Friday, May 22, 2009

ANTI-POPULIST RANT!

Okay THIS

is really the final straw. In case you can't access that link, I'm referring to this:

In this third issue, Bo aids Lockjaw, Lockheed, Redwing, Hairball, the new Frog Thor, and more super-hero companions in their quest for the Infinity Gems, which will lead the team to the bottom of the ocean and bring them face-to-furry-face with Giganto.

Retailers have witnessed firsthand the kind of attention a comic can receive when associated with the word “Obama.” The mainstream press had a spotlight on Bo even before he stepped paw in the White House, and adults and children alike remain infatuated with the First Dog, so make sure you order ample copies of the third issue.


Joe Quesada, I call thee harlot. Marvel, I damn thee as a whore.

Look, I own a comic book store, so I'm certainly empathetic with the desire to sell comics. But, really, Marvel. The president's dog?! That's just not right.

You want to know why people don't respect superhero comics? It's not just because they are fantastical in nature. It's because of things like Tim Gunn wearing the Iron Man Suit ("This glowing area, Tony; this worries me. Is this really practical? Attention-grabbing, yes, but have you thought about how well it will wear?").

Now, I know DC can occasionally indulge in such pop culture dalliances (ahem, Superman versus Muhammed Ali, anyone?), but Marvel is a much more serious and frequent offender. DC's a classy lady who sometimes has too many martinis and abandons her virtue for an evening to a smooth-talking beau. Marvel's a crack-whore wandering the street night and day looking for the next loudly-dressed passing fad to feature; "Hey, wanna me to put you inside my pages? All it costs is your dignity!"

Ever hear how Marvel got stuck with Dazzler, the Roller Disco Diva? Remember Razorback, with his mutant power of super-truckdriving from the CB radio era? And those are just a few fads. The list of shameless uses of real-world personalities to bolster sales or make Marvel stories "more realistic" is nearly endless. The awful, terrible, and vaguely racist back-up story in Spider-Man 583 where President Obama is used in a story ripped off from an old Booster Gold comic book is just one of the most notable examples.

Am I being snooty in my pretentions for superhero comics? Is it self-deceiving to think that my favorite part of pop culture should hold itself aloof from other parts of pop culture?

Perhaps.

But there is an objective problem with Marvel doing this sort of thing. Unlike most of the pop culture references it's making, the Marvel universe (or any other comic book world) is ideally an on-going enterprise. Its characters outlive (one hopes) the fads and personages who are intruded into its world from ours. But every time a "Tim Gunn" meets an Iron Man, a story and everything in its pinned to a point in time like a butterfly stabbed with a pin. In DC's fast and loose "continuity of the week" environment this is less painful; as long as the story is never referred to again, it doesn't really exist. But Marvel and its fans are famously slavish to their continuity. The combination of dated cultural references and guest-stars with an iron-clad continuity fetish is irreconcible and deadly... .

Marvel began as Timely, and tries to be timely still. But when you live by the sword you die by the sword. And if Marvel's characters seem less iconic and timeless than DC's, it's partly because Marvel is more interested in getting icons to appear with their characters than getting their characters to appear as icons.

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Comments:
Cutting, but oh so true.
 
Because DC would never have President Kennedy in Clark Kent's apartment.

Or break-dancing Justice League members.

Or disco-dancing Legion of Super-Heroes members.

Or Prez.

Or the Legion of Super-Pets. (But I guess they were more dignified, because they refused admittance to Presidential pets.)

Mumble, mumble. . .DC zombies. . .mutter, mutter.

For the record, I read and enjoy both DC and Marvel comics. And sometimes I read and dislike both DC and Marvel comics. But the rampant anti-Marvelism hereabouts baffles me sometimes.

I bet a lot of anti-dentites read this blog, too.
 
Steve, I built a concession that DC has its share guilt into the post itself. And I will concede JFK/Clark Kent to you.

But note how LONG AGO your examples are from. Marvel is currently soliciting a story with TIM GUNN IN A IRON MAN SUIT and THE PRESIDENT'S DOG WORKING WITH THOR-FROG.

Furthermore, "dancing" isn't exactly a fad. Both of what you would call "break dancing" and "disco dancing" continue in current culture, and under various guises, always have and will.

Prez was a political allegory, not a pop culture guest star. And what the Legion of Super-Pets has to do with any of this I don't know. I have NO object to the Marvel Pets miniseries; it's a charming idea. It's "Guest starring Bo Obama, the President's dog!" that I object to.
 
Scipio, it's okay. Sometimes I just have to play devil's advocate. When there was some heavy DC bashing on the Wildstorm boards at the DC site, I was the one jumping in to defend DC.
 
Dentists do suck.
 
To me this isn't about popular culture. This is politics, and Marvel is (and has been for a while) staking out a political position as endorsed by its heroes. I don't care for that in my comics. DC, despite involving the 2008 presidential contest in a limited series, stopped short of having the Voice of Moral Right, Superman, give an endorsement; the positions the DC heroes took made sense to me given the characters.

