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Eric: I swear to God, I'll stop talking about this. I mean, I don't even *buy* these comics any more. Ah well, here's one more.

In certain kinds of entertainment, there is an implicit covenant between the entertainer and the entertained. A certain set of expectations that the consumer of the entertainment can reasonably expect will be followed. Breaking that implicit covenant can sometimes lead to powerful stories and powerful subversions of expectation, but it's a very, very risky endeavor, because breaking that covenant can also piss your audience off, and the latter is way more likely than the former.

Which means yeah, we're talking about comic books again. Specifically Marvel, though DC and others aren't immune.

Let's be clear at the outset, however: this is discussing the Super Hero. The guys and girls in spandex, fighting for what's good and right. Yadda yadda yadda. You know the drill. We're not discussing Vertigo here, or EC, or even deconstructions like Watchman. We're discussing what has been described as mainstream superheroes. The 'real' continuities. Not the dreams, not the imaginary stories (for whatever value of "imaginary" Mort Weisinger actually meant compared to the 'unimaginary' stories of men in blue suits who could lift the Chrysler Building), not What If, not Elseworlds. We're talking "the DC universe" and "the Marvel Universe," and we can hammer the latter down to "Marvel-616" if we want.

But let's go back to that implicit covenant.

If I go to see National Treasure: Book of Secrets, I have a reasonable expectation of what kind of entertainment I'm going to be given. There's going to be some allegedly clever puzzles. There's going to be some quasi-Mission Impossible action. (The National Treasure movies do Mission Impossible style team missions vastly better than the Mission Impossible movies, possibly because Nicholas Cage is willing to portray a hero that needs a team supporting him). There's going to be a cute girl in clothing that might not be revealing, per se, but it's likely to be tight and she's going to be an intellectual peer to the hero. There's going to be baggage about family and fetishizing about what America's ideals mean. There's going to be conspiracies and at least one car chase. And at the end of the movie, there's going to be a significant success -- our heroes will be vindicated, their crackpot theories will be proven correct, and they will be given rewards that are significantly disproportionate to what they actually did in the movie.

Which is not a spoiler, by the by, because like I said -- this is the expectation you walk through the door with. If you go to see a Rocky movie, there is no spoiler in saying there's going to be some boxing.

And, in the process of the above, I will be entertained. You may or may not be -- depends on if you like that kind of thing. But as for me, that's just good popcorn fun in a way The Da Vinci Code entirely failed to me.

If I go to see the next National Treasure movie and in the process of doing all of the above it all goes pear shaped, the cute blond gets crushed by giant rocks in a lurid and graphic way, Nicholas Cage turns out to be entirely wrong and an idiot to boot and the movie ends with all hope destroyed and complete failure? I'm going to be pissed off when I leave the theater even if it was a good movie, because I don't go to National Treasure for that. My expectations being subverted won't mean I'm happy and enlightened and transformed, it'll mean I'm going to feel ripped off.

Jerry Bruckheimer understands this. There is no chance in Hell National Treasure is going to break with its formula, because there is no chance in Hell Jerry Bruckheimer is going to risk losing his millions of dollars per picture featuring Nicholas Cage muttering about Masons and implausibly complicated mysteries by apparently omniscient historical figures. He understands that while some movies enlighten and others enthrall and still others expand our understanding of the universe, the National Treasure movies entertain by a given formula, and that's why people go to see them.

These covenants extend through all of culture. When Shakespeare was writing his tragedies, there was an implicit covenant with his audience -- the lead will be sympathetic but deeply flawed, there must be several opportunities for the lead to escape his fate, and the lead must inevitably and inexorably march to his doom, his own flaws blinding him to the chance for redemption and even joy. It doesn't hurt if someone gets stabbed along the way. Especially inappropriately. And a chick or two should go batshit insane after horrific trauma for good measure. Shakespeare wrote some of the most powerful and significant work to ever be published and performed, but he wrote it with his audience in mind, and even when he pushed the boundaries he avoided breaking that covenant he had established with his audience.

And somewhere between Bruckheimer and the Bard of Strattford Upon Avon, we find Marvel Comics.

The expectations for mainstream comics really aren't that hard. We expect there to be attractive people with exaggerated physiques. We expect them to generally have bad fashion choices. We expect there to be a significant conflict, and we hope that will highlight an inner conflict. Some punching generally goes on. Our hero is put on the ropes. Terrible things happen to him. And then at the last possible moment he rallies, he finds a way, he pushes through and he wins. Good takes the gold. evil gets the silver at the most.

Seem overly simplistic? It is. But it's also implicit. Read any DC or Marvel Comic from the thirties through to the nineties, and you'll see those mechanisms in play. Even into the nineties, these were the guiding principles of the form. Horrible things happened, but ultimately, the hero wins and the villain loses. Luthor might become the President of the United States, but at the very end of the day he's wearing a Kryptonian Battlesuit and trading punches with the Man of Steel, with Superman taking him down and breaking all his evil plots. At the end of the day, we expect the X-Men to leave the field with their heads held high. We expect the Green Goblin to go to prison (or worse). We expect the Red Skull to fail.

And when it doesn't happen... when our heroes do their level best and fail... we feel cheated. We feel hollow, if we cared about them. It can be a powerful story, but it's one that breaks our expectations and we cast around, thinking that's it? Evil wins? Jesus, I can read a fucking newspaper to read about evil winning! Eventually, you think well shit. I guess I'll put my money elsewhere, and you find some other fix for what you used to turn to comic books for.

