Saturday, August 29, 2015

Truth, Justice, and the Only Way

I was just thinking about the comics I grew up reading.

Y'know, it used to be that you could draw a line of distinction between Marvel and DC. Marvel was focused on the "flawed hero" and misfits: Spider-Man, the X-Men, the bickering Fantastic Four, the alcoholic Iron Man, etc... the stories were interesting, but the battles and conflicts didn't seem to have any aim beyond surviving another day. The one character with the most clearly defined utopian goal seemed to be the villain Magneto.

On the other hand, DC was about the larger-than-life Role Model: Superman, The Flash. The Lanterns were cops. The Batman fought for Justice, not vengeance. Green Arrow was a full-on social justice warrior. They were clearly focused on a better Tomorrow, not just getting by.

I like to think of DC's classic approach to super-heroism as "Lifeguard stories". Yes, the heroes found it easy, but in the world they occupied there is nothing inherently difficult in choosing which lives to save: you save them all if you can, even the baddies. Then you let the Justice system, not vigilantism, decide the punishment. Even the Batman, traumatized as he was, never became The Punisher.

There is some merit to this approach. If your very life is in danger; if you need someone is to rescue you; should you care that he finds it easy? Wouldn't you rather have a lifeguard who can swim? One who can inspire you to learn to do the same to help others on whatever scale you can?

Now DC have revised their entire line-up in an apparent attempt to make themselves over as being more Marvel than Marvel. They've killed Batman; deprived Superman of his powers and cast him as a suspicious, duplicitous alien; cast Aquaman out of Atlantis; made a hero of Lex Luthor; de-legitimized and decimated the Lantern Corp; infantilized Batgirl as a selfie-snapping fashion-plate; and even torn Black Canary's fishnets. Wonder Woman is now the god of War.

Yeah, they went there. A bloody-nosed depowered
T-shirt-wearing "Superman" punching a cop.
Action Comics #43

They call this initiative "DC You". They feel it better reflects their current audience. They feel it represents you. If that's true, it makes me so very depressed to know that the goals for which you strive are so terribly low. Heroes are meant to inspire. "Inspiration" comes from a Latin word meaning "to breathe". Are your breaths truly so shallow?

Amazing Spider-Man #537
What's worse, the "Marvelization" of DC is simply poorly done. Marvel at its best uses their format for intelligent commentary on the human condition. You will not find much that is more inspiring than Captain America quoting of Mark Twain in Marvel's Civil War. I could explain it away by saying that Marvel have had a lot more practice at it, but that doesn't really explain it.

I'll give you just one example to compare:
  1. The early Spider-Man comics. Peter Parker, school-age kid, balancing science and getting bullied and his love and respect for his closely-connected Aunt May, cognizant of his abilities and accompanying responsibilities, trying to be a hero despite the impediments of life. Written by Stan Lee, whose goal was to depict Parker in a way that felt real.
  2. The early stages of the current Batgirl reboot. Barbara Gordon, (inexplicably regressed to) school-age kid, balancing uncanny computer skills and physical prowess with respect for her mostly-absent father, possessed of eidetic memory yet casually tossing aside the traumas of a viciously-inflicted spinal injury and sociopathic brother. Written by Brendan Fletcher and Cameron Stewart, whose goal is to be trendy.
Powers aside, DC have remade Batgirl into Spider-Man as closely as they could except where it counts. Except for the heart. Nevertheless, the attempt is there... visibly so.

I think it's a shame, not just that they did it poorly, but that they did it at all.

In a classic display of symbolism, Superman states that
if the villainous Lex Luthor ever wants to find him,
all he needs to do is "look up".
The difference between Marvel and what they termed the "Distinguished Competition" was important. It was a difference of approach, it was a difference of viewpoint, it offered readers a broader set of values and opinions than they currently get now that everybody's the same.

 Now, everybody has the same approach, the same solutions, the same questions, the same answers.

Now, all is relative, Right and Wrong are indistinguishable in practice and the heroes are villains and the villains are heroes.

You may as well flip a two-headed coin to choose between them.

On the other hand... if their intent is to accurately portray our current sociological and political landscape, perhaps they've just done exactly that.

Think about it.

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