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Monday, February 20, 2006
More or Less Random Thoughts
Prompted by News about Civil War, and Digressing Into "What Marvel Did to Pete."
So, Marvel's been managing to get some press for an upcoming product. I can speak from some experience with working in comics retail that, unsurprisingly, the timing of this is unhelpful for retailers. The hope in getting coverage for Civil War in the New York Times is that people who aren't comic book fans will be intrigued by the coverage and seek it out. The problem, naturally, is that these folks are going to look for the book now, not three months from now. And Marvel is unlikely to get regular coverage until the book comes out, because now it's old news.
And, what, exactly, does Marvel think is going to get new readers to check this out? The report also gave one of the clearest pictures yet of how the Civil War ball gets rolling, explaining: The story opens with a reckless fight between a novice group of heroes (filming a reality television show) and a cadre of villains. The battle becomes quite literally explosive, killing some of the superheroes and many innocent bystanders. That crystallizes a government movement to register all super-powered beings as living weapons of mass destruction. The subsequent Registration Act will divide the heroes into two camps, one led by Captain America, the other by Iron Man. Along the way, Marvel will unveil its version of Guantánamo Bay, enemy combatants, embedded reporters and more. The question at the heart of the series is a fundamental one: "Would you give up your civil liberties to feel safer in the world?"
Civil War writer Mark Millar: "Before the civil war, the Marvel universe was a certain way. After the civil war, the heroes are employed by the government. Some people refuse to do it," he said, "and those guys are performing an illegal act by doing so."
I don't know about anyone else, but "deft subtlety" isn't what I think of when I consider Mark Millar's work. I also really don't see him as having any kind of coherent political view in his writings. His Ultimates, for example, can't seem to decide whether it's a celebration or a satire of jingoistic nationalism and paranoid fascism. And the less said about Chosen or Wanted the better. And so, the impression I get from this is that, all protests to the contrary, what Civil War is going to consist of is lots and lots of heavy-handed political allegory. That Marvel, being Marvel, will very quickly back away from. And, when I stop to think about it, it's an incredibly cynical marketing move on Marvel's part. Over the last few years, much of Marvel's output seems to have developed an ever so slight impression of right-wing political leaning. But, tellingly, it's never really struck me as a sincere political impression.
See, one of the things I've noticed over the years is that super-hero fans, by and large, tend to lean towards the right in their politics. Often quite unreflectively. (And that is not a political slam on anyone. By the same token, I've noticed that indie/alt/art comics fans tend to subscribe to knee-jerk liberal politics. If you want a slam, here you go: in my experience comic book fans of all stripes, by and large, don't put much thought into anything other than comic books.) And Marvel is well aware of that. They also know that most media outlets, by their very nature as corporate entities, tend to have a slight right-wing slant as well. And the feeling I get off the way Marvel presents many of their projects in the outside media is "Hey, going to the right seems to sell. Let's do that."
Now, I'm not particularly a Marvel fan. I never have been. But Pete is. He's a die-hard Marvel fan. He loves the Marvel U. Pete likes Cable for God's sake! And the only Marvel books he gets anymore are the Ultimate titles and the "teen hero" books like Runaways, Young Avengers and Spider-Girl. Because in between this pandering to a crowd Marvel seems to want and the relentless over-the-top hype of everything Marvel does lately, they've completely turned him off the Marvel U.
This is only a problem for me in the sense that all of Marvel's recent cross-over and big event stories have been uniformly awful. But Pete still holds enough fondness for the characters that he wants to know what happened. The compromise we've worked out is that he gets the trades. Which means I read the trades, so that Pete will have someone to talk to about them. Which means I'm, of my own free will, reading terrible, terrible comics that offend me on a political and aesthetic level.