I won't be buying any book promoted as having a currently active political figure appearing. I hope none of the rest of you will either. Because that's the only way it will stop.

-- Jack of Spades
 
Hm. That's an interesting perspective, Jack; that hadn't occurred to me.

My perception was that Marvel simply finally had a president who was a popular culture icon to play with. Because politics doesn't explain Tim Gunn in an Iron Man suit.
 
i've been reading your blog for a few monthes now and this is really the first time i've ever seen you mention Marvel
even in your sometimes weekly "things i enjoy in my comics" i get the impression that you only READ DC comics
i'm not saying you're not entitled to your opinion, i'm just saying if you don't like Marvel to begin with, why read something like the Pet Avengers anyway?
 
Scip has done a number of articles contrasting Marvel and DC and why he prefers one over the other (excellent articles worth tracking down by the way), and I don't think it's about bashing the one he doesn't like. It's about explaining WHY he doesn't like Marvel as much. There's a difference.

The fact that Quesada has appeared to have a Right Wing agenda for a while now, but fully embraces the media darling that is Obama plays into Scip's thesis here. It's not all politics (Punisher vs. Eminem anyone?).

But while I don't mind the real world guest stars that much (remember the Letterman crossover?), I think the point is well made about its impairment to myth-making.

I'll always be more disturbed by the political statements than anything. Iron Man espousing rights-curtailing legislation and Captain America fatally losing that argument, and then Obama himself handing SHIELD's key to a known super-villain... At least DC can claim to be allegorical with its fictional cities and Lex Luthor in the White House.
 
It may also betray the intended audience or the mentality of the writers: Marvel, with their focus on "realism" (read as "protagonists who don't fit in with mainstream society"), seems targetted directly at the preteen and adolescent market. That also explains the trendiness of such things. Kids giggle with glee when they see a reality star spoofed or walking on in other forms of entertainment, whereas the "old farts" like us (ugh, hitting 35 means I have to change the box I check off on demographic research, right?) really couldn't care less.

Likewise, no actual adult teamster would be caught dead reading a comic book about the trucking industry. It's only the kids who might find it cool.

This flipside is also frequently DC's failing. They tend to produce books that "shout out" to the old-timers in the audience (along the lines of "look, silver kryptonite--remember that?"), often at the expense of telling a story, and making the book a bit opaque to casual readers.
 
"Quesada has appeared to have a Right Wing agenda for a while now"

Really? That's interesting...

tell me more.
 
don't forget that marvel one-shot called nightcat-- early 90's, some real life singer who was supposed to become famous... like a real-life dazzler! guess they didn't learn their lesson....
 
Scip, I don't disagree that Marvel is also a pop-culture whore, but the Obama-worship seems of a piece with the "the government is threat to innocents" sentiment found in both anti-Bush propaganda and Civil War.

Siskoid, I think the fact that you see Quesada's as right-wing and I see it as left-wing points to the inadequacy of the left-right system more than anything else. Marvel has become, as Jerry Pournelle described it, overtly anti-statist/rational; the fact that a previously very statist/irrational character (Captain America) is set up to take the anti-statist position, while a previously very anti-statist/rational character (Iron Man) is made into a statist so he can serve as the villain is the major source of my disaffection with Marvel. Because like Superman's, Captain America's moral compass is never wrong. And Marvel couldn't leave him above the politcs.

DC seems to be able to say that welfare liberals, libertarians, conservatives, and counter-culturists can all be heroes. Marvel is defining a correct political philosophy and painting anyone who doesn't agree (and many who do) as a bad guy.
 
And I forgot to sign...

-- Jack of Spades, above
 
One of the prize comics of my collection is an issue of "Super-Team Family" from the early seventies, where the Challengers of the Unknown are dispatched to the Bermuda Triangle to rescue Henry Kissinger. Huns and dinosaurs are involved. It was a riot. Marvel is far, far more pop-culture pandering than DC, without question, but man, Kissinger and the Challs in the Triangle? Sweet.

I'm of the opinion that Marvel embracing its ephemeral, trashy side is a good thing. The tendency towards pomposity in superhero comics is strong and ugly. By reveling in silly ephemera, the comics are more willing to take themselves less seriously, and by the headband of Jor-El, that's needed. Writing about Immortal Legends of the Ages tends to produce different work than writing about "crap that's big now and won't be next week." And I like the difference.

The leftover characters from past fads are some of my favorite characters: Iron Fist, Power Man, the aforementioned (and hilarious) Razorback...love 'em.

