Hello internetters, it’s Justin again, recently returned from a self-imposed comics blogging hiatus, and I wanted to talk to you about Marvel Comics. What are the odds, right?
I didn’t mean to leave it this long; I thought, within a week of my last post, I’d get the follow-up bashed out and posted, but it’s been—gosh, over a month. Why the delay? To find out the answer, I called myself up for an interview on the subject.
Hi, Justin, thanks for sitting down with us.
No problem, Justin.
You’re looking well.
That is a lie, and you know it, but I understand that you want to be polite. I will accept the compliment, insincere though it is.
Fine, let’s get to it. Last time, you said that you “have trouble really connecting with Marvel books these days.”
That is correct.
Are you reading any of Marvel’s current output?
Really? I would’ve thought Mark Waid writing an Avengers book would be an easy sell, at least. We love Waid, as I’m sure you know.
I know! I know. I did actually buy the first issue of All-New, All-Different Avengers. But I couldn’t really get into it. I tried out The Ultimates, too, because I hear such good things about Al Ewing, and the concept is neat.
So what’s wrong with the books that you’re not buying them?
Honestly? I think this is a case of, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
I don’t understand.
See, now we’re coming to why this post has been so long in coming. I’ve starting writing it a bunch of times, but I can’t seem to finish. I keep looking for a way into this post, and each way I’ve tried it so far has left me with a “Who farted?” grimace about my own ponderous thoughts. I thought maybe the interview format would help me get the words out of my head. You could ask questions and we could see how I arrived at my current attitudes.
Okay, I guess. So what do you mean by, “It’s not you, it’s me,” exactly?
Well, most people on the internet with Opinions About Comics like to believe that we are evaluating things based on solid, critical reasoning, right? “X is not good because Y.” And so, when “X” is a comic and it’s not good, you try to solve for “Y”.
You should have warned me you were going to use algebra. Okay, fine, what are some of these “Y” values?
I mean, there are a lot. For one, I don’t understand why writers don’t use narrative captions and thought bubbles like they used to.
“Thought balloons,” not thought bubbles. John Byrne says—
Oh, never mind, the point is, these are fantastic narrative tools that are really only found in comic books, and people shun them now. I don’t understand why you’d cut yourself off from a tool that helps convey information quickly in a medium where space is at such a premium.
Watchmen doesn’t use narrative captions or thought balloons.
I guess. I mean, I suppose I understand if it’s a stylistic choice. But in the first years of the 21st century, it became gauche to use them, and I don’t think I’ll ever understand why. But you’re right, ultimately it is just a choice. But it’s a choice I don’t like.
Have all the status quo shakeups over the past couple of years put you off?
Yeah. I mean, it’s like Peter Parker is Tony Stark, and Doctor Doom is Iron Man, and several different people are Captain America. Somebody else is Wolverine—it’s a very DC sort of way of doing things. The Fantastic Four aren’t around anymore. There are a bunch of different Avengers teams, and they don’t live in Avengers Mansion—this is a huge deal to me, actually. It all feels wrong.
Even the way the books look. The logos aren’t “comic booky.” There’s no corner boxes. Everyone’s costume seems over-rendered, with all the seams. Computer coloring can do some wonderful things, but I feel like it overpowers the line art sometimes, and line art is what I like about comic art, you know? Even the glossy paper. It just bugs me.
So…basically, it’s not like it was when you were a kid?
Basically, yeah. Basically.
Well, isn’t that kind of…I mean, that’s such a whiny thing to say.
That’s what I thought too! So I fought it for a long time. I thought, “Argh, these guys keep messing it up, they don’t know what they’re doing.” It had to be, right? I had all these “Y” values that I thought contributed to “X is not good.” And then one day, I realized—what if “X” is good, and “X” is simply not for me?
I feel like you’re losing the plot with this algebra thing. Can you explain it a different way?
I just mean that…the things that I like about superhero comics—specifically Marvel comics—aren’t what Marvel comics are about these days.
Well, what are the things you like about superhero comics? What is your platonic ideal of the genre?
Well, Bronze Age Marvel Comics, right? The Bronze Age is the best. Funnily enough, a big part of the reason I think that is because of Wizard magazine in the 90s. People just remember them rigging the speculator market and hyping the crap out of what we called “T&A” books at the time, but those dudes were raised on Bronze Age comics, and they wrote about how great Roger Stern’s Amazing Spider-Man run was, and the Paul Smith issues of Uncanny X-Men, and Walt Simonson’s Thor, and Byrne’s FF. It was actually a huge influence on my tastes.
Wizard. Really? That’s kind of embarrassing.
Yeah. Actually, could you strike that? I want that off the record.
Oh sure, I’ll edit that out. So you’d like modern comics if they were more like Bronze Age comics?
