Saturday, September 20, 2008
All That No Longer Glitters
Although I haven't mentioned it before, I've been reading a *gulp* Marvel miniseries. Why? Because it's The Twelve, which is about Golden Age characters that Marvel inherited from its days as Timely Comics, but hasn't used. I love the zaniness of the Golden Age and am always interested to see how its characters are portrayed.
"Interested", however, is not always "happy"; what I've read in the Twelve has not met my hopes. When I first heard about The Twelve, I thought, "Oh, good; a shot of Golden Age goodness for Marvel. That's just what it needs!"
As I've mentioned before, Marvel's heroic roots are in the paranoid pessimism of the 1950s/60s (the Silver Age), whereas DC's heroic roots are in the cockeyed optimism of the 1930s/40s (the Golden Age).
This fact colors everything each company does. There are literally thousands of examples, but I'll recap just one from this season's biggest crossovers. In the DCU, zillions of heroes fight a seemingly hopeless fight against Evil (or the Depression, or the Axis; it's all the same) but never give up. Meanwhile, in the Marvel World, disguised aliens infiltrate our world and turn heroes against one another. It's a nearly perfect example of one of the essential paradigmatic differences between DC and Marvel: DC heroes are in conflict with villains, while Marvel heroes are in conflict with one another.
I was hoping that having a fresh infusion of Golden Age blood from The Twelve would, if not lighten, at least brighten up Marvel a bit, where only poor Captain America remains to carry the torch of the can-do-ism that characterized early comic book heroes. Boy, I'd hate to think what kind of place Marvel would be if they ever allowed that character to be killed off! I was hoping that the Twelve might bring to Marvel the same kind of grounding, of nobility, of wisdom that the Justice Society has brought to the DCU since DC decided to stop being embarrassed by its Golden Age, and ended the JSA's exile in limbo.
No such luck. I hoped -- because I'm a DC fan, and that's what we do. But instead of playing to my hopes, Marvel spoke to my worst fears. Members of the Twelve are delusional, or racists, or self-hating Jews, or vain popinjays, or minions of Satan, or woefully unable to adapt to the present. Rather than being inspirations from the past, they are used to affirm that people have always been as shallow, screwed up, and chaotic as they are now (at least, as they are in the Marvel World!). Not only are the Twelve not being used to burnish the present, they are, instead, being used to tarnish the past.
They're trapped in a Watchmen-lite murder mystery, more Marvel heroes in conflict with one another, rather than banding together against external threats. Sure, I'm disappointed. Much as it might surprise you, I don't want to not enjoy Marvel Comics. If their worldview were more upbeat, I might be able to enjoy them, and I was hoping the Twelve would be a step in that direction. Alas.
But that's not what really bothers me. What really bothers me is that the Twelve is being written by J. Michael Straczynski. J. Michael Straczynski is also the person slated to introduce another set of Golden Age characters, the MLJ heroes, into DC continuity. And that includes the Shield, whom I would like to see in all his goofy Golden Age glory, broad-jumping onto moving airplanes, setting himself on fire, and breaking into song at inappropriate moments, not fighting other heroes.
I do not consider the Twelve a good sign. But I am still, of course, hopeful.