As I contemplate the inevitable Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (with special guest cameo Wonder Woman), I think to myself – uuuuuuuughhhhhhh. Dawn nothing. At least as far as the comics go, I see nothing but bleak and eternal darkness…
I do go on and on and on (and on and on) about comic books. Part of this is because I need to rant sometimes. But part of this actually is self-promotion. I write about what I do like and what I don’t like. If you like the same things I like, and dislike the same things I dislike, then odds are better that you’ll enjoy my writing. This isn’t to say anyone with a difference of opinion won’t like my writing. That’s also why I go into so much depth about what I like and don’t like. That insight may also help potential readers gauge whether or not they should try my writing.
I have doled out plenty of criticism in various entries about what I dislike about the current state of comic books and why that saddens me. But I’m starting to think I’m really in the minority and that the general audience really does like dark and ugly stories with disposable characters. Perhaps I’m living in the past and need to come to grips with the new world order. The inmates are running the asylum and they haven’t bankrupted it yet. Am I so strange? So unusual in my views? I don’t know; maybe I’ll find out.
Here’s my stance on superhero comics, in general (which tells you about the kind of stories I like to read and therefore stories I will probably write): superhero comics are a fantasy. The real world is full of violence and injustice where bad things happen to good people and bad people can literally get away with murder. The real world is morally ambiguous and while there are heroes there are a great many more villains. The Last Action Hero wasn’t a very good movie, but I really loved the villain’s reaction when he got to the real world. He shoots and kills a man and nothing happens. In the world of the action hero, that couldn’t happen; murderers are always caught. He realizes in the real world a villain can actually win. If I want to read about bad things happening to good people and criminals getting away with crimes, I’ll read the news. When I read a superhero comic, a fantasy, I want to see principled characters standing up for what is right. I want to see the villains get punished and the innocent saved and the victims find closure and justice for what was done to them. I want a world where all the things that don’t happen here do happen there. Do I want a return to the Golden and Silver Ages? No, I don’t. I don’t want goofy, weird stories about Bat-baby. But I do want that sense of hope that good can actually triumph over evil. I just don’t get that out of most comics anymore.
Supporting Argument 1 – Marvel:
Marvel is my first universe, and will always have a special place in my nostalgic heart. As it is a great big universe, I’ll stick with just a few supporting points that I feel are representative of problems with the universe as a whole.
“Avengers Arena” – this one mini-series is almost a perfect representation of everything I dislike about Marvel right now.
1) “Avengers Academy” was a comic book that starred fairly new characters fairly free of the burden of years to decades long back stories. It had a fanbase and from what I understand sold decently. This, to me, seems like exactly the type of comic Marvel is aiming at the elusive new reader. But it was cancelled either because it didn’t sell well, or because Marvel loves event comics more than sustainable books, or maybe both.
2) It’s a blatant rip-off of Hunger Games with a dash of The Lord of the Flies. Arcade even says so. Just because the writers admit it’s a rip-off in context doesn’t make the premise of the story (I’m not really getting into the quality of the actual writing since it’s kind of irrelevant to me) any less lazy.
3) Logically, I find it impossible to believe that Arcade could kidnap all those children. I find that just too much suspension of disbelief.
4) Most of the kids die.
5) Arcade wins.
Yay? I mean, seriously, how am I supposed to feel about this? A bunch of new characters were killed off. All those potential stories were killed off. If I was a new reader who’d invested my money, time, and energy to getting to know those characters only to have 75% die, I’d feel kind of betrayed. And Arcade wins. The survivors don’t try to track him down and kill him. No heroes track him down and Wolverine in particular has a real berserk button when it comes to kids (or at least he did). Some of these kids were Avengers! I’m not saying Brian’s kids didn’t get shafted, but Avengers! Hell, Arcade doesn’t even get comeuppance from the villains he’s trying to impress (because I feel no self-respecting villain is going to be impressed Arcade killed a bunch of children, even if they are super-powered children).
