4 Moments of Comic Book Shame
In response to a fan request, I’ve made an effort to set the links in the blog all open in a new tab/window. Let me know if I missed any.
To the shock of basically no one, I will say right at the start that I love comic books. I love the heroics, the fantasy, the powers and the amazing feats. I love the X-men, Spider-man, the Thunderbolts, Uncle Scrooge, the Teen Titans, Blue Beetle and Dynamo 5. I even love the stupid internet arguments over if Batman could beat Wolverine or whether ‘tactile telekinesis’ is the lamest or coolest new type of super power.
I love it so much that faced with being cursed to be unable to draw anything better than a stick figure, I write stories about superheroes.
And if you show an interest, I will talk your ear off about all things comics, from how awesome Christos Gage is, to the highs and lows of DC’s no-longer-New 52. I am a proud nerd and comic fan and I never hide that passion for any reason.
Eventually though, the conversation will veer into certain low points in mainstream comics and for a moment, I feel ashamed by association. I do my part: I don’t buy from writers who produce things like this on the regular, I read and recommend good books, and I will drop any books that starts to suck without another glance. Still, there are some moments in the comics that are so mean-spirited, wrong-headed, sexist, racist or just plain stupid that make my stomach churn at the idea of being any number of degrees of separation from them.
What follows is a sample of those sorts of unforgivable acts on the behalf of writers. Out of respect to readers, I will be avoiding spoilers from the last two years, but even then, there are plenty of terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad things in some comics. Things like…
4 – Blob Eats The Wasp (Ultimatum)
I’m going to be honest and admit that I could have populated this entire list with things from Marvel’s Ultimate Universe and in fact done so purely from the Ultimatum event. For those not in the know (and DC fans), the Ultimate Universe was started in the early 00’s as a ‘modern’ version of the Marvel Universe.
The actual idea was a good one that I would love to see implemented well some day: the Ultimate Universe was a fresh slate; an entire new version of the MU without the decades of continuity snarl that some readers find intimidating (though if you ask me, that’s the fault of the writers). Where the ball started to drop was when they decided that the UU would be ‘gritty’, ‘realistic’, ‘buzzword’, and ‘modern’.
Whenever anyone in the entertainment business says ‘gritty’ or ‘realistic’ you should run. Run fast, run hard, and do not look back because God will turn you into a pillar of salt (or you’ll just see something stupid… like a woman being turned into a pillar of salt.). Entertainment people don’t know what ‘real’ is. Video game developers think it means ‘all colors are brown‘, singers seem to think it’s how rich and/or angsty they are, and in the case of the architects of the Ultimate Universe, it means ‘everyone is an asshole’.
Okay, the baseline is ‘everyone is an asshole’, but it gets worse from there. Just a sampling of the character flaws in their ‘heroes’ included spousal abuse (ie committing it), racism (from Captain-goddamn-America!), and incest (Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch). Classic alcoholic Tony Stark is actually the least horrible person in the UU, along with Peter Parker.
I don’t really want to speculate on what kind of lives guys like Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis must lead if they think ‘asshole’ is the default for all people, but seriously. And we’re not even to our main event: Jeph Loeb writing Blob eating The Wasp in Ultimatum.
Let’s start with The Blob. In standard continuity, he is a mutant who has the superpower of being fat, nearly invulnerable, and has some sort poorly defined of gravity manipulation that makes him effectively immovable. As a character he is generally a petty man prone to fits of anger stemming from low self esteem. He once attacked the Xavier Institute because he felt left out when his buddies, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants reformed and didn’t call him.
Regular!Blob is an interesting ‘henchman’ type character. His problem is that in a world where Hank and Janet Pym, ‘heroes’ use their powers to beat the crap out of each other, having him as a bad guy makes it incredibly obvious that they’re actually worse. And much like Punisher fans, UU writers don’t like people pointing out that their ‘heroes’ are clearly horrible.
To facilitate his villainous escalation, over in the Ultimate X-men books, he graduated from being dumb muscle to being a master emotional manipulator (!), seducing Beast by pretending to be his online girlfriend in order to trick him into giving up X-men secrets. Weird, out of character, but fine. They also drew him more grotesquely obese, sort of like Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers movies. Fine. Whatever.
