Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Marvel and I: The Story of a Long-term Misunderstanding, Part Three

In the summer of 2000, I'd just graduated high school. Director Brian Singer's X-Men was released. A few of my friends wanted to see it. I had no interest, having not been that into comics for a few years, and having never liked Marvel in the first place (as illustrated in the previous two posts in this series). But, I figured, "Eh, what the hell, I'll go along with you guys. I always like going to the movies just for the sake of going to the movies, anyway."

Thoroughly enjoying the film, I didn't regret paying for my picket. Visually, it was conservative and tasteful; none of the (at least as I'd perceived it) rancid, seizing violence that, as a child, had turned me off of Marvel.  It had a strong, engaging narrative, as well as well-developed and performed characters that were easy to identify with and root for. This was especially true of Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman in the American tradition of the hero as rugged individual. 
Singer's 2003 X-Men 2 retained all of these qualities, but presented on a bigger-scale and with the stakes raised; none of the big set pieces were excessive or indulgent, but in proportion to the story. 

On the other hand, I didn't get what all the rage was with director Sam Raimi's Spider-man, Spider-man 2, and Spider-man 3. They were likable, giving off a warm, friendly vibe; but watching them was no more filling than a pack of Lifesavers. Still, at least I could now see the appeal in Spider-man

The first X-Men movie had inspired in me an interest in going back and reading Chris Claremont's defining 1975-81 run. Nothing came much of that thought, though; throughout college and most of my 20's, reading comics wasn't something that I did much of. 

That changed circa 2009, when I dove headlong back into comics. However, my deep-seeded preference for DC held firm. Obsessed with one day being able to read Crisis on Infinite Earths and recognize everyone in it, I dedicatedly acuqired and read the shit out of every book in the softbound Showcase Presents and hardbound DC Archives collections that I could, determined to attain a mastery of DC history.

Sooner or later, my fixation on the history of superhero comics was bound to bleed over into Marvel ... at least, that seems like the the transition sentence to use at this point, right? Reading Grant Morrison's Supergods -- which starts out as a history of comics but then halfway through suddenly becomes an autobiography -- I became very curious about an early `70's Avengers storyline called "The Kree-Skrull War". What particularly intrigued me was Morrison contextualizing it as the Marvel version of an aspect of my DC obsession that I'm particularly obsessive about: Jack Kirby's Fourth World.

Avengers #89 -- the issue featuring the first chapter of Roy Thomas' "Kree-Skrull War"

Of course, I couldn't just read that serial without being familiar with the Avengers themselves, right? (Seriously, I didn't know until 2012 that Marvel's version of Thor's alter ego was a crippled doctor based in Manhattan.) So, I started reading the original run from the very beginning. But, wait ... first had to go back read each of the Avengers own title or feature from its inception -- meaning, respectively, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and Ant-Man, each in its own turn! But, oh, wait, here's a crossover with the Fantastic Four! And another with Spider-man! And another with Daredevil! And yet another with the X-Men! And another with Doctor Strange! Better put this off until I've caught up on every issue of their series up until the month this crossover first hit the stands!

I went back and read the Marvel Essentials collections of the Golden Age versions of Captain AmericaHuman Torch, and Sub-Mariner, too, just for good measure.

Consequently, I've now read every Marvel superhero comic from 1961 through late 1964 (with some titles) or early 1965 (with others) -- the first few years of the self-proclaimed "Marvel Age of Comics". And, you know, what? They're GOOD comics! Not the trash I'd once though Marvel to be, across the board. These works of Stan Lee, Jack Kiby, Steve Ditko, and the rest of "the Bullpen" are replete with same "wholesomeness" and type of exciting storytelling that I found in Superman and Batman comics in cartoons -- in my favorite Disney Afternoon series, ranging from Adventures of the Gummi Bears to Gargoyles.


At this point, I'm familiar enough with the Marvel Universe that I probably will concentrate exclusively on X-Men, finishing the `60's run and graduating to Claremont's; and Avengers, working my way along to "Kree-Skrull War". Oh, but first, I want to read Roy Thomas' Captain Marvel run, which Morrison seemed to indicate was somehow linked to "Kree-Skrull"; however, he was vague on that point, and the only link may be Roy Thomas. If that's so, reading Marvel's Captain Marvel (heh) first still seems like a good idea, to follow the evolution of Thomas' writing. In fact, I'm a huge fan of the work he was to do several years later on the revival of All-Star Comics and subsequently on All-Star Squadron, so I have high expectations of his earlier Marvel work. Oh, and, having left off Fantastic Four #40, I'd at least like to finish Lee and Kirby's run, at some point.

As you've seen, all of this backtracking work stemmed from me wanting to read just one story ("Kree-Skrull War"). In a case of outright cosmic irony, if I understand correctly, "Kree-Skrull" will bring my relationship with Marvel full circle. It will be an opportunity for me to atone for long ago slighting someone who didn't deserve it, with whom I'd (thanks to the "Marvel and The Infinity Gauntlet is better than Darkwing Duck, nyahhh" boasts of  a childhood friend) gotten off on the wrong foot: Thanos.

-- Ryan


  1. Ryan:

    The sad thing is that the “rancid, seizing violence” (as you so perfectly put it) of the Todd McFarlane, Jim lee, Rob Liefeld era that persisted when you would have discovered Marvel, WAS the norm. Your reaction was quite natural – and was similar to mine, when I dropped Marvel seemingly for good. A few exceptions like Mark Waid’s FANTASTIC FOUR and CAPTAIN AMERICA, notwithstanding.

    The Lee, Kirby, Ditko material, and even into the seventies were GOOD comics.


  2. Joe,

    Well, it was a "quite natural" reaction for people like you and I ... but not for the millions of fans who LOVED that stuff. I still don't understand why, but to each his or her own.

    "The Lee, Kirby, Ditko material, and even into the seventies were GOOD comics."

    You said it. And not only they were good, but -- as I know realize -- they're one of the standards that good comics should be measured by.

    -- Ryan

    P.S. Remember all the way back when I first joined WTFB, and you explained to me that Mavel "was once one of comics' best"? It took 20 years, but I finally know that first-hand!

    -- Ryan