I have a pile of nonfiction pieces that I want to save from the dustinbin of history, and one of the ways is to include them here as part of the blog and larger portfolio. In that light, throwback Thursday.
This piece was first published August 24, 2016 on Comix I Read (now defunct)
The latest event from Civil War II is a great cross section of the criticisms that people have towards the big two and superhero comics. Lest people jump on the bandwagon of pointing out that superhero comics are comics, the fact that Image Comics and a number of other properties exist suggests otherwise. As does the fact that a large number of the biggest comics of all time (Sandman, Saga, other comics that start with S) are not superhero comics.
Superhero comics do make up a huge swath of the industry, and they are renowned for a series of tropes that some of us love and some of us hate about them. And sometimes they’re done well, and we can enjoy them, they are still tropes that can hold back the larger artform as a whole.
ALL-NEW WOLVERINE AND INCONSISTENT CHARACTERS
This has happened in almost every major comic event since time immemorial, and even within some normal story lines. Comic book characters are renowned for being fuzzy things, easily shifting in the specifics of their character to fit the larger story. In many senses, they are almost Jungian style archetypes, existing as sketches to serve the larger narrative.
The requirement for these underlying concerns requires something to this. Whether we are examining the moral structures of various worldviews taken to their extremes, or the oddities of justice itself, there is a lot to consider. Even if they are simplified
Even if they are simplified archetypes, they should be predictable in broad strokes. Again, if we look back to Civil War I, we can see how this is done well. Shocked by a recent event, Tony Stark thinks that it might be better for there to be some sort of guidelines on what superheroes do, while Steve Rogers thinks that oversight can all too quickly turn into control. The arguments are examined through each of their own worldviews, and it fits their archetypes.
Within this conflict, however, the ideologies are flipped around. Captain Marvel has taken an extreme view of the situation, one based upon relatively limited information. Her absolutism to this cause is what weakens how compelling this story is – problems arise because of her actions and it doesn’t really seem to change an iota, which is less compelling given the stakes and how this system is structured.
All-New Wolverine points out this situation in one of the most compelling ways. X-23 confronts Captain America with the hypocrisy of his situation, and nothing changes as a result. He doesn’t even have an answer, he just sort of shrugs. In a world full of mind-controlling aliens and powers, clones, and every other reason to be skeptical of others, why is this just shrugged off?
HULK LIVES (BECAUSE OF COURSE HE DOES)
This is a common problem in comics – the lack of real stakes. Most narratives rely upon the stakes having weight and meaning behind them, especially for them to be meaningful to the characters.
At some point, one imagines that a character must have to die, and have no one attend the funeral. They keep coming back from the dead, or turning out to be clones, or limitless other explanations for how they’ve cheated death. If it keeps happening, people must become innured to it.
This is the very problem with the center points of the event being characters dying and being wounded. In the long run, they just don’t matter. There is a continued status quo that has barely changed in quite some time, and every time we get major changes everything shifts back to what is used to be.
The result of these shifts are that even “surprises” lack weight. When we start seeing spraypaint that “Hulk Lives”, all I can think is “of course he does.”
THE MAIN EVENT IS CONVOLUTED
Ulysses never really made sense. Not himself as a character, but the immediate willingness to buy-in to his deal. Seldom is a plot so obviously hammered onto the characters. No one fully questions his powers or motivations, again a indictment of the characters still failing to grasp even the most basic considerations of the world that they live in.
In a universe where there already are characters who can make predictions, control minds, and more, it makes very little sense for Ulysses to become the figure he did so quickly. Major events of the kind he predicted are not uncommon, and there is no reason to believe that he is acting in the best interests of others.
Further, major considerations are raised by the strict adherence to the Ulysses’s predictions by many characters. If his predictions are absolute, there is a situation that has grave metaphysical implications. If his predictions cannot be changed (a la what happens in All-New Wolverine), then there is a lack of free will. If they can be changed, then we already have evidence that they are not absolute predictions, and cannot be fully relied upon.
We’ve seen this done previously in Minority Report (the short story, not the movie), and they grappled with the concept in a much more meaningful way. There have been some considerations as we move towards the end of the event, but many of these didn’t really make sense in their limited development of individual characters.
All of this seems to be because of one simple truth – the event was rushed. Solid writing in individual comics doesn’t offset the larger issues here. The editors talked about the event being planned in a few months, a process that usually takes years. With events already happening too regularly for many people’s comfort, it is easy to see the fatigue and criticisms. Still, the big companies continue to dominate the indsustry, so they are effectively maintaining the status quo. It would be nice to see the entire industry continue to push the boundaries further, aiming for something better.