Thursday, May 04, 2006

DC can consider my socks thoroughly rocked, thank you very much.

Do you ever think about the younger “versions” of yourself that exist within you? What I mean is, do you ever think about what grade-school you would think of high school you and what he would think of college you and etc? I have these kinds of odd thoughts often, but I usually use it as an excuse. Present Day Me doesn’t have to justify the girls he dated in high school because those were the decisions of High School Me and it seemed like a good idea to him. I apply this to the comic nerd within me as well and, let me tell you, the comic nerd I’ve been throughout most of my past can’t believe the stuff I’m reading now. The comic nerd of the past was almost exclusively a Marvel Zombie. I read Marvel comics exclusively most of my childhood and on into high school during the dreaded bust of the 90s. My favorites were Spider-Man and, God help me, Wolverine just like every other nerd my age. But the 90s eventually got so bad that I finally threw up my hands in disgust and left comics. Truthfully, though, I really only left Marvel. I was never a fan of DC (if you don’t know what that means, think Super Friends) and it didn’t even occur to Marvel Zombie Tate to take a look across the street and see what the Distinguished Competition was doing. It may have been just as bad as what I was already reading, but the point is that I NEVER EVEN THOUGHT TO LOOK!

I eventually returned to the world of four colors and nowadays I read all kinds of comics. I read spy comics, western comics, new comics, 50 year old comics, big companies, small companies, color and even black and white. You name it, I’ll read it. But super-heroes, and to an almost exclusive extent, DC’s super-heroes still hold the preeminent place in my heart. I want to still be interested in the heroes of my youth, but I just can’t muster the give-a-damn. I love the X-Men and Spider-Man movies, Daredevil was better than it had any right to be and the Hulk was genius no matter what you’ve heard or think, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy any of their books and actually read them if someone put a gun to my head. Marvel just doesn’t excite me anymore. I look at the X-Men and all I see are the Black Panthers from the 60s. I look at the Avengers and all I can think is “are these REALLY the guys I want called if the world is in danger of being destroyed by extraterrestrials?” I look at Captain America and he looks the same but he speaks with a leftist’s voice, a voice that doesn’t understand what it was to be an FDR Democrat. The Marvel Universe of today might be called “realistic” by some, but I call it dreary. But I think Grant Morrison (a favorite and amazingly imaginative writer) said it best when he said “my DCU is a day-glo, non-stop funhouse, where the world is threatened every five minutes and godlike beings clash in the skies like fireworks.”

But why is this so? What is it that DC has over Marvel right now? I’m going to make some guesses and they are educated guesses but they are by no means the definitive answer. They are, I feel confident, SOME of the answers, though.

Icons: The dictionary says an icon is an important and enduring symbol. The DCU is full to bursting with icons. When someone sees Superman’s shield, they instantly think of Truth, Justice and the American Way. Batman’s shield is a symbol of hope through tragedy, justice through sacrifice and your own fear becoming lesser persons' terror. Green Lantern’s symbol speaks his oath without uttering a word. Wonder Woman, whether she likes it or not, is the icon of peace through superior firepower. Unfortunately, Marvel has only one icon in Captain America and he’s been turned into such a mess that its hard to tell what it is he stands for anymore…but that’s a subject for another column.

Legacy: It might come from being a universe that started nearly 70 years ago. It might come from the proliferation of kid sidekicks (something Marvel is just now giving a shot). It might have been our heroes growing older on Earth-2. It might be time travel stories or Elseworlds tales set in the future. Whatever the reason, the DCU passes its mantle from one generation to the next. We all want to pick up Batman’s books and see Bruce Wayne behind the mask, but we know in the back of our mind that if he were to fall then Dick or Tim would pick up where he left off. When Superman died two new heroes were born from it and despite how things look now, I don't think Superboy is down for the count. Every member of the current Justice Society of America was either a “founding” superhero or, more often, the heir to one in either blood or ideology. When Barry Allen died in the Crisis, Wally put away childish things and became the Flash the next issue. The heroes of the DCU look to the future and they do it by training the next generation in both skills and morality. The DCU also makes sure we know how it all comes together, too. Why else would they give us a team of forty or fifty teenagers from different cultures and planets who band together as heroes a thousand years after Superman and Batman were on the scene?

Imagination: Giant pennies. Bottled cities. Guardians of the Universe. New Gods. Caves, satellites, fortresses in the arctic, watchtowers on the moon and buildings shaped like Ts and Ls. Multiple earths. Last sons of doomed planets. Bald mad scientists (there’s way more than one). Marvel calls itself the House of Ideas, but the DCU has been coming up with wilder ideas and for a lot longer. Before there was a Marvel, Superman was visiting tiny cities from his home planet and meeting his dad’s college roommate. The Justice League was fighting a twisted mirror image of itself from a parallel earth where evil was the ideal. Batman had to deal with meeting the daughter of an alternate version of himself who’s mother was one of his greatest foes. The DCU has a super-escape artist for crying out loud! And his costume is AWESOME in its ridiculousness. And he has two sidekicks: a warrior woman from a hell planet and a midget. A freckle faced kid with a bowtie got into wacky adventures on three planets, transformed into monsters, gained and lost tons of super powers and even joined a super team a thousand years in the future just because he was Superman’s pal. All this happens because DC set a trend for anything-goes story telling. Not everything that came out of that was gold, but enough of it was. It continues to this day. The modern DCU has many architects and each of them loves the history but looks to the future with great imagination. Architects might be the wrong term to use. They're like a band. The "sound" each person makes flows into the other and makes the whole stronger than the individual notes could hope to be. They continue old legacies and create new ones all at once. Unfortunately, the House of Ideas looks to be built by three men who are playing kazoos and dishpans.

That will probably do for now, but I bet I revisit this topic in the future. I also want to caveat to all current Marvel Zombies: YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. If you love Marvel right now and can’t understand why I want to read books about the Blue Boy Scout and the Big Red Cheese then that’s cool. You have the right to be wrong, feel free to exercise that right. I certainly don’t think everything from Marvel is terrible. I love She-Hulk’s current series and the Great Lakes Avengers are hilarious. I think a good chunk of the Ultimate Universe is tops. I own collections of Marvel books from back when the company really knew what it was doing (Simonson’s Thor, Miller’s Daredevil and Busiek’s Avengers are examples). I just lament the fact that House of M was so boring I only made it about two issues in. Or that Young Avengers had such great possibilities when it was a time-traveling romp before it became sad bastard, emo melodrama. Or that Spider-Man is attacked by illegitimate children of his first girlfriend right before he mutates into a man-spider…again. It’s all on a pendulum and I’m sure DC will start to suck again and I can make mine Marvel. See you Marvel Zombies in 2058!

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