Thursday, March 08, 2007

First rule - do not dispel

updated, March 9 - you know, the more I read about it the less I like it. It's actually making me angry at this point. Millar's on record as favoring the pro-registration guys, which means that he basically set up Captain America - the living embodiment of our patriotism - as the bad guy. To bring that home with a mjolnir-quality sledgehammer, he has Cap opposed by Manhattan emergency workers in the climax of the big fight, after which Patriotism quits: submits itself and eventually dies.

Now, I know full well that "death" is a completely malleable concept in the comics. But unless something HUGE comes along, the symbolism of this is inescapable: Millar is telling me that patriotism has no place in our world today, either real life or in our imagination as a herioc ideal to which we aspire. Inadvertently, he does get one thing right - when we submit to tyranny, we become slaves, and die. That's exactly why Cap would never have done it, and why the entire Civil War denoument and epilogue are a total load.

My dad was a huge comics fan.

He had an extensive collection and it would take quite a pile of dough to bring it all back together: old war comics like The Haunted Tank and Blackhawks, the original X-Men #1-150 (doubles of some), a great bunch of the early Spider-Man and Hulk comics, some Batman, some Thor, Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD (in the classic Steranko days, when Fury fought, showered, ate, and made sweet love without ever putting out his cigar)... He had always wanted to break into the trade himself, and I believe he did briefly work at Marvel, though in what capacity I never learned - he had a photocopy of the pay stub on the wall of his studio.

It would kill him all over again to learn about this.

The big thing about Marvel was that, coming into the 60's, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby wanted to get away from the absurdities of 50s superhero comics and do some more socially relevant stuff. The genius lay in doing so without losing the essential tone of the comics: FUN. It remained a great, glowing, over-the-top world of two-fisted action, where people wore garish costumes in public - but which in many other ways was clearly recognizable as our world.

The X-Men and Spider-Man were perhaps Stan and Jack's finest achievement. These were teenagers suddenly shouldering great powers (and great responsibilities), and reacting the way teenagers often will: tempermentally. They would squabble, struggle, worry for their loved ones, and eventually prevail - only to be misunderstood and feared for their powers. And really, that's the universal thread of the teen years, isn't it? Every kid thinks nobody understands me, and the world's against me, and if they only knew my true abilities. These two titles recognized that every kid has a secret identity, and tapped into it.

Escapist? Yes. Still, it's worth recalling the Chestertonian quip that the people who worry most about escapism are jailers. These were rip-roaring yarns, but they also spoke to people - they took on social problems in a way that remained true to their internal logic, and addressed some universal human nature to boot. That's why they're still exciting now. That's what earned Marvel the moniker of "The House of Ideas." And that's what makes what happened to Cap all wrong.

Rewind a bit. The Ultimates line has been launched, repositioning Marvel's classic heroes by telling their origins (some of which are forty years old) all over again in the current day. It's not a bad idea, but they did so while losing the necessary distance from the real-day world to make it an escape. That's mistake number one. The first rule of storytelling, dating back to Homer and Aesop - do not dispel. Don't ground your story so literally that it can't take flight; the reader won't go anywhere.

Then came Civil War, the brainchild of editor-in-chief Joe Quesada and writer Mark Millar - a huge multi-title crossover involving all of the Marvel characters. The main plot is that the government gets fed up with superheroes wrecking stuff and orders all of them to register their powers and identities. Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic are on board; notably, Captain America is not. (This brilliant post from the Invicible Super-Blog sums things up.)

So, we get right back into that real world - but again, too deeply. It's like J Jonah Jameson wrote the comic: superheroes are a menace! Outlaw them all! More disturbing, it ignores a good deal of the strong characterization of everyone involved: Tony Stark hires supervillains to enforce the registration act? Really? And Peter Parker decides that, after hiding his identity since he was 15 so nobody kills Aunt May/Mary Jane/his pet rock, he's just going to call a press conference and blab away? And worst of all, Cap decides at the very end, after he's pretty much won the thing, that it wasn't worth it AND HE QUITS. (Great explanations thereof here.)

Captain !%&^% America does NOT QUIT. This is a man that punched Hitler in the face. This is a man who, when his arch nemesis launched a deadly rocket at Washington DC, hopped on the damn thing like Slim Pickens and brought it down in the Arctic at the apparent cost of his life. That's so frickin' awesome that it blew Chuck Norris' mind; now he's just laying down his mighty shield and giving up? That's pure bovine effluent - and we have yet to address his ignoble death.

Going down over the Atlantic while sabotaging several tons of Nazi vengeance is a worthy death for a superhero. Getting shot by a sniper while going to trial is hella weak. Um - Mark Millar - what frickin' possessed you to kill CAPTAIN AMERICA the same way Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald? Are you blargin' insane, jackass? At least let him go out in style. Damn, it would be like Batman dying from bad shellfish.

It's just a craptastic end to a 66-year comic history, and it's a disservice to the character, disrespectful to the faithful readers, and an insult to the Mighty Marvel Manner. I hope Stan Lee runs you over in his Hoveround, Mark Millar. You suck.

No comments: