ComicsGeek

Secret Empire or How to Assassinate a Character

There are honestly times when I wonder if Marvel Comics even likes their characters. Over the last few years we have seen them nearly destroy long-standing characters in the name of a summer crossover. Peter Parker gave way to the Superior Spider Man and for some Spider-Man has never been the same. Cyclops of the X-men turned his back on Charles Xavier’s dream(not to mention killing him) becoming the worlds worst mutant terrorist and the character never recovered.

Now it is Steve Rogers turn. Through the summer most of Marvel’s books will be immersed in the Secret Empire crossover. No longer our Captain America, Rogers is now Captain Hydra. Not surprisingly there has been quite a bit pushback against this storyline.

Basic premise is simple. The Red Skull manipulated a sentient Cosmic Cube into fundamentally changing Steve Rogers into being a secret double agent for Hydra.

It is not unusual to try to put a character in uncomfortable situations or even fundamentally place them in situations that go against their true nature. Sometimes it can work wonderfully and show the depth of these characters we have grown to love over the years. It simply does not feel like this is one of those times. The trick is sticking the landing.

One of the problems many fans have is simply Cap secretly being a member of Hydra. Regardless of the story reason it is hard for fans to choke down. Hydra is not simply a villainous organization that Captain America has battled over the years, they are the comics stand in for the Nazis from World War II. Captain America more than any other character has represented the United States fighting the evil that the Nazis have always represented. Turning that on its head is flat-out offensive to many fans.

And no matter how many times Marvel and writer Nick Spencer try to insist that Hydra no longer equals the Nazis no one is buying.

The end game is the other problem. The Secret Empire story could be great and horrible at the same time. There are interesting ideas being put out here. The idea of how devastating a villain Captain America could be is intriguing and frankly devastating. The question is what is next?

To make the story great they would have to destroy the hero of Captain America utterly making him the premiere villain in the Marvel Universe. The usual method of returning things to some semblance of normal with Cap as the great American hero…I am not sure there is a way to walk things back. He has killed, he has murdered. Not random characters but friends, heroes that look up to him. That is not something simple brushed aside.

I have friends who insist this storyline makes Cap a tragic figure(as if he was not from the get go). I do not see it. If it was brainwashing or a dozen other comic related tropes maybe. But they used the Cosmic Cube. Marvel Comics ultimate deus ex machine. So not only does Rogers think he is loyal to Hydra. He is fundamentally changed to the core. He does not think he is loyal to Hydra, He is.

Ultimately changing him back to the Cap we all know and love in such a way will feel…it will feel like Bobby Ewing stepping out of the shower in Dallas-it was just a dream. That might actually be worse than making him a villain.

At the end of the day Steve Rogers will be damaged goods.

 

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#WhoSpeaksForTheGingers

Comic Books are a unique form of art. They are the best of sequential storytelling. In novels a writer paints a picture, in comics artists fill in the blanks. They show you what this character or that looks like. Those depictions matter. In novels you have more wiggle room.

In recent years there has been an effort to create more character diversity in the world of comics. In years past that was not always the case. Diversity got a token response from the industry. Now there is a concentrated effort to do better. With varying success.

The upcoming Iron Fist TV series has opened another can of worms in this conversation. There are those who have complained about the actor who was chosen to portray Danny Rand/the Iron Fist. Let us ignore the fact that he seems to fit nicely in the way that Iron Fist has been portrayed since his arrival in May of 1974. For over forty years Danny Rand has been the Iron Fist, in those years he has always been portrayed as a blond-haired, Caucasian man. Apparently that is not good enough for some. These individuals feel he should be portrayed by an actor of Asian decent(ignoring the simple fact that this would go against the entire premise of the character). I am sure those that feel this way have rational reasoning for this and frankly…I do not care.

This column is not about Iron Fist. This is about the thought that you create diversity by changing the race or gender or sexual preference of characters that have been around forty, fifty years.

It does not work that way. Anyone who thinks it does has the horse around backwards.

‘Who Speaks For The Gingers?’

