Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Massive Marvel Madness!

This post is for comic geeks only.

Matt Ellis came to visit today, and we naturally reverted to full-on geek form at once. We talked about theatre, then comics, then HeroClix, with my poor brother John just looking on, bemused. I love talking about this stuff; that's part of why I started this blarg. And I don't get to do it much, so I gleefully showed Matt my Veteran Iron Man and Unique Kingdom Come Green Lantern. I may have hopped up and down.

I really need to find someone to play HeroClix with again.

One of the side benefits of contributing to a HeroClix message board ( is that there is often a spirited debate about the comics our game is based on. There's nothing like a comic book gaming message board to prove the adage that the Internet was invented for nerds to complain about Star Wars and share porn. There's no porn on HCRealms, but there's plenty of complaining. Mostly, if someone has something to say about comics, it's negative:

"Why is Ultimates late AGAIN?"

"Joe Quesada SUCKS!"

"The end of Identity Crisis SUCKED!"

"Scott Kolins SUCKS!"

"The Authority SUCKS!"

And so on. Well, I've been reading comics for a long time, and I think I'm enjoying them more than ever right now. With the first issue of Marvel's Civil War coming out the same day as DC's Infinite Crisis, it seemed an interesting time to look at Marvel madness--especially since DC's recent big events have left me quite cold.

Everyone seems to hate Brian Michael Bendis but me. I love his writing; I love the dialogue, I love the scarcity and extremity of actual deadly violence, and I absolutely love the combination of Bendis and Ultimate Spider-Man penciler Mark Bagley (another guy everyone seems to hate). It's been very interesting watching Bendis re-organize the Marvel universe over the past two summers, and it's just paying off now.

In 2004, Bendis took over Marvel's flagship series Avengers just in time to write the book into oblivion--literally. The cross-publisher Avengers Disassembled event told the story of the reality-warping Scarlet Witch's losing battle with sanity, resulting in the deaths of three Avengers, the destruction of their headquarters, and the dismantling of the team. Looking at the previous few year's affected titles, Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, a re-boot was much needed. (In reality, a post-Authority and Ultimates comics world has little room for the nostalgic organization of the Avengers.) So Bendis gleefully blew up 40 years of history, retconning the entire mentality of the Scarlet Witch, a much-beloved character, and killing off much-beloved Hawkeye and the Vision at the same time. Bendis took a ton of criticism in 2004 for the seemingly-meaningless death and destruction, much of it focused on his lack of respect for tradition and continuity.

But what some call respect for tradition I call stuck in a rut. And slavish adherence to continuity hasn't been a comics hallmark since the early '90s. Bendis blew up something that needed to be blown up, and I challenge anyone to say that Avengers #499 is in any way superior to the last 18 issues of New Avengers, which has become one of Marvel's most consistenyly good books of the past two years. Designed as an all-star team after the original Avengers model, NA features Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Spider-Woman, Luke Cage, and newcomers Echo and Sentry as a must-have list of Marvel's Most Hip. Disassembled also spawned the magnificent New Thunderbolts and Young Avengers, as well as giving Spider-Man new life as a team player (and employee of Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man). So Avengers has new life.

A year after Disassembled, Bendis struck again with the much-reviled House of M. HoM was a crossover between the New Avengers and the Joss Whedon-penned Astonishing X-Men team, and dealt directly with the fallout from Disassembled. The Scarlet Witch, still insane and still bearing her reality-changing powers, is coerced into changing the entire world into a mutant-dominated paradise. Spider-Man is famous, Wolverine is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Charles Xavier is missing, and Magneto rules the world. While the tie-ins were annoying at best and poor at worst, the House of M mini-series stands up very well as an eight-chapter graphic novel, and reads much better as a unified piece than as eight issues separated by two weeks each. At the end of House of M, Wanda decides that mutants are to blame for all these troubles, and utters the fateful words "No more mutants." The world burns to white again, and reality is restored, with one exception: Where once mutants on earth numbered in the hundreds of thousands, they now number exactly one hundred ninety-eight.

So twenty years of X-Men schoolhouse soap opera are completely shattered. No more X-Force, no more Mutant Academy, no more X-Corps or X-Statix, or Xtreme X-Men. One hundred ninety-eight mutants; we're back in the area of Giant-Sized X-Men #1. As much as Disassembled forced the Avengers out of a rut, so did House of M re-focus the largely unreadable mutant books. Remember when being a mutant made you special, and not part of a massive class or subculture? Well, those days are back. Being a mutant means something again.

Now Mark Millar has the reins. As usual, help is coming one day late; the U.S. government, in lieu of being able to go back in time and fix anything, is using their 20/20 hindsight to force a Superhero Registration act. The result: Civil War. Only one issue so far, but Captain America is already a renegade being hunted by his old friend Iron Man. Wow.

And it's been three years coming. Part of what drove me nuts about DC's Infinite Crisis was that it was determined to re-write all of DC continuity in seven issues, largely through the influence of new characters or characters from alternate realities. Come on now. How am I supposed to have any kind of emotional investment in Superboy Prime or Alexander Luthor with only four or five issues to get to know them--especially when every other panel is a massive George Perez masterpiece featuring nineteen distinct characters we've never seen before? (For the record, I love Perez drawing team books. Love it.) With Marvel's universe-changing events, the groundwork was laid two years ago, not two issues ago, and the prime movers are existing Marvel characters. When it was revealed that the Scarlet Witch was causing the events of Disassembled, my heart skipped a beat. She's been one of my favorite characters for twenty years, and has been a Marvel mainstay for twice as long. Hawkeye's death was lame, but that made it so sad. Ditto for the Vision. (For the record, the Vision is back in the pages of Young Avengers. Hawkeye appeared in the House of M reality, and left evidence that he's somewhere in the current Marvel U, but we haven't seen hide nor hair of him in a year. He wasn't the mysterious Swordsman, as many suggested. I can't wait for him to come back; his devil-may-care attitude is much-missed in the pages of Avengers and Thunderbolts.)

So I'm getting pretty tired of people complaining about comics. Great, great stuff is happening right now in the Marvel Universe. And Bendis rules. And Quesada does not suck.



  • At 6/01/2006 12:11 PM , Blogger Wayne Conners said...

    I'm not a comics fan myself, but I did run across this today:

  • At 6/04/2006 9:55 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    I also heard about this just recently. There has been an increasing number of openly gay characters in mainstream comics. Hulkling and Wiccan in "Young Avengers," Northstar in "X-Men," Knockout and Scandal in "Villains United" and "Secret Six," and Colossus in "Ultimate X-Men." But this one has "Bat-" for a prefix, so it makes CNN.

    Now, I'm not one who worships at the altar of diversity, and "tolerance" is a word that is often used to mean "accepting of all variety of bad behavior." But I don't see this as an issue worth making a big stink over. Comics, and fiction in general, reflect the world, and homosexuality is part of the world. Marvel has been approaching the "blind hatred of the different" issue for decades with its "X-Men" line.

    If this wasn't Bat-somebody, this would just be same-old same-old. I'm actually far more concerned with the ultra-radical almost anarcho-liberal perspectives of best-selling comic writers Mark Millar and Warren Ellis. I'm torn between hating the excessive politics of "The Authority" and loving the book's superior writing and art...


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