If this is retreading old territory then you have my apologies. It’s likely already been talked about a thousand times by someone else but I feel the need to state this myself. I’ve been reading mainstream comics on and off for about twelve years now from various companies. While I don’t pick up individual issues anymore I do occasionally take a look at what is being printed and the major storylines.
I’ve watched how everything has been progressing over the years and I’ve now got one plea to make to comics companies: Could we please get back to having heroes fight villains?
This line of thought has been going in my head for a while but it really sparked with something recently. After the Avengers DVD release I finally got brave enough to pick up an issue of Uncanny X-Men again and see what is inside. The last time I read any was in the early 2000s when the X-Treme X-Men (yes they were really called that) were fighting Khan and Grant Morrison had finished penning E Is For Extinction. Both had flaws but above all else they featured heroes acting like heroes; fighting to save the world, protect innocents and bring down the bad guy. They starred characters you could root for and wanted to win.
The issue I picked up featured near god-like members of the X-Men fighting the Avengers, slaughtering innocents en-mass and acting no better than those they’d fought in the past. The plot didn’t seem to be “heroes fight villains” so much as “Which group of “heroes” are you rooting for in this moronic, petty, ego driven slugfest?”
This is a problem for comics in general but Marvel is by far the biggest offender. In recent years superhero teams seem less and less concerned about fighting crime, or villains for that matter, and more about brawling over conflicting ideologies and egos. Civil War, X-men: Schism and World War Hulk all almost completely focused upon groups of good guys fighting one another. Even those which do not have this as a main plotline have writers trying to cram in constant bickering, internal unrest and fighting. With Secret Invasion focusing upon mass paranoia and distrust between heroes, apparently trying to force fights between them; and Avengers Disassembled effectively focused upon one insane member outright destroying the group.
The idea has been repeated so often over the recent years that they are now beating a dead horse to the point where the very idea of a superhero civil war induces dull apathy. There’s no point in rooting for one side to emerge victorious because no one will truly win and in a few months we’ll be back to this yet again with someone else. With each battle characters seem to be occupying less of any moral high ground and becoming closer to the villains they’re supposed to be better than.
Now none of this is to say that the concept of hero fights of is outright bad. We’ve had plenty of good comics with this over the years, most famously DC verses Marvel which was a fun crossover brawl the same goes for a lot of those heroes had during the Silver and Bronze age. What makes the recent big ones bad is that the writers don’t embrace the spectacle of it or for the conflict to even have a point. The writers seem much more interested in how grim, depressing and controversial a story it can be and proceed to have it negatively impact upon as many characters as possible. Often at the expense of their established personalities or even making sense.
Remember what happened to Iron Man after the Civil War? The character who always rejected “the end justifies the means”? The one whose origin story had him turning his arms company into a high tech R&D corp and has entire stories of him panicking over his armour being turned into a mass produced weapon? He started scheming to start a war with a highly advanced nation.
His plan? Sic a nanite controlled Green Goblin, one of several supervillains Tony had stashed away in his basement, on Atlantis’ ambassador. An act which would trigger a war which could potentially kill hundreds upon thousands so those heroes who opposed his registration act would be forced to unite with him. A war which he planned to have his company make war profits off of to fuel more projects similar to the remote controlled villains. Like making lots of evil clones of Norse god, and lifelong friend, Thor to enforce his rule.
This was written with the intent of the reader siding with him on this matter; and this is just one of a multitude of instances like this.
Probably the biggest problem with all this is that the idea of Marvel and DC heroes constantly fighting just doesn’t work due to how they began. Other fictional universes like Wildstorm allow this to work because they were created to have less moral characters; and you know what? Even in some of their less than stellar tales they do this far better than Marvel has because the heroes can usually get over their squabble when needed. Case and point being The Authority: Prime event, where Stormwatch and the Authority both confronted one another over a potentially dangerous hidden base and ended up fighting. Rather than this coming out of almost nowhere, like so many of Marvel's ones, it was built upon past events which led to bad blood between them to make it feel natural. Things ranging from imprisoning someone inside the sun to one group disappearing when the other needed their backup the most resulting in the deaths of comrades. Plus their characters already had bigger egos and greater flaws to begin with. Compare just one member of the Authority with the main characters of the Avengers and ask yourself which one you'd see fighting their allies on a frequent basis:
Midnighter – A sociopathic super soldier, completely headstrong, sure that he’s right and not caring whose fingers he breaks to get the job done. A character who would go through with a fight against just about anyone if they got in his way.
Captain America, Thor and Iron Man – Characters who had their flaws but were mostly written as being morally upstanding individuals and were near consistently written so they would try to make the right choice no matter how much they would have to sacrifice.
Marvel seems to have realised people were getting tired of this and were trying to move on but it’s not quite worked. Even after an announced Heroic Age, the supposed turn around after the minor Dark Age which began with Civil War, we get Avengers vs. X-men. In which the same damn things start happening all over again; demonising both groups involved and has them starting fights in every stupid way imaginable – Turning heroes who might have previously been relatable or readers could look up to into antagonistic thugs who might as well be starting fights for the hell of it. These conflicts are no longer written to allow escapism, be fun to read and even the emotional friction they generate does nothing to further the characters after the first dozen times in a row – They’re just pointless.
The final issue of AvX is soon to hit shelves so perhaps this Heroic Age will start to seem more “heroic” at long last. Better still, hopefully it’ll be the last time we’ll be seeing superheroes pointlessly kicking the grimdark crap out of one another for a while.
That’s it, I give up.