*looks around* Well, what do you know, they didn’t change the locks on me…!
Hello, citizens. My name is Justin. If you recall (and even if you don’t), I used to write about comics and stuff here, way back in 2009-2010. Do you remember when Conan O’Brien was hosting The Tonight Show and people were losing their damn minds about James Cameron’s Avatar? This was the cultural climate of the time during which I communicated important thoughts to you about Superman and the Dark Phoenix Saga, and also a small number of made-up facts about Beck.
Anyway, since we last spoke, I have had two children! There is a boy and a girl; the older one is six, and if you do the math, you will find a clue as to why I stopped blogging. There came a time when I had less disposable income to spend on comics and less time to spend reading them—and even less time to spend writing about them. I buy a few things here and there and keep in touch with the comics world by reading stuff on the usual comics news sources, much in the same way that you might follow a baseball team in your fine local newspaper without ever actually watching a game.
But I still think things about comics and feel things about comics, and every now and again I find I still want to talk about comics. However, my wife is pretty uninterested on the whole subject, and my son is not yet old enough to understand what I mean when I tell him that Jim Shooter was one of the best damn things ever to happen to Marvel, yet in the end he left them no choice but to ride him out on a rail in 1987. And so, I thought I would maybe start sharing these thoughts with you again.
Much has happened in the world in the past six years. For example, a terrifying madman is running for president! Have you heard about this? I will spare you the details because I want to talk about superhero comics, so you can perhaps draw your own parallels between the current unpleasantness and the Vote Lex 2000 storyline. (I still have my pin!)
Anyway, let’s talk about the big things.
DC rebooted its entire line, and then five years later wrote a kind of a narrative apology for doing so. I wish that DC Comics wasn’t so gosh-darn insecure about its superheroes. That’s what I think it comes down to, in the end. They have these characters that everyone knows and everyone loves, and yet they feel they constantly have to apologize for them. “You know, now that you mention it, maybe the kids who made fun of me for reading comics were right, and it is dumb that Superman wears trunks on the outside of his costume. Sorry it took us so long to get rid of them. By the way, do you think he should have been Superboy? I think he should have been Superboy and hung out with the Legion; sorry we got rid of that bit of history all those years ago. But on second thought, let’s do it over now and say he was never Superboy again. Sorry.”
They try so hard to convince you that Aquaman is cool. But don’t you already think Aquaman is cool? And if you don’t, is Geoff Johns going to change your mind by telling you, “No seriously, he really really really is, actually”? But anyway, All-Star Batman is neat and people seem to be cautiously enjoying Rebirth. But if sales go south again, I hope they’ll look at their characters and say, “Well, here are some things that are really neat about this character, let’s play around with them and bring them to the forefront,” rather than convincing themselves that Wonder Woman would sell like hotcakes if only they changed these three things about her origin.
Marvel made a bunch of movies that fans, critics, and non-fan audiences liked. Let me admit something to you: when Marvel announced their intention to make a series of individual movies that would feed into a combined Avengers movie, I was like 90% certain this was not going to happen. The deck, at the time, seemed pretty stacked against the idea. If any of the movies leading up to it had bombed, the whole thing would topple over, and then there’s the whole matter of figuring out how to make an Avengers movie itself. And then they got Joss Whedon to direct it, who at that time had a bit of a reputation for having projects fall apart on him.
But First Avenger was great (I’m kind of iffy about third act, though) and Thor was winning enough, and then Whedon came along and made it look like making an Avengers movie is the most obvious thing in the world. For real, you guys, Avengers was the real deal, the superhero movie you always wanted to see but which conventional wisdom told you could never be. Conventional wisdom, as it turns out, was wrong. I was wrong. And now the barriers are down and Spider-Man can show up in a Captain America movie that has Giant-Man and Iron Man and this all seems about right.
By contrast, DC made a movie that has Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in it that I have no interest in seeing. Friends and family can scarcely believe this, but it’s true. Understand, it’s not so much that I am refusing to see this movie on some kind of principle, or because I took some sort of nonsense loyalist oath to Marvel movies. It’s just that every single thing I have read or heard or seen about it has told me, “You will not enjoy this on any level.” Even Suicide Squad I have a morbid curiosity about; I will possibly rent it. But Batman v. Superman…I’m not a professional critic and I don’t “owe” DC or Marvel anything. Why would I bother spending what little free time I have on something that looks so frustrating?
That said, DC has a bunch of TV shows on the air that have their problems but are so thoroughly charming that they overcome them. I don’t mean for this to be a backhanded compliment. Charm is important; possibly the most importing thing in adapting a superhero comic. Grant Gustin isn’t playing any Barry Allen I recognize, or even Wally West, but he’s really good at playing whoever this guy is who calls himself the Flash, and Jesse L. Martin’s Joe West has become one of my favorite TV dads of all time. Supergirl is very uneven and is totally hampered by having to hang around the DEO. (Did CBS think that their audience couldn’t handle a genre show that had no procedural element to it?) But Melissa Benoist is terrific and embodies everything you like in Supermythology. I’m curious to see if the move to the CW will allow a bit more of the “Can you believe they’re doing this on TV?” feeling you get from seeing King Shark or Gorilla Grodd on The Flash.
Marvel has made a push for diversity that people, by and large, seem to have accepted. When they announced Sam Wilson was going to take over as Captain America, the first thing I thought about was that eventually Steve Rogers would be back, and how was that going to look? “Well, thanks for holding down the fort, Temporary Black Replacement, but White Original is back!” But instead Marvel has decided…they are both Captain America? And Peter Parker and Miles Morales are both called “Spider-Man” and nobody much seems to mind? I wouldn’t have thought to go that route, but darn it, it’s working.
I have a sneaking suspicion these characters are being primed for the movies, which, if true, is clever forethought. Robert Downey Jr.’s not going to be able to be Tony Stark forever, and recasting the role risks a sort of George Lazenby Iron Man, but maybe you could transition the franchise to Ironheart if she turns out to be a hit? We’ve seen a proof-of-concept that audiences will accept a female Thor. Maybe this seems cynical, but sometimes the best way to get diversity advanced is to find a way for it to make it profitable, so I can’t complain.
There’s a lot more I didn’t cover (ComicBookResources redesigned their website in a way that made me sad!), but it was six whole years, and anyway, there will be time enough to talk about other things. I realize my little overview here looks a little harsh toward DC and pretty praising of Marvel. But would it surprise you to learn that I have trouble really connecting with Marvel books these days? And that this is not actually Marvel’s fault? Tune in next time, True Believer, for The Reason Why.