As a complete side note, when I was in Ottawa over the holidays, we were in a Chapters, which is their Barnes and Noble equivalent. And we went by the teen section. And I saw a group of about six boys, all in the twelve year old range -- the range that Isaac Asimov used to describe as "the Golden Age of Science Fiction" and which continued to be the Golden Age of Superhero Comics. And they were piled around a bookshelf, sprawled and reading.

Manga.

Not ten feet away, Marvel and DC compilations sat, holding no interest for them.

But, as I so often do, I digress.

Marvel has always been the company of Heroes With Bad Lives. Ever since Spider-Man first made his living by providing photographs for his worst critic, Marvel's heroes have had to endure a hostile public and -- as David Willis so adroitly put it -- flying butts pooping on them most of the time.

But they hung with the covenant. The good guys in the end would win. Sometimes that victory would come at a terrible cost, but it would happen. Evil would go down. Through the most horrific of X-Men crossovers or the most vicious of John Byrne retcons, the heroes would eventually come out on top.

And now, that's not true any more.

Let's look at Spider-Man's arc. He outed himself in Civil War. He had terrible things happen to him as a result. He went on the run, he got sued by the Bugle, he had his illusions about heroism broken down into tiny little pieces, and then his beloved Aunt ate a bullet.

This is the kind of thing that happens to Spider-Man. It always has been. He has a horrible life and bad guys do terrible things.

But he comes out of them. He pushes through. He has some kind of victory. And we have that moment of visceral relief. That sense that yes, he was a hero, that in the end, he does win. And if tomorrow's going to be crap, today's still... well, okay.

Only this time, they pushed the reset button. The Devil came, forced him to sacrifice his happiness and life, left his (now never-was) wife to suffer for it, restored his secret identity and wiped clean all the stuff that happened, and then oh hey, it's a Brand New Day!

The covenant was broken. Terrible things happened, over and over and over, and finally the ultimate villain showed up, and he won. And because this was all out of editorial edict to erase something... well, something wildly popular. (Okay, I admit it, I don't get that at all), Spider-Man loses. He loses everything. And all the crap that had become his life got washed away in the least satisfying way possible.

And, if you look at Marvel in general, this is becoming the trend. Captain America loses the Civil War and dies, and... well, that's that. Super Heroes become draftees and militias and... well, that's what it is. Iron Man--

Oh, let's not even go there.

Not too many years ago, Marvel dropped their use of the Comics Code Authority and the seal, and went to their own rating system. I understood that at the time -- rather than restrain themselves by an outside arbitrary force, why shouldn't they let loose the last shackles of the fifties and, with appropriate use of Mature Readers warnings, tell the stories they want to tell?

Only something happened. Something tipped. And I have to wonder if one of the things they didn't want to be hamstrung by any more was the implicit requirement that Crime ultimately Not Pay. The Good Guys have to eventually win, in the CCA's universe.

But not in the Marvel universe.

And, when the whole point is to hold onto their aging fanbase, do they honestly think breaking that most core assumption -- that most core covenant to mainstream superhero comics -- is going to be a good long term strategy for them?

Sooner or later, after the popped-ratings fade, and people figure out that these heroes do a whole lot of losing, doesn't that inexorably lead to losing them? I mean, if I want to see things get steadily worse? I have an internet and Google News. I sure as Hell don't need to spend money for it.

In a fantasy medium, who's fantasy are we reading about now? And when people give up, who's going to replace them?

Posted by Eric Burns-White at January 9, 2008 2:27 PM

Comments

Comment from: Chris "Slarti" Pinard [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 9, 2008 4:41 PM

Oh, well, see, OMD/BND isn't about keeping the current audience. It's about keeping the character classic for future generations, where Joey Q prophesies that there will be some vast throng of kiddies who'll start reading comics out of nowhere, with no inclination to understand the changes that Spidey's gone on over the decades, but who will totally shell out month after month for stories which, to keep with the logic of why this is happening, must necessarily involve no visible change in Spidey's status quo -- or that of any of the other characters, for that matter -- and thus nothing of very much consequence ever really happening. And the constant churn of New Readers that this will spark will totally be larger than their existing paying fanbase, and thus pull the industry out of its tailspin. Yeah, I'm sure that'll work.

Comment from: baf [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 9, 2008 5:13 PM

But if the new kids are coming in with no expectations, won't they accept the status quo at the time they start reading it as the ground situation?

The wedding issue of Spider-Man was published in 1987. That means they had been married for twenty years of real-world time. No way does that count as a temporary aberration. Heck, it's long enough that some of the adult fans who read Spider-Man as a child, and might nostaligically pick up an issue today, don't remember a time when Spider-Man and Mary Jane weren't married. It really looks to me like the idea behind the reboot was to make official continuity in the comic more like the movies -- which makes sense from a business standpoint, when you compare the box-office figures to the sales of the comic.

Comment from: Megalomaniac2 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 9, 2008 5:16 PM

I wouldn't even mind the breaking of the covenant and allowing the bad guys to win if it weren't done quite so incredibly lamely as this. Villains are frequently the coolest characters, and seeing them on top, grinding the impudent fools who stood before them beneath their heel, can be a blast. I mean, Doctor Doom winning once and for all? That's good times rollin': robot armies, grandiose superweaponry, much third-person monologuing, and the sweet, sweet kneeling. In fact, it's such good times that he's actually gone and done it more than once... and then given it up because he got bored. That's a well-done villain triumph there.

What we currently have in Marvel, though, is out-of-left-field bullshit that's not fun for anyone- least of all Mephisto. We're supposed to believe that all of a sudden the demonic entity which poses as Satan for kicks is going to stoop to this sort of soap-opera crap? That he's going to rewrite time itself for the sake of destroying a single marriage? It's pointless, gratuitous, and wall-bangingly stupid. Marvel receives negative biscuits.

