The Brown Wedge
Avengers NOW! and Marvel in the 2010s
Marvel Comics’ announcement that its new Thor is going to be a woman has attracted plenty of froth and comment – especially since it turned out that this was part of a general refreshment of their core titles under the Avengers NOW! banner brand. Captain America is to be replaced by long-standing partner The Falcon (who happens to be a black guy), and Iron Man is going to become a dick (they may have trouble presenting this as a radical change).
There have been a range of responses. Superhero comics are built on the “illusion of change”, but apparently have the most reliably troll-able audience in media history, so some people are upset at the idea of a status quo change. That it’s a status quo change away from a white guy in two cases – and those two cases are the ones drawing all the heat, nobody is saying “I love Tony Stark! How dare they make him even more of a jerk” – is not coincidental to the level of rage.
- Coronations are dull things
- You read enough Vertigo comics in your youth (or, last week) and you have had sufficient for the next decade of ingénue audience identification figures having a world of wonder shown to them by an unreliable trickster.
- You’re no longer in your late teens, and you’re a little irked at another piece of culture that insists that the secrets of life and the universe are locked in hearts that, looking back, you remember as a little underdone.
The Wicked And The Divine #1, by Freaky Trigger friends and favourites Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, is out this week. There’s going to be a bit of coverage of it here, partly because I interviewed Gillen and McKelvie about it last week for Pitchfork and the full transcript is long and interesting. But mostly because it’s a very good comic, which promises to use pop and pop stardom to tell a story about life and death.
I wanted to have time to write a proper review, but I want to have time for a lot of things, and I don’t always get it. So instead here are twelve excellent things about the Wicked And The Divine #1, arranged to give an illusion of coherence.
THE PREMISE: What first excited me about WicDiv (as the kids might be calling it) was the simple conceit. 12 gods are resurrected on earth every 90 years – this time it’s as pop stars. Fun, high concept. But look at what’s being claimed here: the Gods aren’t coming back to Earth as actors or, god help us, entrepreneurs. They’re pop stars – recognisable modern stars as well as archetypal ones. So the comic makes an argument that pop IS vital in 2014, that pop stars CAN be as vibrant and life-changing as they ever were. As a pop fan, that thrills me.
All the other eleven things include SPOILERS – don’t read the rest of this piece before you’ve read the comic!
Prisoner of Azkaban, the third Harry Potter book, is also the third I’ve read to my 7-year old. The rule has been “one a year”, mostly because I know the series ramps up the level of darkness and anxiety, but also because once we hit the pagecount explosion of Book 4 I’m keener to pass the job on to him.
There’s some indication, I think, that this is how Rowling expects things to go. The first two books are really exceptionally good for reading aloud – clear storytelling, distinctive character voices, a steady flow of new ideas and exciting incidents, and evocative but simple description.
By HP3, that’s starting to change. The narrative is getting more sophisticated not just emotionally but technically. Crowd scenes are rendered with snatches of unattributed dialogue. Lists of books include parenthetical excerpts. These are ultra standard techniques, and a child reader gets the point of them very quickly. A reader aloud has more trouble making them work. They simply aren’t meant to be bedtime stories.
I’ve spent the last
month or so quarter of a year thinking a lot about what I’m going to write in my last thing about Young Avengers. I had thought I was done, mostly in the sense that although the series had more to go, I’d got so behind in writing about it and was tired and busy and things kept happening but well. Hello. This …thing. Mogolith. Whatever. Has ballooned to more than 35,000 words at one point, been stripped back down to slightly under 5,000 and encountered every state in between. It’s not definitive but I think it’s what I want to say.
Saying I’ve been thinking about it that long makes it sound like this is going to have structure and depth and insight, like Tom’s brilliant piece. I spent ages thinking about songs and themes and I thought I was keeping some rough notes about it all in my work notebook (since these things tend to come to you in flashes of brilliance during a Tuesday afternoon meeting) so that I could pull it all together when I finally bought a new computer and had a chance to write.
I looked up said notes when I started writing this, in what feels like so long ago it must have been the paleolithic era. They were a bulletpoint that said “only feels.” Well, ok.
This isn’t quite a FreakyTrigger piece. I should probably put it on my Tumblr. I kept thinking I needed to write something that wasn’t personal, to detach it but I can’t and I don’t even want to now. Tom said the proper stuff, my original remit was gross sobbing and if it’s maybe more ‘sniffly, tearful, hopeful smiling’ then that’s cus a year and a bit has gone by.
