These last couple of years we have seen a revolution of sorts in both mainstream companies. Bigger stories, with more continuity, are the order of the day, and long year-spanning stories, which involve every player in their respected universes, are now more typical than ever
This is, of course, not a new development. We have been treated to the all-encompassing multi-layered crossovers since the late 80s. From Mutants Falling to Atlantis Attacking, from a Millennium to the growth of Legends, all stories that further and, in some cases, change the heroes have been a staple of our summer’s reading.
However, the revolution that I am referring to is that in the recent mega events created by both DC and Marvel Comics, there is a sense of deep consequences involving the characters. In the DCU, the choices made by the Big Three and the Secret Pact (forged by the members of the Justice League of America) unraveled a series of events that sparked the near-end of their universe. The lack of trust upon the upper echelons of the metahuman hierarchy sped the way to disaster, leaving characters, considered by some as B-, C- or even D-listers to carry on the heavy burden of saving the world. Across the street, Marvel displayed a similar theme, but in their case Mark Millar and other creators decided to focus on the lengths that the State and the people would go to achieve a complete sense of security. Therefore, the story is more of comment on our current political airs. Heroes get divided on the issue as Iron Man takes the lead and implements with impunity a form of Registration that cuts on some civil liberties, but, may provide more safety to the general public. Captain America is the face of personal liberty, heading a resistant group that wants to stop the execution of a “Big Brother” mentality within our Government.
We are living in a post 9/11 world, which means that our heroes know more about dire losses, unable to save everyone, facing their own mortality and their weaknesses. To most fans, this seems like a bitter betrayal upon the almost unspoken traditions of super heroic fantasy built over decades. That is that the heroes save everyone, without losses of human life.
Recently, I have been looking at some of the message boards. A lot of older fans are appalled by the level of violence presented in titles they perceive as kid friendly. The most recent of these was the attack of Nazi super humans upon the Heywood family. (The Heywoods are related to the Golden Age hero Commander Steel.) In Justice Society of America #4, the reunited relatives were slaughtered, including women and children, in order to destroy the legacy and heirs of Commander Steel. Many had posted their immediate discontent after those events and especially about the inability of Hawkman (the only metahuman present) to fully stop the criminals with perhaps deadlier methods, while others insisted that a member of the Justice Society should not brutally kill any enemy, even within such terrible circumstances.
So, the turning point is not only projected on the “funny” pages; the division, the actual conversation lies within the readership itself.
Recently, I read a blog from Tom Brevoort, Marvel’s current Executive Editor in which he wrote about the idea of two trends in storytelling with established characters. In the blog entitled “The Pendulum”, Brevoort states that one trend is to write the “classique” stories, in which the heroes are presented in their most fundamental representations, along with plotlines that play to the strength of those same attributes that are known to the regular readership (depending on the popularity of the hero). The Executive Editor mentions Kurt Busiek’s run on Avengers as a prime example on that school of thought. The second trend is the “nouveau” camp, where more exploration and deconstruction of those characters (and the myths that surrounds them) is what drives the creative engine. The New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis is at the forefront of this movement. Of course, I’m simplifying both camps by using the Avengers as examples.
We seem to be at a dead center within a flux between these two camps. DC seemed to be heading towards the more traditional approach, although most of the stories that came out of their “One Year Later” seem anything but, with only Superman and Batman being closer to whatever basic interpretation exists of them – once again, leaving ample room to debate what is the most basic nature to certain characters. Meanwhile, Marvel is layering more darkness into their properties, not that they haven’t been known to do that before, but considering that Tony Stark has embraced a more Machiavellian direction during his Registration Crusade, while actually creating colossally deep consequences for the Marvel Universe in years to come.
We are now trying to define, once again, like so many generations before us, the idea of the hero. For the most part, the quest for this answer seems to be brought upon the hardship, the failures and the moral ambiguity that may come into play in the current storylines we now read. Do some of these plots make our heroes less noble than what we remember? Absolutely, but we have to remember that with each decade, these characters that have been here for quite a long span of time are open to re-interpretation. Do I agree with some of these changes? Well… no, but, I have to admit that most of them have me glued to the next installment, like watching a police chase; you have to know how it ends.
In fictional worlds where the status quo seems to be the norm, we finally have turning points that actually matter. Now, if they could only find lower prices for this hobby of ours.