Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why I Stopped Reading Comics

So the title is slightly misleading - I read a few books semi-regularly, but I've stepped well back from the "main" superhero comics from the two major publishers in the game. And. . . well, it's like this.

By now there's been more than a little hullabaloo about the events that lead to the end of The Amazing Spider-man comic with issue #700, and the launch of the new Superior Spider-man book that ostensibly takes its place. Plenty of widely-read and intelligent culture commentators (like The Escapist's Bob Chipman and BADASS Digest's Devin Faraci) have already weighed in on how this isn't really as bad as some fans are making it out to be. And they're not wrong per say, but it's still an example of why I just can't give a single solitary damn about these comics anymore.

Oh, I'm sorry - for those who don't keep up with this stuff to the same obsessive extent that I do, The Amazing Spider-man ends with Peter Parker switching bodies with Doctor Otto Octavius (a.k.a. Doctor Octopus) and then dying.

No, really.

The setup is this: Dock Ock is dying from cancer coupled with years of Spidey-facilitated ass-whuppings, and in a final attempt to avoid the inevitable, he zaps his consciousness - his personality, memories, etc. - into the body of his arch-nemesis, causing Peter's self (soul, spirit, whatever) to swap into the dying shell of Octavius. The two have a tussle, Peter/Ock loses to Otto/Spidey (sorry, I know it's confusing - it won't get better), and Ock's original body dies with Peter following into the hereafter.

But not before bequeathing all his memories and experiences - as both Peter and Spider-man - to Otto-who's-now-in-Spidey's-body. Overcome by the truth of who and what this person he'd fought for years really was and stood for, Otto vows to not only continue Spider-man's legacy, but to surpass it.

Now, on the surface there are some interesting elements at play here. A pair of rivals getting to truly experience each other's lives firsthand, and this having a profound impact that causes the villain to undergo a massive personality/goal shift? Yeah, that would sound compelling and interesting and daring. . . if I hadn't seen that exact scenario play out in Season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And the thought of someone else taking up the mantle of Spider-man would seem bold. . . if the Ultimate Spider-man line hadn't done that a while back, or the Clone Saga in the 90's before it.

Or - and this is the real issue - if I thought for one cussing minute that Marvel had the balls to make this change permanent. Or to at least make it a driving force in making a major change to the status quo.

But they don't. The problem with modern comics - and I include DC in this as equally guilty - is that they seem to have lost sight of what made them such a compelling storytelling medium in the first place. Highly serialized storytelling isn't just enjoyable because nerds like me love keeping track of obscure details and plot minutiae, but because when done right, if offers an unparalleled level of rich texture and and history to the characters and worlds these stories involve. People weren't just excited about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the idea of an Avengers movie because it meant getting a lot of dudes in costumes together for a single film, but because it meant establishing a broad cast of characters and their differing places in a unified film world and then introducing them to each other once we'd gotten to know and care about them.

The Avengers wouldn't be the third-highest-grossing movie of all time if it hadn't been for Iron Man and the films that followed. And no one would be getting bent out of shape about a fictional character like Peter Parker "dying" if they hadn't gotten attached to him through years of stories that continued to (mostly) grow and develop him as a person.

Now, however, the industry seems so hellbent on "shaking things up" every couple years that it's getting harder and harder to care about the people in the tights. The previous "Big Event" in the Spider-man comics (One More Day - also not great) erased HUGE pieces of what had transpired from before the start of J. Michael Straczynski's run on The Amazing Spider-man in 2001 up until the aftermath of the Marvel cross-over event Civil War in 2006 and 2007. During this time, there were a lot of enormous changes to Peter and his supporting cast that were essentially wiped away by the "reset" of that storyline. And I'm not just talking about Peter's marriage to Mary Jane (the impetus to which was questionable but resulted in some fantastic stories), but things like Peter confessing his feelings of guilt about Ben's death to his Aunt May, revealing his identity to the world at the behest of Tony Stark and everything that was happening in his professional life outside web-slinging.

All of that, POOF, gone after One More Day. Oh yeah, and characters who had been dead for years came back to life for some reason. Because comic books.

And Marvel's not the only publisher pulling this, Superior Spider-man is coming right on the heels of DC's "New 52" relaunch last year, which massively overhauls the histories (especially recent history) of nearly all its characters to such a drastic extent that I'm still trying to puzzle out what events from the 1980's to the end of the 00's still apply to the current set of characters.

Now understand, I'm not against big world-shaking events in comics. I'm not against the status quo being changed. One of the books I do still read is Powers, and for anyone who doesn't (shame on you), those sorts of massive plot-bombs are pretty much the order of the day. Likewise on two of my favorite TV shows of all time, Joss Whedon's Buffy and it's counterpart Angel. But with those stories I was able to fully invest in the events and characters because no one was hitting the reset button after every issue or episode. The events of the past mattered, meaning that the events in the present and their ramifications of the future also mattered. It made me care about what might come next.

But I realized something when I found out Marvel's most recent Spider-man stunt, and that's what made me maddest - and saddest - of all. I don't care about it anymore. Because I can't. As much as I love these characters (Marvel and DC) and as long as I've followed their stories, they've become meaningless to me.

As soon as the news hit the web (sorry, held off as long as I could), before the book was released or anyone had any concrete idea of where the story was going to go, I already knew that none of it would matter. There was no way that Marvel would allow Peter to stay dead - aside from the fact that Spider-man is one of the most successful characters in popular culture BECAUSE people like Peter Parker, modern comic publishers are too chicken to commit to these sorts of "events," making them nothing more than shallow stunts designed to sell books.

And a stunt has no dramatic merit. People didn't fall in love with Joss Whedon's work because his characters died, but because he made his characters and world live and grow through everything, so that when someone died you felt it. Even if their death didn't "stick," the consequences of that event sure did.

Modern comics want the attention something like "The Death of Superman" or "The Death of Captain America" or "The Death of Batman" or "The Death of Spider-man" (noticing a pattern here?) bring, but don't have the balls to commit to the consequences. Case in point: Superior Spider-man #1 reveals that the spirit/soul/ghost of Peter Parker is floating around the fringes of Spider-man/Otto's consciousness, subtly influencing Octavius' actions and waiting for the chance to take back his body. Surprise surprise.

I give it less than a year.

No comments:

Post a Comment