Tag Archives: MArvel Comics

How To Fix: The X-Men

This column is intended to be the first of many “How To Fix” topics. That said, it is my solemn vow that I will only cover topics that I feel I know enough about to fully grasp (meaning it will mostly be about comics) and can make cohesive arguments on. The first topic in this series will be The X-Men. Though the X-Men are one of the top selling concepts in all of comic book fiction, they have (and have had) many flaws that hinder the concept in reaching its full potential. It is because of this that I have taken the liberty of summarizing the 5 biggest problems in X-Men lore.

5. Time Travel- While I can’t criticize the tendency of X-Men writers to experiment with stories of a mutant future, I do take issue when characters arrive from the future. The concept of a paramilitary group of political activists defending the public from terrorism is strong enough to carry any series forever. Changes of location, specific threat and political relevance are you really need to keep the plot moving. While characters like Cable and Bishop have had interesting storylines over the years (i.e. Soldier X and District X respectively), they seem to do better when pulled out of direct contact with the prime X teams. While I am rarely supportive of removing characters from the ever expanding stories of either major Comic Book universe, I think these characters should be relocated to their own little corners of the Marvel U.

4. Space- Ahhh, the Shi’Ar, never has a race of bird people from outer space tortured a group of genetic freaks more. More so, without the Shi’Ar we would have never known that Cyclops’ father was an intergalactic space pirate. That is reason enough for the Shi’Ar to never have existed. Quite frankly (Frank Quitely), Grant Morrison did the right thing in his New X-Men by taking the time to write a story in which the Shi’Ar could be removed from X-Men stories without removing them from continuity. Out there in space, the Shi’Ar could have fowled it up (get it, fowl, they’re bird people) to their heart’s content with Drax and Nova. That was until Ed Brubaker brought them back, a move I will never understand. As with the time travelers, these aliens can be interesting but ultimately serve little purpose in perfecting the X-Men concept.

3. Storm- I love comic books, and with rare exception, I believe that most characters serve a genuine philosophical role in their stories. Storm is one of those rare exceptions. If Magneto pushes the boundaries on how powerful a mutant can be, Storm smashes and pisses on them. Storm can control all weather. ALL WEATHER. I don’t care if she’s afraid of being trapped in a box, she rarely is and because of that she should be essentially unstoppable. If Storm is on the X-Men, it basically means that no one short of a celestial would ever go near Xavier’s School, eliminating the types of stories that should be found in an X book. It seems that many writers have shared this opinion and have tried to either move Storm a bit outside of the normal stories or even de-power her. I support the prior, but even that has not been too successful.

2. M-Day- The words “No More Mutants” still ring through my ears. In House of  M, Brian Bendis decided that there were too many mutants running around the Marvel U., and that removing them would make X-Men comics more interesting. He was completely wrong. The entire concept of X-Men relies on the fact that the births of mutants are on the rise throughout the world. By limiting the amount of living mutants to just under 200, you create a population that would not even be recognized in a world where radio-active spider men and super soldiers run around the streets everyday. It completely undermines all of the political aspects of the book since that few would even bother to persecute them. Even with a few thousand mutants in the world, very few humans would have direct contact with any powered being. Not only that, but some of the de-powered mutants like The Blob and Jubilee were popular and useful characters to the basic storyline. While I often disagree with other readers, I acknowledge that you are constantly playing with sacred material if you are writing a long running comic. Making such a sweeping decision can backfire easily. While the more politicized X-Men was made clear to work in New X-Men, something like this was a sweeping change that simply had no footing in the series history.