Then came Ultimatum. The idea here was to wipe the slate clean on their clean slate after less than ten years. Because we’re dealing with a modern comic book company, that meant killing everyone. With a huge tidal wave. Presumably this is because they had already botched having a cosmic threat, but seriously? A tidal wave? Sure, it was triggered by a villain, but scads of superheroes with natural disasters is anti-climactic at best.
Anyway, during the event, Hank Pym, AKA Giant Man is looking for his wife, Janet (AKA The Wasp) and finds…
No, I’m not posting pics of cannibalism.
… Blob eating Janet’s remains.
What the actual hell? Why? Both in and out of universe: why!? It’s implied that Janet was killed by the wave, which means Blob just found her and started chowing down. Because…
It’s at this moment that I’ll note that Ultimate Blob is constantly, constantly shown to be eating. He threatens to eat his enemies and at one people said something about eating computers. Put it all together and it suddenly becomes very, horribly clear why Blob was eating Wasp: He’s fat.
He’s fat. That’s why. This is a fat joke. A goddamn fat joke. Fat people, this comic is saying, can’t control themselves and will cram anything that fits into their porcine maws even if that thing is another human being. There’s only a tiny step, says Ultimatum, between obesity and necrophagy.
Pym then grows giant and bites Blob’s head off. Because in the Ultimate Universe, this is a thing you do when you’re angry at someone. Like I said, I could do this entire thing on Ultimatum.
Speaking of books that could fill a book all their own…
3 – Erasing Baby May (One More Day)
As a fan of Spider-man, love, character development and good writing, I hate One More Day. Even if you don’t follow Spider-man or Marvel, you probably know that OMD is the story in which Spider-man sold his marriage to Mephisto (Marvel’s version of Satan… one of them) to save his mortally wounded, elderly aunt.
There’s a lot to hate. This story removed what I feel was one of the best romantic relationships in comics (my other favorite being Batman and Catwoman for many, many reasons), one that didn’t get enough attention specifically because editorial was spending so much time trying to get rid of it (see also: The Clone Saga). It also reset pretty much all of Peter Parker’s character development.
On the meta side, the story had to bend over backwards explaining why not a single one of the super-beings Peter knows could save Aunt May (The X-men have a kid who once regrew someone’s heart), and Marvel top dog, Joe Quesada, spent all his time insulting people who liked the marriage and famously said he didn’t have to explain the retcon in the story. Couple those two quotes, specifically the part where he says anyone who likes the marriage wants Peter to grow old and die, and I’m very suspicious of his (through JMS) characterization of Mephisto. In-story, the demon wants the marriage to keep so it hurts their soul… or something.
But what makes this one so repugnant is a detail that was added that didn’t need to be there and by its presence makes the story all the more mean-spirited and cruel.
All through the mini-series, Peter is haunted by a ghostly red-haired girl who is trying to stop him from doing something stupid and out of character.
Peter ignores her because he’s on Joe Q’s puppet strings and upon the termination of the marriage, she ceases to exist. Why? Because she is actually May Parker, star of the future time-line series, Spider-girl and Peter selling his marriage to Satan Just expunged her from existence.
Um… yeah. What the hell was that for? Why was she included? What were they thinking when they put that in? Peter Parker’s future daughter begged him to his face not to destroy her and he ignores her, then goes on to do just that. Fans of the character of Spider-girl are not going to enjoy knowing that the 616 version of her was aborted by the devil and people who don’t know her really had no idea what the point was.
Months later, Quesada actually told people to go read Spider-girl if they wanted to see a married Peter… then canceled the book soon after. That’s a middle finger if I ever saw it.
But maybe this wouldn’t be as bad if this was the first time May Parker got retconed out of existence in order to end the Spider-marriage. They hate that girl something fierce.
Speaking of character the creators clearly hated…
2 – Wonder Dog Mauls Marvin and Wendy (Teen Titans)
I actually purchased this one, god help me. I purchased it because it wasn’t linked to some stupid event, wasn’t a miniseries that promised terrible things, and had a writer with some quality work under his belt, Sean McKeever. I greatly enjoyed his Spider-man Loves Mary Jane, so when I heard he was going to helm Teen Titans, I was more than happy to put down cash for the issue.
Little did I know that he was going to be practicing nostalgia defilement.
