Sunday, May 17, 2009

Marvel vs. DC


•My friend Dan Greenberg once compared the comic book companies DC and Marvel to the Republicans and Democrats, the former in each pair being (ostensibly) old-timey traditionalists with values seemingly harkening back to the early twentieth century and the latter in each pair ostensibly being in love with the new but mired in a brief 1960s boom in creativity and relevance that has since degenerated into coarse, flashy, culture-undermining superficiality.

When he rendered that judgment a few years ago, it may have been true, but one interesting recent source of disanalogy is the fact that DC has lately been downplaying the fact that its core characters have been largely unchanged for seven decades (avoiding explicit “70th anniversary” banners and that sort of thing), while Marvel is putting out commemorative comics. Then again, maybe the political parties have changed enough recently to make the comics company analogies still hold: the Republicans are now conducting “listening tours” and looking desperate to rebrand themselves and start anew, while the Democrats are the ones harkening back to the days of FDR (when, indeed, the first wave of superheroes arose).

•Complicating all this, I should admit, is the fact that DC is apparently going to incorporate the pulpy heroes known as the Spirit and Doc Savage — neither created by DC — into its main universe’s continuity and have them interact with the WWII heroes called the Blackhawks. DC has also recently incorporated characters from the Milestone and Archie Comics universes, adding them to a main universe that was already, since 1985, a composite of characters from DC, Quality, Charlton, and Fawcett comics.

In addition to that core universe, there is a DC multiverse, fifty-two universes in all (more or less), where some of the aforementioned characters’ doppelgangers have Earths unto themselves — and it sounds like writer Grant Morrison is finally — finally! — combining his interest in metafiction with the half-century-old founding conceit of the DC multiverse, as I’ve long thought he should: the idea that each universe is “fictional” from the next’s perspective, that is, people on Earth-2 get read about as if they are mere comic book characters by the inhabitants of Earth-1 (sounds like Morrison’s Multiversity series next year will visit Earths 4, 5, 10, 20, a 1990s-style one, and Prime, for those keeping track — Earth-Prime supposedly being the “real” world). Linked here is a description of a rare case where I think the tangles of repeatedly-altered DC continuity produce a really pleasing, interesting mess, by the way.

•On an even more old-timey note, there are plans afoot to make a big budget movie out of the French character Fantomas, for a century now depicted as a villainous master of disguise — yet an influence on the characters Batman and (I strongly suspect) Phantom Stranger (the latter of whom was once the subject of a very thorough website maintained by Jacob Levy). From the photo in that linked story, you’d think Fantomas was also a member of the Blue Man Group, committing horrible crimes against art.

•Finally: T.M. Maple died of a heart attack when he was only about my age(!), just as the Web was beginning to replace his chosen medium — comic books’ fan-letters sections — as the complaints/praise venue of choice. Nice to see he rates a Wikipedia page. The reports of his prolific achievements are surely more accurate than those about that mathematically-impossible girl reportedly prone to sending 300,000 text messages per month (as noted on Drudge a couple weeks ago). Do the math, reporters, do the math. No one is sending 300,000 individualized text messages a month, and those stories you hear once in a while about people who’ve supposedly had 10,000 sex partners are also false. Again, just do the math. Or at least it’d be no great heroic feat — more like a very implausible factory job.

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