Comment from: Montykins [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 9, 2008 5:34 PM

If I go to see the next National Treasure movie and in the process of doing all of the above it all goes pear shaped, the cute blond gets crushed by giant rocks in a lurid and graphic way, Nicholas Cage turns out to be entirely wrong and an idiot to boot and the movie ends with all hope destroyed and complete failure?

That would be awesome. If they did three or four more National Treasure movies, getting more and more ridiculous, and then had a movie where Nicolas Cage was running around swearing that the Egyptian Pyramids were put up by Abraham Lincoln as a clue to where Mark Twain hid Franklin Pierce's fabulous treasures, and everyone in the movie called him crazy, and then he was wrong? That would be amazing.

And then the movie after that would be unmissable.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 9, 2008 6:46 PM

....right or wrong? I so want to see that movie now.

Just to see the pyramids start rotating when they push the right sequence of stones just after the put the giant counterweight on the Sphinx to make up for the missing nose that opens the Masonic cache that leads down into the Nile Chamber where the ancient dumbwaiter lowers them into Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad to Riches.

Comment from: PatMan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 9, 2008 7:16 PM

Megalomaniac2 brings up something that really bothers me now that I've heard more about the deal with the devil. Mephisto claims that Peter and MJ's marriage is somehow incredibly pure and worth something. So why did he wait until now to do anything? Why not at the beginning or the end of the clone storyline, when he could offer Spider-man something valuable in return? Why wait and offer him the lamest deal ever? Strazinski should have com up with a better motivation.

And the whole idea that the Parker's marriage is somehow unique and special seems silly when they live in a world of superheroes. Superheroes tend to have pure and perfect love, it just goes with the genre. And when villains try to destroy that love, it's usually a personal thing. They know that it will torment the hero. That keeps it simple and believable.

But when you claim that their love is somehow of universal importance, despite looking like every other superhero marriage out there, you've entered hokey territory. Especially when the guy who wants to destroy the love comes out of nowhere.

Comment from: LurkerWithout [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 9, 2008 8:35 PM

My biggest worry about the fallout from OMD/BND is that Joey Q isn't distracted destroying all the work done on Spidey for the last twenty or thirty years he might notice that the Marvel Cosmic/Space Adventures titles are full of dangerous levels of Awesome. I can only hope he decides to go after the stuff written by Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker for not matching his ideal comics from when he was 12...

Hey I think Iron Fist and Punisher War Journal and the Order are all well written, but I don't buy them (ok I get Iron Fist in tpb). And whatever must be sacrificed to appease Joey Q's desire to suckify Marvel and keep Rocket Raccoon and Nova safe? Totally worth it...

Comment from: Kristopher Wooldridge [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 9, 2008 8:45 PM

"One More Day" was really trash. Quesada has all but slapped fans in the face with it and the subsequent issues. Especially considering that there are likely a large number of fans who started reading AFTER the marriage, and it didn't really seem to bother them--I have a few friends in that situation.

The entire thing is also completely out-of-character for Spider-Man and the rest of the characters. Spider-Man, a hero, making a deal with what is essentially Marvel's incarnation of The Devil. I can't buy him doing it. I honestly can't. I also don't think that, if his aunt knew about this, that should have approved.

The entire story arc wasn't even "MARRIAGE!" it was Parker not being able to face everything else he has faced and move on. His damn UNCLE was killed--the reason he became a superhero. Why didn't he try to get him back at any point during this?

I heard that Quesada wanted to bring Gwen back, but I don't know if there's any substance to that or no.

Quesada also completely disregarded things like "Ultimate Spider-Man", and the "Mary Jane" books--which actually have Spider-Man not married to Mary Jane. Hell, in the Ultimate line he was with Kitty Pryde for fuck's sake.

I don't even really read Spider-Man, but this move just pissed me off.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 9, 2008 9:05 PM

You know, I have to wonder how much of this is simply because Marvel doesn't have the balls to just end the 616 continuity. I know that they have another line, the Ultimate line, that they're also playing with (and I have no idea how that is doing), but at what point is everything just crushed under the weight of past experiences?

Let's put it this way - what if we dealt with a new Spider-Man continuity where this happened? Well, maybe not as absurd as this - let's take this new continuity and have Mephisto break up the marriage, get MJ to divorce Peter, make him look really bad in the process, and only Peter knows the truth of the matter, because to say the truth invalidates the deal (and either kills Aunt May or he has to surrender his soul immediately).

I'd bet top dollar that people wouldn't flip out about this nearly as bad. Sure, there'd be some complaints, but at least the real Peter Parker, the 616 Spidey, would be going strong and happy. I mean, Marvel has explicitly defined 615 other universes they could mess with right off the bat - and implied there are many more beyond that. Why not just screw with one of those other Spideys, and run with that as long as you can there? If it proves popular, then figure out a way to import it.

Comment from: kamagurka [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 9, 2008 9:49 PM

1. What the hell happened to your spelling skills, dude?

2. I pretty much agree with you, though in some instances I'm glad when the books in my pullbox don't defer to my expectations. But when a writer wants to do that, he needs to have chops with a capital C and and a capital pretty much everything else. Ain't too many writers at Marvel/DC I consider having that.
I started out with Marvel. With Spider-Man. I spend sixty to a hundred bucks real money (to you Americans, that's about 100-140 $) a month on my comics fix, and about five of that go into Marvel stuff, for Daredevil (which I may drop soon. He's been getting fucked hard enough that you'll soon be able to drive a semi through his colon) which is the only good ongoing book I see them having (from time to time they have cool miniseries. Marvel Zombies, anyone?).

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 9, 2008 10:13 PM

1. What the hell happened to your spelling skills, dude?

Fatigue and mild illness. Second verse, same as the first.

