I see over on the Baron's Original Sin thread, people are yet again pondering why yet another Marvel crossover has characters we used to love, and who used to work well together, snarling at each other and having pissing competitions regarding who is tougher instead of dealing with each other and the situation at hand as human beings would.
Right now, in his Sub-Mariner discussion, Philip Portelli ponders why a character we are presumably expected to have sympathy and empathy for in future storylines is shown as a war criminal committing genocide.
I just about couldn't read Avengers Vs X-Men because of that mode of writing. Instead I gathered the thrust of the narrative from reading Keiron Gillen's Uncanny X-Men tie-ins and the Avengers Academy tie-in. There we got an impression of what a modern Marvel crossover would be like if relatable human feelings and some kind of empathy were the hallmarks of a superhero. (Although Gillen largely just revelled in the moral laxity of much of his cast. But we're talking Magneto and Mr Sinister here, rather than Captain America and Cyclops.)
I've said before that there is no point in bewailing the absence of traits that the writers simply aren't interested in putting into their books. The books aren't aiming to give us recognisable human situations and reactions.
As on Philip's thread, I'd identify the values of Badass and Awesome as being the prime values that these comics express and appeal to. So long as 'heroes' seem to be acting and talking really tough all the time, and being prepared to be 'pragmatic' to the nth degree to 'get the job done', even when such behaviour strikes any reader as being out of character or off-puttingly 'unrealistic', then any action or interaction from the 'hero' is justified.
Obviously a certain section of the readership lap this up, but I'd worry myself that it is really alienating a wider audience, and it's certainly interfering with my own enjoyment of these comics. However, it's not enough just to identify the values of 'Badass and Awesome' as the reason many of us aren't enjoying huge swathes of mainstream comics these days. There's also the question of how writers that have gained praise elsewhere for clever, literate, humane work should slip into this mode when writing Big Two comics.
I think I've discovered a pointer as to how Marvel's otherwise intelligent and somewhat cultured writers find themselves at the point where this is the kind of book they are producing.
I've been meaning to post the following link for ages. It's an interview I discovered that Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick gave while at a writer's festival here in my home town of Brisbane, Australia. It was meant for very mainstream broadcast here in Australia, as it was aired as an interview with a very popular interviewer whose programme goes out on weekday mornings. Perhaps for this reason, the writers give away a little more, and display a wider frame of reference than we usually get in the more
sycophantic marketing-conscious industry interviews.
Here's the interview. I think anyone interested in modern mainstream American comics would find it interesting. For the most part Fraction and DeConnick come across as a charming and engaging young couple.
The revealing point for me occurs around 31:30 where they discuss the limits of what you can do with a superhero story. Fraction goes straight to Alan Moore (of course). Fraction rightly praises Moore's Swamp Thing, but goes on to paraphrase Moore as saying regarding his final thoughts on that series:
"I wanted to write stories about the environment, but the Muck Monster kept getting in the way."
I can definitely see Alan Moore's wry point about the limits he found imposed on his lofty literary and social awareness ambitions.
However, it looks like Fraction is using Moore's point to excuse himself and many of his current cronies at Marvel from even trying to do anything meaningful with the superhero subgenre. He goes on to talk about how the environment or the recession can't really be covered unless either could be transformed into something that Thor could hit with his hammer!
Perhaps there might seem to be a bit of a leap between not being able to write about the environment or the Recession and having to produce stories where supposedly ‘heroic’ characters, when presented with a problem that demands co-operation and mutual understanding, can only assert their toughness and resort to violence at the first opportunity. Still, to me, Fraction seems to be saying that superhero stories should only be about superheroes doing superheroic things, and those actions against, or in the presence of, other super-powered beings.
This largely does preclude modern Marvel superhero comics from dealing in any meaningful way with topics like the Recession or the environment. Sadly, it also seems to preclude the presence of many ordinary folk in modern superhero stories, like the great supporting casts we had in for example Roger Stern and John Byrne’s Captain America run, or those in Steve Gerber’s 1970s Defenders stories.
To come back to Thor hitting things with his hammer, the most egregious example of this diminished scope for stories in recent times was the first long arc of Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder series. There we had an intriguing set-up whereby Thor was threatened by the ‘Gorr the God Butcher’ in three stages of his long existence. The story seemed perfectly set-up to compare and contrast impetuous youth, thoughtful maturity and senile old age, but the resolution of the story turned on how hard Thor could bash things and strike people with lightning. It was very disappointing to me. It even ran against the logic of the story itself, where the God Butcher had been able to enslave and kill a huge number of beings with GODLIKE powers. Yet he was defeated by just three Gods - only one of whom was in his prime - who did nothing cleverer than hit him with increasingly Badass and Awesome ferocity.
In the light of Fraction's comments, it looks like the story was restricted in scope by restricting the content to only superheroes doing superheroic things!
I know Marvel itself is producing quite a few comics at the moment that have more heart and humanity, by the means of having normal people and more recognisable situations in them. I’m not trying to show why all Marvel comics are rubbish these days. But I think Fraction’s comments do shed light on what is going on in those instances where we find modern comics hollow and unrewarding.
Even though Moore perhaps was ultimately frustrated by the form superhero narratives tend to dictate, he did unquestionably produce great comics that explored our humanity and society from many different angles, even as he struggled against the narrative boundaries of the envelope during his time at DC.
It looks like Fraction and many of his colleagues (DeConnick, for a start, can be sensed nodding beside him in that part of the interview) are using Moore's fruitful struggle against the superhero narrative form, not as inspiration to keep pushing the envelope, but weirdly, as an excuse to tell their stories within quite narrow parameters, and within quite set frameworks.
Rather insultingly for us readers, they seem to believe they have the justification for not even trying!
The majority of fans aren't buying Wonder Woman, just more than were buying it before its New 52 relaunch. That said, the margin is not all that great: according to Comichron #614 (Aug. 2011) had estimated Diamond sales of 29,223, #1 of the new series (Sep. 2011) had estimated Diamond sales of 76,214 the month it came out and a further 19,688 the next month, and #33 sales of 37,431. But it may there are more digital sales now.
It may also be that evil Namor will be explained away. For example, since cross-dimensional travel is involved, evil Namor might not be 'our' Namor. Time will tell.
John Byrne gave Namor an out by saying he goes crazy if he spends too much time either in or out of water to explain why he was so often a villain. Surprised they're not pushing that idea now considering what he's been doing.