Sometime ago I did something very, very stupid. I went to check up on a favorite Marvel character and then remembered that I had not looked up the ‘mainstream’ Scarlet Witch of late; I had no idea where her story had been going, whereas I had a pretty good idea of what other Marvel characters were doing.
So what did I do? I gave into my curiosity and looked her up. It was a very, very stupid thing to do, and I knew I would regret it since what I was bound to find would not please me at all.
What did I find? I found out that Rogue killed Wanda not too long ago. (Why are my favorite Marvel characters always the ones who do something nasty or have something horrible happen to them? I have liked Rogue since the 1990’s tv series; I am beginning to think I am a bad luck charm, or something like it, for these characters.) “Great,” I thought, “Not only are they still beating up on the Scarlet Witch, they have used one of my favorite characters to kill her. Peachy.”
Then, when I was verifying my research, I discovered a disgusting fact about Ultimate Scarlet Witch that I had heretofore been blissfully unaware of. At which point, I accused myself of being the stupidest curious cat in the empty room. There are days I really hate being curious. This was one of them.
If you have followed my blog up to today then you know I am not enamored of a lot of what the Marvel Comics writers have to offer these days. In general, I prefer both the recent Avengers films and the original comics over the newer comics. When I am truly desperate for more Marvel entertainment, I turn on the cartoon shows meant for children, like Avengers Assemble. Incredible as it may be to some, I even enjoy these shows over the comics of at least the past twenty years.
Therefore, you also know that I would dearly like to see Marvel return to the lighter, more entertaining stories it used to tell and somehow still manages to give to us fans in the films, television shows, and – very infrequently – in a handful of new, stand alone comics.
Sitting back after learning of the Scarlet Witch’s most recent untoward end, I was thinking about what might have influenced the writer’s/writers’ decision to kill her – and several others – so unceremoniously.
Thinking about it, I realized that these current Marvel writers are behaving somewhat like spoiled rich kids throwing a party at a neighbor’s house in the middle of the night while the neighbor is away. They do not care about the mess they leave behind for future writers (a la the neighbor), all they care about is how much they can get out of the stories (a.k.a. the house) right now. They are not concerned with the legacy they will leave for future writers; they only care about the here and now, and to an excessive degree.
I suppose it could be argued the original Marvel writers only cared about the financial gain they acquired in writing these comics and about their success at the time. However, statements I have read attributed to Stan Lee lead me to the conclusion that the original writers were more interested in telling a good story, and that the money was simply a bonus. Today, that does not appear to be the case.
Yes, I know franchise writing is hard. You have to keep people interested. To do that, you have to come up with a story that they have never seen before. Except that the chaos of recent Marvel stories all seem to be turning into the same idea, rehashed hundreds of times over: we (humanity) are evil, even the ‘good’ guys; violence, destruction, and other such things are the norm.
I can hear other Marvel fans saying, “What do you mean the writers are making a mess of the Marvel Universe by doing this?! It’s a reflection of our times!”
But it is not a true reflection of our times, and this idea is messing up the characters.
To one who has only been exposed to the comics of the past twenty or so years, Marvel certainly seems to be going strong by playing along with the “pop culture” trends. But this was not necessarily the idea behind the original Marvel characters, who did inhabit popular culture at the time they were created, but who also stood outside it as an ideal for which the readers ought to strive.
If you research the history of the characters Marvel created before the 1980’s and read about them up to the present day, you will notice a fundamental shift in their behavior and outlook on life. Thor, Cap, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and other Avengers who were sane and mostly content with their internal compasses very suddenly began to come apart at the seams around the 1990s. They began making decisions that, given their previous history, were out of character for them. Superheroes such as Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, and others also show this sudden change during roughly the same time period. Some of the X-Men’s one-eighty degree turns occurred earlier, but many also start to do an about face in the comics of the ‘nineties.
They stopped being an ideal and became propaganda for “popular culture.”
Lately, the comics have become even more scattered and degenerate as heroes – such as Professor X, Jean Grey, Vision, and now the Scarlet Witch – are killed and, seemingly, left that way. The Scarlet Witch is now ‘deceased’ but as any Marvel fan can tell you, the number of Marvel characters who stay dead can be counted on one hand. The franchise makes too much money for them to remain in the great beyond for any immense length of time, which makes most of these characters’ ‘deaths’ unusual.
So far the Prof. and Jean have been dead for something on the order of five years, Vision for at least three years, and Wanda has been dead at least for one year, give or take a few months. I could have the number of years wrong; I am not sure just how the publishing of comics works and I am also unsure of these characters’ “death dates.” But it still appears to me that these characters have been ‘dead’ for an amount of time unheard of in most of Marvel’s previous stories.
