|From AVX: Consequences #1, by Gillen, Raney et al|
But offering three cheers for those new directions which have been taken is an oddly difficult business to pull off. I certainly don't want to give the impression that I believe the following changes were inspired by concerns similar to those that I've previously expressed. I might express an appreciation of how a book's shifted course, but I'm not trying to suggest that the reason for that has anything in common with my own beliefs of the problems which might have one existed. (In one example it's hard to believe that a certain degree of similarity didn't exist, but it's generally quite impossible to say.) Yet it is to state that, speaking as a punter from the back row of the cheap seats, certain key aspects of Marvel's comics appear far more worth applauding than they did even a year or two back.
Some of what follows touches on major developments which have occurred in the relatively recent past, while other points reflect relatively minor if hopeful signs of what might yet be to come. But on a wet, cold winter's afternoon in which the blogger's preoccupied with several pressing deadlines, a brief moment taken to salute changes great and small seems like a good and sensible thing to do to recharge a somewhat weary mind.
|From Journey Into Mystery #642, by Gillen, Fraction, Giandomenico et al|
1. The J Michael Straczynski reboot of Thor was a despicably sexist business which somehow went generally uncommented upon. (See Here from 2010) Thankfully, the years since his departure from the title have seen a quiet, thorough revolution in the approach to sex, sexuality and gender in both Thor and its spin-off book Journey Into Mystery. Gone are the effectively naked porn-models competing for the attentions of Asgard's manly, powerful males. Gone are the corridors empty of women and jammed full with what appeared to be a predominantly male population of Gods. Gone is the almost-total absence of female deities in positions of power and influence. Instead, the worlds of Asgard now feature a not-inconsiderable cast of substantial, individual, and interesting women who are central to events without ever functioning as bloke-thrilling cheesecake. The change has been so complete that it's impossible not to believe that the editors and creators associated with the Thor books deliberately set out to excise the misogyny of the JMS-era from the book. No doubt I've missed the hats that have been hurled in the air in praise of this transformation in the blogosphere. Mea culpa. The JMS years were stomach-turning in their chauvinism. Thankfully, there's nothing of that uber-blokeishness left to be seen in the pages of either the Matt Fraction-scripted Thor or Kieron Gillen's Journey Into Mystery today.
2. After quite literally decades of ever bleaker bloke-noir, Mark Waid seized the opportunity to recast Daredevil as an existentially born-again superhero. Put simply, Waid's Daredevil simply decided that he was going to define his own personality rather than being driven into despair by every substantial challenge which came his way. It's proven no easy task for the Man Without Fear, of course, but it has established Matt Murdock once again as a character who's inspiring as well as fascinating. For all that the post-Miller Daredevil has been used to tell some particularly fine stories, the constant grind of ever-intensifying schlock-misery had resulted in a book that was practically unreadable. (Here from 2010) In rejecting the taken-for-granted assumptions which limited Daredevil's adventures to a narrow range of profoundly miserable cliches, Waid's struck a serious blow for variety and innovation, two qualities which the sub-genre's seen all too little of in recent years.
|From Spider-Men #5, by Bendis & Pichelli|
3. It's a preference rather than a criticism, but I've always been convinced that Spider-Man works best when the costumed identity functions as a metaphor for adolescence. With even the Ultimate Universe's Peter Parker moving further and further away from the hormone-saturated confusions and contradictions of his mid-teens, the various Spider-Men in print in 2010 seemed to be ill-suited to the properties' fundamental strengths. (Here) For those of us who believe that the very idea of an adult Spider-Man is better suited to an issue of What-If rather than a continuing series, the arrival of Black American teen Miles Morales as the new Ultimate Spider-Man has been both a relief and a fascination.
It's hardly news, of course. But I ought to have mentioned it.
4. One of the least convincing aspects of the X-Men's sojourn on Utopia was the fact that the other superheroes of the Marvel Universe were largely content to let the persecution of mutants continue without their doing anything about it. The idea that the likes of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four wouldn't be actively and continually campaigning for mutant rights while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Cyclops and the people he claimed to represent was at heart a repellent one. How was it that the paragons of the MU were so disinterested in the freedoms and security of super-people who'd fought beside them time and time again? The very idea carries the spectre of an unacceptable apathy if not bigotry itself, given that the needs of mutants were so very clear and obvious. (Here, again from 2010) What a relief to find Rick Remender has had Captain America admit to Havoc in Ultimate Avengers #1 that he paid far too little attention to his mutant brethren. Similarly, Kieron Gillen's script for AvX: Consequences #1 has Steve Rogers expressing the belief that he intends to ensure that "mutants and humans" should "stand shoulder to shoulder". These are surely words which indicate that Marvel will be paying more and more attention to the way in which their characters are shown engaging - or not - in everyday political affairs. It really is regrettable that pretty much everyone in a costume not carrying an X-Gene came out so badly from the Utopia era simply through the fact of their repeated silence and inactivity. Hopefully the basic metaphor for social and political rights that's Marvel's mutants will be used in a consistently more sensitive and inspiring fashion from now on. Some creators have never lost sight of how the symbol of mutantkind functions politically. Why not a few more?
5. Finally, after years in which it seemed that pretty much every book which Marvel produced was designed to function as part as part of the great bureaucratic mosaic of Event Marketing, the past year and a half has seen the release of a series of books which function more-or-less independently of the wider scheme of things. Ms Marvel, Hawkeye, Gambit and - despite a couple of small-scale crossovers - Daredevil are all capable of being followed and enjoyed without the reader having to immerse themselves in any broader continuity. That each book has its own distinctly individual character is a further sign that we may be easing into a far more interesting and reader-friendly future where Marvel's books are concerned.
I'd like to think so.
Hopefully, to be continued at a later date .....