Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Bane of Multiversalism

After the last couple days discussion, one might come to think of me as a comic book isolationist. That is to say, up until the 1960's, it was fairly uncommon for the stars of one comic book feature to have any impactful relationship with those in another feature, regardless of whether they shared a title, much less a company. Sure, you had team features like the Justice Society of America, but the only change in the characters from story to story was literally a change in what characters appeared from story to story. Most all stories in the Golden and early Silver Age were by a set group of creators under the command of one editor that valued consistency, and they ended up in neat little packages by the end of a given story's page count.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I grew up on Claremont X-Men and Wolfman Titans. I am all about complex universes of interrelated characters featured in extended stories that span decades. I loath most DC Silver Age stories, rigidly structure in the manner I described in the first paragraph to insure the least threat of change or depth. Call it the tendency toward conservatism that comes with age, but only in recent years have I begun to see the merit in such a process, and recognize the terrific fault in overlapping continuity.

Part of this comes from having lived through the 90's and seen the intercompany crossover reach critical mass and take a large percentage of the reading audience with it, myself included on many properties. Lord knows any affection I had for the X-Men was pretty irreparably damaged by that sort of thing. DC Comics has spent most of the Didio years doing their damnedest to ingrain a similar aversion to their entire universe. Another problem is that once the fanboys became professionals in the 70's, also known as the lunatics running the asylum, a sad homogeneity fell over comics to rival those crumby DC Silver Age comics. Where once the Justice League was a book that only featured DC's biggest starts, where the Avengers swiftly became a book comprised of heroes without features of their own, fan creators applied a mix of both philosophies to both books. The Justice League and Avengers books, in terms of dynamic and creators, were largely interchangeable throughout the 70's. Where once you had two distinct properties was now DC and Marvel's separate versions of the same essential book, often starring variations of the same character types (Scarlet Witch/Zatanna, Vision/Red Tornado, and so on.) Things only got worse for the Justice League, as they saw miserable failure in attempting to restart the team as an X-Men knock-off, some redemption as a new type of serio-comic team concept mingling the grandest and least of super-heroes, then returned to being a poor Avengers substitute. Grant Morrison went from critical darling to fan favorite by simply recognizing that perhaps the Justice League of America should go back to being comprised of its original elite membership, and saw massive sales follow. It proved so successful, in fact, that Marvel then aped the format and turned the Avengers into their own JLA. That's all well and good if you felt Spider-Man and Wolverine needed another series to dominate, but your Hawkeye fans aren't likely to appreciate it.

And what about Hawkeye? Super-hero comic books have a disproportionately large number of archer characters, mostly due to their having been created in the heyday of Errol Flynn in Robin Hood movies, and likely kept alive by the cowboys and indians that reigned over Western culture until sometime in the 60's. Hawkeye was probably the last great super-hero archer, and his being created just before the end of the popularity bowmen in outside media likely didn't hurt. Also, part of his initial appeal was that he was a villainous bowman, an anachronism pitted against the technological marvel Iron Man. He was pretty much always sympathetic, manipulated as he was by his love for the beautiful Soviet spy Black Widow, but his intended purpose was to serve as an exceptional man capable of facing a super-heroic Inky-Poo. Only later did he choose the side of angels alongside Captain America as the familiar wiseacre Avenger. This would have been all well and good, except he parallelled DC's own archer Green Arrow on their Justice League. Eventually, Green Arrow took on many of Hawkeye's personality traits, until he was nearly indistinguishable aside from his appearance, politics, and long suffering girlfriend/partner Black Canary. Of course, Hawkeye married his Black Canary proxy Mockingbird, and was her widower, until she was recently returned to life. This takes place shortly after Green Arrow finally married the original, which by this point makes me wonder how anyone can like Green Arrow or Hawkeye over the other, since they're now the exact same character.

It makes perfect sense to me for a creative individual to cast a glance at what others are doing with a similar idea and respond to it. Ideally, this would offer an opportunity to keep their work as original and innovative as possible, to validate their project and remain competitive. Instead, fan professionals just merged the two similar concepts in their collective minds and treated them as interchangeable, variant only in who published them. In other words, creatively speaking, we get the most common and uninspired of both worlds, 16 flavors out of what was once 32. So much for the spice of life...

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