A post from my old Marvel bog in which I answer a question submitted by a reader.
I’m a bit behind, but reader Matt DiCarlo sent me this e-mail last December:
I realize you’re super busy, so I’ll make this quick. If you don’t have time, I totally understand. I’m being cheeky enough just sending you a direct e-mail, I figure. I just got a year’s subscription to the Marvel Online comics and started off by rereading Avengers: The Ultron Imperative and Infinity Gauntlet, neither of which I’d looked at in about ten years, and it sort of crystallized a thought I’d been bouncing around since trying to get some lapsed older fans back into Marvel and finding them uninterested. The thought is more about the state of a post-superhero MU than about old fans getting back into the product though.
I sum it up here, best I can: http://www.comicbloc.com/forums/showthread.php?t=66926, though obviously it was a bit hastily written and I tempered that note to the audience of the board, what being older DC fans, generally. Personally, I think the post-Civil War direction of the MU is fascinating, and I think the breakdown of the traditional Secret Wars style Hero/Villain groupings is a huge part of it.
What I’m mainly curious about, from your POV, is where or not you feel that there actually is a centralized push to present the characters as three-dimensional humans and not just placed into the previous hero/villain pairings that could be categorized in those Marvel trading cards I had as a kid (though of course the Marvel heroes were always human, but now they seem to me to be more like well-developed protagonists as opposed to well-developed “super heroes” or “super-villains”), and also how that sort of an idea ties into or conflicts with things like the branding/synergy meeting ran by Alan Fine you talked about in your blog last week, because I find the potential conflicts there fascinating, especially considering the high % of Marvel’s revenue that comes from something other than the publishing wing and the past about faces like the Princess Di story in X-Statix. I love all the insight into how the machine works and spend probably more time than I should trying to make heads or tails of how the heck DC works compared to the Marvel right now (generally, not well, if I had to sum it up). It’s a great spectator sport. The most recent Cup of Joe was all about communication with the fans and I think you guys go above and beyond when it comes to being open with us.
If you get a couple of minutes, take a look. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it in a future blog.
Irregardless, thanks for the good comics. For the last few years, you guys have really been giving me a product I can get behind as a fan, and I do appreciate it.
Matt, I don’t know that there’s been a specific push to blur the line between heroes and villains so much as there has been a steady stride towards greater sophistication and subtlety in our storytelling—but that may wind up being the same thing. But this is really nothing new for Marvel. We’ve seen villains like the Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye go from being part of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to honored members of the Avengers. We’ve seen Magneto put aside his enmity with the X-Men and even become the headmaster of their school. And we’ve seen Jean Grey destroy entire civilizations, and Yellowjacket strike his wife. Marvel characters, more so than any others, have always been depicted in shades of grey, and with feet of clay.
But I think that, in general, our heroes are still heroic, and our villains are still villainous, and it’s not all that difficult to tell them apart. But allowing characters to make interesting choices leads to good stories, so long as those choices feel consistent with the core of what makes the character tick. I thought Brian Bendis did this brilliantly during his run with Alex Maleev on DAREDEVIL once Matt Murdock’s identity was revealed. Every issue, he would put Matt’s back to the wall, and every month I’d wonder how he was going to get out of his predicament—and then the character would choose to lie, or choose to evade, or choose to do something I’d never considered that he would do in order to deal with his immediate situation. And yet, every one of those choices felt consistent to me—consistent with a guy who was up against it and was willing to make first small compromises and then larger and larger ones in order to try to make it across that tightrope and keep his life and the lives of his loved ones from going into the crapper. And like watching THE SHIELD on FX, part of the fun and all of the suspense is in seeing just how long the lead character can manage to string circumstances together and make it through to fight another day.
This sort of more rounded characterization may not be to everybody’s liking, but I think it’s a natural evolution of the kinds of stories that Marvel has always told. (And none of it means that you couldn’t list “hero” or “villain” on these guys’ trading cards…)