That’s a new term I just made up, so let me explain: there is a practice in comics where a writer will dig out some fun, interesting, or cool idea from a past age of comics… then make it darker, edgier, and much, much stupider. This is how Toyman became a pedophile, Speedball became Penance, and that creepy-ass Thundercats comic I mentioned got made.
Essentially, it is a comic writer trying to prove how mature they are by taking something from their childhood and smearing it with terrible, then calling that ‘gritty’. It’s a little like a child parading around in Daddy’s pants with a full diaper (in this case, ‘Daddy’ being Alan Moore).
In this case, McKeever decided to set his site on Marvin, Wendy and Wonder Dog. If you don’t know who that is, neither does the internet, where people keep calling them the Wonder Twins. Those are entirely different characters and they had an alien monkey, not a dog in a cape. No, Marvin and Wendy were the kid sidekicks (something that seems to have been mandatory at the time) for the Superfriends. Like most of these kinds of characters such as the infamous Scrappy Doo, they were annoying and everyone hated them.
Most of us did the healthy thing and forgot about them, letting them meld in our brain pan with the aforementioned Jan and Jayce. McKeever… didn’t. So when he got hold of Teen Titans, which had recently had those characters introduced as super-genius (and non-annoying) support workers at Titans Tower, he seems to have decided to make them pay for wasting valuable Superman watching minutes in his childhood.
The story starts with the pair essentially talking about how they’re useless (because subtlety is for chumps) and thinking it’s time to move on. The Titans then find a dog on the island and without checking to make sure the mysterious animal that was able to swim to their goddamn island, the Titans palm the mutt off on the pair.
We continue on about how they’re useless until it is affirmed that the Titans really do appreciate them! Wendy goes to tell Marvin the good news when…
The opposite of this happens.
Yeah, the dog, who they’d given a cape and called Wonderdog digi-volved to Ultimate and murdered the hell out of Marvin. They show his mangled corpse right on the page too. Remember when you could read a comic without seeing entrails? I miss those days. Why do we even have the Max and Vertigo imprints anymore?
Now the comic, which until that page has been a light, enjoyable ‘Hey Teen Titans is pretty good!’ story turns into a horror movie as WonderCujo chases Wendy while she frantically tries to contact the team and fails. Of course, because she’s not a money making character, he catches her and mauls her horribly enough that she’s in a coma.
The story ends with the demon dog returning to its mysterious master who says ‘Good Dog’. Get it?
This is an ugly comic. Ignore the grimdark crap and graphic violence in a book that doesn’t normally feature that,; the major problem is the spite it’s written with. It’s clear that McKeever does not like Marvin and Wendy and is doing everything in his power to torment the characters and defame them before dealing the killing blow. It doesn’t help that it turns out that these two died/got coma’d to get a rise out of another character, making this a case of Women in Refrigerators.
Speaking of disrespecting a character…
1 – The Death and Betrayal of Icarus (New X-men)
If you’ve been following the blog portion of this site, you’ll no doubt be aware of my unbridled hatred for the opening arc of Craig Kyle and Chris Yost’s run on what until then was called New X-men: Academy X. For those who don’t a brief history:
New Mutants vol 3 was a revival of the original New Mutants in which they were now instructors at the Xavier school (now an actual school with students and everything). It introduced a slew of new student characters, both as main characters being mentored but the New Mutants (and one of their old villains-turned-ally Emma Frost), and as supporting cast who the writers intended to develop.
Then came Decimation, which depowered most of the MU’s mutants, something Marvel claims was meant to make mutants a ‘minority’ again despite there only being eight million of them (there are seven billion people on Earth, just for reference). This was of course just bullshit and really happened because Marvel editorial wanted to push the Avengers and their stupid, stupid event Civil War, which resurrected the equally stupid concept of superhuman registration as a good thing where in the past the concept had rightly been deemed racist by the X-men comics.
Anyway, Kyle and Yost took over the book, now simply titled New X-men in the aftermath and opened it with the storyline Childhood’s End. Now, I give these two guys shit because of this story… and the awful Necrosha event… and their general frat boy behavior on message boards, but they have been involved in some things I really enjoy like X-men: Evolution where they created X-23, one of my favorite new characters; and Wolverine and the X-men, an awesome series in its own right.
