After Zelda, Superheroes Were My Gateway To Fantasy.

After the news of celebrated writer and artist Darwyn Cooke’s passing, I picked my copy of Absolute DC: New Frontier and absorbed Cooke’s love letter to the Silver Age of the DC Universe.

It’s massive scale and the enormous cast of diverse characters combined with the lingering thoughts about Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World reminded me that after The Legend of Zelda it was superhero comics that opened the gateway for my love for fantasy.

The similarities between the two are surprisingly plentiful. Just to name a few:

  • Garish costumes.
  • Systems of magic.
  • Unusual names and codenames.
  • The use of symbology.
  • Enhanced or enchanted armor, weapons, and items.
  • Prophecy and legends influencing the protagonists.
  • History, mythology, and continuity that dates back before a current story but has a lingering effect.
  • Multi-faceted heroes and villains that walk the moral line.
  • Archetypal heroes and villains that serve as both characters and symbols for their cause.
  • Conflicts on the micro scale within close knits groups,
  • Macro scale conflicts that put universes in jeopardy,
  • and those in-group conflicts affecting the chance of success of resolving those universal threats.
  • War: The consequences of war, the threat of war, and the aftermath of war.
  • Death: Heroes, villains, love interests, and side characters all dying and in some cases, coming back.

Superhero comics do have the advantage of being broad enough in storytelling that it can encompass many genres including fantasy. A majority of DC’s magic users, including Etrigan, John Constantine, Dr. Fate, Swamp Thing, Alan Scott, and oh, I don’t know, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman all either dip their toes or fully submerge themselves into fantasy.

What it comes down to is world building. If you can understand the chaos that is the worlds of Marvel and DC then remembering the houses on Game of Thrones isn’t that difficult. What’s different is that for Marvel and DC the rules are always changing. What most fantasy tends to do is either established the rules early on or establish the rules and break them early on to create conflict. This is because eventually those fantasy stories are going to end. Comic book companies are in the business of keeping their stories running for as long as they sell. Thus their characters have to change overtime but not necessarily evolve.

Plus, most series of fantasy novels are written by one creator while superhero comics is a ever-spinning turnstile of different writers and artists. Their environment, purpose, supporting cast, powers, appearance, and even their history could change from one writer to another. Elements that stem from roots in fantasy could not longer be in fashion. Now, their powers, equipment, cast, or origin may not be science fiction in nature.

This can be frustrating to the reader which could not be more apparent with the recent developments in [spoilers] DC Universe Rebirth and the first issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers. Change is acceptable in a fantasy novel, especially a series with no previous history (real world history that is) but not so with most superhero comics considering their long history dating back to World War II. Even new superheroes have this struggle because by the time you establish a new character in an ongoing over a certain amount of issues any change you make is going to met with resistance from your readers.

That and the price is why I made the jump. I was frustrated by bad writing of characters I loved and the ever increasing price of comics versus the price of books made the switch easy. Fantasy novels have stayed relatively the same price, they have a more complete story, no other bad writer is coming in and fucking up what the good writer has done, there are no editorial mandates to fit within a big event happening in another series, and  the story is self-contained.

Still, I may never hace found fantasy without superhero comics.

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When the Audience is Bored of A-Listers, The B-Listers Will Inherit the Superhero Movies.

For an indeterminate amount of time, comic book fans have been ranking their heroes (and villains) like celebrities with  “A” through “D” rating.

In DC Comics Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman have always been A-List heroes. However, characters like Green Lantern, The Flash, and Aquaman have fluctuated, falling to B-Listers in the 90’s, then rising again to A-listers in the mid-oughts.

Marvel is a bit stranger. In the early oughts, Brian Michael Bendis disassembled the Avengers for a good reason. Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America struggled as B-Listers in the late 90’s. Thor had been killed off, Iron Man was turned into an alcoholic and then a teengager  and Captain American in general seemed directionless. The rest of the Avengers just didn’t have the popularity of their other franches.  Marvel spent years building the Avengers back up to A-List characters, and thanks the  X-Men and Spider-Man being licensed to other film companies they had no choice but to build a movie universe on the back of the Avengers.

If they had owned the licenses for those two powerhouse franchises, Iron Man would not have been the first cinematic universe film under their own film company. They took a character, Iron Man, which the mainstream audience did not know and turned him into one of the biggest characters they currently have. They did it again with Guardians of the Galaxy, which people knew even less than Iron Man. Likewise, 2003’s Daredevil was an embarassment as far as movies go but Marvel took the franchise and turned it into the most watched and highest rated show on Netflix.

By regaining, rebooting, and revitalizing the Spider-Man franchise they’re also pushing back the inevitable. Marvel knows this, that’s why movies like Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel were merely pushed back rather than replaced by Spider-Man movies. Then, with the rest of the Defenders series on Netflix they’ll turn Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist into characters people know essentially raising their ranks from B and C-Listers into A-Listers. They took a character like The Vision and made him the most standout character of Avengers: Age of Ultron. They took a character like Ant-Man and made a entertaining and successful movie about him, which some people found laughable when announced.

