Make Mine Marvel, Malapropist: Fewer Winks, More Man-Thing – pt. 2

In which my friend (and EPA co-writer) Nathan and I continue our discussion of Marvel comics in 2010.

The Red Hulk

Greg: Interesting that you mention both the Red Hulk and the DC-ification of Marvel. I’ll reserve judgment about Red Hulk joining the Avengers till I have a sense of how [Brian Michael] Bendis writes the character. The addition of a morally ambiguous element to the team could make for a more entertaining dynamic, provided Red Hulk doesn’t suddenly start speaking in the same tone as everyone else in that book. But let’s take a step back: do we need a Red Hulk at all? Or for that matter, Skaar, son of the Hulk, or the like three She-Hulks that occasionally appear in Hulk books?

Maybe this sort of brand dilution–the move from one Hulk, to two (the first She-Hulk), to the Hulk family of today–was inevitable. If not for the Hulk, then perhaps for the more popular Wolverine, who now also has a son, Daken, and a female clone, X-23. I don’t know if you read Mark Waid‘s run on The Flash growing up, but in the ’90s, Waid got a lot of mileage (pun intended) out of surrounding the main Flash, Wally West, with a variety of other characters who had speed-based powers, such as Jay Garrick, Flash of the 1940s. This worked because for one thing, it felt like a naturally function of one Flash or another having been around, in print, for more than fifty years. The extended Flash family of Waid’s run was also relatively unique for its time. Sure, DC also had a Superboy and Supergirl to complement Superman (and I’m sure you could think of plenty more examples), but never before had a writer put together a cross-generational supporting cast, most of them variations on a core concept, quite like Waid did.

In a sense, Waid’s Flash family succeeded because there was little about the Flash as a character to prevent the enterprise from succeeding. Wally West was not, say, a notorious loner like Wolverine. Some credit is due to the folks who’ve been writing Hulk books and Wolverine/X-Men books for the last several years: by introducing characters like Skaar and X-23, they’ve avoided rehashing the same old Hulk or Wolverine stories of years past. (Greg Pak and Jeff Parker‘s Hulk stuff looks particularly enticing at times.) Even so, I’m not convinced having a Hulk- or Wolverine-family will serve either character well in the long run–both of them functioning best as isolated, antisocial dudes. (Forgetting for a minute that Wolverine’s also on the five different teams at the moment. And I hasten to add that I’m not suggesting Marvel kill off X-23 or the She-Hulks or anything like that, because superhero comics as an institution would be well served by less gruesome women-in-refrigerators crap. Anyway, thoughts?)


Regarding Jonathan Hickman: I’ve avoided his Marvel stuff, having really really hated The Nightly News, the breakout book he did with Image. But I’ll probably check out S.H.I.E.L.D., his secret history of the Marvel universe, when it arrives in collected form. Actually, I think Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D. dovetails nicely with the concerns I’ve outlined above, w/r/t characters’ uniqueness. Hickman’s positioning historical figures like Leonardo da Vinci as proto-superheroes, right? Which in and of itself seems like a lot of fun, but let me ask you: how much of what superheroes are supposed to be, supposed to mean, in the Marvel U depends on them appearing for the first time around World War II? Does Hickman’s rewriting of Marvel history conceptually destabilize the entirety of the Marvel present?

I don’t intend to use this dialogue as a vehicle for pointing out how right I am, but did you check out the latest issue of Avengers? There it was, a veritable description of current and future Marvel events (one of them being an “Ultron War”?) spelled out by future Tony Stark. This may call to mind Rip Hunter’s Chalkboard Spoilers early on in 52, and more generally Geoff Johns’ habit of forecasting events several years into the future.

Tony Stark’s chalkboard, on the other hand, was stupid. I mean, for Tony Stark it was fairly stupid. Do you know of any techno-futurists/genius billionaires who append their nonsense equations with equally arbitrary timelines of events? Quantum physicists have been struggling with the idea of multiple universes for decades, but I’ve yet to see anyone seriously write “PARALLEL UNIVERSES????” in big capital letters as if the veracity of their question is reinforced by extra question marks.

Basically, the DC-ization of Marvel continues. Avengers #5 ranks among the most unreadable things Bendis has ever done, a discombobulated means of setting up Thor vs. Galactus. This is apparently the kind of stuff people were complaining they didn’t see enough during Dark Reign, so Bendis just sort of throws it all out there: Thor vs. Galactus, the battle with Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen Redux, and a twist where part of the team has to (gasp) team up with Ultron, or something. Part of the problem with this story is that it employs what I will call the Jeph Loeb principle: if you have every single popular hero and villain in every single one of your books, it becomes harder to be surprised by another supposed twist when ANOTHER major villain or hero pops up. Ultron has always been at his best when he pops up every couple of years or so: the effect is a lot less dramatic when we already know he was battling in space in Annihilation: Conquest, had a kid in an issue of Runaways, and showed up as a robotic version of Janet Van Dyne in Bendis’ first Mighty Avengers story. This is not to say that a great story couldn’t be made featuring Galactus, Apocalypse and Ultron (sounds like the making of another event book to me). But to have all these characters thrown out with so little consequence, operating at different power levels than we have seen in the past, well–it makes me angry. It’s like how Darkseid can immediately eliminate anyone with his omega beams, and yet in books written by Jeph Loeb everyone, even Batman, is always able to dodge them (thankfully [Grant] Morrison saw it differently).

You’re right about [John] Romita, Jr. this time around, too. Each successive issue looks worse than the last, and I’m pretty sure the whole battle with the Four Horsemen is regurgitated page-for-page from a previous issue, which suggests that Bendis might be writing with the knowledge in mind that Romita has to keep churning these out on a monthly basis (and it’s basically unheard of for a penciller to finish a book in a month these days).

You’re also right that [Matt] Fraction’s latest Iron Man storyline is by far his weakest, and I sense a precipitous decline in most Marvel books across the board, unfortunately (maybe his Thor will change that). Even Jason Aaron‘s Wolverine is less interesting now that he’s in hell, and Shadowland is proving to make less and less sense as the inscrutable cameos by the Punisher and Ghost Rider push whatever was story was there to the background. Not that DC is much better–Brightest Day is such a dour, violent, Image-flavored book compared to Blackest Night, which wasn’t Morrison or Moore but at least had a logical structure and a few surprises along the way. I think you’ll agree with me that, superhero-wise, the best thing coming out from the Big Two is Batman and Robin, which ends in two issues.

But I’d put S.H.I.E.L.D. at No. 2, and I’d ask you: what was your beef with Nightly News? Did you find the anarchic tone of the piece insulting and simplistic? Because I think Hickman may recognize those complaints more than you realize, and the personal feelings of the writer/artist himself are far more in flux/multi-faceted.

As for Red Hulk/X-23/the “Flash family” style of writing, I think Waid got more currency from having fellow super speedsters hanging around than anyone would with the Hulk and Wolverine, neither of whom are “family types.” But maybe the Red Hulk could give Bendis’ Avengers the shot in the arm they need. That is, until the inevitable Ultron War begins, and we start over from scratch yet again…

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