Comment from: Bo Lindbergh [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 9, 2008 10:25 PM

Am I the only one seeing that title and thinking "National Treasure and the Chamber of Secrets"?

Comment from: Glaser [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 9, 2008 10:53 PM

I disagree completely. I do agree that pushing the reset button is bad. But I think that this covenant you're talking about is the point where the medium stops being useful. Because what you're talking about isn't really some implicit deal, it's a corporation agreeing not to go outside the consumer's comfort zone. And that's fine for the corporation's products and the consumer's viscereal emotion, but it hamstrings the real purpose of communication - to proliferate new ideas.

Comment from: Plaid Phantom [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 9, 2008 11:06 PM

I've never really been into comic books. I knew the characters and have seen the movies and cartoons and all that, but I've not known much about the world of comic books until I started following the 'snark. But I think I have a theory about all of this.

It seems as though the writers who actually achieve authorship of lines like these are the ones who have a distressing urge to make the comic what they *want* it to be. Those who could really do some good eventually go off to do something otherwise worthwhile.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 9, 2008 11:07 PM

And that's fine for the corporation's products and the consumer's viscereal emotion, but it hamstrings the real purpose of communication - to proliferate new ideas.

Which implies that the only reason to produce any creative endeavor is to challenge?

No way.

Seriously, there's no way.

Back in English Comp, we discussed the difference between interpretive versus escapist fiction. Interpretive fiction was extolled, of course. Fiction that revealed something about the human condition, that could open one's mind.

But escapist fiction had its place too -- it was a release, a relief, a comfort and a visceral connection.

I submit that artistic expression has no responsibility to you, me, society or anyone. Artistic expression does not have to enlighten, it does not have to educate, it does not have to awaken and it does not have to challenge.

You might not like Hee Haw, but it has a right to exist on its own merits with its own goals. And people who watch it have a right to do so. And if they watch three seasons of Hee Haw faithfully, they have a reasonable expectation that there won't be a sudden decapitation and gory bloodfest, nor a sudden declaration that one of the hayseed girls has AIDS. And if they did go that way, their audience would complain and leave.

Put bluntly: who says the comics medium has to be useful?

Comment from: Nate [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 10, 2008 12:26 AM

It's not a matter of the bad guy winning, in my opinion. Personally, I think the bad guys could do with a bit more winning. Apparently so do a lot of people, or the idea of the anti-hero wouldn't be so popular. Villains are badass, for the most part.

The problem comes when it's the titular character who loses. "The Amazing Spider-man" comes with a set of expectations. "The Almighty Doctor Doom" would come with a different set (or perhaps the same set, revolving around a different character, depending on how you want to phrase it). You buy comics to see the titular character, the one you automatically identify with, kick everyone else's ass.

Incidentally, I enjoy reading your critiques. You could probably write a treatise on the texture and taste of swiss versus cheddar and it would still be entertaining. Don't feel the need to constrain yourself to a given topic.

Comment from: Robotech_Master [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 10, 2008 7:58 AM

It's funny: the ghost of "First and Ten Syndrome" has been hovering over both this and your prior entry, though the phrase is never actualizing. Certainly it's a very similar kind of thing you're talking about: changing stuff for no other reason than to try to make it "better," (which reminds me of the scene from Invader Zim where the Tallest are tell Zim, "You made the fire worse!" and Zim replies, "Worse, or better?") but just screwing it up all the more.

This kind of thing isn't new to comic books, though. Consider how any good Saturday morning cartoon back in the day only got one or two good seasons, then executives would fiddle with the formula, trying to make it better but ending up killing it dead before another season was out. Ewoks, Real Ghostbusters, etc.

It also reminds me of one of the interesting oddities of the James Bond movie series—the first (non-parody) Bond movie to be made starring someone other than Connery, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. In terms of closeness to the original book, it was probably the best adaptation until the new Casino Royale. But it starred some new guy and the ending was, unlike other Bond films', a downer. That may be why the film apparently did so poorly at the box office that they frantically lured Connery back for one more film, Diamonds are Forever, which most critics agree he probably shouldn't have made.

Comment from: Andrew Grilz [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 10, 2008 10:42 AM

The fact that the bad guys won this one is an excellent point, and one thought occurs to me that proves Quesada has really given no thought to the follow through on this truly foul story arc.

Mephisto can't gloat.

Not even a little. Nobody but Mephisto himself realizes he's scored this huge victory against the forces of good. And that's where it falls apart. I mean, what's the point of destroying your enemies, demolishing them at the ore of their very being...if you can't brag about it?

Somewhere, someplace, there will be a Spidey vs. Mephisto Round 2 story. And Mephisto will start monologuing, and it's gonna come out. Peter goes through anguish, confusion, etc; Aunt May is SO disappointed in him, she starts serving him Pop Tarts instead of wheat cakes for breakfast.

So the next big crossover event will be Spider-Man and Dr. Strange leading the Initiative army into a war on Hell.

...did I just find a way out for Marvel?

Comment from: Freeptop [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 10, 2008 3:06 PM

"Sooner or later, after the popped-ratings fade, and people figure out that these heroes do a whole lot of losing, doesn't that inexorably lead to losing them?"

It's weird, but as soon as I read the above sentence, I realized that I've heard that same thing over and over again: if the heroes do a lot of losing, it tends to mean fewer sales. The weird thing? I haven't heard it in relation to comic books, but to sports teams (specifically, ice hockey, but that's neither here nor there).

Really, there are quite a lot of parallels between comic book fans and sports fans when you get down to it (including the obsessiveness, the loyalty, and yes, even the cosplay - sports jerseys sell quite a bit, after all).