1. The X-Men are not Superheroes- Okay, some of you are pissed off now, so let me get this out of the way. The X-Men should not wear spandex or have frequent team ups. The X-Men are a politically motivated, paramilitary group who intimidate their opposition. X-Men stories should always be played off the fact that though we, the readers, know that the X-Men are good and would go to great lengths to save both mutants and humans, the public in the Marvel U. sees them as a group of radicals who have the resources to wage war on society. The fear part of “feared and hated” is justified. Let me remind you who some of the X-Men are. They are led by a psychic who has created a computer to monitor all of his race’s activity. Under him is his greatest disciple who cannot control his ability to blow holes in mountains, an immortal soldier with 12” blades that pop out of his hands, another powerful psychic who occasionally goes insane, a guy who looks like the devil and can disappear at will, a giant ex-terrorist who has metal skin and a girl who can take all of your energy. That’s just 7 of them. I admit that I did like Whedon’s take on this topic, that The X-Men fake being superheroes to gain public support, but I don’t think it’s the best way to go. I am patiently awaiting the day that I look at a cover and see the X-Men once again dressed in black leather jackets on their way to smash some terrorist plot and to never be recognized for it.

-Vinny

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Panels and Screens

This Friday, Iron Man 2 will begin showing in thousands of movie theaters across the U.S. and will continue its run abroad. This installment may be the 2nd of this specific series, but it actually the 3rd in what will be a 6 film Marvel Universe series by 2013. These plans have existed since the early stages of Iron Man’s development and are part of Disney/Marvel’s plan to dominate the genre in film. Though it is yet unconfirmed, recent reports also indicate that the upcoming Batman, Green Lantern and Superman films (all of which to also be released by 2013) may follow suit, creating a film DC Universe as well. There are two questions that must be addressed. First, is it possible to create such a universe and have it be cohesive enough to function and second, is it a good idea to create such a universe. I admit, this won’t be based on much information, just speculation, but if there is any type of story I have a firm grasp on, it’s these. That said, LET THE SPECULATIOOOOON BEGIN!

So, in the first 2 films in the Marvel Universe series (Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk), the following seeds of this film universe were planted:

  1. Both films made heavy references to the existence of “super” tech in World War II, in the Hulk film, they even acknowledge the super-soldier program which Captain America would have come out of.
  2. Both films acknowledge the existence of S.H.I.E.L.D., who, in this universe, are seeking out super heroes for an “Avengers Initiative” which is named specifically in Iron Man.
  3. Nick Fury briefly acknowledges that there are other superheroes in the world in Iron Man.
  4. The military uses Stark technology to fight the Hulk.

Though it does not seem like much, points 1 and 2 will serve to unify both the existing and future stories, and admit to a world that is not our own. This hopefully will reach the audience as this admittance is essential to any expansion of these ideas, the expansion that will likely happen in The Avengers film scheduled for 2012.

DC is a lot rougher, the 2 Batman films which would potentially be part of this continuity were not written with other films in mind. That said, there are some thematic elements that a writer could exploit. The aforementioned super tech exists in the Batman films, and has been used by hero and villain alike. You could always say that Luthor had been competing with Wayne or that Batman got his new Bat-Wing from Ferris aircraft. It’s not much, but it is something. Additionally, the transition from traditional crime to “super crime” has already occurred, Gotham has at least 2, though some claim 3, super villains alive and active. A writer could easily make Batman the first public superhero and therefore spin the occurrences in Gotham into a global phenomenon.

While both of these universes seem feasible, there seems to be one character in each that will be a challenge. Marvel’s basic continuity at this time revolves almost exclusively around military technology. This has already worked for Iron Man and Hulk, and is tailor-made for the upcoming Captain America film. With Thor…not so much. It should be very interesting to see how they intend to present a story of hammers and sorcery, and then ask the general public to accept him fighting along side a human jet and a super soldier. DC’s problem is Batman. As acknowledged before, the first 2 films were not written with any acknowledgement of a bigger universe. More importantly, it is going to be very hard to convince the audience that Batman can exist with Superman across the country, not to mention The Green Lantern, The Flash and Ambush Bug…nobody? It might even take a direct explanation, like Batman being all angry and not wanting Superman in HIS city. Regardless of method, it has to be addressed.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten obsessed with thinking if we could, let’s slow down and think about if we should. Movies are very restrictive for comic book characters. Not only does the origin need to be told before moving on, but time restrictions have a huge impact on the stories that can be told. The best example of this is The Dark Knight. Even at a running time of just over 2 and a half hours, the film barely squeezes in what would be a standard comic book story arc. This has a lot to do with how comic book stories are structured. Instead of a standard 3 acts, comics have multiple, escalating climaxes. This forced the writers of The Dark Knight to give the film a frantic pace, one that I am sure would not work with a lesser director. Not only this, but as my friend Bob has pointed out, the story they are able to tell is pretty mundane as far as most comics are concerned. The reason I explained this structure is because when you are creating a film universe, you are implying that the types of stories executed in comics will now be executed in film. The problem I see with this is that comic books allow for the character to develop on there own over long periods of time. Rushing them into encounters with other leads may not allow for this development and ultimately leave the character in a sort of weakened state (yeah, I just called Hollywood a bunch supervillans who steal powers). Part of the reason the comic book Batman can stand next to the comic book Superman is because he is such a strong, well developed character. The powers of Superman do not detract from what that media’s audience already knows about Batman. Though there are plenty of people who do not need justification, either out of indifference or knowledge of the source material, it may not be responsible story telling to throw Captain America in with Thor the second time you see either of them.

