Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Abstraction, or, "God, my hands are beautiful!"

I love these new house ads DC is doing! You know, the ones with a creepy picture of a villain labeled with just one word, an Abstract Noun of Evil.

By the way, I'm in the school of thought that says that's Luthor in the suit and Brainiac is the little bug on his shoulder.

There are several smart things going on in these ads.

One, they're good, solid teasers. You know these characters are going to be part of something big coming up, and you get only the most abstract hint of what their involvement is going to be.

It's in the same vein as the "Last Supper" house ad (for Countdown? Final Crisis? Whatever!). Intriguing design with mysterious clues. People can't resist a mystery.

Two, they make good use of villains. The mettle of a hero is often measured by the quality of his villains, and the same could be said of heroic universes as well. DC villains rock. Marvel, as I've mentioned, is so interested in pitting their heroes against one another, that the development of their villains has suffered for it, and while there are some exceptions, on the whole, Marvel's villains are severely lacking in bizarritude and fabulosity. DC's villainry, however is broad, deep, and freaktacular.

Where DC generally errs is its occasional "More is better" thinking. "If one Batman villain is threatening, than 8 of them together will be mind-boggling!" (also known as "Loeb-think"). Actually, it's mind-numbing, instead. You see, it's a nice theory, but in practice all it does is water down each of the participants, and confuses quantity with quality. Once you start writing stories where Batman (or Spider-Man or whoever) takes on and defeats a whole slew of his foes at one time, each one then becomes that much less credible as an individual threat. Case in point: the Flash's Rogues. Each of them used to, on their own, give Barry Allen a run for his money. Now, you need to cobble about 14 of them together to pose a serious threat to a Shriners Convention. If you want further proof, ask yourself, where does every superhero movie franchise start to degrade? Answer: when there's more than one bad guy in the movie.

These ads make clear DC's intention to invest in individual villains, thus making them serious contenders. As we were reminded in 52, guys like T.O. Morrow, Kanjar Ro, Despero, and Dr. Destiny used to fight the entire JLA to a standstill. Mongul has always bored me silly; just a big strong man for Superman to trade blows with. But they've been re-creating him as a broader, more varied, and more interesting threat, and now I'm actually interested in him.

Three, they re-affirm the idea that DC characters stand for something. Like characters in a myth, they aren't just people, but instantiations of ideas, or ways of looking at the world. The Joker is just a creepy clown guy, but he's also a symbol of chaos. Luthor is a really smart mad scientist, but he's also Jealously and Obsession personified. Such associations evolve over time, but here DC is doing it intentionally, and that shows sophistication in their understanding of the mythic underpinnings of their work. Usually, much attention is given to what heroes stand for (Truth, Justice, and the American Way), but villains need conceptual love, too, you know.

Marvel fans might find this all a bit silly and UNsophisticated, because "real" people are just that, not personified concepts. To Marvel, abstract nouns are just a device for naming characters. And to some degree, they are right; DCs characters' level of abstraction can make them seem less grounded, less "real". But it also makes them more iconic, and more powerful devices for telling stories about the conflict of ideas. Ya picks yer poison and takes yer chances, folks.

Fourth, they're witty. In aping the style of inspirational office posters, DC's created a strong irony in these ads that hits you square in the head!

Speaking of getting hit in the head, it occurs to me that DC villains are not the only characters who could star in a series of illustrative posters on vices and other undesirables. Behold, my own contribution:


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Comments:
I love these new house ads DC is doing! You know, the ones with a creepy picture of a villain labeled with just one word, an Abstract Noun of Evil.

Is that what that "Oppression" thing is? And here I thought Brainiac had started his own fragrance line...
 
Luthor is a really smart mad scientist, but he's also Jealously and Obsession personified.

I agree, but that ad says "Oppression", plus he's got the diodes on his head and is pictured with Kandor. Looks like a iconic Brainiac image to me.

Man, I miss the Perez design for Brainiac.

When I think of Luthor I picture him brooding and angry, staring through the windows of his office at a silhouette, flying in the distance.

I like more Marvel heroes, but prefer DC's villains. Most of my pull list is also Marvel, but all my Heroclix are DC. Marvel's villains have been neglected and under utilized for a long time.
 
Marvel has Spiral. The lady is so crazy it's sublime!
 
"but that ad says "Oppression", plus he's got the diodes on his head and is pictured with Kandor. Looks like a iconic Brainiac image to me."

I think you misunderstand me. The subject IS Brainiac; he's oppressing both the bottled cities and Luthor. Just my guess.
 
I still say it looks like a fragrance ad.

Oppression. By Colu Inclined.
 
Eh, I would have thought this was clever if sites like macrochan hadn't beaten the faux inspiration poster thing into the ground years ago.
 
Great post!
 
I don't think Marvel actually rejects words like that. I just think in most cases the words they've picked don't really ring true to the characters.

Such as Spider-Man being intrinsicly linked to "responsibility".

The character isn't really the Avatar of responsibility, but because thats a key word (and lesson) so linked with him he can't escape it. So if Marvel ever did these type of adds (or books like Shazam: The Power of Hope) it would almost have to be Responsibility.
 
Have there been any other of these house ads? Brainiac is the only one I've seen.
 
"Ya picks yer poison and takes yer chances, folks."

Someone's been reading too much Jonah Hex lately.
 
where does every superhero movie franchise start to degrade? Answer: when there's more than one bad guy in the movie.

What about Batman Begins? That did a good job with both Rhas al Ghul and the Scarecrow, and both were definitely needed.
 
