Friday, June 20, 2008

Erase the mistake

Way back when, Plok wrote a post about the achievement of Roy Thomas in codifying the Marvel Universe. While Stan Lee made up stuff up without consider its consistence with his other work, Roy went around the MU with a tidy brush, building a set of links between characters which made it possible to conceive of the Marvel Universe as one entity. From that time on, it became important to link each new innovation into that central whole.

I don't know if that's the whole story. The horror comics made no attempt to integrate, except maybe with themselves. Dracula could do a turn in Werewolf-by-Night, but his appearance in Spider-Man and Uncanny X-Men was just fundamentally wrong. Chris Claremont, of course, loved any amount of magickal weirdness, and his talent for assimilation carried on way after Thomas' time.

This codification, by the way, is nothing new. Homer - the Greek version 1.0, I mean, not the portly suburban version 1.1 - took a load of characters - mystical Mycenean heroes, local deities, maybe even one or two genuine historical figures - and created a mythology. Athena and Area fight wars through proxies on the Hellespont because he thought it made a great, coherent story. He was codifying, in other words, and they built a religion out of it.

No, let's not call it a religion, as that just get people's back up. Call it a mythology. Marvel, and DC for that matter, have created a mythology. And the problem is that, where the Greeks had old stories to be embellished and changed as required, at the heart of our mythology is a company which has to make a profit, and therefore has to issue new updates of these figures on a monthly basis. As it does, the characters and plots grow convoluted, bad decisions get made, and these mistakes get amplified over time.

I'm tempted to use the Spider-wedding as an example, but I've done that already. Let's take another: the proliferation in the number of mutants. In the beginning, of course, mutants were few in number. There was only one comic, for a start, so that placed a practical limit on the number which could be around at any one time. The X-Men were shunned outsiders, which made sense and made for good stories. Then came New Mutants and X-Factor and X-Men and all those other spin-offs. Mutants went mainstream. By the mid 1990s, Marvel superheroes, which in 1980 had meant Marvel, were a side-event. Marvel threw money and talent and more money at the X-Men and everything else started to wither. Then Grant Morrison went into overdrive. There were thousands, then tens of thousands, then million of mutants. Take that to its logical conclusion and the whole of the Marvel Universe, Spider-Man and Rocket Racer and Man-Thing and all must eventually become embroiled in the X-men's race war.

That multiplication of numbers made for good X-Men stories, but at the expense of the Marvel Universe.

Which is where 198 comes in. Erase the mistake. Ditto the Spider-marriage. Erase the mistake. Whether you agree with those decisions is one matter. but there's a clear logic here. Erase the mistake.

But what does this do to the mythology?. After so much continuity-mining and reverse-gearing and retconning, is there a clear understanding of what's mythology and what's not. Quesada, of course, would claim the right to change it as and when, and given he's Editor-in-Chief, you have to concede that's some authority. But people believe in this stuff. Not believe in an I'm-a-stupid-fanboy-with-no-life-and-this-really-happened way, but believe in the sense of having an involvement in a story. A belief no different to people watching soap operas. Or reading The Great Gatsby. It's called suspension of disbelief, and that's why we have stories at all. If people are reading this because of their fascination with the entire Universe, then tinkering with it risks undermining the suspension of disbelief in the reader. And once that goes, the story is gone.

So am I arguing against myself here? If we concede the importance of mythology, then Peter Parker did marry Mary Jane Watson, right? Quesada can issue retcons to his heart's content, but if that mythology is living in the minds of his readership, they can just refuse to accept it. Are the MJ lobby right after all? I'll concede the point. Retconning the marriage damages the mythology. But married Spider-Man = bad stories. Twenty years have proved that. You pays your money and....

4 Comments:

Anonymous plok said...

Hmm...as usual, Clone, there's lots more in here than meets the eye on first read-through...

I think I've said this before, but I've got a couple different kinds of thoughts about the Spider-Marriage. For example, I thought it was a bad idea at the time. However I understood that it was all a matter of keeping up with the Joneses, and Spidey has gone through actual life-changes in his comics from time to time. I thought it was rushed, forced, a bit of pandering, and a short-sighted mistake of the penny-wise and pound-foolish variety; but it wasn't utterly divorced in tone from Spider-Man comics, so you could say that for it. And JR Sr. drawing the cover of "Spider-Man Gets Married"...well, comics editors are only human, after all.

Then MJ was killed, and I thought "now this is stupid". Throw away a character extremely useful in dozens of ways, a character whose dialogue I have usually enjoyed reading, all for what? To get out of the hole you dug yourself?

What an unimaginative solution!

Then the JMS years, and there's a lot to say about them, mostly bad stuff. For example, I thought JMS tried to write up to the Spider-Marriage quite manfully, but I also thought everyone who was excited about Pete-as-teacher was just fooling themselves: it seemed that this was considered a reconstruction, a semi-back-to-basics approach that promised Real True Spider-Man...but it wasn't, it was a misstep. Even JMS couldn't find much to say about Pete-as-teacher, it was just a fannish idea got too big for itself...and no JJJ anywhere in sight, which is always going to be a mistake. But, whatever: Daredevil once lived in California, too. Easy to fix.