Regardless of how this all ends up, I have faith the journey will be fun. A lot of very talented people are working on all of these films and I will certainly get to see some moments I have been imagining in my head since I was 8. Please share your thoughts on this topic. This entry was originally intended to be much shorter, but I didn’t realize how much thought I had already put into it. Oh well.

I am Iron Man,

Vinny

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Worlds That Make More Sense Than This One

Continuity; the word alone strikes terror into the hearts of editors everywhere. When you disregard it, people will want it back. Within the two most revered and long lasting comic book universes, Marvel and DC, there have been many philosophies on how this complex editorial challenge must be handled. Over the years, the problems have stayed relatively consistent.

The most obvious are direct contradictions within the universe. Over the long periods of time that these stories have been published, editors, artists and writers have often contradicted previous stories without explanation. Sometimes this has been done intentionally, in other cases it was accidental. Often, these changes are simply ignored and the better known version of the setting, character or event is left intact without much to do. However, in certain cases the change is so drastic it can not be ignored by the reader. The other major problem faced in these universes is the passing of time. Bruce Wayne has been Batman for nearly 70 years, and has been written as a contemporary character for the entire run. That poses a bit of a challenge when trying to explain how one man could have experienced so much.

Since we are dealing with inherently symbolic superheroes,it is important that in whatever changes are made, one keep the thematic and philosophical aspects intact. We wouldn’t want Captain Marvel (the Shazam! one) running around tearing terrorists in half, it doesn’t work for him. It is also as important to keep the essential details of a character intact. There have been dozens of retellings of Batman’s origin, but as long as certain points like the circumstances of his parent’s death and his reaction to it remain, these re-tellings are valid. Neither of these problems seem all that complex when looking at a single character, but the true problem lies in the universal structure. If something is an insignificant plot point for one character but it is somehow tied to another character and holds great importance, it becomes an essential for the prior as well.

The simplest “solution” is to do nothing at all. On occasion, editors have decided to forgo a solution in favor of letting the writers choose to take the characters wherever they want. If they want to acknowledge something, they may; they also may ignore it. While this seems like a liberating artistic concept, its inherent problems have made it quite the rarity in developed continuities. What is more common is a relaxed editorial stance, meaning that while the editors certainly do have directives and corrections for their writers, there is no comprehensive policy in the company. Group editors may have fairly consistent policies, but outside of those groups, relative chaos may ensue. A great example of this is Marvel’s beloved Wolverine. The character appears in numerous titles every month and it is nearly every month that one finds contradictions. These problems can often be solved by creating a time table of events, but even in the last few months there have been very direct contradictions on the character’s whereabouts and activities. What is the most disturbing in this case is that many of these contradictions have appeared in direct reaction to universe wide events, which should serve to affirm the company’s commitment to continuity.