Marvel does sometimes "forget" embarrassing stuff or things that aren't fixable by continuity. (Captain America saw Richard Nixon commit suicide in 1974? He fought Ronald Reagan in hand-to-hand combat in the Oval Office after the Gipper was mutated into a snake-man? The Punisher must be how old by now?) The sillier the work, the more it tends to be "forgotten." The Pet Avengers will be enjoyed by a small number of buyers and then forgotten to larger continuity. That it starred Bo and not Barney or Socks will be written off.

What can I say -- I like my comics fast, trashy, and wild, written without a hint of concern for What Comes Tomorrow. It's more fun that way. It gave us the Hypno Hustler, baby. Anything that gave us the Hypno Hustler is right.
 
"where the Challengers of the Unknown are dispatched to the Bermuda Triangle to rescue Henry Kissinger."

Is that one where Henry wallops a foe with his briefcase? I remember that...
 
Yeah, it's not like Bill Clinton went to Superman's funeral or anything. Etc.

They're cash-grabbing. Happens all the time. At least Pet Avengers is fun.

Besides, they've got nothing on Herbie Popnecker.
 
One issue I had with the Spidey/Obama thing is that Spider-Man editor Steve Wacker said in an interview that Marvel uses real-life political figures to ensure "realism" in their books. Sure, it was a publicity stunt, but it was REALLY ABOUT THE REALISM!

Then, about two months later, J. Jonah Jameson is elected mayor of New York. Which, though it may be a fun idea for storyline purposes (maybe they can do President Luthor right the way DC didn't), totally goes against their self-professed "realism" in the SAME series.

But I almost can't blame them -- if people are dumb enough to buy a comic solely because it has a celebrity on the cover, might as well make the quick cash-in. It's the people who suffer, since in 15 years it will be worth just as much as Superman #75 is worth today...
 
...And if people buy a comic solely because the President's dog is in it, well, they need something better to do with their money.
 
"Is that one where Henry wallops a foe with his briefcase? I remember that..."Hell yeah! A high point for "what the hell?" comics. Dinosaurs, huns, vikings, Mongol warriors, Henry Kissinger: now that's a damn comic.
 
Maybe it's just me, or maybe I've heard Quesada espouse pro-Bush sentiment somewhere... the Colbert Report? I don't remember now.

It was around Civil War though. And the similarities with the Patriot Act are undeniable. And while Jack is right that Captain America is never wrong, I don't think Quesada knows that. While Marvel certainly doesn't say the Green Goblin as the head of SHIELD is a good thing, only a handful of heroes don't agree with the Registration Act. The Marvel Universe is fine with it.

Civil War ended with Cap basically throwing in the towel and accepting Iron Man's point. And then Cap was assassinated. End of the old order.

It looks bad. Maybe I'm projecting onto Marvel Editorial. It's quite possible they don't know what message they're sending. It's even possible no one but me reads that message. And in a very real sense: It's not really important.

You could probably make the argument that the Registration Act is actually gun registration, and Iron Man's suddenly speaking for the left. Which doesn't explain Captain America's objections.
 
Captain America didn't accept Iron Man's point. He surrendered to prevent further casualties, and he was prepared to argue his point in court. Only he was killed en route to the courthouse.

Most of the Marvel heroes are not happy with the new order, even those that supported the Superhuman Registration Act initially. That's kind of the point of Dark Reign.
 
Y'know, as much as I hate Marvel, my deep and abiding love of Mr. Gunn and all things Project Runway guarantees that I'll be buying at least one of their comics in the near future.

It may be a craven gimmick, but in this one instance it's one I can definitely appreciate.
 
I'm laying money that the Tim Gunn thing (no matter what the publicity says) is going to be some sort of pun-based gag. Irons, and all that.
 
"Most of the Marvel heroes are not happy with the new order, even those that supported the Superhuman Registration Act initially. That's kind of the point of Dark Reign."

But the ones who have changed their mind aren't suddenly unhappy about Registration because it basically amounts to the govt forcibly drafting everybody with superpowers. Or about the fact that supervillains who were hunted down were given a free pass--serve for a year, then get the hell out of the country with a million dollars and don't come back--while actual heroes who were hunted down were thrown into prison without due process and sometimes tortured. No, they're only unhappy about it now because of Norman Osbourn running it.
 
The whole thing reminds me of the "Abraham Lincoln's Doctor's Dog" bit from The Barefoot Executive.
 
"One of the prize comics of my collection is an issue of "Super-Team Family" from the early seventies, where the Challengers of the Unknown are dispatched to the Bermuda Triangle to rescue Henry Kissinger."

Was he on his way back from signing that treaty with Doctor Doom?
 
Let's not forget (like a lot of people have) how Iron Man orchestrated a fraudelent attack during a session of congress to get the Registration Act pushed through and then also orchestrated the attempted murder of a foreign dignitary. What kind of message does THAT send? Funny how they have never gone back and addressed any of the illegal, immoral, and unethical actions of one of Marvel's premiere heroes.
 
Thanks so much for the post, quite helpful piece of writing.
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