some had some truly breath taking moments and concepts within it (including what could be a massively amazing Fantastic Four series following Reed and Sue’s universe building adventures if Marvel could stop worrying about losing money to 20th Century Fox).
Yet what seems to be happening with Marvel at the moment is that the universe itself is becoming too far removed from its core ideas. The current Civil War II event series is endemic of this problem. I have read each issue wondering who these characters are and why I give a damn about any of them. I struggle to find a larger than life hero amongst them. Isn’t that what the big two’s characters are meant to be? Larger than life? Heroic? I struggled to find a hero among the lot of them. I couldn’t find a single character who didn’t seem to be either completely self involved, completely obnoxious, completely arrogant or constantly making jokes. I couldn’t recognize any of the characters I have loved for so long. They did not speak, nor act like anything recognizable. Okay, okay, I know I said I wasn’t going to Marvel-bash, but there is something that seems incredibly lazy about this ‘event’ and I think this has come from a massive loss of focus within Marvel.
They have made so many changes to their line ups and their universe that they don’t know who they are any more. I think that they have lost the core of their characters.
They are not the first and they won’t be the last. DC suffered the same lack of focus and erroneously tried to correct it with the New 52 which just alienated fans further. The recent Rebirth soft relaunch has been far more successful. Why? Because it wasn’t about sensationalism, but about a refocusing of what makes DC the company it is. These are solid stories that are fun to read and are strongly connected to their history, catering to new and old fans alike.
So what makes Marvel what it is?
These days it seems to be constant change. Every major character has been replaced with a stand-in, every group changes its ranks quicker than Flash changes his knickers and the ‘status quo’ of the whole shebang is as stable as a custard condom. The epic, wide-screen Marvel universe which so thrilled us has become a convoluted mess. Marvels cross-pollinating of its brands has confused things. The X-Men and the Avengers universes combining seemed like a good idea on paper, but the reality has come off as muddied and has weakened both factions. The strength of the Marvel universe was always the smaller universes which existed within it and the thrill of them crossing over once in a while. Once that partition was removed, they were all piled on top of one another leaving one big mess and the thrill was lost.
Sure, a lot of people wanted to see Wolverine on the Avengers team, but the reality of it was that it changed the Avengers into something they were not. This was, of course, partly the point, to show that this was a new Avengers team for a new age. Yet what it actually did was blur the definition of what the Avengers actually were, of what they stood for. Cap and Iron Man are going to be fighting alongside a homicidal maniac now? Um, okay. That just questions the essence of all the characters involved. The mutant universe was never the same tonally as the Avengers universe. Nor was the Defenders universe. Or the Inhumans. Or the Silver Surfer’s. That’s what made them great. That’s what made the Marvel universe itself so strong. Now I struggle to see anything tonally. All I see is an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ mentality to Marvels stories. That leads to bad story telling.
It must be hard at the comics end of Marvel these days. With Marvel Studios making so much money for Disney, there must be tremendous confusion and pressure to show their worth financially. Comics will never be able to compete with that kind of revenue making power, but with sales forever dwindling, the scrutiny must be immense. Marvel comics are to be commended then for still trying to offer diversity within its line up, both in its characters and its creators, but they must be careful not to stray too far from the original hearts of their characters. I miss the dynamics of the Marvel universe, the interactions of characters which have stood the test of time because their central ideas were so strong. You don’t need to change that. You need to celebrate it. Change is good, but you don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
The Marvel Universe is unique, one of the greatest ever cast in the world of fiction.
It deserves more than it is currently getting.
If profit is the underlying motive for Marvels decisions, then I hope that one day soon, they realize that nothing brings fans in like good solid story telling and good solid characters.