Hello and welcome to an exciting new chapter in sporadic column posting, deadline missing, brain-cell killing and heart-rate raising ranting!
I may as well admit it from the get-go… this is not going to be the weekly feature that most other columns around here manage. It probably won’t even be the fortnightly feature that Daron would like it to be. In comic book parlance, this column will be the equivalent of Kevin Smith writing an Image book drawn by Frank Quitely, only with less dick jokes. Before we get started, I just want to explain the rules behind these occasional meetings of ours…
Firstly, as you should all already know, I need to actually find the time to sit down and write this thing in-between writing elsewhere on IP, writing non-IP related goofiness, studying, working and just generally living. Secondly, I need to have a worthy soundtrack to fuel my rage. Thirdly, I need to have a steady supply of liquor to fan the flames of the rage. Fourthly, I need to try and actually have a topic to talk about… a comic-book related topic that can be slowly beaten into submission by the dreaded rage… Thank goodness for Jamie Hatton then, because a topic arose out of a conversation we had that actually started in this week’s Roundtable… Something that can definitely bring my rage all the way up to the unstable heights of Goldberg smashing some glass… That topic is…
Now, before I go any further let me just throw a vague disclaimer out there: I am not reading HOUSE OF M. I am not reading any of the 45 – that’s forty-five – tie-in books because I have more sense than I have money, despite owning Just Married on DVD. I am not reading the 8 issue main story because, despite there being eight issues, there is no actual story until the aftermath emerges. Then, and only then, will it become apparent which 5% of the glorified WHAT IF? story has actually been relevant towards creating an ever-so-slightly modified Marvel Universe. In the interest of fairness, I did actually read the first three issues in the store. After all, I’m buying practically every INFINITE CRISIS related title that DC is putting out there and Bendis has written some of my favourite comics in the past, so why not? Well, it just confirmed that this supposed event was everything I thought it was. A whole load of hype for a story that basically boils down to the following:
“Wow, isn’t the world brilliant/terrible?”
“Yes/no. But it isn’t meant to be this way.”
“Oh, okay then. I will join everybody else in inexplicably, wholeheartedly believing in the plot device.”
“Good/bad. Let us change things anyway. All hail the plot device!”
“Everything is different, but the same… things are more moderner than before… bigger, and yet smaller… it’s computers… San Dimas High School football rules!”
This then goes on and on and on until Little Miss Macguffin sits on her tuffet, whacking the giant cosmic reset button in the sky like a six year-old kid with ADD hitting the button marked “Do Not Touch” after having just downed a bottle of maple syrup. The fact that Joss Whedon (more specifically, Marti Noxon and David Greenwalt) managed to accomplish this very same story in a far more touching fashion in a single episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (3×09 – “The Wish”) tells you all you need to know about how self-indulgent HOUSE OF M really is. I guess that I just enjoy being self-indulgent in pointing out HOUSE OF M’s shortcomings, but at least I’m not expecting you to pay for the privilege.
The real fun comes after the stars and planets align correctly, we all bow down before the might of our Marvel overlords, offer up a blood sacrifice and the infallible Bendis and Quesada deem fit to tell us exactly what, if anything, has changed about the Marvel Universe now. The rumours have been flying thick and fast, of course. Some say that Peter Parker and Mary Jane will no longer be married, some say that Magneto and/or Charles Xavier will no longer be with us, some say that Hawkeye will still be dead, and most say that the internet has thoroughly no-sold Marvel’s hype machine. No matter what happens the one thing that has been more or less confirmed is that the number of mutants present in the Marvel Universe will be drastically reduced, perhaps to no more than about one hundred.
Yes, that’s right. The major outcome of this grand crossover is basically nothing more than turning the clock back. Now, let’s throw in a quick question – which of the following two terms sounds better to you:
1. re-gres-sion n. – an abnormal state in which development has stopped prematurely; a defense mechanism in which you flee from reality by assuming a more infantile state.
2. pro-gres-sion n. – a series with a definite pattern of advance; the act of moving forward towards a goal.
We all know which one Marvel picked. It’s the one based primarily on giving in to fear, lacking the ability to truly think creatively, resting on your laurels and counting upon your audience to continue to bend over whilst being milked for their money.
Now, before we go any further I just have to clarify a couple of things. Firstly, this column is not intended as a malicious mixture of Marvel mocking. Some of my best reads are Marvel. It is also not intended as a blatant bit of Bendis bashing. It was only a few years ago that I first got hooked on this delirious direct-distribution drug of ours and that was thanks to one ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, while it was other titles like DAREDEVIL and ALIAS that kept encouraging me to explore further. Besides, I’ve quite clearly got the alliteration thing down pat. So yes, generally speaking, it’s two thumbs-up for Marvel and for Bendis. It’s also a case of liking good stories and not being treated like an idiot however, which they have sadly forgotten about with this latest editorial mandate.
