Sunday, August 12, 2012

Superhero on Superhero Violence, or My Thoughts on Avengers vs. X-Men

Do you remember "Kingdom Come"? The comic book mini-series by Mark Waid and Alex Ross from the 90's? If you haven't read it, you really should it's excellent.

Here's the premise of the story- a few decades in the future, most of the old school superheroes, Superman, Batman, the Green Lantern, etc. have retired or cut back on superheroics as a new generation of much more violent superheroes has risen. These new superheroes have killed off most of the world's supervillain's, and spend most of their time fighting each other.

The whole series was a critique of the comics of the 90's, in particular, the comics that Image was putting out (Spawn, WildCATS, etc.) which featured heroes with giant muscles and giant guns who had no issues with taking out bad guys with EXTREME PREJUDICE! But, it was just as much a celebration of old school, aspirational superhero comics as it was a critique of the EXTREMENESS of the 90's.

What does this have to do with Avengers vs. X-Men?

Well, the future of "Kingdom Come", where superheroes spend most of their time fighting each other rather than assisting their fellow man, reminds me alot of the current Marvel Universe.

Let's look back on some of Marvel's biggest events over the course of the last decade or so:

-Avengers Disassembled featured the Avengers fighting the Scarlet Witch- who was/is a superhero (I realize this has been retconned so the whole thing is now Dr. Doom's fault. I 110% support this retcon).

-In House of M, we discovered that the real villain of the story was Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch's brother, and also- a superhero.

-Civil War- this is kind of the biggest example of superhero on superhero violence in that half of the good guys in the Marvel Universe fought half of the other superheroes in the Marvel Universe over the issue of government superhero registration. Captain America vs. Iron Man! For all of the marbles.

-World War Hulk- the Hulk takes on all of the other superheroes in the Marvel U!

-X-Men Schism- clearly the X-Men were feeling left out after a few years of watching the Avengers fighting each other, and in Schism they got in on the fighting each other act. Cyclops and Wolverine beat each other up!

-Which brings us to Avengers vs. X-Men wherein the Avengers and the X-Men come to blows over control of Hope Summers (aka Jean Grey, Jr.)

Basically, for the last ten years or so, the Marvel Universe has looked like the future shown in Kingdom Come. I should actually specify that Marvel MOSTLY looks like this in their event comics- the individual titles tend to be refreshingly...superhero-y? Iron Man is currently taking on the Mandarin, Ed Brubaker's Captain America has featured Cap taking on just about every great villain he's ever had- the list goes on.

But in the big events? It's all superheroes fighting other superheroes.

And....I'm weary of it. I have major event fatigue in general. These big crossovers/mini-series that Marvel (and DC for that matter) does every year all kind of blur together and start to feel the same after awhile. If that were the only problem I had with them, the solution would be easy. I don't HAVE to read event comics. No one is holding a gun to my head and MAKING read Avengers vs. X-Men.

Here's the thing- I really like the characters in many of these events. I've been reading X-Men comics since 1991, and Avengers comics since 1997. I'm emotionally invested in these characters. I know it's stupid, but I care about them. I want to read comics that feature those characters.

I also want to read about those characters being superheroes. Superheroes inspire me. They're aspirational. They show (me, you, whoever) that the world can be a better place and that we need to use our talents and abilities to make it a better place.

Avengers vs. X-Men is fun at points. I mean, watching the Thing and Namor or Cyclops and Captain America slug it out is fun. It's nerd porn. We talk about this shit all of the time. "Who would win in a fight, Storm, or Thor?"

The problem (for me) is that to get the characters to a place where they are in a position to make the decision to fight each they have to act less than superheroic. The story only happens because Captain America, a superhero, and Cyclops, another superhero, do some fairly unheroic things. Instead of trying to have a conversation with Cap over custody of Hope, Cyclops blasts him in the face. When Cyclops sets about (and succeeding in) making the world a better place, Captain America breaks into his house and tries to kidnap Hope. To boil it down, in order to get superheroes to the point where they would fight each other, they all need to act like assholes to each other.

The other big problem I have with these superhero slobberknockers is that as much as the writers try to make both sides come off well, one side always ends up looking like the bad guy more than the other. For the first few issues of AvX, I actually thought things seemed fairly balanced. And then (Spoilers) five of the X-Men were endowed with the godlike power of the Phoenix Force. They have since- taken over the planet, imprisoned most of the Avengers in a hell-like pocket dimension, and destroyed the nation of Wakanda, amongst other actions. It's hard to read that stuff, and not decide that the X-Men are the villains of the story.

Before I go on, I should probably say that Cyclops is my all time favorite superhero. It made me so happy when Joss Whedon wrote Astonishing X-Men because he really treated the character as a superhero, and a bad ass superhero at that. Since then, he has been written as a character who had to make increasingly morally-compromising decisions to save Marvel's mutants, and now, in AvX, he basically comes off as a new Magneto (the old Magneto is even working under him). I miss reading stories where my favorite superhero acts like a superhero. So, part of my issue with the story is personal. MY favorite character is the one who comes off as the bad guy here. That's my bias.

You know what was great in the Avengers movie? The Hulk, after years of being portrayed less as a superhero, and more as a monster, was finally, for the first time in decades, shown as a hero again, to use a phrase I've used a bunch, he was portrayed as an aspirational character. The Hulk was inspiring in that movie. All of the heroes were- that's partly why it was such a great film.

I get it- shades of grey make stories more interesting. When superheroes do things that are less than superheroic, it makes them seem like more fully developed, more human characters. That's part of what makes Marvel great. I mean, Spider-Man is awesome in part because Peter Parker is  a colossal fuck up sometimes. Wolverine and the Hulk are great because they have to overcome their own violent natures in order to be heroic. I don't mind showing that superheroes have their dark sides, but it's gotten to the point where these event books almost exclusively focus on superheroes worst qualities. And I'm just bored with it. I get it. It sells books. It's just...not for me, I guess.

It does look like Marvel's new...rebranding, MarvelNOW is going to focus on superheroes being superheroes, so I do have that to look forward to. I just hope that after AvX ends, it's a few years before Marvel does another big Superhero vs. Superhero crossover. Maybe the good guys can just fight the bad guys for a few years?

I'm also sick of major characters getting killed off in events, but that's a whole other blog.

1 comment:

  1. The world isnt made up of good people and Death Eaters. Shades of gray are awesome. I like the idea of both sides thinking they are doing what's right, disagreeing, and beating the crap out of each other.

    I do NOT like the idea of doing these things, the same things, every year forever. It gets ridiculous. The X Men need to to fight bad guys and sentinels and what not. The Avengers need to fight other various bad guys who want to destroy the world. It makes you think that every comic should be a limited series or something so that the stories do not get repetitive and boring.

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