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The Processed Cheese of Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics have been a staple in the industry since 1961 (arguably earlier). And, since that time, stories have come and gone and everything has changed forever more times than it reasonably should have. But, compared to those early, formative years from 1961~1970, today’s major Marvel publications feel processed. By that I mean that the true Marvel Universe proper seemed to creatively end in 2003’s Avengers: Disassembled storyline. After this came the rise of stagnant storytelling in that, compared to the 90’s (the last true era where creators actually tried to make some sort of permanent change to characters) (to what effect is another story)) the 2000’s were defined by nostalgia and an unwillingness to change that is still happening. It was far better to revive dead heroes and keep everything light enough that old and new readers could enjoy the stories without upsetting anyone.

Today’s Marvel Comics feels as if each new title was sent through a machine and published with a shiny new finish that says "NEW" or "#1." Nothing seems to have as much substance as it used to. The tightness and community that early Marvel had seems to be gone. There are next to no letters pages anymore, a place people could go to share a community that has been lost to the forums where people are more inclined to say hurtful things and bully instead of celebrate their shared hobby. And the comic’s insistence on mirroring their popular movie counterparts has lead to many changes and stories that only seem to be there because Marvel is chasing their own popularity. The whole universe just feels like one big cookie cutter comic book. And, while DC isn’t doing any better, their problems are markedly different than Marvel’s. Basically, it’d be interesting to compare and contrast the early Marvel Universe to the All-New, All-Different Marvel Universe of today and explore just what has made this once-great line feel so plastic.

  • I think this is a great topic. Consider investigating Marvel's financial history as well for more answers; when they went public in 1991 for example. The repercussions are still being felt, both in comics and film. Also, a great deal of cultural shifting was happening in the 1960's as opposed to this last decade; where going to war on two fronts is considered a normal thing. Quite different from a nation dealing with the mandatory draft! Marvel has always laid claim to being in touch with what the culture is participating in; this topic could explore that for answers on Marvel's storytelling quality. – Shaheen 9 years ago
  • I agree with a lot of that. That's a really interesting observation. However, I have seen a few recent titles (including Ms. Marvel) with the letters pages. It's something they should keep up with to help cultivate the community. – SomeOtherAmazon 9 years ago

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Latest Comments

Great, thought-provoking article. Superman is a great example of how something so intrinsically human and hopeful can be taken and spoiled with patriotism. Patriotism is fine and well when it’s simply a love of where you come from and live. But when it’s taken to its extremes and used to hate and start wars? That’s where characters like Superman and publishers like DC have to draw a line. Superman stands for so much more than America, he stands for the world as you so eloquently stated. Trying to tie down what he represents to one geographic location? That’s just selfish. That’s Captain America. And that’s why Superman works so much better than Cap. It’s the same morals but they ring truer with the Man of Steel because it doesn’t have the addendum “as long as it’s America” after it. Heroism isn’t exclusively American, and DC, along with the rest of the nation, would do well to remember that.

Superman: Symbol of Hope Overshadowed by Nationality Identification

This was a fantastic article. Well researched, well written, and, from one Superman fan to another, much appreciated. Though, I have to argue the point about Darkseid. Yes, absolutely, I see the point that he’s a DC Universe villain, a threat to all of existence comparable to Marvel’s Thanos. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen Darkseid up against anyone other than Superman. What I mean is, yes, he attacks universes at a time with hordes of destruction and anarchy, necessitating the combination of the world’s heroes to stop him. But it’s never without Superman leading the charge. And I don’t recall off the top of my head (correct me if I’m wrong) Darkseid ever making it his personal mission to destroy any particular hero outside of Superman (not counting Orion or Mister Miracle). I don’t think he sees anyone other than those three as a threat to him and his empire and Superman most of all. While Lex Luthor is Superman’s greatest foe by quite a margin, that relationship is defined by a god with unlimited potential against a man with squandered potential. Darkseid’s relationship to the Man of Steel is more along the lines of the Ultimate Good against the Ultimate Evil. And that alone is just too perfect to not have Darkseid be classified as a Superman villain. I’m not arguing with the list, I think it’s perfect. But Darkseid is.

10 Superman Villains Who Don't Need Kryptonite

An interesting piece, though I have to disagree about this “locked” view you seem to have of some of these characters. Honestly, any heroic or villainous character has the potential to be an anti-hero. Take your example from earlier, Loki. Yes, Loki has been shown to be quite duplicitous and honestly just not a very good person since his creation in 1962. But, and this is important, he’s always been on the lookout for Number One: Himself. This is key to his transformation. During the events of the 2010 crossover Siege, Loki engineered an assault on Asgard to gain control of the throne once again. He was driven to this moment by greed, by a thirst for power. But, towards the end of the siege, Asgard began to be destroyed by the uncontrolled power of the Sentry, which woke Loki up. He didn’t want this. He wanted Asgard to himself, he didn’t want it destroyed. What good was that? So, realizing what he had done wrong, he sacrificed himself to save everyone. And that is where the character started to take the shape that he resembles today. He was later reborn as a child, one with the potential to do good. And he’s been on that path ever since. Even the latest series, Loki: Agent of Asgard, has him actively trying to be better. He’s not perfect by any means, but he’s trying. Loki works as an anti-hero specifically because of the things we have seen him do before, not in spite of it. Because we’ve seen the heinous things he’s done in the name of himself, we root for Loki because we know he’s trying to be better, something we all can relate to. Anti-heroes that start as villains are easier to relate to than those that start as heroes due to our human desire to be better than we are, which is exactly what characters such as Loki, Magneto, and almost the entire cast of any incarnation of the Thunderbolts are. And even the anti-heroes that start their lives as heroes we at least feel sympathy for because we know they’re better than what they’ve become. It doesn’t ring any less true (unless that character is Superman, but that’s a whole ‘nuther thing). A character is never chained down by their past actions. A character worth any measure of salt should be able to overcome those past mistakes or fall from grace at any point because that is who we are as people: ever-changing.

Anti-Heroes and the Appeal They Have in Comics