Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Comics: After the War

(The comics-geek flag is unfurled. Proceed with caution)

Captain America is still dead. Thor, however, is alive again.

Thor? Yeah, he died. You didn't know? A couple years back. He was confronted with the fact that constant Ragnaröks were the result of meddling from even-greater gods and so he ended the cycle of cosmic abuse by bringing the whole shebang down and ending it all. Actually, it was a punk death, and in-continuity, the rest of the Marvel Universe didn't even notice. None of his supposed buds came looking for him. And now they're sneaking him back into the universe in a middle-of-the-night sort of way (Compare this with how DC has bungled up Wonder Woman - odd that for being "modern mythology" the big two have a problem with dealing with mythology).

I'm wandering, but since Marvel has wrapped up its last megaseries (Civil War), is in the midst of its new one (Hulk fights everyone) and is prepping for a third (Everyone you ever liked is really a Skrull), it is a good time to look back on the Marvel Civil War.

Credit should be given for making a change, even a bad change, and then following it to the bitter end (As cautionary tale if nothing else). The purpose was to create a new status quo, and everyone in that universe now has to deal with it. Most of them have dealt with it, though, by vilifying the current status quo. Almost every book works off the vibe of showing the Superhuman Registration Act (SHRA) as a cynical sham at best, a real threat overall. Even characters put on the "pro" side have to tapdance and refine their internal stories to handle supporting an odious operation. Some come off as Stormtroopers, others as apologists. None really make the grade as "heroes".

And the truly interesting thing is that: it did not have to end up this way. Over here is a very interesting artifact, and if you have been following the entire mess, it is a really good read and a demonstration of how creativity functions within a corporate environment.

It is the original proposal for the Civil War series. And the interesting thing is - it's a better book than what came out. Traditional in some senses (there is a definite bad guy for everyone to unify against), but it also identifies where the series went wrong - the case for the Pro-SHRA group was never made beyond the initial disaster (an argument that weakens every time there is another disaster - Superheroes accidentally wiping out a town in Connecticut requires immediate action, but superheroes brawling in Times Square (again) does not?).

The planned results laid out in the original proposal are also missing from the final story - we get a couple voice balloons in-story saying that crime is down and people appreciate the change, but we never see it (Comics are about showing as opposed to telling). Those involved in the original pitch aren't sure about the Spider-Man unmasking at all, much less on national television. And in a telling moment, the editorial notes state that even the guys reviewing the initial approach don't buy the fact the Captain America would surrender or retire, a sign that more groundwork has to be done if we're going to build up to that resolution.

And the original was supposed to be the big return of Thor, in a set-up that made sense, which not only left the characters intact but creates a third path, which could have broken away from the bipolar "fer us or agin us" feel of the final Civil War series. That would bring Thor back at the heart of the Marvel creation, and re-establish him as one of the "Big Three" traditional heroes. Another missed opportunity.

This is a very interesting insight into the sausage-making of the creative process. The original proposal shows that most of the pieces were in place and most of the challenges were identified in advance. And yet the final product was weak in its ending, demonized one side of the equation, crippled long-standing characterization, was marred by a lack of internal logic, and failed to create a platform to return a missing character that was originally planned.

But against this background, that I just read the first mainstream Marvel book that treats the SHRA as something other than a fascist irritant. It is one of their second-generation spin-off books called "The Order" and actually puts together some interesting characters in the situation hinted at at the end of Civil War, while remaining morally grounded to the underpinning that the Pro-SHRA forces were supposed to stand for (Some of the team show lack of judgment by publicly partying after hours - and they get fired! Captain America moment!). Now, it is a second-tier book and set in California (kiss of marketing death in the Marvel Universe), but it actually delivers some of the goods promised, but never presented, in the Civil War.

OK, I think I'm done now with it this. At least until something else goes weird (and new comics come out tomorrow).

More later,