And here's my wandering point: fixing stuff is easy. So why does no one ever seem to think of doing it? Fixing is better than erasing any day (although it's even easier to just not break it in the first place, but accidents will happen when fans go pro), but I think you identify the impediment very nicely when you bring up "mythology". On the surface it's easy to figure out the intentions there: Joe Q. wants the marriage gone, but with an easy fix for that should it fail to work out, JMS inclines toward a magical solution because that's his thing...and it's all very sentimental and very fraught, like Pete getting a chance to talk to Uncle Ben again, which I found a tad disgusting. I mean, talk about pandering! Pure guck. Likewise the over-earnest first-person captioning, which made Spider-Man seem boring and soppy. Oh, not to mention the incredibly stifling insistence on Pete and MJ as a cosmically-fated L*O*V*E, and her knowing all about his secret from day one, and all the rest of that useless, unproductive noise. Aha, it's mythology! And the fanboy aesthetic that insists it must continue to be embroidered even when you're yanking stuff out, until there are only two possible options available for dealing with mistakes: retcon, or raze. Look at Byrne, he razed and retconned like a madman everywhere he went in Marvel after about FF #250 -- why, he even got rid of the wings on Namor's feet, because he thought they were silly! Similarly, look at the ridiculous lengths Bendis went to just to get to that "198" number -- these are cataclysms, not solutions: they don't erase the mistake, they just replace it with another one, because no one can be bothered with a straight technical fix, it has to be integral every damn time. I can think of half a hundred ways to remove MJ from Pete's life, without leaving a big switch hanging always on the wall marked "REVERSE REVERSAL HERE!"...and so can you, I'm sure. It's not difficult, it's just comics, for God's sake. It only gets tough when you have to constantly kiss the feet of "mythology" while you're doing it. The solution to the overpopulation of mutants could have been solved quite easily in a couple lines of dialogue, I think: millions of mutants, but then everybody in Genosha died. Well, they numbered in the millions, didn't they? Only stands to reason that they did. Just a little tweaking, and Cassandra Nova's plan to kill off the mutants could have been viewed as a near-total success. And maybe the birth-rate of mutants is lower than Morrison would have had us believe, eh? Implicit in the X-Men concept already is the idea that there are more mutants every day, but only Xavier knows for sure how many, and we don't have to ever see them, for God's sake...!

But no. Writing all those mutants out by ignoring them, by just saying "done deal, let's move on", was clearly not an option in somebody's mind. Instead we have to have "House Of M", "Decimation", "The 198", and "The Collective". And damn it, that's mythological thinking right there! And who needs it? Is there any reason MJ couldn't've just fallen into a coma, or suspended animation or something, or even gotten some of the good old amnesia? I liked what Morrison did with the X-Men quite a lot, but I'm not (ahem) married to it...so I can't understand why all the people who didn't like it acted just like they were.

So here's the thing, as I see it: Roy was just playing with mythology, and because of that everything actually worked okay. But it's been years since anyone at Marvel has done anything so flexible as play with that stuff: erasing blunders via these huge continua-quakes wouldn't even be necessary, if it wasn't for Joe Q. taking it all so seriously, and being so unwilling to tamper with the mythological model that (ostensibly) he's got no problem with violating. In current Marvel continuity, Pete really did marry MJ, for God's sake! And they're married still! Absolutely nothing's been changed! It's still mythology! And the retcon, far from damaging it, actually upholds it...by undercutting the importance of good stories over bad. Send MJ to another planet or another town, have Pete just think she's dead, just ignore her, and in ten years no one will care. I mean, it's an impossible thing: if I were writing Spider-Man, I'd just bring her back anyway. But then again, she will be brought back anyway, ya know? But as long as we're pretending...I like my way better.

Prof. X: "For some reason, Scott, mutant emergence is decreasing."

Cyclops: "Whaa-aat?"

Prof. X: "I know, it's weird, eh?"

Cyclops: "Well, maybe this calls for a year-long subplot, Professor."

Prof. X: "Good idea! And then we can just let it peter out, or something!"

I mean, what's easier than that? Oh, I know:

Editor: "So...what have you got coming up for Amazing?"

Writer: "I thought maybe something with the Shocker and the Chameleon. See, we open up with a shadowy figure lurking on a..."

Editor: "What about Mary Jane?"

Writer: "Uh...okay, I'll bite. What about her?"

Editor: "Well, where does she fit in?"

Writer: "What are you talking about? I've got about zero interest in Mary Jane, why do you think I brought Deb Whitman back?"

Editor: "I just thought maybe you might want to bring MJ back as well."

Writer: "Well, I don't."

Problem solved, eh?

Oh, right...maybe not.

1:23 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spidey-Marriage stories CAN work... if you have the right writers.

The right writers can show tension in the marriage, but at the same time not make the couple act like they are childish.

3:50 pm  
Blogger dfadf said...

Microsoft Office
Office 2010
Microsoft Office 2010
Office 2010 key
Office 2010 download
Office 2010 Professional
Microsoft outlook
Outlook 2010
Windows 7
Microsoft outlook 2010

9:11 am  
Blogger dfadf said...

Microsoft Office
Office 2010
Microsoft Office 2010
Office 2010 key
Office 2010 download
Office 2010 Professional
Microsoft outlook
Outlook 2010
Windows 7
Microsoft outlook 2010

2:55 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home