For starters, the X-Men have always been viewed primarily as a sociological allegory for the plight of minorities more than anything else. The ‘two sides of the same coin’ beliefs held by Xavier and Magneto have been compared numerous times to the African-American civil rights tactics employed by the peaceful Martin Luther King Jr. and the more militant Malcolm X. The fact that many mutants choose to hide who they really are for fear of being judged, not to mention that most realise their abilities during puberty, has also been seen as a metaphor for homosexuality (most notably seen in X-Men 2 when Iceman ‘came out’ to his parents). These are perhaps the most common comparisons that are made, though there are plenty stories that can also work as parallels for sexual equality, religious tolerance, HIV/AIDS awareness, and more. The real genius in the original incarnation of mutants was that the persecution they faced could generally stand for whatever the reader chose to see. It was not restricted by race or creed or sexuality, it simply was.
This, of course, brings about the problem of ever-changing social viewpoints. Originally, the X-Men were unconventional heroes with an outsider status brought about because the world unfairly judged mutants in the way that so many minorities have been unfairly judged in the real world. This, however, simply cannot hold as a storytelling device for 42 years worth of UNCANNY X-MEN and a limitless stream of spin-off titles, mini-series and crossovers as part of a shared Marvel Universe with a plethora of other superheroes in existence. If, broadly speaking, the Marvel public fears mutants because they are different and have special abilities, then how can they continue to welcome characters like Captain America or the Fantastic Four with arms and minds wide open? How can mutants stand alongside humans on teams such as the Avengers and the Defenders without people batting an eyelid? I guess this is the holy double standard of the Marvel Universe that we have to accept unquestioningly. If it means that we get to see Spider-Man and Wolverine piss each other off left, right and centre in the name of making and selling entertaining comics within a shared universe, then so be it.
What it doesn’t explain is how we can be expected to believe that this Marvel public can be expected to not change their views on mutants whatsoever over the past few decades. Even if we’re meant to be able to believe that everything that has happened since FANTASTIC FOUR #1 hit the shelves has occurred within a span of 10-15 years real time, the market for these books has been around for far longer and thus simply cannot be expected to put up with an out-dated, stillborn opinion on a single minority. Familiarity may breed contempt, but contempt comes out of boredom and not hatred, which would for the most part dissipate. For the most part. Do people nowadays still hold the same fears that they did back in the ’60s? Are Arab-Americans being treated as unfairly nowadays as African-Americans were a few decades back? Hard for me to say, I don’t live in America… Have the Western governments of the world merely taken all their fears over communism and transferred them to terrorism? Maybe it is true that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The key ingredient in that, however, is that things have to change.
For starters, the mutant gene has been spreading around the Marvel Universe for several years, bounding around from bed to bed and being passed on to at least one, possibly two more generations of mutants. Year after year, more mutants appear and most of them are either actively heroic or just plain regular folks that are in no way going to pose a threat to the well-being of society, which is something that society s-l-o-w-l-y begins to understand. Things become more commonplace, less unusual, less frightening and less likely to cause an irrational fear that could leave the X-Men as an outsider group, particularly for the younger generations.
This is why Grant Morrison’s NEW X-MEN was so refreshing. The mutant gene was out there on the streets with a whole new generation of upstarts with their own powers, their own styles, their own theories on how the world should be run and the same irrepressible desire to enforce it onto whatever adults dared to actually try and tell them otherwise that every new set of kids develops. Mutants were integrating into society to a far greater level than ever before, which bred far more radical ideas than before, such as the infamous ‘Magneto Was Right’ movement. The threat was being somewhat dulled, so huge terrorist acts such as destroying Genosha and levelling Manhattan were thrown out to shake things up. The possibilities of secondary mutation and of an ‘extinction gene’ possibly being active in non-mutant humans were toyed with, both of which were capable of spreading far more fear throughout the general public than would otherwise have been the case. After all, people have always been told by the more staunchly anti-mutant protestors that the mutant race posed a threat to the very fabric of humanity… but if there happened to be genuine scientific evidence to support this notion, then surely that would work? Surely it would cause mutants to continue to be feared and hated by humans in the same odd little manner that Marvel’s editors seem to think has to be the case, whilst also allowing the Marvel Universe to evolve and change in a vaguely realistic and organic manner – one that would still allow plenty of room for creative storytelling? Could we dare hope for more MADROX or X-STATIX and less Claremont or Austen?
Or should we just help Quesada dig himself deeper into that rut and then bury ourselves in it?
Ah, the hell with it. I have a shiny new Scrubs DVD set to watch so I’m calling a halt here. This week’s drinking tally was a very meagre 3 beers, which certainly must be doubled or hopefully trebled for the next time.