Another quick fix is condensing the universal timeline. Since a year of issues could easily represent days, this seems like a logical move. Unfortunately, this is not the case. With multiple storylines that interact with each other at different junctures, you are essentially dealing with one massive narrative. This means, if it says that Batman was stuck in the mouth of a giant space moth for 6 months in Detective Comics, it implies that his appearance the same month in Batman must fall before or after that. Line that up with a couple of decades of progression and hundreds of other titles which are all in reality the same story, you begin to lose the integrity of characterization and even the impact of certain storylines. Marvel occasionally invokes a modified version of this technique in what I have heard referred to as “Time Loop”, this allows for all events to take place in the time period they were written, and sort of-kind of over that amount of time, but not really. And yes, that sentence was intentionally nonsense because the explanation itself makes very little sense. There were rumors that Neil Gaiman’s 1602 was intended to end with a final word on how that concept functions, but it was either changed or a fun internet rumor.

Another commonly used technique is a multiversal structure. All this really means is that contradictory events or narratives separate from the primary narrative literally take place in separate realities, but ones that are usually accessible to each other in someway. The most significant early appearance of this can be found in DC, where the early World War II associated versions of their heroes were eventually assigned to “Earth-2” where they could live out their continuity without interfering with their contemporary counterparts. This eventually led to many other earths, some literally added as characters were acquired by the company. Marvel also has a multiverse, but it is far less prominent within their stories.

More complex than this, but exponentially more useful is the so-called “re-launch”. First coming to prominence during Julius Swartz’ DC in the 60s, the re-launch essentially (or should I say hopefully) takes the important and well liked aspects of a story, and gets rid of everything else. It also typically throws out any history that it does not re-tell within its pages. This can benefit the story as many of the confusing, unnecessary or even contradictory pieces of the narrative can be removed from continuity in one fell swoop. On the other hand, re-launches require that much of the universe itself be re-launched as well. The greatest drawback to this is the potential for fan backlash. One may find the fan base clamoring for the return of certain elements sooner than later. A prime example of a universe wide re -launch can be found in DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, where DC decided that the multiverse was not only too confusing, but was keeping the writers from fully integrating the acquired characters into their primary universe. Their solution was a revolutionary idea, an in-continuity re-launch which told the story of the destruction of the multiverse and the reconstitution of reality on one, new Earth. This was not only a huge hit amongst fans, but unintentionally set the stage for arguably the most complex universal continuity ever conceived.

In recent years, through a myriad of events, DC has actually re-established the multiverse. However, this multiverse does not only feature multiple Earths with different inhabitants, but acknowledges all previous Earths acknowledged in Crisis on Infinite Earths along with many new Earths conceived in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s. Even though there is a prime Earth which contains what the reader can consider the “real” versions of their favorite heroes, anything they have ever read counts again. The benefits of this structure are immeasurable, it allows for everyone’s favorite stories to potentially have an impact no matter how obscure they may be. The only major drawback is potentially confusing new readers. It is for that reason that a focus on telling great, character driven stories must remain. If you hook someone on the characters, they can and will always go back to find out the whole story. No one reads comic books to torture themselves (though I have read a few issues of All Star Batman and Robin, ZING) so it’s not like you are going to lose readers by giving them what they want. Continuity is simply an acknowledgment of your own fan base, it shows respect for the integrity of the worlds they love so much.

-Vinny

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Letters to the Internet

Dear Chaos Collage,

I’m so sorry I have neglected you for this long, but I simply could not find the time to write between my job, the fiction piece I am currently working on and the four hours of Street Fighter IV I play per day. Since we have so much to talk about I will do my best to keep this entry well organized and to the point, much like the wonderful entertainment section in my local newspaper.

I. Television

With Batman: The Brave and The Bold on mid season hiatus and new episodes of Battlestar Galactica a thing of the past, I have not been paying much attention to episodic fiction recently. What I have been watching (aside from wrestling) is the wonderful “reality” based programming on Spike TV. This includes such shows as Vice Cops Uncut (which is of course very cut), DEA and the new king of Discovery Channel style investigation, Deadliest Warrior. What historical investigation could be more satisfying than one focused on how adept different warriors from different eras would be at killing each other. Have you ever wondered how a Viking would fair against a Samurai? Me too! Finally, we have a resource to find out! What a relief.

II. Movies

…So, Drag Me to Hell comes out in May. Okay, so we aren’t in 2008 anymore and things have slowed down. I guess that writer’s strike finally hit cinemas. The aggravatingly disappointing Watchmen came as quite a downer, probably the first film I was truly disappointed with since before the release of Iron Man. Aside from a couple of decent comedies, it looks like things won’t be picking back up until the edge of June with Sam Raimi’s return to horror Drag Me To Hell. From there we have numerous films to look forward to such as Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek and Quentin Tarantino’s long awaited Inglorious Basterds (I know how to spell, that’s just the name of the movie). With these films on the horizon and promises of Iron Man II, Green Lantern and Stallone’s The Expendables for 2010, I’m sure we can make it through The Revenge of the Fallen and The Rise of Cobra. In order to keep hope alive, I will provide a trailer to watch and enjoy.

III. Those Comic Books that rot your brain and/or turn you into a Commie.

Bruce Wayne is gone and it is all Grant Morrison’s fault. He’s not dead though, just gone for the time being. I will not spoil  his replacement for the following reasons A) I think this story will be better if its integrity is kept intact and B) I have no idea who his replacement will be. What I do know, without ruining it for the TPB crowd, is it seems like it won’t be Tim. On the other side of the DCU, the lead-up to Blackest Night is picking up and boy does it look like its going to be good. Geoff Johns’ events lack the rarely deserved self importance of Mark Millar’s or the progressively less satisfying introspection of Bendis’ big story work. Both Morrison and Johns posses the rare ability to not only create inventive plots for beloved characters, but to distill what made us love them in the first place. It is this difference that has defined the best of DC in recent months. That said, Marvel has perhaps the 3rd best writer for this, Ed Brubaker. Both Daredevil and Captain America have rarely missed a beat since his run began and the stories are far from small.  On the Mighty Marvel side, Norman Osborn has taken control of the United States and things are not pretty. I mean this in both a philosophical and editorial sense. Yes, great books that deal directly with the issue are coming out (Thunderbolts being the strongest at the moment, though I have a soft spot for the in-continuity Punisher) but there are way too many stunt books or books that are becoming stunt books (Bad Avengers, sorry I meant Dark Avengers, Mighty Avengers, New Avengers, Avengers: The Initiative, Dead Avengers, X-Avengers, Bad X-Avengers, X-Forcevengers, The Secret Avenger-Defenders, The Force Works Avengers, Two-Gun Kid and His Westvengers, Iron Man and The Reb-Bot Avengers, Rick Jones’ Rockin Avengers and of course Kevin Smith’s Late Avengers Annual). Okay, I made most of those up, but you get my point. Yes, events are made to be exploited but when you can’t even keep continuity between books referring to the same events, you really need to slow down. Take that sales department! On a happier note, all three of the IDW GI Joe books are a lot of fun and should counter act the damage the upcoming film may do to my brain. Dynamite’s current licensed properties and Ennis’ The Boys are still kicking monthly.

IV. Rasslin’

WWE’s Wrestlemania was worse than the next night’s Raw, TNA is a joke and ROH appears to be rotting from the inside. I unfortunately have very little to say aside from that. I am seriously disappointed in both the E and TNA’s inability to create great product with fantastic rosters. In happier news, it looks like there will be a new Hart Foundation on ECW.

V. Music

Typically I isolate an aspect of music or the music industry through an artistic lens, but for this entry I figured being more practical would be better. What I would like to note is the amazing amount and quality of live music hitting the New York/ New Jersey Area in the next few months. Aside from the big guns like Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello hitting the road, the area (which is the home of both writers on this blog) will also be hosting such acts as Jenny Lewis (Music Hall of Williamsburg, June 9th), The Get Up Kids (Blender Theater, May 1st) on their reunion tour and hometown boys done good, The Hold Steady (Bowery Ballroom, June 8th & 9th-Music Hall of Williamsburg, June 10th and 11th). Even Green Day will be playing a theater show this spring (no, I don’t know when and I can’t get you tickets). In addition to these exciting travelin’ troubadours, local act The Neutron Drivers will be hitting the Big Apple’s famed Knitting Factory on April 30th. I hear there’s even a free sandwich and cheap beer for the die-hard early crowd.

Well, that’s it for now. Hopefully I will come up with some amazing insight for my next piece.

Love,

Vinny

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