Adding to the confusion of today’s comics is the continuous rewriting of back stories and the never-ending super hero wars. The latter goes back to Marvel story arcs Disassembled and House of M, when the Scarlet Witch first went mad and tried to destroy the world but then rewrote it to her preferences. The rewriting of character histories has been going on much longer and, in some cases, it is beneficial to a character. In other cases – such as Wanda’s – it is enough to make even an experienced Marvelite’s eyes cross in confusion (no wonder she keeps losing her mind).
At the moment, the Marvel writers seem to have an exact idea of what they have written and where they want to go with it. (Further down the gravy train’s tracks, obviously, but also at the expense of the characters.) But what happens when the popular culture trends they are following dry up – as they will do (and have done, for thousands of years)? What do the new writers who step into the franchise, who want to follow different trends or tell their own stories that – quite possibly – will not allow them to make use of their predecessors’ stories, do?
What do those who want to make the characters ideals instead of propaganda do with years of propaganda story arcs?
Yes, despite all the confusion, some new Marvel writers might find a way to connect their stories to the previous writers’ arcs. However, having tried that in my own head, I think they might run into the same problems I have. Most of the stories I would like to see Marvel tell cannot connect smoothly with the stories they are currently printing in the comics. Multiply that by, say, a hundred people who want to become Marvel writers and you have a problem. Do the new Marvel writers sacrifice their stories for the old, or do they sacrifice their predecessors’ stories of the last twenty years for their own?
Researcher that I am, I can still barely keep track of most of the major Marvel conflicts since the 1980’s. Yes, I know about Disassembled, House of M, Civil War, Avengers vs. X-Men, Age of Ultron, and I have heard about something called World War Hulk, but I have trouble keeping the details of most of these events in chronological order. If I cannot do this, then what are new writers (who might have ideas similar to mine) supposed to do when their predecessors hand over the pen and say, “See ya”?
Now, when I say “sacrifice their predecessors’ stories for their own,” I do not mean wiping out the events of the last twenty years in comics with a great big eraser. That is too much to expect of anyone. What I mean is that the new writers might “erase” these events – or most of them – from the characters’ histories. The best way to do that, so far as I can see, is to make a great many of the events that have occurred during the last twenty years of comic storytelling into some sort of “dream/nightmare sequence” for the heroes: what has happened in the past twenty years was either someone manipulating their memories or creating false ones (think Dallas). Bada-bing, bada–boom, the writers of the past years still have their stories intact but new writers have just shed baggage that would interfere with their stories.
This is what I am inclined to do. In fact, I am disposed to believe that this is the only way new writers who wanted to steer the characters in a more cheerful direction could do in order to write their stories. If others found a better way, I would be willing to hear it. I do not, however, see a better way.
I may be the only one in the world who does not like most of Marvel’s recent stories of the past twenty years. Other Marvelites might disagree with my assessment of the stories, call me backward and narrow-minded. Well, it would not be the first time I was told that, though perhaps it would be the first time it was said directly to me instead of to me and the masses. So be it; what has to be endured for the truth will be.
Of course, others are going to ask why I even care what Marvel does. In the grand scheme of the real world, Marvel means comparatively little. Why should I tie myself into knots over it?
This is a question I wrestle with all the time. Why should I care? It does not really matter, does it? No one is dying from what Marvel writes, and nothing they write will help me put food on my table.
Yet I do care, and deeply. Why?
I finally came up with something like an answer just recently. Did you ever have a favorite place to play when you were a child? Did you ever have a favorite toy, painting, or book that you enjoyed but could not say why, because you felt it but could not put it into words?
What would you do if you went back to that place where you played as a child and found it overflowing with trash, covered in graffiti, and smelling of refuse? What would you do if you saw someone break that favorite childhood toy, scratch up that favorite painting, or somehow mishandle that book you enjoyed? You would be awfully upset, would you not?
You would also try to repair the damage, for yourself if nothing else, right?
I think that that is why I care. Marvel characters were some of my favorite ‘toys’ when I was young; the Marvel Universe was one of my favorite places to ‘play’ when I was small. And, just like anyone else who sees something they enjoyed being mistreated, I cannot stand it. I want to stop it, repair the damage, make it into something I remember enjoying, so that I can enjoy it again and show others how to enjoy it.
It is silly, foolish, ridiculous, and unnecessary, I suppose. But a lot of people would say that about faith, hope, love, forgiveness, and a bunch of other proven, absurd traits of humanity, traits most of us know are good.
I hope that Marvel wakes up and stops what it is doing, before it ruins its reputation and its characters. The characters can be salvaged, if those who work at that job are careful. But a ruined reputation can never be fully repaired, something a lot of us forget these days.
Still, I have some hope for them. It is foolish, I know. But I am human. “Foolish” is what we do best.
Until next time,
The Mithril Guardian