Well, sure, I would. But, here’s the thing. I could spend all my time complaining about how Marvel’s not doing it “right,” and whining that the books should be more like Bronze Age comics. Or, you know…I could just buy Bronze Age comics. There are literally thousands that I haven’t read, right? And if you go to Half-Price Books, you can actually get them cheaper than new comics. I filled out my Byrne FF run at Half-Price Books, most of them at only a dollar a pop.
But don’t you miss out on the “newness” of it? I mean, you know how the stories all end, basically.
I guess. It is kind of a bummer, but I don’t know, even new comics, I don’t feel emotionally attached to them, either, so it doesn’t matter. Like, when they kill someone off or whatever, or that thing with Steve Rogers being a sleeper HYDRA agent and everybody on the internet flipped out…it doesn’t bother me or make me angry. Even big retcons. Like, remember when they said Professor Xavier recruited a whole other team of X-Men between what we see in Giant-Size X-Men #1? That bugged me at the time, but it doesn’t anymore. To be honest, they don’t even take place in the same continuity.
What do you mean?
I have this idea about “the Marvel Universe,” which—to me—is a fictional spacetime continuum originating with Fantastic Four #1 in 1961 and collapsing in the first years of the 21st century with New X-Men #114. (Arguably the end of Busiek’s Avengers run is the real “end” of the Marvel Universe, as I reckon it, but Morrison and Quitely’s first issue is a clearer line in the sand.) This “Marvel Universe” was a construct that, if you only chose to believe in it, allowed you to view forty years’ worth of comics created by hundreds of hands as a single, unbroken, internally consistent tapestry of events. It wasn’t really, but that was part of the game. That’s why they used to give out No-Prizes! Anyway, the current Marvel comics, I would argue, do not take place in this same “Marvel Universe,” but rather are comics based—loosely or otherwise—on this fictional history. I mean, all of Bendis’ retcons with the Illuminati—do any of those characters sound “right” in context? Do you believe that they really could have happened between the panels? So they are quite welcome to do whatever they like; it doesn’t affect what I consider to be the “real” stuff.
That’s not a criticism? It seems dismissive.
I really don’t mean it to be. You know, I meant what I said in my last post about how it’s great that different, more diverse audiences are getting into Marvel. Like, I’ve heard that young girls like Squirrel Girl. I don’t get Squirrel Girl—I mean, I get it, but it doesn’t speak to me. But like, maybe they shouldn’t have to cater to a thirty-two-year-old man all the damn time. So I actually have made my peace with it. None of this is actually a criticism of Marvel; it’s not me angrily insisting they’ve lost a loyal customer. It’s my deal that I don’t like the books. That’s what I mean by, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
But your tastes haven’t changed at all, it’s the tastes of the market. So it is the books that have changed, not you.
Well…maybe. But, you know, the last time they were doing things that felt “right” to me was the late 90s, and Marvel was bankrupt. (You know, Marvel did have a lot of good books in the late 90s, they just got overlooked in favor of the thirty million X-books they were publishing.) They probably wouldn’t be around today anyway if they kept pandering specifically to me and people like me.
So is that it for you, then? Are you never going to buy a new Marvel comic again?
No, I mean, I still read some things, in trade and such. Waid’s Daredevil run was great, really well done. I would even say I loved it. But I enjoy it in a different way than I enjoy what I narrowly define as a “Marvel comic.” Waid’s Daredevil and some random Bill Mantlo issue of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man both hit the pleasure centers of my brain, but they’re totally distinct pleasure centers. I mentioned New X-Men—I think it’s probably the “best” X-Men comics have ever been…but they don’t really seem to be of a piece with, say, the Claremont/Byrne run, even when they’re explicitly referencing it. And I think I enjoy Claremont/Byrne more. And Joss Whedon’s run was, again, based on the Claremont/Byrne comics, but they don’t really “fit” if you put them side by side.
It still seems like you’re retreating into the past and not leaving yourself open to new things. Remember when you were a kid and you thought it was lame when adults didn’t like to try new music?
I have to be honest, I’m getting to that point about music, too. Part of this, I think, is being a parent of young children. When your day consists of HEY HEY WHAT IS IT WHY ARE YOU CRYING OH YOU WANT SOME JUICE OKAY HERE IS SOME JUICE OH YOU SPILLED THE JUICE GREAT JOB, you’re tired at the end of the day and maybe would rather have something comforting instead of spending your few free hours trying something you might not even like.
That is a chilling analysis of your life.
Well, the kids’ll get older and I’ll eventually get time back for myself. But the point is, I think it’s okay to say, “I like the old stuff better”…as long as you don’t insist that the old stuff is better, objectively, somehow. At the end of the day, you’re gonna like what you’re gonna like. I’m quite happy to dive through quarter bins for old comics, and I’m happy that people like the new comics. And I think if you out there in Blogland reading this feel the same way, that “They just don’t make ‘em like they used to, dammit,” that you should consider what it is you really want and whether forcing everyone into your own box is the best way to go about it.
That seems…healthy, I guess.
I think so. Unless you were being sarcastic.
Oh, I don’t even know anymore.