I loved Young Avengers. Some people seem to have hated it but this isn’t for them. This is thousands and thousands of words that aren’t always dead-focussed on dissecting the comic (because this isn’t Silent Witness and it’s not a review) but if you wanted meta, well that’s all you had to say.
Kieron Gillen, Ryan Kelly and Jordie Bellaire’s THREE is a political comic on every level. The level on which it got most of its publicity was a right-to-reply in a conversation conducted between comics – Three is an a riposte to Frank Miller’s Thermopylae epic 300, almost an unauthorised sequel. Stressing this may have enhanced its impact – comics fans like sequels – but might also have held it back, downplaying the extent to which Three works for someone (like me) who has never actually read 300, and how much further it goes than the simple “your fave is problematic” style callout its early press positioned it as.
(Important disclaimer. I am something of a partisan, in that my brother is writing two monthly comics for Marvel. This partly explains why I’m so interested in their strategy, but I haven’t mentioned his titles in this piece. Oh, and Hazel Robinson writes for this site. And I’ve been to the pub with Kieron Gillen, but then so have a lot of people. Look, speculative Internet random, just assume I’m very biased. Sorry.)
POSTCARDS FROM THE DINERVERSE
Young Avengers ended well. If I say that my favourite issues were 6 and 7 and 14 and 15 it might seem like a terrible unintended slight to Jamie McKelvie, who drew only one complete issue of those four, along with everything else. But they were my favourites – the issues where the comic was most clearly about the parts between the adventures: shit jobs, cheap eats, parties. The stuff of late teenage life.
It’s the 13th issue of Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie’s run on Young Avengers tomorrow. Aside from a foreboding moment for triskaidekaphobic fans, it’s the start of the end of this season. A season I have miserably failed to live up to the initial commitment of writing about every issue of. For largely boring adult reasons like ‘needing to do the washing,’ ‘never seeming to get a minute to think,’ ‘being very stressed and tired’ and worst of all ‘not really being able to get away with writing at work.’ All of the responsibility and none of the capacity.
If I saw myself as a grown up, from the vantage point of some reality-trashing portal back to youth, I’d be thoroughly appalled. Where did all my conviction go? “No, shut up,” my older self would plead, “it’s incredibly complicated trying to remember to function like a normal human being” while my sullen, accusatory teenage self glared at me with all the anger and disappointment of discovering that ‘normal human being’ becomes the peak of her existential ambition.
A Brief History Of Teen Superhero Comics, Part 4
It’s probably the most famous panel in 60s Marvel history. A gag, a cliffhanger, a revolution. A young woman standing in a doorway, smiling, in total amused confidence, at the boggle-eyed kid she’s just been introduced to. “Face it, Tiger… you just hit the JACKPOT!”
It’s Amazing Spider-Man #42, a half-dozen issues into John Romita’s run on art. It’s the debut of Mary-Jane Watson, and a defining moment for the teen superhero comic. For the first three years of Spider-Man – under Steve Ditko – he’s been an awkward, put-upon nerd: teen frustration sometimes pushed into farcical territory. Then Romita replaced Ditko, long-running plot threads were put to rest, and Peter Parker could suddenly get a life. A love life. A complicated love life.
I love Miss America. She’s really fucking angry, she likes punching things and she’ll tolerate a great number of things for barbecued pork belly. She’s also sensible and intuitive and curious and has a fierce not-just-survivalist instinct that enjoys scraping through things but doesn’t want that to be the end achievement. She’s not out for fame and you couldn’t pay her to join the Avengers (according to Vengeance) and she likes dragging small chaos-oriented types around by their feet. She’s great; I love her, indeed, so much it briefly warped my brain into cosplaying her at ComiCon last week.
But she’s not Kate Bishop. And I love-love Kate Bishop. I love Kate Bishop to such a terrifying degree that the idea of attempting to cosplay her makes my palms go sweaty, not just because of the idea of all that lycra in a humid convention centre but because I would be panicking about attempting to both do her justice and convey all of my feelings about Kate Bishop As A Thing. Because I really truly relate to Miss America and I think she is the coolest but Kate is my favourite.
WARNING: There are some BIG SPOILERY SPOILERS in this for Young Avengers volume 1 and volume 2 through to #5.