Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Correction: The Unnecessary Severe Maiming of Reason

So we find out today that Marvel have no intentions (at this time) of pretending to kill Spider-Man, but instead will pretend to kill Ultimate Spider-Man.

So, now what? Am I guilty of premature histrionics? I suppose you could make a case for it. I say that everything I posited previously still stands. It's still a ridiculously transparent hype job, and it's killing comics. At least, I think it is.

I've been thinking a lot about comics marketing these days. Here's some of the press release copy:

Marvel is proud to announce Death of Spider-Man, the groundbreaking new story that forever changes the Ultimate Comics universe from superstar writers Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar. Kicking off with a prelude in Ultimate Spider-Man #153 and going into high-gear with Ultimate Avengers vs New Ultimates #1, this is the story that no comic fan can afford to miss when it all begins in February 2011 because, in the Ultimate Universe, There Are No Rules.

I have several problems with that sputum. Firstly, that second sentence is a monster that desperately needs trimming. But that's not the really diabolical, suicidal crap.

The ubiquitous phrase pounded about our skulls over and over and over again is "forever changes". That shit needs to go away. Yesterday. Whatever it is they've got in mind for that storyline, it will not change jack or shit. What, you mean like Ultimatum? And what was the # 1 reason we were supposed to be reading that garbage again? Oh yeah...all teams changed forever! How'd that turn out?

The only hype we ever get from Marvel any more is "change". Except nothing ever changes. Nobody stays dead, the new creative team retcons everything that came before, and go ahead and try to find something that happened even six months ago that has a damn thing to do with what you're reading now. I dare you.

That has a lot to do with the second thing that really grates me in that press release. There Are No Rules. There are no rules???? There are nothing BUT rules.

I've taken to calling this phenomenon "lunchbox" decision making. Stories at the Big 2 are told with an eye toward protecting the status quo, and the goal is to "protect' the intellectual property to preserve lunchbox sales. Or the action figures. Or the next movie.

I think this is really evident when you look at recent storylines with Daredevil and Green Arrow. You can see actual compelling developments somewhere behind the quagmire - both of those characters were supposed to go shit nuts. I fully believe that JT Krul was going somewhere good with his "Arrow gone mad" arc, and I believe Andy Diggle was considering taking Daredevil down a dark road that we would have remembered for a good long while.

And the nuts got snipped off both dogs before they could hit puberty. Green Arrow turned an about face in the space of an issue before inexplicably heading off into his rebooted pablum. And Daredevil is off the hook for his behavior because the "devil made him do it." No rules? Please.

Any promise of impact in 2010 is an empty promise. And the irony is that in the interest of conserving the lunchbox, Marvel and DC strip all lunchboxability out of their characters. The reason why we have Spider-Man lunchboxes right now is because once upon a time Marvel told stories with balls and passion, and were about those stories.

If you listened to the last episode of Chronic, I tell the tale of reading Amazing Spider-Man # 122 for the first time last week. The dialogue is painful in spots, but here's the deal...that was not about lunchboxes. That was a human being, a fallible human being under great pressure making questionable decisions about vengeance, and about his friend Harry.

And there were repercussions. Gwen Stacy died. When she popped up again later, that was a clone. We can question the benefits of that, I suppose, but Gwen Stacy's death had real teeth. Spider-Man was lashing out at police officers, and Mary Jane, and that whole reading experience has ten times the gravitas that anything coming out now has. Because back then there was one rule - tell a good goddamn story. That story would never make it past editorial in 2010 - too real, too good.

You want to know what has impact for me now? Hickman's Fantastic Four. I like the fact that those moloid kids from the first couple issues are still hanging around, being adorable and asking
Ben if he wants a bowl of the composite dye, sugar and fructose breakfast cereal. I like the fact that if someone told me the next issue was entirely about Valeria or Franklin I wouldn't be disappointed in the slightest. I like the fact that he's juggling about 17 of his own plot threads in the air, but he hasn't forgotten about that Galactus corpse that Millar planted for him from before.

Is somebody supposedly going to "die' in the FF? Yeah, I guess. But that's not why it matters, and that's the crux of the issue as I see it. Marvel is constantly trying to jam a false "mattering" down our throats with these "can't miss" issues that don't mean anything the month after they're printed. Fantastic Four matters because it matters, not because Marvel said so.

And all of this is a roundabout way of saying yes, it makes a difference that Marvel is just pretending to kill a re-boot of their flagship instead of the flagship himself. But in the end, it's still just pretending. When you've got something real for me to chew on for $2.99, I'll be a buyer. That's precious few properties at the ol' House of Ideas, I'm ashamed to say.

So yeah. The death of Spider-Man wasn't actually the death of reason. It was simply the continued unnecessary severe maiming of reason. Congratulations.

- Ryan

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