"while there are some exceptions, on the whole, Marvel's villains are severely lacking in bizarritude and fabulosity. DC's villainry, however is broad, deep, and freaktacular"

I couldn't agree more. Although I have to wonder whether the explanation for it is that...

"Marvel, as I've mentioned, is so interested in pitting their heroes against one another, that the development of their villains has suffered for it, "

...or simply the fact that the most iconic DC villains were created in the early 40s, whereas Marvel villains were created in the early 60s. Maybe writers were better with villains back in the 40s.
 
I dunno-- Doom as Pride, Green Goblin as Vengeance, Magneto as, say, Vigilance [against the future mutant holocaust, etc], Kingpin as Voraciousness... I think the big Marvel villains are plenty iconic. I mean, not Venom or anything, but then again not Bane.

Really, besides the big Batman and Superman villains (Joker, Two-Face, Scarecrow, Luthor, Brainiac, Bizarro), plus maybe Sinestro, I'm not sure the DC villains are *intrinsically* any more conceptual than Marvel's. Someone like Mongul is getting rebranded here, not having his traditional identity brought to the fore.
 
"while there are some exceptions, on the whole, Marvel's villains are severely lacking in bizarritude and fabulosity. DC's villainry, however is broad, deep, and freaktacular"

The Porcupine.
 
Modok, Klaw, Paste Pot Pete, Ego The Living Planet, Cameron Hodge when he was the immortal demonized techno-organic severed head, Batroc The Leaper, The Owl...

And they were just the equally freaktastic Marvel villains I could think up quickly.


Oh, and Rocket Racer and Big Wheel!
 
Come now people, you can't forget The Gibbon and his wife the blind anaconda lady.

Oh jebus the punisher war journal is good.

The Matador who has the power of... being a matador.

White Rabbit is also funny.
 
To everyone naming Marvel heros, I can only add one thing:

Who?
 
Well, it's true that Marvel has some nice villains. However, DC has talking intelligent killer gorillas! Yes, Gorilla Grodd, and up until quite recently, Msr. Mallah and the Brain. I mean, c'mon! Who doesn't like talking apes?

You know what's even better? A talking Nazi VAMPIRE Gorilla!

Oh, and Hal, thy name is indeed vanity. Thank you Scipio!
 
However, DC has talking intelligent killer gorillas!

Marvel has two guys called Gorilla Man, two guys called Ape-Man, Gorr the Golden Gorilla, the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes, and, the wildest and wackiest of all, the Beasts of Berlin!
 
Actually, I make a whole bunch of these posters at my blog. Check them out and see if you like any of them.
 
But Marvel would bring back Gorilla Man just to mock his lameness, while each time DC brings back Gorilla Grodd, he is more badass.
I think at a fundamental level, Marvel writers are ashamed they're writing comic books and not novels.
 
"I think at a fundamental level, Marvel writers are ashamed they're writing comic books and not novels."

Zing! That has the ring of Truth.
 
The Mandrill: a humanoid baboon whose scent makes him irresistable to women.

Madcap: he fires a bubble gun!

The Toad: he wears a jester costume and has hopping power.

Frog Man: wears a giant frog costume.

Swarm: a Nazi made out of bees.

Marvel has plenty of fabulously bizarre (dare I say *fun*) villains, but, as with Rainbow Raider and Crazy Quilt, they're at the fringes of their universe. They're not iconic (except maybe Modok), however.
 
Actually, I make a whole bunch of these posters at my blog. Check them out and see if you like any of them.

Very nice!!
 
"I think at a fundamental level, Marvel writers are ashamed they're writing comic books and not novels."

Zing! That has the ring of Truth.


Well, maybe today. I haven't read a new Marvel comic in years, but from what I hear about what's going on, they certainly do seem ashamed of what they're doing. But not back in the day, my own personal Golden Age of Comics (when I was a lad of 5-10). Most of Marvel's writers of that time, especially Bill Mantlo and Steve Englehart, really seemed to enjoy what they were doing and it showed in their writing. And just about the only comics EIC I've ever seen, Marvel or DC, who seemed to treat his position as the custodianship of something that belonged to the fans, and not his own private toybox, was Roy Thomas.
 
I just remembered that Marvel licensed some real, "serious" Successness-style motivational posters several years back. They're apparently no longer available, and the links to the old collection of pictures is dead, but you can see a couple of them here:

http://ponchorama.com/?p=1409

Some of them were actually pretty good, and others were unintentionally amusing (like using The Punisher and/or various supervillains as people to emulate.)
 
I don't mean old Marvel, I mean 'Civil War' Marvel. Guys like Joe Q and Mark Millar don't get it, neither do guys like Brad Meltzer. Gail Simone, Roy Thomas, Mark Waid get it; they write comics that are only comics, not screenplays re-adapted for comics.
They treat their characters (and readers) respectfully.
 
Hear, hear!
 
@ beta ray steve: "But Marvel would bring back Gorilla Man just to mock his lameness"

Unless the writer is Jeff Parker, who brought Gorilla Man back in Agents of Atlas ... badass.
 
"Gail Simone, Roy Thomas, Mark Waid get it; they write comics that are only comics, not screenplays re-adapted for comics.
They treat their characters (and readers) respectfully."

Marvel has some writers like that. Fred Van Lente of Action Philosophers fame, for one. Or Jeff Parker, as noted above, who did a great job on Marvel Adventures: Avengers - Ego The LIving Planet, macking on Earth; Modok turning the Avengers into Modoks, etc.

Keith Giffen avoids the "I wish I was writing Lost" thing, too.
 
Is that really supposed to be Hal?

Looks more like The Desert Peach got handed a power ring.
 
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