Perhaps the comic book authors should pay a bit more attention to sports teams, then: The professional leagues know that they have to create and maintain a fan base. They know their product needs to be exciting in order to draw viewers and fans. They need to have marketable stars. And most teams know that they absolutely must be able to have winning seasons on a regular basis in order to keep their fans, or else they end up with empty buildings.

The analogy isn't perfect, but it is interesting to see the similarities. It's also interesting to see how the different businesses deal with their problems. In a nutshell, the comics industry doesn't do it so well...

Comment from: EsotericWombat [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 10, 2008 6:28 PM

I feel like an asshole, but I guess I'm not really seeing the difference between this covenant and a sense of entitlement. Which isn't to say that this thing should have been done. it's ludicrous.

But I remember you writing about QC, and how you because of the nature of what it was, it would end with Marten and Faye walking into the sunset. But now it might not. Has Jeph Jaques broken the covenant? What's the difference?

Comment from: MadTinkerer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 10, 2008 8:24 PM

I'm surprised, Eric, that you just don't "get it". Have you read the first issue of the Brand New Day story arc? Well you should because it confirms my suspicions about One Last Day.

It's been done for the X Men in Age of Apocalypse. It's been done in slightly different ways for the rest of the Marvel Heroes in Heroes Reborn and House of M. And now Spiderman gets his own private Alternate Timeline Arc all to himself.

This isn't a ret-con at all. This is a It's A Wonderful Life scenario with the devil as an unwitting Clarence. The proof?

Actually undoing the marriage made me suspicious. Resurrecting Harry made me even more suspicious (but it made sense to include that in the whole "Give Pete a real chance at happiness" clause MJ made with Mephisto). But killing off Jonah Jameson by having Pete actually yell at him for how badly Jonah has been treating Pete, and making MJ a super hero named "Jackpot"...

Come on, Eric! This is *clearly* an alternate timeline scenario. Marvel pretending otherwise, and you (and others) actually taking the bait makes it sweeter, but it's just *way* too much like a What If to be a permanent retcon. And that's probably why JMS changed his mind about it. He was told about the plans for OMD, but didn't want to spoil things.

I predict this storyline is going to lead up to Pete having to make a tough choice. And the choice he's going to make is to put things back the way they were. Because he's going to make the responsible choice and sacrifice the timeline where he's happier for a timeline where everyone else is (relatively) better off.

And I suspect Mr. Negative is somehow actually related to it all and not just some random new villain.

Comment from: McMartin [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 10, 2008 8:49 PM

EsotericWombat: Eric's entitlement rants have always included a concept of the implicit covenant, though I agree that it can be considered a matter of degree, not of kind. (The Elizabethan notions of "tragedy" and "comedy" were much more detailed than our current notions of these, and the requirements for them, I think, would indeed these days be called "formula". But there's still a lot of room for maneuver in there.)

Unrelated to that comment, I would totally buy at least a few issues of The Almighty Doctor Doom even if he always lost. I don't think "titular character must win" is key. Take Invader Zim - him losing won't break the show. He loses all the time. Him winning -- at least, minor victories -- also won't break the show. He gets his share of that, too. Him deciding that this "Invader" stuff just isn't worth it, and blending in, turning him into a an ALF with a water allergy? That would have broken it.

This all assumes that the situation is episodic. With something like a soap opera (or, say, Babylon 5), part of the expectation is that there's a continuing arc and Stuff Changing is the nature of the game. And even then, most B5 fans will tell you not to bother with the episodes before or after the arc they like.

Comment from: Aulayan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 10, 2008 8:59 PM

I have this belief, that with the exception of Mephisto (Who the BND people are now trying to spin that that's not the end of that story, even though Joey Q was practically saying it was earlier. Damage Control), the upcoming Secret Invasion will be: Heroes Win. Iron Man Redeemed. Everyone somewhat more buddy buddy.

I could be wrong, I could be very wrong. World War Hulk, with the exception of Hulk and Herc, seemed to bring a lot of the arguing heroes together. And while there is still distrust, there seems less of it. Though Secret Invasion is producing a lot more distrust but that's temporary until the event starts. And well...Iron Man leading SHIELD (And it being stated Fury will be back with S-Invasion), this would be his moment to shine. Not just to win, as he's done before, but shine.

Also, I am deluded enough to think that by issue 50, Steve Rogers will be back. Perhaps sooner. The current Death of a Dream storyline being more of a "Death of Superman" type deal than "Death of Green Arrow" type deal. (I chose Green Arrow because at the time, his was supposed to be permanent with a permanent replacement.)

But in the meantime, I'm mildly enjoying Marvel's current offerings, because reading between the lines, Tony Stark has bitten off more than he can chew. (No title says it...well except maybe Cap, but Avengers: Initiative really hints). And The Order, despite being a REGISTERED SUPERTEAM, almost feels like old school comics. I mean seriously. Zombie Hobos.

Now if I'm wrong about Secret Invasion, and the endings spoiled, good guys don't win completely, then there will be a problem. But sometimes stories take a long time to tell. And I have hope.

Though, having said all this. I do miss seeing real villains in Marvel Comics. ... DC Comics too, these days, as the stupid Salvation Run is happening.

Comment from: MadTinkerer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 10, 2008 9:25 PM

"I have this belief, that with the exception of Mephisto (Who the BND people are now trying to spin that that's not the end of that story, even though Joey Q was practically saying it was earlier."

Well they are hinting that "Harry" is actually Mephisto in BND.

