It’s been a couple days since I wrote not inconsiderably about Avengers Arena. I’ve had some time to mull, to continue to seek other perspectives, to re-read my own perspective and decide if it was a heat of the moment explosion or something legitimate. Most of all I’ve been wondering why, as someone who has never cared a ton about comics, this makes me so angry.
Angry’s not actually the right word.
Livid is such a deceptive word, really, because it looks harmless, as impotent as someone who feels it tends to be over the circumstances generating the emotion.
I’m absolutely furious. And I’ve been trying to figure out why.
First, I hunt for an allegory. What is the endangerment (and extremely likely termination) of a single character to me? Why should i care this much? And why should the decision affect my outlook on the entire company?
The best I can say is that because I’m not hugely plugged into the industry, the few characters I’ve chosen to pursue are the comics industry for me. X-23 is one mutant in a thousand, but she’s the only one I care about or have spent time reading about. Comparatively speaking, her placement in Arena is for me the same as if Marvel had more or less signed a death warrant for the entirety of X-Men comics.
If an event were greenlit that was likely to actually ensure that, at least for the next couple years (if not indefinitely), there would no longer be a mutant in any Marvel comic, I imagine a lot of fans would get very, very angry. They’d be incapable of comprehending the decision. They’d say “but that’s the only reason I read your books.” They’d say “I’ve invested years, I’ve bought hardcover collections, I’ve actually shed tears over these characters, and now you’re just going to let them die, all because it might make you some money over the controversy?” In other words, they’d feel and act precisely as I am.
It’s macro vs. micro, but the comparison is identical when it comes to my own investment and interests. There would be no apology proportional to the offense: it’d be the sort of burn that wouldn’t heal, certainly not in a year or two’s time. My relationship with Marvel is more Warpath than Wolverine: it takes a lot to hurt me, but I don’t have a regenerative factor: you cut me off, that cut stays forever.
One of the biggest pacifiers being hurled into the screaming mouths of protesting fans is that comic book death is trivial and temporary. They point to deaths of major characters as a sign that death is part of the natural phoenix cycle of the industry. They point to what’s conveniently at hand, the very death I mentioned in my rant: Peter Parker. Peter Parker is dead, but few people seem to believe that’s going to last. And quite probably they’re right.
But Peter Parker’s different. He’s the comic book equivalent of Lehman Brothers: too big to fail. These other characters aren’t. They’re the sort who have appeared so infrequently, and their appearances have been so short-lived, it’s as if Marvel has said “Well, that’s it. We’ve tried, and we’re not going to try again.” There’s a finality to the deaths of these characters that simply isn’t present in the death of other mainline characters. To say “they’ll be back” is really a short-sighted statement because it doesn’t take into account the popularity of these characters in the overall Marvel cannon.
X-23, for example, just had a solo book which got cancelled. Her failure as a moneybag is fresh in Marvel’s mind, and as this isn’t the first time Laura has had disappointing sales performance, I can’t help but anticipate that it was her last. From a reasonable, canonical standpoint, Laura Kinney should win this fight. But Avengers Arena is neither reasonable nor respectful of canon, and for that reason she will lose, joining the line of other misfits being denied the chance for redemption. Fitting, oh so fitting, that their deaths are penned by Hopeless.
As a fan, I’ve gotten a glimpse of Oedipus through all this, unexpected as it was. The Greeks viewed tragedy as the inevitable working out of fate in spite of (and often because of) the protagonist’s attempts to escape that fate. Oedipus’ tragedy stems not merely from his patricide and incest, but from the fact that those things were the very things his actions were made to prevent.
We fans have been cast as the victims of a similar (if lower-staked) tragedy which stems not merely from bad things happening, but from reversal, a direct contradiction of the expectation of good. What began as excitement to see our favorite characters take on a fresh new role in a new comic universe has been cruelly flipped on its head by an unmovable higher power: they’re being brought back to be destroyed. Instead of what we hoped for — seeing them, at long last, starring in a comic series — we see them never to star in a comic series again.
Here we are, pissed off, righteously indignant, and Marvel couldn’t care less. Scour the internet and you’ll find people everywhere ranting against what’s happening. Marvel’s collective fan base is screaming at the top of its lungs in an echo chamber.
As to the spirit of Marvel, this is the complete reversal of what superhero stories are meant to be. It is the money-hungry corrupt trampling on the powerless, the voiceless. It is quite literally the killing off of misfits and underdogs. Comics are where we seek refuge from a cold world of dog-eat-dog, where the weak are saved by the opportune arrival of the strong. And that, more than the death of any one character, is the real reason I’ve lost hope in them.
Marvel paves its future in the blood of pariahs.
Innocence lost, indeed.