“Cyclops is not Magneto” – this is the other problem I have with Marvel; how I feel they are trampling on their own legacy characters. Likable, fun, and/or good characters are being replaced with unlikable, super-serious, neutral to evil characters and I’m being told they are still heroes. Jean Grey, often called the heart of the X-men, was killed off to be replaced by an emotionally and telepathically manipulative ice queen. Banshee and Nightcrawler are now dead. Spider-man is whiny, pathetic man-child (but at least he’s not Doc Ock anymore…).
Supporting Argument 2 – DC:
The Trinity – Hope (Superman), Truth (Wonder Woman), and Justice (Batman). At least, that was the old DC. I’m not the most avid DC fan, but even I understood this iconography.
Justice – Despite Batman’s catchphrase from the animated series, he most certainly is NOT vengeance. He is frightening? Yes. Is he harsh? Yes. But he turns his quarry over to the police. He does what they can’t do, and works outside the law, but he does it to see justice done. And (this is very important) Batman does not kill his enemies. He doesn’t just let them die either. He does not dispense justice; he enables justice.
Nu – apparently people were really upset Batman didn’t kill the Joker at the end of The Dark Knight. I personally thought that was the biggest flaw in Tim Burton’s Batman (well, Batman let Joker die; still, too close to the same thing) and I was glad that with such a dark and gritty reboot, that did not happen. But people were upset because I guess it’s not really a victory unless the villain dies; that’s why I think Nolan was so heavy-handed with pushing “Batman doesn’t kill” in the The Dark Knight Rises.
Hope – Superman is a god who tries to be a man. For all his power, Clark Kent is the true person and Superman is just the mask. He is an orphaned alien who somehow manages to be so human and humble. He really doesn’t think he’s better than anyone else. He is the everyman and the guy next door. He is a paragon of virtue that everyone looks up to. And why? Because, as I’ve said before, 99% of people who found themselves with Superman’s powers would abuse them horribly. Oh, sure, we’d set out to do good but power corrupts. I freely admit I would be a terrible Superman in the long run. Superman does not kill except in the most dire of circumstances. I can only remember him trying to kill Doomsday and Darkseid and that was because no one else could.
Nu – Or, you know, he could be a Super-jerk. Superman without humanity is a tyrant waiting to happen. He’s everyone’s darkest revenge fantasy waiting to happen. He’s gives no one hope; he only instills fear as humanity waits for him to inevitably decide because he’s superior he should rule the world. Or he’s a brooding emo who for some reason has to kill someone before realizing killing is bad, which is possibly one of the stupidest and most illogical arguments I have ever heard.
Truth – Wonder Woman’s amalgam is more convoluted than the other two, but better writers have managed to distill the heart of her character to this. I would also add compassion as one of her chief virtues. She carries with her the Lasso of Truth. It can make anyone tell the truth and break many spells and enchantments related to lying and illusion. She’s a compassionate warrior from a peaceful utopia. These things seem contradictory but they are not. Wonder Woman may be more willing than the other two to kill, but again that is only as a last resort.
Nu – Or all that could be discarded in favor of a vision of the Amazons that very closely matches the widely panned “Amazons Attack” storyline. Themyscira is no longer Paradise Island but a rigidly controlled society that is secretly a terrible dystopia that involves the murder of innocents to continue. Wonder Woman was lied to by her mother for years, and is far less compassionate and far more warmongering to the point that she is now actually the Goddess of War (the books attempt to argue she loves everyone unconditionally, but I remain unconvinced; she is to me literally the distaff counterpart to Ares; huzzah).
In short, Justice is being morphed into Vengeance (although the writers still seem to be holding out against having Batman kill), Hope has been morphed to a dangerously powerful and morally ambiguous Alien Menace, and Truth is now the product of lies, betrayal, and adultery.
I want Hope. I want Truth. I want Justice. I want the heroes to win and I want the villains to lose. But the media has changed, and my expectations haven’t. Maybe I’m in the wrong. Maybe I need to grow up and mature my tastes to this cynical, darker and edgier world. Maybe I just don’t get it. But for now, I’ll live in the past and delve into back issues since many of them are new to me. Maybe the times will change again and the world will literally lighten up again.