Comment from: MadTinkerer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 10, 2008 9:38 PM

Oh, and forget the reasons Mephisto said he wanted to destroy their marriage. Crazy Theory: Mephisto came out and taunted them with the fact that Spidergirl won't have ever been born as a result of the deal. Maybe that's what Mephisto really wanted out of the deal. Maybe Spidergirl is somehow a threat to him in the future (hey: it happened with Franklin Richards and Nathan Grey).

Even crazier theory: BND leading up to them finally doing a Spiderman/Spidergirl crossover and/or Peter & MJ finally getting Little May back when the deal is undone? One can only hope...

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 10, 2008 11:31 PM

I proposed the Earth-1980forever out as well, MadTinkerer (on rec.arts.comics.marvel.universe, where it was picked apart of course), but the problem comes whenever any other book refers to Spider-Man. If we get no Spider-Man-related stuff in any book (a neat trick with the Iron Spider suits being in The Initiative), maybe it'll work. But as soon as someone in another title talks about anything related to Spider-Man other than, "Gee, where did he go?" (in BND he's spent at least 100 days inactive and out of costume), that means that book got sucked into the alt.Earth. Or that we have another editorial mess.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 11, 2008 11:50 AM

You could probably write a treatise on the texture and taste of swiss versus cheddar and it would still be entertaining.

There was a day when Eric could get us all commenting for screens and screens about washing dishes.

I mean that literally. It's in the archives.

Comment from: Glaser [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 11, 2008 1:35 PM

I wasn't clear.

I don't mean that every comic book has to be Literature or A Work. What I mean is that is has to push somewhere, a little bit, or I might as well be sleeping.

Comment from: MadTinkerer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 11, 2008 2:31 PM

"But as soon as someone in another title talks about anything related to Spider-Man other than, "Gee, where did he go?" (in BND he's spent at least 100 days inactive and out of costume), that means that book got sucked into the alt.Earth."

This is what I'm saying: when the Age of Apocalypse happened, it did actually affect the entire Marvel universe. But it affected the entire universe in such a way that only a few were actually aware of it happening. At the end of AoA, Charles Xavier got un-killed, X Man and Dark Beast ended up in Earth 616 due to a convenient glitch when time was put back properly, and the Avengers never even noticed anything had changed.

This is how I predict Brand New Day will end: Pete and MJ will remember how things were in the Brand New Day storyline because it's their storyline, but all that the rest of the universe will know is that Spiderman had to lay low for a while due to events of One Last Day.

Comment from: Freak [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 11, 2008 11:03 PM

McMartin: Did you ever read the short-lived "Joker" comic book line?

Comment from: Freak [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 12, 2008 9:56 AM

The Procrastinator reviewed that series:

http://procast.panel2panel.com/pro-20070317.html

Comment from: Wistful Dreamer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 14, 2008 4:03 PM

"I feel like an asshole, but I guess I'm not really seeing the difference between this covenant and a sense of entitlement. Which isn't to say that this thing should have been done. it's ludicrous."

I am always leery of anyone using the E word. y'know, in the "My complaints are legitimate, but other peoples' are just them having too much sense of Entitlement." way. I'm not saying you are wrong, it is just a word that has too much baggage as a shorthand insult on Harry Potter or Star Wars forum. After all, no one is saying that Marvel (or George Lucas or J. K. Rowlings or Lynn Johnston) doesn't have a right to do what they did, but the audience also has the right to say it makes for a bad story.

As to Covenant versus Entitlement per se, Covenant falls closer to Expectation than to Entitlement. If I pick up a comic book, I am putting down a semi-trivial amount of money. Upon opening it, I expect certain things. I expect protagonists and antagonists. I expect combat. You can certainly use the graphic novel format to express other kinds of stories, but if I open up Cable&Deadpool and find a story that would be more appropriate in Y:the last man, I'm going to be upset with the front cover for leading me astray! Likewise, if something happens in my comic book that deviates from the covenant, it is going to catch my eye (and recently, catching the eye seems to be what Marvel really wants to do). Maybe, just maybe, it will push my boundaries and challenge my expectations in a way that makes me think, "that was a good story." It has happened before. I really liked the original Dark Pheonix storyline (although being killed by a ray-cannon is a poor way for a corrupted heroine to redeem herself, and of course they brought her back). The problem is, if it is going to break my covenant, it had better be a VERY VERY GOOD story, or it just makes me not want to read the next issue. Death of Superman? The hero falls. Did I like it? No (random new villain shows up and Supes can't beat him before being mortally wounded? How is that epic?). Civil War? Half and half ("Evil" won, but Cap died doing what he always did -- taking the high road and protecting the innocent). Nothing I've seen in OMD/BND has made me think that there has been any story benefit to the breaking of my expectations except to have Spider Man in the marital status the story writers wanted him to be in. No epic moment, no fable-esque lesson (except maybe "superheroes will radically violate their established personalities, not bother to appreciate the consequences of their actions, give up on loved ones, and make deals with the 'devil' in order to save other loved ones, even though they are constantly surrounded by the death of good people and the suffering of loved ones, as is constantly established in the Marvel mythology."). Frankly, it just doesn't work for me, I don't enjoy reading it, and it makes me less likely to pick up the next issue. I don't think that that is a sense of entitlement, so much as a critic (and we all are critics) forming an opinion on a given story.

"But I remember you writing about QC, and how you because of the nature of what it was, it would end with Marten and Faye walking into the sunset. But now it might not. Has Jeph Jaques broken the covenant? What's the difference?"

