Wednesday, June 16, 2010

June Answers From the Vault part 1

Welcome back to another edition of Answers From the Vault, the semi-regular feature where you ask the questions and we pump your brain full of knowledge until it cries out for mercy. This time around we received such a bounty of questions that we're going to split the answers into two batches. That's going to take up a lot of grey matter, so if you need to subject your mind to gamma radiation in order to absorb these answers, now is your last chance.

Ready? Okay, here we go.

What's the best use of weather in a superhero comic that doesn't involve characters with weather-wielding powers? -- Mark

Thanks for the question, Mark. Boy, that's a really tough one. As you note in your extended version of this question, weather is usually used solely for noir/horror effect (in books like Batman, Daredevil and Tomb of Dracula) or for plot points that involve weather being controlled by people like Thor or Storm and/or by villains intent on destroying Earth through giant tidal waves or whatever. Weather just for the sake of having some variety is extremely rare, which makes you wonder just how sunny the DC and Marvel universes are. Maybe that's why those realities have so many superheroes.

But to answer your question, there are a few nice uses of weather that stand out to me. Mike Grell's Green Arrow was set in Seattle, one of the few DC books to take place in a real city, and he frequently used rain, fog and in the winter months, snow, to give the series a real sense of both place and time that few other superhero books have had. Similarly, on a much smaller scale, one memorable scene for me takes place in Avengers #197, where some boys heave snowballs at Captain America while he is having a heart to heart chat in the garden behind Avengers Mansion; it's a great little throw-away sequence that somehow ended up being more memorable than perhaps all the stories that surrounded it, in large part due to the use of weather.

Still, for my money, there can be only one choice -- Avengers #257. Now, everyone knows I am a huge Avengers fan, and this two part battle against Terminus is the first Avengers story I ever read, so there's certainly some nostalgia involved. But the end of this story still sticks with me: after terminus destroys the weather regulation system that allowed the Savage Land to exist, the Antarctic weather comes raging in, destroying the tropical paradise. In a raging blizzard, the Avengers battle Terminus until all sides are overcome by the elements. Only Hercules is able to stand up to the storm; he destroys Terminus's armor, revealing the immobile alien stuck inside it, and then leaves the beast to freeze to death in the ever growing drifts of snow that cover and finally bury him in a grave of his own making. A great ending to a powerful story. And speaking of Avengers, you had a follow-up question:

And is Avengers 185 the only issue of the run where it's raining on the cover?

Nope, though you're right hat there aren't a lot. But besides the classic Avengers #185, there's an equally awesome if not as famous cover that features rain: Avengers #41. Usually I'm not a huge fan of Buscema's very early covers, as I think his early inking and the printing process at the time often end up muddying the finished product, but that's not an issue for a dark and moody cover like this one. Top work from a master in the making.

Why aren't comics fun anymore? -- Jim

Thanks for the thoughtful question, Jim. For me, there's a pretty basic reason: most comics aren't meant to be fun. And the reason for that, in my opinion, is a residual effect of fans becoming creators back in 70's and 80's.

Sure, there were plenty of fans-turned-writers/editors that still had a lot of fun with their comics, particularly those who both recognized and embraced the more absurd elements of the superhero genre. And some of these stalwarts can still be found today, doing what is now widely called "nostalgia" work, like Kurt Busiek and Mark Waid, for instance. What these guys are nostalgic for, though, isn't a specific time period or status quo, it's a mindset -- the mindset that comics are fun and that anything can happen in them.

But this isn't really the norm anymore, and the reason lies with the more "serious" fans-turned-creators -- the second generation of creators who, determined to prove that superhero comics could be a serious genre that should be taken seriously, decided to deconstruct the fun. Take it apart, prove how ridiculous it all is, dissect the genre like a pre-med student doing a thesis. In other words, take an essentially illogical genre and try to impose logic upon it. The result: grim, gritty, more realistic stories that certainly have been taken more seriously.

But have they been enjoyed as much? Are they fun? Or have have works like Watchmen led to second rate copycat works that just depress and turn off potential readers by draining all the wonder out of the genre? And just look at what DC is trying to do these days and you'll see how the current generation is still missing the mark: they're trying to combine grim and gritty with nostalgia by bringing back all the silver age heroes, but they've missed the boat on just what people are actually nostalgic for.

All of it goes back to the mid-70's, when the fans chafing at the lack of respect comics -- and by extension, they themselves -- had been getting became creators and set out trying to prove the merit of the genre. Well, now they have some of that respect. It just cost everything they loved about comics to begin with.

What happened to that Nagel-print that hung on Peter Parker's wall?

I have to admit I don't know the answer to this, but I have a pretty good guess -- I assume that like everyone else's Nagel prints, it's at a flea market somewhere with a $1 tag taped to it.

Next: A whole batch of questions from a former member of the Marvel Bullpen. I answer them all! That's how this thing works, homeslice.

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Rain on the cover of Avengers. I believe that is also an Eddie Rabbitt song.

I like your answer on why comics aren't fun anymore. By extension, it kinda answers the question on why continuity isn't important anymore. It wasn't that the creators in the '90s wanted the reader to look at the Silver Age with a wink or a rolleyes when it came to 5th dimensional elves or I must protect my secret identity driven storylines...but to disregard it completely(at best) or destroy it as pulp trash. And now it seems to be to the point where the mindset is that anything not created by me should be treated this way. And there is nothing fun about that.

Thanks for the awesome answer to my "fun" question. You are the master!