Thursday, March 15, 2012

Could this be the most important (mainstream) comic of 2012?

Okay, so I know I said in my last entry that I’d cover the new Captain Marvel series this weekend, but I lied…I wanna talk about it now. So I am.

We know, for a fact, that Marvel Comics is gearing up a new Captain Marvel series, that’s not up for argument. So far though, the only hint we’ve gotten as to what this series will be about is a rumor from the comic site Bleeding Cool saying it will be written by up and coming author Kelly Sue Deconnick, and star the current Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers, in the title role (you can see the story here: )

Now, let’s ignore for the moment that I’m a huge Carol Danvers fan and that this rumor has me excited simply because I would love to see her get another solo-book. I want to focus on why the possibility of a Danvers helmed Captain Marvel series would be one of the most important steps forward for a major publisher’s female characters that could be taken.

Carol Danvers first appeared in the late 60’s (March 1968 to be exact) as a supporting character/love interest/foil for their recently introduced Captain Marvel. She was the chief of security at a NASA base where the alien Captain’s alter-ego worked undercover while doing reconnaissance for his interstellar race. And for almost a decade, Danvers was just that: a female supporting character whose motivations were influenced solely by a male protagonist. Then, in January of 1977, Carol found herself cast as Ms. Marvel in the pages of MS. MARVEL #1. Marvel touted this new series as the introduction of a heroine fit for the age of Women’s Liberation, making sure readers knew it was MIZZ Marvel, not Miss Marvel or Mrs. Marvel. Carol Danvers was a self-made woman…despite the fact that her powers were solely derived from an alien ray that transferred Captain Marvels powers to her…and that her costume was modeled after Captain Marvels uniform…oh, and I could be wrong, but I guess that belly window was supposed to be the cuper-hero equivalent to bra-burning? I don’t know…maybe…

MS. MARVEL, the comic, lasted 23 issues before ending in April of 1979, and the character met perhaps one of the worst fates to ever befall a super-hero when in AVENGERS #200, she was date-raped, impregnated, and then gave birth to her rapist, all before deciding that she was in love with her son who was in fact the same man who raped her, and then went off to live happily ever after with him (no, seriously…that’s exactly what happened. It’s like the super-hero version of most of the GOP introduced reproduction legislation this year…). Then there was a bunch of stuff with Rogue from the X-men and yadda yadda yadda…Carol Danvers, as Ms. Marvel, was off the board from late 1980 until 2005 when she showed up and kind of off-the-cuff announced “oh, yeah, I’m Ms. Marvel again…”

And…whatever…long story short, she got a second solo series that lasted for 50 issues, had 2 ‘specials’, and an annual. All said and done, Carol Danvers, as Ms. Marvel, has enjoyed one of the longest, continuous publishing schedules of any female Marvel hero (Spider-Girl has 100 continuous issues, with She-Hulk coming in at 60). But none of that explains away my actual point, which is why this new Captain Marvel series is truly an important step for the publisher…for that, we go back to the reason for her creation.

Regardless of the reason spoon-fed to readers for the creation of Ms. Marvel (she’s Women’s Liberation in a cape!!!), looking back on it, it was pretty much done as part of a mad copyright grab by the publisher that saw the creation of Spider-Woman and She-Hulk. Get as many different versions of your main characters under your umbrella as possible, it seemed like, before someone else comes along and steals the idea away. And while Carol may have grown into a fully realized character in her own right, she still gets the stigma of being a female knock-off of a male hero.

BUT…if these rumors are true, and the new CAPTAIN MARVEL series, launching this year from Marvel features Carol, not as MS. Marvel, but as CAPTAIN Marvel…it gives her a unique opportunity to do what most , if not all, female knock-off heroes are denied.

Like it or not, BatGIRL can never step-up to become BatMAN. Spider-Woman is denied that as well. While it would be possible for X-23 to someday become Wolverine, or She-Hulk to become simply THE Hulk…they’re still going to be seen as “the female Wolverine” or the female Hulk” by most comic readers. But, whereas “the Hulk” and “Wolverine” are names of heroes, “Captain Marvel” is a title, a mantle to be taken up and worn proudly (and yes, it doesn’t hurt that there has already been a female Captain Marvel, but she had ZERO ties to the original hero).

Honestly, I thought, and predicted, that the final issue of the latest Ms. Marvel series would end with Carol taking the name of Captain Marvel for herself, and was rather let down when that didn’t happen. She’s certainly earned it, many times over. She’s proven herself to be a true hero, a strong human being, and a staunch friend. And unlike so many characters – male and female, she hasn’t proven her strengths my posing and posturing and having a flawless character. Carol Danvers may have been created to be background dressing and then turned into a de-facto copyright protector, but what she’s been turned into over decades of ups and downs is about as three-dimensional as a comic book character can be.

Why it's time for a new Man-Thing series (for real)...