QC certainly is barely a genre (mid twenties, post collegiate, "I'm a bit of a slacker, but I'm ready for the next phase of my life and don't know how to excel at it" Web comic), and is definitely not a multi-company, multi-generational tradition that superhero action comic books are. QC is better understood as simply a story. As such, the readership is constantly trying to figure out what it is going to be. There are Covenants in stories too, usually based on what kind of story one thinks they are reading. QC began in a way that emulated a classic "boy meets girl" story -- Boy is single...some secondary characters are introduced...some talking and doing is done to establish character...then boy meets girl...boy and girl seem like they should hit it off, but some obstacle is in the way (in this case two--boy is awkward, and secondary possible love interest is introduced)...plot wanders around until climax when (we expect)boy and girl decide they do belong together. Done. Turn it into a screenplay and decide if Hugh Grant plays a good guy or bad guy. In QC, we DID have something unexpected happen -- girl ISN'T meant to be with guy if they could only see it. In fact, she's psychologically immature when it comes to relationships and really needs a therapist more than a boyfriend. Oh, and secondary romantic interest actually is a near perfect fit for guy. Geeze, who would have thought?! The difference between this and the comic book example is that it genuinely changed, on a thematic level, what kind of story we were reading. Our previous expectations no longer applied, because this clearly wasn't a "boy meets girl" story. In fact it is more of a "Here's me and all my wacky 20-something friends" storyline more inline with early College Roommates from Hell or Wapsi Square comics. Now there is still a role for the critic -- you may think the boy meets girl story would have been better, but it's not pushing the boundaries of the type of story it is (nor certainly what one expects in a web comic).

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 14, 2008 4:35 PM

Covenant and Entitlement are two sides of one coin, and it's easy to mistake one for the other. And it's also easy for someone to overreact to a break in the Covenant and move headlong into entitlement.

The difference, in the end, is not one of genesis but of result. If a covenant is established that one reads adventure stories because they want to see good defeat evil, heroes come out on top, and malevolent forces ultimately bear the bitter fruit of their schemes, leaving them bereft while virtue is rewarded, then every story where the bad guys win and the good guys lose is a breaking of that covenant.

Entitlement is the demand that the story go the way the reader demands. And sure, there's lots of that out there right now, where One More Day (and the Death of Captain America, and Civil War, and Iron Man, and World War Hulk, and... so on) are concerned.

The covenant, on the other hand, does not force changes when it's broken. The covenant isn't a legal document. The covenant doesn't give ownership to the reader.

But if you break it enough times, or break it egregiously enough, the reader goes away.

Some readers have been shaken out by this. Others by several of the other breaks. (I decided not to buy another Marvel comic book or graphic novel following the assassination of Captain America, for example, and I've stuck to that.) And to date, there's plenty to stick with it. But since Marvel doesn't actually have a plan to draw new readers in to replace those who leave, the effect is one of attrition.

(Ironically, the Spider-Man marriage dissolution is a rather ham-fisted effort to 'reset' things so that new readers will have a familiar environment. Only, the Marvel Universe is so utterlySpider-Man because they won't understand the politics and situations surrounding it, and reading followups will include references to things 'that never happened' now.)

The course that Marvel's taking, currently, is very risky, because more and more of the 28-40 year old fans who are their mainstay right now are getting disgruntled. These are the folks who have followed Spider-Man's trip through his marriage, and this strikes very close to home for them. Without a good avenue of replacing those fans, as well as the others shaken out by the current... well, dark and 'good loses' centered storylines that are typifying Marvel, sooner or later they're going to have desertions that they can't easily replace.

For the record, I think a complete reboot could work for Marvel. They've teased it with Ultimate Marvel and Marvel Adventures, creating continuities that are cut off from the "mainstream Marvel-616 continuity." In fact, I think their best possible bet would be to take all the Marvel-616 stuff other than the X-Men and make it its own series, say as a 616 page graphic novel published quarterly (which is actually the page count of 22 standard 28 page comic books -- hardly even difficult to produce in a four month period of time, given the numbers of comics they currently produce a month), and then publish a serialized 616 page X-Men comic in another four months. Let those two books continue the storylines of the Marvel Universe, both mutant and non-mutant, and let them actually be stories which actually have evolution and character development and consequences.

And then, relaunch all the 'standard' comics in an entirely new Marvel universe. Start with the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, then move on to the Hulk, the Silver Surfer, Iron Man, et al. Launch an Avengers book which reintroduces Captain America and all the rest. Shoot for something adults can enjoy alongside kids, with very little barrier to entry for new readers. (And think carefully about making the primary distribution methods either bookstore or supermarket based, or even web based.)

In other words, don't 'end' the old Marvel Universe. Let it continue, in a form that its audience can continue to enjoy, while actually enhancing its ability to storytell. But make the "mainstream" Marvel universe an entirely new one.

That ought to give them a few decades to play with, don't you think? And the covenant of the comic book fan -- of that expectation -- is kept up in the comics, while the 616 novel length books establish a new covenant that it can work with.

(Note that the 616 page books would continue to need multiple authors and artists. Editors would be crucial to coordinate. On the other hand, producing essentially 44 comics every four months, or 11 comics a month, wouldn't be too terribly hard. Well, okay, some artists can't produce on deadline very well, but... well, with the field contracting as it is, there will reach a point where speed and consistency will trump a certain kind of story. Let the artists who take longer draw or paint some of the new comics in the new Marvel mainstream instead.)

My point is this -- we're not entitled to a married Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, any more than we're entitled to a breathing Steve Rogers or a heroic Iron Man. However, Marvel is also not entitled to our money each month, and sooner or later that bill comes due, and right now they're pushing today at the expense of tomorrow.

That's my opinion, anyhow.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 14, 2008 4:54 PM

On my 616-novel plans -- it came out a bit wrong. I blame my brain.

What I'm proposing is eight 616 page "novels" a year. Say, Marvel-616 in January, April, July and October, and X-Men in March, June, September and December. Which is a three month turn instead of four, which is still plenty doable.

