I’m not much for chasing after the horizon, especially when what I’m chasing is an ending of sorts — a departure from my former way of life. So when I actually catch the horizon, it’s kind of mind-blowing, especially when the chase started over 35 years ago with the purchase of my first paperback volumes filled with Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby’s creations: Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Doctor Strange, etc. If you had asked me back then whether I’d ever say what I’m about to say now, I would have thought you were dreaming…but here it is:
I’m done with Marvel comics.
SECRET WARS #9 is my last monthly of any kind from them, and with the single known exception of the SECRET WARS WARZONES: CIVIL WAR trade paperback and the possible exceptions of some MIRACLEMAN trade paperbacks (which really don’t count as Marvel product to me), I have no pending Marvel TPB purchases, either. I was thinking about picking up the AVENGERS: STANDOFF crossover when it starts up this month, but it’s spread out too widely among a bunch of titles I don’t normally read, so I’ll just browse it on the rack for starters, and if it looks good I’ll pick it up in giant omnibus form, which they’ll be certain to publish eventually. (Oh, look! Here it is already.) And then soon after that I expect CIVIL WAR II will begin. I’ll give Marvel another chance at that time.
But for right now, it’s over.
Marvel is just too bogged down now in its own history for me to follow anymore. I’m amazed how for many years that was never an issue — heh, “issue”, no pun intended. The heroes would fight this or that villain, occasionally a villain or supporting character would die, occasionally the hero himself would appear to die (and inevitably come back), but there was always this sense that the core of the book hadn’t really changed. That all seems different now. I don’t know who these characters are anymore. I don’t know where they’re going or what they’re doing, and I’m finding it hard to care. Marvel’s longtime competitor DC crushed itself by rebooting the universe one too many times. But Marvel’s somehow managed to crush itself without that. A reboot would probably do the Marvel Universe good at this point — except clearly all we’d see now is an adaptation of the comics to their corresponding movie versions, and I could care less about reading something like that.
If I could point to one deliberate change on Marvel’s part that probably altered the course of the Marvel Universe toward reaching my present pinnacle of disenchantment, I’d have to mark the starting point as AVENGERS: DISASSEMBLED, which was the beginning of a years-long sequence of impressive, universe-changing arcs that swept up practically every Marvel hero in its wake and is still going on today. That was when the Avengers became Marvel’s Justice League — i.e., take your most popular heroes and cram them all together into one book — and when the seeds were laid for CIVIL WAR, THE INITIATIVE, SECRET INVASION, DARK REIGN, SIEGE, AGE OF HEROES, AVENGERS VS. X-MEN, INFINITY, ORIGINAL SIN, and finally SECRET WARS. Mind you, none of these major crossover events were bad — in fact, most of them were actually quite fantastic and mind-blowing to read. But it was during this period that it seemed keeping the characters true to their core concepts was no longer important.
Indeed, most of Marvel’s major characters have been outright replaced in one form or another — Spider-Man with Doctor Octopus, Steve Rogers with Sam Wilson, Thor with Jane Foster, Tony Stark with evil Tony Stark, Nick Fury with his more movie-appropriate son & namesake, and now even Bruce Banner has been replaced by Amadeus Cho. The names are largely the same, but the players aren’t. There is a Spider-Man, a Captain America, a Thor, an Iron Man, a Nick Fury, a Hulk, etc., but those have become less characters than trademarks. The identities have been hollowed out. The substance is gone.
And I don’t think that substance is coming back. How can it? Marvel’s history has shifted too far forward from its origins. Even if Marvel were to do a reboot and go back to a stripped-down, character-focused approach across the board, one salient fact is inescapable: This isn’t the 60s anymore. Space exploration, the nuclear and conventional arms races, the original civil rights movement — these served as the backdrop for the Marvel Universe as Stan Lee conceived it. We live in a new world now, a post 9/11 world where religion, not science, is seen as fraught with potential catastrophe; where the prime conflict is not good vs. bad but man vs. the environment or the 1% vs. everyone else; where “evil” is so hard to name and fight because “good” has been redefined into whatever *you* want it to be. With a polarized electorate who see the world in two completely different ways — where both “us” and “them” exist within the same country — where do the core Marvel concepts have a place?
I suppose when CIVIL WAR II arrives this summer, that’s when we may find out. What the landscape of the Marvel Universe will look like after that is anyone’s guess. I only hope that by then I’m concerned enough to see it.
Or maybe not. Maybe by then I’ll be happily buried in rereading the comics I grew up with, fully content to let the world — real or fictional — move on without me.
- “Secret Wars #9” at http://bit.ly/20nB3Nh
- “Avengers: Disassembled” at http://bit.ly/1PeGA50
- “Civil War II” at http://bit.ly/1UkZuqQ