Gingers? I know…what the hell is he talking about now? I mention Gingers because several characters that have had their race changed have been Gingers-Wally West and Jimmy Olsen(at least the TV version of Olsen) also it seems sad that one of the greatest minorities(Gingers may not be around a century from now-red hair is a recessive gene) may soon be eliminated from our comic books. Soon we may be down to only Guy Gardner. So whenever the issue of race-bending comes up I ask: Who speaks for the Gingers?

In my mind’s eye changing long-standing characters races does not create diversity. It steals the memory from fans of these characters. It changes history. And frankly in my opinion some of these characters you are changing do more for diversity than their pale shadows ever will. Wally West certainly did. Under the pen of Mark Waid, Wally as the Flash had one of the most ethnically and progressive casts in comics. Wally was middle America and his friends and family were anything but.

Diversity is important but diversity for the sake of diversity is not the way to go. There is a better way. Create new characters. Simple. New. Characters.

Write what you know and who you know. Expand the horizons of our comics by expanding the cast, not by changing those we have. It can be done. Look at Ms Marvel, look at Miles Morales.

I have heard the arguments before. It is difficult to create lasting new characters. Some creators do not want to give their best to Marvel and DC if they cannot keep some ownership.

Both are valid. Wanting to keep your own characters is understandable. Someday perhaps DC and Marvel will do a better job compensating creators for their work…we are not there yet.

As far as it being hard. That is weak sauce. Anything worthwhile is hard. Do the work. Put your heart and soul into it. Do not cower and hide because it is difficult.

And if it is important to you it will be good and people will respond.

 

 

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Heroes Do Not Kill

Should Heroes Kill?

As long as there have been stories there has been this question. Villains kill. We know this. But can a hero kill and still call themselves a hero.

Some feel a hero owes it to us to find another way, a better way.

Others think that for the greater good the good guy should simply exterminate the bad guy.

Both methods do have their merits. If no matter what Batman does the Joker is simply going to break out of Arkham and kill again would it not be prudent to end him now to lessen the body count. The thing is though…Batman does not kill…Should he?

Heroes stand for something far greater than themselves. Batman has always symbolized justice, not vengeance. He does not kill. He should not. As a character Batman is an obsessive teetering on a razors edge. Taking a life might push him over. He could become worse than the villains he seeks to bring to justice.

Some fans refer to characters like the Punisher who kill criminals indiscriminately. The villains do not return because he puts them down quickly. That is a ‘death wish’ style fantasy. That is not a hero. That is an executioner. Where is the line between a true villain and a man who made a mistake, a man who can be redeemed. The Punisher does not ask, he does not care, he simply kills.

This is not to say that there are no circumstances where it would be acceptable for a hero to kill. There are always exceptions. Great stories can be told with those exceptions, the effect these actions may have on both the hero and the public that adores him or her can create great drama.

When walking down the path to a hero taking another’s life we should tread carefully.

Heroes can kill, but they simply do not.

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Death in Comics.

Death. It is so final. Except in the comics.

Everyone dies it seems.

And they all come back.

Captain America.

Spiderman.

Superman.

Two Robins.

The list goes on and on. So many characters. Heroes, villains it does not matter. No one is safe. But as they say “no one stays dead in the comics, not even Bucky.”

A death should matter. It should be important. It should not simply be done to increase sales. As some kind of a sweeps ploy. These are characters that we develop relationships with, that we love or hate. Killing them and reviving them for no good reason is a waste.

“The Death of Captain Marvel” worked. It was wonderful, fresh. A hero dying not so much from the actions of a villain but from cancer, it brought humanity to the funeral of a friend. Jim Starlin set the table for many writers to follow.

“The Death of Superman” was done well. The unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. We all knew he would be back, but the death made sense. There were repercussions. New characters were born: Steel, Cyborg Superman, even a new unique Superboy. There was a sense of loss for all the characters in the DC universe. Superman came back as we knew he would, but the story still felt new.

For a time some deaths lingered. Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s sidekick, stayed dead for almost 40 years. Jason Todd, the second Robin, did not even last twenty years before returning to the land of the living. Their returns brought something new, new characters. Winter Soldier and a heroic Red Hood are wonderful, that never would have happened without their deaths and resurrection.

Recently we have had Captain America, Spiderman, Thor, the Human Torch, another Robin: all dead, will they all come back?

The question becomes who is next?

