Monkeys Fighting Robots has a dismaying op-ed worrying about superhero comics not changing, and not being committed to the same. Even though Stan Lee once suggested “illusion of change” could work well enough in the context of the serial fiction he oversaw in his time. They say here:
Comic books are a relatively recent medium of art but, unlike other art forms, comic book characters haven’t changed much. They have been around since the near beginning and are still thriving today, still protected by copyright law and owned by the same publishers. People have come and gone in that time frame, and these beloved characters have gone on their own path, but not as much as an outside observer would expect. Especially recently, any change in status or lessons learned in superhero comic books are reverted after a short period, leading to many versions of the same story being told repeatedly. There are many reasons why this occurs, but it results in stories without consequences and leads to stagnant characters.
But here’s what dampens whatever point this is supposed to convey:
A prime example of a character in superhero comic books that is often refused the opportunity to grow is Peter Parker’s Spider-Man. This can be seen in Dan Slott’s run of The Amazing Spider-Man and The Superior Spider-Man. Whether or not you enjoyed Slott’s time with Spider-Man, you must give him props for doing something different with the famous web-slinger. For those unfamiliar with the run, Doctor Octopus took over Peter’s body, becoming the “Superior Spider-Man” for an enormous portion of the run. Peter was eventually restored to his original body but found himself in charge of Parker Industries — a global company that employed thousands. This was a drastic shift from the typical making-ends-meet Peter we know from his appearances in other media. Slott’s run would be a fantastic example to refute my premise that superhero comic books refuse to change, had it ended differently.
By the end of his run, Parker Industries was gone, and Peter was poor once again, bringing back the typical image of Spider-Man that most people have in their minds. One of the only large changes Slott had made to the character was allowing him to finish his graduate degree — a change that was reversed in the first issue of Nick Spencer’s run with the character (not including the story he did for Free Comic Book Day). Slott discussed this purposeful reversion of the character in an interview he did with Syfy Wire in 2019. “I always knew his company was going to lie in ruins by the end of the story… I always knew I was going to return it to factory setting before I passed it off to the next guy.” This is a kind and considerate action to take when thinking of future writers of the character but results in a dull overall story with no lasting consequences from supposedly earth-shattering storylines.
Unfortunately for this column, it thoroughly ignores how Slott’s run on Spidey was built upon the ruins of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson’s marriage. Why no complaints how Joe Quesada’s machinations threw out a concept/institution lacking respect these days, of married couples? Doesn’t that count as an example of non-commitment to change, or contempt for it? And how come no dismay expressed at Peter making a deal with Mephisto to obliterate his marriage to Mary Jane? That may not be quite as horrific as some of the physically violent ingredients turning up in DC stories in the 2000s, but it’s still embarrassingly bad to see a hero making such a noticeable Faustian pact with a villain who’s supposed to be Marvel’s variation on the devil. And speaking of DC, they too receive mention in this pretentious column:
One consequence of this noncommitment to change in superhero comic books that permeates most Marvel and DC Comics characters is the feeling of no stakes during huge events. For example, when DC Comics has a “Crisis” event today, it is never anywhere near as impactful as the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. Even if similar situations occur, such as two major characters dying, it still won’t have the same effect. Because well-versed readers are aware of how infrequently significant changes stick. Even when the publisher decides to keep a major change, such as Alfred Pennyworth’s death in Batman #77, it still doesn’t make a lasting impression since it is a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” scenario. We’ve had Superman, the Flash, Batman (several times), Jason Todd, and Damian Wayne die and then come back to life. Who’s to say that Alfred won’t come walking out of the tomb any day now?
Here too, I find reason to feel depressed, because it sounds like somebody’s not basing judgement on entertainment value, but rather, on whether characters remain in the grave. Does this mean that if Superman is killed off by the end of next year and never comes back, that’ll be fully acceptable, and cannot be questioned at all? I’m sorry, but this is totally devastating. The reason these crossovers have no more impact today is because many of them only exist to terminate any character, major or minor, who the publishers decide is expendable in their twisted POV, regardless of whether any writer could develop a talented story built around them. Or, the crossovers are produced for introducing politically motivated characters similar to what the recently created Jon Kent, son of Superman, now represents. Anybody who only gets into the medium for these kind of goals has no business working in the industry.
Worst, this op-ed ignores that no matter what one thinks of resurrections, it’s part and parcel of science fiction and fantasy. The subject was in discussion on this Reddit thread, and they cited examples like Madness of Angels by Kate Griffith, and A Fire Upon the Deep, to name but some. There’s doubtless many newspaper comic strips where characters don’t change much, like Dick Tracy, so why do only superhero comics get singled out? That’s exactly what’s ruining them, because you have all these “moralists” forcing political correctness upon the creations, never considering the original creators didn’t exactly intend to have them grow according to their absurd standards, and during the Golden Age, most creators were on tighter schedules, so character development and drama wasn’t exactly an easy thing to accomplish.
MFR doesn’t even care that writers as terrible as Tom King oversaw bumping off Alfred, nor do they ask whether it was in good taste to do it in the first place. Or, they never ask why there’s too few stories where characters die from natural causes and auto accidents. And complaining about how it’s the same story all over again, coming from such propagandists, is pretty rich, because all that led to was politically motivated leftism in comicdom, which has since ruined everything.
So this op-ed falls flat, because it takes an approach oblivious to objectivity and merit, refusing to accept how superhero comics were destroyed around the turn of the century by PC advocates who, above all, had no respect for entertainment merit. Failure by commentators who’re supposedly knowledgeable of these mediums to offer a meat-and-potatoes viewpoint is what additionally brought it all down. When “change” is exploited by such PC advocates, that’s how everything collapses.
Originally published here.