And the sad thing is, if you got rid of Kyle and Yost’s attitude and spiteful actions in the story, Childhood’s End is exactly the kind of story I love: a complex plot, and plenty of nods to the team’s history without requiring prior knowledge to understand what’s going on. In it, Reverend Stryker from the incredible God Loves, Man Kills storyline returns with his villainous Purifiers to attack the X-men while they’re still reeling from the Decimation. Not only that, but he strikes closer to them than they could ever imagine thanks to future knowledge he’s acquired from capturing the future mutant hunting robot, Nimrod. In the end, it turns out that the young team is actually the first team to defeat Nimrod as their damaging its time machine is what causes it to end up in its original appearance in Uncanny X-men #191.
Unfortunately, Kyle and Yost really had no idea what to do with the large cast the series started with. Now, given Decimation had just happened, it could have been easy just to depower everyone they didn’t have a use for and ship them of. But as comic fans would learn over the next few years, Kyle and Yost take childish glee out of killing characters gratuitously and graphically. It wouldn’t stop here, they would eventually helm X-Force, a team dedicated to Authority-style murder of their foes.
It started with the actual depowered students. These characters were actually on their way out of the book, but the team had Stryker blow their bus up with a rocket (apparently they would garner support for mutants in the future). Next, Laurie Collins, Wallflower was shot in the head, not only ending an incredibly interesting character, but cutting off all hope of resolving her ongoing and very cool story arc. They also killed the character Quill in a manner almost as humiliating as him having to appear in X-men: the Last Stand.
And then we had what they did to Jay Guthrie, AKA Icarus. He was another nod to X-men history, a member of the prolific mutant family the Guthries (a brother to Cannonball and Husk). Icarus in Childhood’s End went to Stryker, a known mutant hater, because he thought the Decimation was the wrath of god… or something. Stryker used him to figure out where the bus would be, making the rocket attack his fault. Stryker then convinced him to lure his love interest, Dust to the church Stryker was hiding in. Oh, and Stryker then convinced him to amputate his wings… for God… or something.
Done being a complete ninny, Icarus only then spies the giant pink future robot that loves murdering mutants. He escapes, but is badly wounded. He manages to scrawl ‘NIMR’ in his own blood, an attempt to warn everyone about how Stryker knew the future. At this point he dies. Except one of Icarus’s stated powers is healing. Kyle and Yost handwaved that away by saying his healing powers were in his wings (!).
Jay’s plot goes nowhere by the way. His love interest and the whole team thinks he betrayed them, his final note goes largely unnoticed, and he is, like most LOL Deaths essentially unmourned. No one even finds out how Stryker was manipulating him rather than him being a turncoat.
And that is why, amid such a shameful storyline, what happens to Jay is what lands on this list. There was no reason for it: every shred of information could have been gleaned from Nimrod, after all. It doesn’t even create angst for Dust for longer than the arc, largely because this event cut their relationship short to the point that they were only just casual friends with the meta-knowledge of where they were going existing only n the fan’s heads. And how he was killed is only made possible by a retcon after the fact regarding his powers. He is made to look stupid to the point of trusting a known villain and in-universe, he went out a villain. Kyle and Yost even have their creation, X-23 say as much to Dust.
The gratuity, the pettiness, the meanness, and the fact that the writers went onto the CBR forums and joked about it make this a blazing example of an attitude and pattern of behavior that paints comic books and their readers in a bad light over all. Just to be clear, these guys spent days online and in interviews cracking jokes about children dying. Fictional children, but that doesn’t blunt the ugliness.
Now, I have mentioned and linked a lot of terrible things in this blog, but I really don’t want you to give your hard-earned money to people who produce such garbage. So here are some quality comics for you to sink your teeth into: John Rogers’s run on Blue Beetle, All-Star Superman, Avengers Academy, Wolverine and the X-men, Peter David’s run on X-Factor, Mike Carey’s run on X-men, and Runaways.
As fun as bitching about the low points is, there’s really no substitute for a high quality, four-color superhero book. Those are something to be proud to love.
Note: I do have prizes for the people to replied to me with gaming stories. I just need time to make them pretty.
Questions, comments, verbal abuse? Please post them below in the comments, or the forum.
You can check in on what Vaal’s working on or just what’s on his mind by following @ParadoxOmni on Twitter, or using the hashtags #TheDescendants or #RuneBreaker. You can also browse books by Vaal by visiting his Author Page on Amazon.com.
Vaal’s latest book, The Path of Destruction (Rune Breaker, #3) is now available on Amazon.com.
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