Maybe the question should be who hasn’t died yet?

In company wide crossovers the body count can get enormous, writers simply using characters they don’t care for as cannon fodder. Killing off perfectly good characters to try to create a sense of danger. What happened to crippling someone.

Maybe there is another way. As fans and writers we become desensitized to the carnage. Maybe we need a break. A moratorium on death. Give us time to step back and actually be surprised when someone does die.

There are creative people out there. Can we not find a way to create the same drama without the body count?

Should we not at least try?

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Bruce Wayne is Batman

Bruce Wayne is Batman.
Peter Parker is Spider-Man.
And Clark Kent is Superman.

It really is not that difficult to understand is it? Ask anyone on the street who is Batman or Spider-Man or Superman those are the answers you will get. Yet every so often some writer or editor will think ‘hey I have a great idea let’s put someone else in the Bat-suit. It will be great, everyone will love it.’

No. No they won’t. The majority of us simply wait for Bruce or Peter or Clark to be back. It is not about being resistant to change it is about the hero and the man being one and the same.

I have written before…Superman without Clark is simply not so ‘Super’ there is something missing. Without the man within, with all his all-too human failings, these heroes are not so heroic.

In the name of change, or more recently diversity Marvel and DC seem to want us to accept different characters in long time heroes roles. Miles Morales as Spider-Man, Sam Wilson(Falcon) as Captain America, even Jim Gordon as Batman…these are well-built characters let them have their own identities do not steal someone else’s.

Then you have the practice of flat-out changing a hero’s race or sex in the name of diversity. Yes the new Thor has been written(and drawn) incredibly well but that is the exception. Usually it is heavy-handed and poorly executed. The new mixed race Wally West is the perfect example. You took a wonderful ginger(a minority on its own) who had done more for diversity than most under the skilled writing of Mark Waid and cast him aside. And for what to say that you had a more ethnically diverse superhero cast?

Here is a novel proposal: rather than take heroes that have been around for my lifetime(forty-plus years) and change them…why not create new heroes of every race, sex and all the diverse experiences that populate this planet of ours. Create new characters just do not stand on the bones of the old. Is that too much to ask.

Bruce Wayne is Batman. We will wait. He will be back.

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Guardians of the Galaxy-buncha losers…

A talking raccoon and a tree walk into a bar…

I was sold on this movie from the get go. Not from the first scenes, not even from the first trailers they released. But from the very first I heard that the movie was being made. They had me from the word go.

When it was announced the Guardians of the Galaxy would star a walking tree of few words and a sarcastic raccoon many were beyond skeptical. Me, I thought it was brilliant. Yes I already had some familiarity with the characters, even without that I loved it.

It is fun. That is all. Fun. Too often movies miss out on that element of film-making, the joy.

What brought me in was not that we had another superhero movie, it was that it was a space hero movie. From Star Wars to Star Trek and beyond I love sci-fi and space movies. I cut my teeth on Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers on TV in the early eighties. More recently I found unending joy in Firefly and Farscape (one of the best sci-fi series ever), even if both series ended before their time.

There are no true superhero movies. You just have movies staring superheroes. It is that simple. Whether it is a cop movie or fantasy or action-adventure story, simply add a superhero and you have your superhero movie.

What made this awesome was taking superheroes and putting them in space. All the questions about realism go out the window, because you are already taking a leap of faith setting it in a far corner of the galaxy.

Guardians did a wonderful job of introducing unknown characters(to most of the audience) in short order. Even better it let you care about them. Yes it was heavy on the laughs, even in the face of danger. That is ok too. It is human, even if the characters are not.

Even after we get used to the jokes they managed to turn it around and shine a light on what loss these characters have suffered. Star Lord was taken from his home as a child, Gamora tortured and turned into a weapon by her adoptive father, Drax’s family was slaughtered, Rocket did not ask to be made and remade and experimented on. Groot is the purest of these characters. The best friend of Rocket he only speaks two sentences in the whole movie: “I am Groot” over and over again, and towards the end of the movie “We are Groot”. Groot had found his family. In the end they discover that they are each others family.

We all have been losers at one point or another. As Rocket said, “We all have dead people”. They come together because they are losers, people who have lost.

We could all learn something from these losers.

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