On DC’s side it is a bit more worrisome, as far as movies go. Thanks to the success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, Warner Bros. believes the grim and gritty approach is the way to go as far as their own cinematic universe goes as evidenced by their dark approach to Superman in Man of Steel, the trailer for Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad. This may work at first, but the novelty of it will end quickly. What makes The Flash television series so refreshing is how far away from the Batman tone it is. It’s optimistic, funny, light hearted, and colorful. No dreary colors, no over serious faces, and 90% less angst.

The novelty of Suicide Squad, and Batman v. Superman has a problem. If it wasn’t for Harley Quinn and Wonder Woman the appeal of these movies is what they’re doing differently with Ben Affleck’s version of Batman, and Jared Leto’s version of the Joker. This’ll only last so long. They need movies with different tones with different characters. If they try to Batmanify characters like Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman (which is what it looks like they’re doing anyway) people will become fatigued. Marvel realizes an Iron Man movie should not have the same tone as a Captain America movie, but does Warner Bros. realize that?

The B-Listers will eventually inherit the Marvel movies but if Warner Bros. relies too much on the success of Batman to see what is unique about their other characters they’ll be doomed to fail before they even begin.

DC Comic’s Convergence and Marvel’s Secret Wars: Too Messy for Me.

I was reading The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett when I ran into this quote.

Then the Dean repeated the mantra that has had such a marked effect on the progress of knowledge throughout the ages.
“Why don’t we just mix up absolutely everything and see what happens?” he said.
And Ridcully responded with the traditional response.
“It’s got to be worth a try,” he said.”

That’s how I feel about these two events coming out of DC Comics and Marvel Comics. These are the premises straight from Wikipedia.

DC’s Convergence.

Set on a world outside time and space, Brainiac has used his access to Vanishing Point to roam the history of the DC Universe. Using it to abduct heroes from different lost and defunct eras (pre-Flashpoint, pre-Zero Hour and pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths) and across the multiverse, Brainiac amasses a collection of 40 cities. Taking them to this mysterious world within domes (very much like the one that he has kept the city of Kandor from Krypton in over DC publication history) he opens them to see what happens. The ensuing chaos pits various DC heroes and villains and their historic or multiverse counterparts against each other as a villain known as Telos arises to take advantage of it all.

Marvel’s Secret Wars

The basic premise involves the collision of the Marvel 616 Universe with the Ultimate Marvel Universe which destroys both. But pieces of the two universes – with other universes – are mysteriously saved and combined with other post collision universes creating the “Battleworld”.

All the DC characters you remember existing pre-New 52 are now trapped under a dome by Braniac fighting characters from other universes that you don’t give a damn about. Everything you can think of is being thrown at the wall for this event. Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain are back but so is all the characters from Flashpoint. Kyle Rayner is in his ugly original costume once again but so is Hal Jordan in his Parallax costume. I guess they figured the New 52 never really did bring in new readers so they decided to write a comic that included years and years of history in eight forty page comics and hope nobody cries.

Meanwhile over at Marvel they’ve been trying to figure out a way to get rid of their failing Ultimate line for years, the problem is they created a hugely successful character in Mile Morales. The Ultimate Universe exists to this day because of MIles Morales but having a comic book universe for one successful character doesn’t make sense in the long run.

So they came up with this idea of smacking the Ultimate universe and the 616 Universe (which is the original Marvel universe for those not in the know) to see what kind of chaos comes out of these two universes having to coexist. If the event doesn’t end with Miles Morales in the regular Marvel Universe and the Ultimate line over with I’ll be surprised. The only other result I can think of is the Marvel Universe being completely reset.

It’s not the long history of both DC Comics and Marvel’s continuity that makes me disinterested. To me, it looks like when I try to spring clean by emptying all my shelves and draws at once then organize it all in one day. Just looking at the solicitations is such a mess it gives me a headache. How can you possibly get a coherent story by throwing in every version, every universe, every character of your entire history? How? Then how can you possibly write a good story with that? I don’t think you can and I certainly don’t think you can write one good enough to be $4.99 an issue.

To me, from both publishers, it sounds like Countdown to Final Crisis, a much chagrin and poorly review weekly series, all over again.

Sometimes in interviews comic book writers complain about continuity, that it can be a shackle to creativity in comics. This however, is too much freedom from continuity. Continuity can be a structure for which you write your story and to throw that away for an event comic in no way seems like a good idea.

Plus it’s kind of insulting to let fans have this taste of characters and histories that have gone away in comics for a couple months only to take it away in their post-event comic world. No thank you.

Featured image by Charlie Layton.