Reporter Disses Silver-Age Marvel While Promoting its Classic Collections


A writer at the Washington Post spoke about early material from the Marvel universe reprinted in 3 books each from Penguin Classics and Folio Society, and doesn’t seem to be impressed with their Silver Age stories. Not to mention that his perception is decidedly flawed:

 

Now comes the sad part: Being a devotee of older popular fiction, I was surprised — no, dismayed — that these Marvel comics never really cast a spell on me. Perhaps I expected too much from them. While the art and page layouts are dynamic and highly imaginative, the writing ranges from hokey to flatly utilitarian to histrionic. The stories carry few surprises, and the majority contain the same general plot driver: an acute tension between each protagonist’s actual self and his public persona, between the all-too-human beings inside those skintight get-ups and the formidable superhumans they have been called to be.

As a result, nearly all Marvel superheroes — at least as far back as the 1960s Fantastic Four — are troubled and unhappy. They accept that great power confers great responsibility but remain unsure whether they can shoulder the burden. In principle, their self-doubt, sometimes verging on self-pity, invests them with a humanizing psychological complexity. Similarly, we are even made to sympathize with their adversaries, who regularly view themselves as deeply wronged or entitled to revenge. Angst, among both heroes and villains, is the predominant emotion within the Marvel Universe.

 

Oh, for heaven’s sake.

 

 

I think this exaggerating things quite a bit. I own plenty of Marvel material myself, and from what I’ve read in Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Avengers, for example, it’s not all doom, gloom and misery. Nor does it rely as much on sympathy for villains as this makes it sound like (Dr. Octopus, for example, was hardly ever depicted as somebody to feel sorry for, nor were most of the Hulk’s adversaries). I assume he must think that because Peter Parker initially didn’t want to land Norman Osborn in trouble because he was dad to Spidey’s buddy Harry, that this somehow casts a literal shadow over everything else.

 

And he doesn’t consider an important plus applied to some of the costumed villains: they were honorable, unlike a lot of criminals in real life. If they were characterized as sleazy creeps akin to real-life thugs, most readers would’ve been repelled. If sympathy with villains really concerns them, they should take a good look at how bad things got post-2000, when Dan DiDio was running DC, and concocted publicity stunts like “Forever Evil”. Yet something tells me all they’re supposedly worried about is the old stories, not the new stories using that approach. Maybe because back in the Silver/Bronze Ages, most writers/editors knew better than to make more serious mistakes, whereas today, it’s considered less objectionable with the far-left.

 

 

Compared with the DC comics I enjoyed in elementary school, Marvel targets a slightly older audience, consisting mainly of adolescents and 20-somethings who can readily identify with sensitive, emotionally roiled characters. No doubt, this shift was partly market-driven — older readers have deeper pockets than allowance-dependent 10-year-olds. But Marvel’s better writers and artists were also hungering to “make it new,” to explore and extend the aesthetic possibilities and cultural impact of their medium — something which contrarian underground “comix” had already been doing.

After all, before this still-ongoing sea change, superhero comics generally proffered a suburban, picket-fence vision of American life and hurtfully ignored social, sexual and racial realities. In that sense, today’s Marvel Universe represents a highly welcome advance. Nonetheless, by growing increasingly relevant and naturalistic, superhero comics — not just from Marvel — gradually lost much of their joy along with their naivete.

 

If he’s alluding to the post-2000 output, that’s long become some of the worst you could possibly find from what can now be called the House of Bad Ideas. But how strange a newspaper that’s part of the SJW crowd that virtually pushed for the PC narratives they follow nowadays would complain about something they don’t seem particularly interested in arguing should be reversed. Did these phonies ever criticize Joe Quesada for trashing the Spider-Marriage, to name but one example of a grave error made years before? Did they even protest the horrific abuse inflicted on Steve Rogers as Capt. America, all done under the excuse that he’s white? Hardly. So it took nearly a dozen years before that humiliation to both Spidey and Mary Jane Watson was reversed, while as for Steve, he continues to suffer repellent abuse by editors and publishers who continue to believe he should be turned into a Nazi-Hydra collaborator, race-swapped, or even replaced by a LGBT character. And even if Steve’s still around, he suffered badly from extreme-left politics forced upon his stories.

 

That process, though, has barely begun in these albums, which emphasize work published in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Here, the story arcs still tend to be as action-oriented as one could want, pitting costumed good guys against highly melodramatic bad guys, mad scientists and improbable monsters. By contrast, contemporary superhero comics — from a variety of publishers — are quite another matter: My childhood’s brightly colored land of dreams has morphed into a universe of nightmares and case histories. Enter any specialty comics shop — the days of drugstore spinner racks are, sadly, long gone — and the darkness will surround you. Much of the artwork you’ll see is shadowy, stylized and brutalist, while numerous covers spotlight busty super-babes in gleaming leather.

 

This almost highlights a serious problem when it comes to darkness, but, when he cites “busty super-babes”, that’s where he loses me. How is sex appeal as bad as brutality, and how does it even equal darkness in every sense? I wouldn’t go that far. Putting sex in the same boat as darkness/violence dampens the impact of the argument I doubt they set out to make seriously.

 

But, as I say, that’s now. For the most part, these Penguin and Folio Society retrospectives only hint at the bleakness to come. Claims for artistic greatness, however, strike me as exaggerated. You may feel differently.

 

Oh, I most certainly do feel different. Or, I cannot and will not agree with this propagandist if he’s going to diminish the far better impact of Silver/Bronze Age Marvel, while making a decidedly unconvincing complaint about darkness. If you want to complain about modern darkness, focus foremost on just that, and above all, demand writers and editors cease the obsession or quit the profession. Not to mention maybe there should be complaints lodged at how much of these serial fiction products went on far too long when they should’ve been brought to a de facto close, and at least scaled back to appearing in graphic novels that could be more self-contained. For now, the Washington Post is hardly the source qualified to make arguments about darkness, when they’re not truly devoted to stopping it in real life.

 

Originally published here.


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Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1

JUST KEEPING THE LIGHTS ON