Hello, Marvel Writers!
Excelsior! Stan Lee thrilled a lot of people with his home state’s motto, usually using it as a way of signing off. It means “Ever Higher!” and his characters have always reached higher, even when he stopped writing their adventures.
A recent comer to the comic book forum, I have found several storylines that I enjoy, many of them the earliest stories. The more recent stories of the past twenty plus years – well, that’s what I’m writing about right now.
You see, I don’t enjoy several of them, and I don’t understand why some of them turned out the way they did. For starters, let’s look at Avengers: Disassembled. For the first time in Marvel history, the Avengers all quit at once. Poof. Even Captain America, the hardiest member of the team, the one who never gives up, hangs up his costume and leaves.
Wouldn’t it have been better to have the team bat the notion of disbanding around for a few issues instead? They would definitely have fought over the notion, having come to such crises points several times before and rebounded; it certainly seems that Cap, the most dedicated Avenger, was none too pleased with throwing in the towel after the Scarlet Witch tore everything up in the House of M stories (I don’t quite understand why that happened, either). They could have eventually come to a consensus where they said, “Okay, we’re disbanding. End of story.”
But, horror of horrors, aliens land and attack (or some other great crisis occurs) the exact day that they are supposed to dissolve their fighting partnership, and they have to go and stop them (or it). This would definitely restore the get up and go of several of the heroes, though others would and could still quit. Wouldn’t that have been better than the whole team vanishing into the ether of regular life, even if it was only temporary? (When I say temporary, I mean for whatever length of time in the comics that the team was scattered.)
I don’t like the notion of all-out war between heroes and heroines, either, such as those that have occurred first in the Civil War story arc and more recently in Avengers vs. X-Men. In the former, why would any hero even consider revealing their identity to the world, whether required by law or not?
Several of them have suffered from one thoughtless lift of their mask, where a hidden enemy saw and recognized their face. Or where something they said gave their secret identity away. Spider-Man has suffered from this more often than others, as the demise of Gwen Stacy attests. That Dr. Doom knows the real identities of the Fantastic Four, as do a multitude of other villains, means that they must constantly be on their guard. How would Spidey, as Peter Parker, a young man with little money and resources, detect any traps laid for him at his residence before it was too late to avoid them, the way that the FF can? Can Tony Stark even smile at a waitress anymore, without her becoming the target of some super villain who gets it into his head that maybe she’s become Tony’s latest date?
On top of that, Civil War saw heroes actively attempting to kill each other. Iron Man and Cap, trying to destroy each other? It makes no sense. Why would Iron Man try to kill a friend who had saved his life a thousand times, and whose life he had saved in return nearly the same amount of time? To quote Mr. Spock, it would be extremely “illogical”.
And why would Cyclops accept the arrival of the Phoenix Force coming to Earth (again)? After what it did to Jean Grey, the love of his life? But if she’s finally packed her bags for Marvel’s great beyond, then he would be left with little reason to keep fighting; was that the theory behind this part of the story?
As for putting Wolverine in charge of the X-Men, isn’t that out of character? The Wolverine of old was a loner, loyal as a hunting hound but not a pack dog. He went his own way for his own reasons, and preferred that people stayed out of his business. Who is this newer, gentler man with six adamantium claws of carnage?
What has happened? Why are stout heroes suddenly dancing on the thin grey line between light and dark? Why is Iron Man siding with the government, a government he will not build weapons for, against his fellows to get them to obey an unjust law?
Why is Cyclops turning into a murderer? Why is Hawkeye dating almost every lady he meets? Why did Mary Jane Watson suddenly go to join Gwen Stacy in the great beyond? Why would Black Widow side with a government repeating the mistakes of a government she ran from not so long ago? Why would Mockingbird finish her divorce with Hawkeye after such a long time away from the world and people that she loved?
Why would the Scarlet Witch go crazy? Why would Gambit suddenly be found not only to be a thief, prior to joining the X-Men, but also aiding and abetting genocide of the Morlocks before that time? Why would Storm forsake the love of her husband, the Black Panther, for her loyalty to an obviously unstable leader of the X-Men?
Why? I don’t ask this merely for the sake of what these characters once were. I ask for the sake of what they will one day be. Several now stand on the brink of falling into total darkness, becoming guilty of the same crimes as their adversaries. Would the Captain America of old have ordered Wolverine to kill Hope Summers to prevent the arrival of the Phoenix? No, I don’t believe he would.
What kind of tone are these stories setting for the readers? I have laid a hand on none of these comics, but every time I read about the characters’ latest exploits (and in some cases, crimes) I turn off the computer downhearted. In my earlier research, I was tempted to forsake the comics altogether.
Why, you ask? Because there was no hope in them. There was no thought that while the days may get darker, somewhere at the end of the battle things could be rebuilt. That in the end, life would return to some modicum of happiness and beauty.
Yes, some of the heroes may not live to see that time. But would that make them stop fighting for it? I think not, for the simple reason that it was worth fighting for in the first place.
When I read something, I want to be entertained, that’s true. But I also want hope and the greater good reaffirmed in what I read. In these story arcs, I see little hope or good; only continuation that spirals into darkness. The world is dark enough. Can’t a little light, even through the prism of the stained glass window of Marvel comics, let a smile chase away the fears, scars, and tears? If only for a little while, wouldn’t it be worth it?
I know that there are some out there, reading this open letter, who are saying, “That’s not true, those were good story arcs!”
I ask in return, “How? What gain do they give? Do they make you smile and cheer for the heroes?”
They are what the audience wants, someone in the cybernetic ether shouts. They’re what the audience needs, another cries, Reality. The original stories were for a simpler time. We’re living in a new age!
Are we? A simpler time, they say. What made it so simple? Perhaps it was that they, the original readers and writers, knew that the world was made up of people who needed light during the darkness of toil, of fear, of war or other catastrophes outside man’s control. They knew that the best way to make life a little easier, if only for a moment, was with the sunlight of hope and goodness.
Have we lost that? I don’t believe we have. I don’t believe, as some may think from reading this letter, that Marvel’s heroes will turn to dust if they continue on these paths. I do believe, however, that unless these stories change and the heroes regain their footing in moral conduct, they will be the worse for wear and that some may never return to the pages of Marvel Comics in any good light. To me, that would be a sad loss, one I hope does not come to pass.
Finally I have one final question for you, fellow writers. What now? Do you go on the way you have, or change direction?
For my part, I say, “Excelsior!”
Mithril (or, a Troubled True Believer)