And while I'm wishing, I'd like my fiancee to be issued a visa so we can get married. KTHX.

Comment from: Andrew [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 14, 2008 7:38 PM

(FYI, I am the formerly dude known as Miyaa99. Andrew is my actual first name.)

QC to me is Friends with a futuristic quirk.

I think the underline problem with all print comics from almost all comics publishers now is, who is your audience? Is it the children? Is it the adults? Is it for themselves? Is it for people who are used to the movie version of their comics? Is it for people who are used to the more complicated and mature anime mangas? It's really hard to tell, thus people aren't buying.

Comment from: bartles69 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 17, 2008 1:24 PM

Okay, I wasn't going to comment on the whole Spiderman retcon thing. Really I wasn't. I was gonna let it go. But then this article popped up on CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/books/01/17/spider.man.single.ap/index.html

My favorite bit was:

" The story was received less than warmly by fans who thought that after 21 years of marriage Pete and MJ really were going to make it.

"Considering I have been reading Spider-Man for exactly 20 years now, and that seems to be the amount of time Joe Q. has decided to rip from Spider-Man continuity, can I simply return all of my Spider-Man comics for a full refund?" asked one of the more polite postings on Marvel's Internet message boards after the plot was revealed."

Comment from: Sean Duggan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 19, 2008 10:20 AM

One of the differences, for me, with Questionable Content, was that they transitioned nicely. As I believe Eric has noted multiple times, changing the tone or purpose of your webcomic (comic even, I'm sure) can indeed be done and done well. Yes, you'll have some people who don't like the "new direction the comic is taking", but if you make the change believable and gradual, it can work. For example, in QC, I believe even the author has stated that he originally intended a Martin-Faye ending. Over time, we started to see just how fucked-up in the head Faye was and we started seeing the budding romance of Dora and Martin. If indeed the author did say that the planned matchup had changed, I don't remember if he said it was intentional. Anyhow, If the change is made gradually enough, you can often hook the old fans in as well as the new ones. Among other benefits, it means that you can backpedal much more easily if it turns out people don't like it. Alternately, you initially make such a change as a one-shot miniseries wherein this happens and gauge fan reactions. With the implicit guarantee that when the twelve issues are done, history will snap back, fans will be less likely to snap at you. And, if it turns out rabidly popular, you already have everything set up for your new continuity. Marvel and DC have done this a number of times from the various permutations of Marvel Zombies to the various Miller Dark Knight books.

Incidentally, I find it a bit odd that you're mentioning the kids reading manga when discussing the breaking of the covenant because manga are one of those areas where there are fewer conventions. It's not uncommon at all for a series to end with the hero's death and for it to stick. Heros get maimed, raped, and go crazy. Of course, they usually do remain within their own genre lines. Unless you're reading doujinshi (some quite possibly by the same authors and artists as the regular series), Card Captor Sakura isn't going to decide to make inappropriate use of her Clow Staff. Alucard isn't going to decide to introduce a "no killing" rule (although I could see him doing it for an issue or so out of pure personal amusement and the idea of instead just making a living hell out of a villain's life). And... some series start out one way and go completely another. To quote School Days fans, "Nice boat."

One last note, you mentioned one of the conventions of Shakespearean tragedies being that the protagonist will continue on his road to destruction no matter what. I find it interesting that one of the frequent fanfiction setups is having the characters more or less in the same continuity, but not making those key missteps. Sometimes it results in a saccharine world where nothing bad happens and those fics usually flop. Sometimes, the main character finds other ways to screw up (Ill Met By Starlight had a Ranma who had enough social skills to not insult people and to actually charm those around him. He was also a psychopath who killed without compunction). And sometimes the weight of expectation leads to new and different bad things happening, simply because the universe has it out for the character. And some, they succeed in totally subverting your expectations. Harry Potter fanfiction has a number of these, from people writing stories after the fifth book and removing the teen angst and "chest beast" Harry-Ginny relationship or taking the series into Vertigo levels of death and destruction. I've seen them done well and I've seen them done badly. And... I'm digressing heavily. I guess I was mainly just wanting to say that when someone starts writing fanfiction, their first fics usually involve them trying to remove the tragedy element and coming to realize that it was a core part of the series. Well, second fic since the first one is almost always an author self-insert...

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 2, 2008 9:09 PM

I won't be able to get this out of my head till I post it.

Esoteric Wombat wrote above, "I feel like an asshole, but I guess I'm not really seeing the difference between this covenant and a sense of entitlement." And I think there were a few other commenters that echoed the sentiment, but s/he brought it up first. Well, it is a subtle difference, but it's there. And Eric even touched on it in the famous entitlement essay, and offered an example of its violation (and sided with the entitlement fans in this one case, sort of):

"Look, there is an appropriate level of expectation involved in producing art on a regular schedule or basis. If, after 40 years of tenderhearted dog antics, Brad Anderson put in a strip where Dottie is brutally anally raped while Marmaduke is spiked to the floor with railway spikes, you better believe there will be outrage. There should be outrage, in a situation like that. Anderson has given his readers every reason to expect he won't suddenly subject them to a situation like this. But, if Anderson, Anderson's fans, the Marmaduchy Moderators and the support group has gotten accustomed to defending Anderson every time someone has a conniption because the Pekinese ate Marmaduke's food, then as soon as the far-more-justifiable outrage over anal rape and dog torture begins, his support mechanism will out of habit immediately begin defending him, hopelessly muddling the situation."

The basic difference between false entitlement and the covenant between a serial author and the audience is reasonableness. Reasonableness is what both the fan exercising entitlement and the author breaking the covenant sloppily have violated.

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