Friday, November 21, 2008


Some discussion over in the comments here on whether or not Mark Millar is a satirist - seemingly echoing this dicussion from a while back.

Millar is a low-norm satirist, but I don't think that alone makes him special. I agree with Bill Krohn agreeing with Northrop Frye that we live in the age of satire. It's hard to find any piece of fiction that doesn't have some satirical element to it.

Is Millar a precise satirist? No. Is his satire especially thoughtful? I don't think so. Is it effective? Well, that seems to vary pretty wildly from work to work, but more often than not it's obnoxious rather than enlightening.

Coincidentally, I've just been reading some early Charlie Huston-written issues of the current Moon Knight. While this is definitely not a series for the ages, I think it works pretty nicely as a sub-Frank Miller send-up of macho super-heroic posturing - David Finch even functions in a sub-Jim Lee capacity. It's a bit like a Millar version of the Brubaker/Fraction Iron Fist: a satisfying elaboration of the character's mythology, with lots of outrageous/in-questionable-taste (low-norm) satirical moments scattered throughout.

And writing about Moon Knight reminds me I had a few more things I wanted to say about the Avengers. First, I should highlight something I tried to get at in the comments: that Stan Lee really figured out how to make the Avengers series work when the line-up turned into Captain America, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver. Lee gave a raison d'etre to the team book by focusing on how the relationships between the characters change based on whether or not the characters are getting what they want and/or need from each other (i.e. Hawkeye getting the respect he wants from Cap, Cap getting - or not getting - a substitute for Bucky from his new teammates).

Second, instead of turning the New Avengers into Marvel's JLA or just another Avengers line-up, I would have liked to see Bendis make the New Avengers a completely "street level" super-hero book. We'd have Spider-Man, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jennifer Jones, and, of course, Moon Knight, with Captain America acting as the unofficial liason between this new group and SHIELD/Tony Stark/the other Marvel U authority figures.

This would have (a) played to Bendis' strengths - Daredevil and Alias, his low-rent, noirish super-hero books, are two of the best Marvel comics of the last twenty years, (b) marked a significant change from earlier runs of the Avengers title, and (c) been more of its own thing, not just Avengers Featuring Spider-Man.

Punisher, Cloak and Dagger, Ghost Rider, Shang Chi, and the Black Cat would show up every now and then and it could have started off with a sequel/homage to the 1980s Gang War story from Amazing Spider-Man.

And speaking of 1980s Amazing Spider-Man: the current creative teams working on this series seem to be making a return to the mid-80s DeFalco/DeMatteis era (i.e. before things got all McFarlaney and Cloney). I'm all in favor of this creative direction and not only for nostalgic reasons.

You know, when I heard about the concept behind the "One More Day"/"Brand New Day" sort-of-reboot, I thought that it sounded like another Clone Saga fiasco in the making: a radical change to continuity that would annoy current readers and do nothing to build a new audience interested in sticking around for the long haul once the novelty wore off. But, while you can certainly argue that maybe the change wasn't necessary, the proof is in the pudding: post-"One More Day" Amazing has become a solidly entertaining super-hero book, while the Straczynski run was pretty dire near the end (and, IMO, redeemed only slightly by fine work from guys like John Romita Jr. and Ron Garney). So, while it's something I might be against in theory, in practice it means Spider-Man comics that (a) I actually want to read and (b) (so it's not all about me) Spider-Man comics that are objectively better than they were before the change by just about any metric you want to use to determine what makes one super-hero comic better than another.

And, speaking of Straczynski...

I don't think he's actually a bad writer, in the sense that he has a firm grasp on how to execute his ideas. But he has some pretty awful ideas about what belongs in a Spider-Man comic. I like some of his other work, - Babylon 5 and Supreme Power, for instance - but the basic Spider-Man concept seems to be completely at odds with his m.o. of elaborate world/mythos-building.

Finally, more Marvel-related stuff in this entry from a new chat blog I'm doing with my friend Nick.


James said...

Mid-80's Spider-Man was a good time, by and large: as a child, I particularly liked Peter David's issues in "Amazing." 266 and 267 are two of the funniest comics I can recall reading as a kid. I missed out on most of the Gang War storyline, though--Owlsley/Priest has earned a lot of credit with me, though as a kid I venomously hated his story in Web Annual 2, with "Ace." (Maybe it makes more sense now that I'm an adult.)

Sometime around the marriage issues (early 290's in Amazing) it seems like Spidey kind of lost his way. The late 290's-325 issues looked great, but were pretty lackluster comics as I recall.

The real trouble with Spider-Man, I think, is that the character doesn't age well, or at least hasn't so far. He's a conglomeration of all kinds of teenage anxieties and neuroses (especially the teenager's dealing with "how the world works" and the good-guys-never-prosper thing). What makes early Spider-Man work so well isn't his everyman Joe Schmoe character, but rather he's snagged in an intensely and uniquely personal battle against the world and against himself.

If such a character simply matures out of his insecurities, he becomes just sort of an average adult, who has his ups and downs, and maybe is sort of a hard-luck case--but there's not the same sense of inner torment because he knows who he is. Part of what's so compelling about early Spidey is that there's this sense that the guy could completely snap at any time.

So: the thing to do with an adult Spider-Man is actually have him get crazier, and more neurotic, to the point where he has a hard time coping with things. This of course makes him less immediately identifiable, but probably would be more compelling to read.

(I still say they should have cast Jason Schwartzman's character in Rushmore as Peter Parker rather than Toby McGuire.)

(I think about Spider-Man wayyyyyy too much.)

Mark said...

Yeah, I liked the mid-eighties Spiderman too. It had a Douglas Coupland Generation X vibe and feel before he even published that novel! I don't think it's a coincidence that the best Spiderman story I've read since the eighties was that Peter Bagge one shot. BTW, enjoyed your thoughts on satire, you should flesh them out a bit in another blog post.