Two days ago I was almost peeing myself in excitement over the teases and rumors spilling out ahead of announcements that Marvel Comics would make at this weekend’s WonderCon. The first was for a new Captain Marvel series that (may, or may not) star Carol Danvers in the title role (this is LONG overdue in my opinion, and if it pans out to be true, I’ll explain why this weekend…), and the second was for a new Man-Thing series, entitled “The Infernal Man-Thing”. And as excited as I am over the prospect of Colonel Danvers *finally* taking up the mantle of Captain Marvel, I was more excited over the news that Marvel was taking a chance on their very own ‘muck that walks like a man’. Sadly though, the official announcement of “The Infernal Man-Thing” was made today, and even though what we’re getting is beyond my wildest imagination, it still leaves me feeling disappointed.

“Infernal Man-Thing” is not a new series. Rather, it’s a three issue mini-series parsing out a ‘lost’ graphic novel by the now deceased Steve Gerber. Gerber, who passed away in 2008, didn’t ‘create’ Man-Thing, but he certainly breathed what true life the character has into him. He took the reins of Man-Thing’s adventures in the long defunct series FEAR, and steered it away from being a story about a super-hero caked in swamp-quag and crafted a long running analogy of the way society was back in the early 1970’s.

From FEAR #11, published in December of 1972, through the October 1975 MAN-THING #22, Gerber turned the swamp that gave the creature life into a microcosm of the world at large. Man-thing was less of a super-hero as he was an observer of the events that transpired around him…if you’re a cat owner, you’ll totally understand what his role was in these stories. He’d wander into a situation, and as long as they kept his interest, he’d stay around, curiously watching; involving himself only through happenstance or the reaction of the more cognizant participants. He would soothe, he would protect, and if or when it became necessary, he would attack to defend himself. Man-Thing saw himself cast as the bane of an industrialist who sought to exploit the Everglades swamp in which he resided, a witness in the supernatural trial of a suicide, and the catalyst for a fear-born witch-hunt and book burning. All of these events were motivated, not by some costumed super-villain, but by ordinary people’s reactions to the world around them.

And that’s why I’m disappointed by the full reveal of what “Infernal Man-Thing” actually is.

If there’s ever been a time to launch a new Man-Thing series, it’s right now. Ostensibly, the argument could be made that since DC Comics has had critical and commercial success with their Swamp Thing series, Marvel could try and capitalize on that to line their own pockets. Additionally, you could argue that Marvel is severely lacking in the ‘something for everybody’ categories, since by and large they ONLY publish super-hero books (JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY being the main, are really, Only, exception). But I would go so far as to say Marvel needs to launch a quality Man-Thing series because…well…the world today kind of sucks.

If done, and done right, Man-Thing could capture the hearts and minds of its readers and, if given a chance to grown an audience, it could enjoy some real longevity on retail shelves. The news is rife with stories of corporate greed, bullying, mounting racial and gender-based tensions….people from all walks of life are feeling the strain of a failing economy and the crumbling of the American Dream. People are clinging to their religion, their guns, their demagogues, all in the hopes that something, someone, somewhere will make life better for them. And if Marvel put their best foot forward and tried to capture the spirit of Gerber’s Man-Thing, then they could have a book that would speak to everyone out there feeling a sense of fear and loss for what the future holds.

And this is something that they can’t do with their current stable of books. When you’re dealing with people who can fly through the air, control the weather, or who live in mansions or gilded towers…how can that relate to the way people are feeling in their homes at night? When Emma Frost can liquidate her billion dollar empire to fund the X-men, or when a sentient landscape starts mass-producing “Diamonds the size of grapefruits” as we saw in this month’s WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN, how can you ever feel a connection with these heroes when your paycheck can’t stretch comfortably from one week to the next?

Man-Thing is neither good nor evil. He is neither conservative nor liberal, neither democrat nor republican. He simply…is. He watches, he observes, and he influences and IS influenced by his surroundings and the emotions those around him project. You could say, in a way, he is a creature torn between nature and nurture, with his actions of the moment being defined solely by the stimuli he is given.

For sure, a new Man-Thing series wouldn’t be an easy book to write. You’d need to find someone who truly ‘got’ the character. After Gerber left the character in 1975, Marvel tried their best to find someone who could pick up from where he left off, but sadly, they failed. Gary Freidrich, who was one of their main ‘go-to’ writers at the time, tried and was panned so badly he was removed after only three issues. After that, Marvel went to Chris Claremont who was a rising star thanks to his work on the X-Men book…he too couldn’t manage to recapture Gerber’s magic. Trying to write a Man-Thing series that is done in the Gerber (read: ‘correct’) way would require a writer who was able to put their heart and soul into the book, to give the stories a true and accurate voice, while having to deny one to the main character. Luckily, I think Marvel has a few writers in their stable who could do just that. Peter David springs to mind immediately, and Jeff Parker (who currently has Man-Thing in his stable of characters as part of the Thunderbolts) at least understands the character enough to make sure he isn’t cast into a role outside of his capabilities, and certainly Marjorie Liu has shown from her work with X-23 over the past couple of years that she’s more than capable of crafting emotional stories with two-dimensional characters.

And, if nothing else, it would make way for Marvel to put out a contemporary book called GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING that would probably at least pay for itself since people would buy it just for the title pun.