I had a wonderful chat with sixteen-year-old Brazilian comic book fan Caio Santucci for his Fan of Heroes podcast—and I was very touched by the fact that this young person, living in another country, was so familiar with my work. A sweet, smart kid and it was a pleasure talking to him.
Here is a philosophical question for you Dematteis, in comics, what makes a character a monster? Like, a literate monster.ReplyDelete
Seems easy, right?
Ben Grimm is almost never referred to as a "monster." Must be because he is a hero, right?
Well, Hulk. Hannibal KIng and Ghost Rider are both considered monsters, Ghost Rider was even in the Legion of Monsters.
Maybe because he remains with faculties? Well, Ghost Rider originally did as well.
Because it was an accident of science?
Well, Swamp Thing was considered a monster from day #1, and he is very similar to Ben, man trapped in a monstrous body, by a twist of science.
I know, it was retconnec that he was plants trying to be Alec Holland, but he was referred to as a monster by Dc before that retcon.
I look forward to your response
I'd say it's because Ben is a good and decent human being, but so is Alec Holland. That said, most people don't KNOW Holland the way they know Ben Grimm, so that could be it. In the end, I'd say it's just the whim of the writer and the needs of the indiviudal story.ReplyDelete
My God, Dematteis, I think you accidentally hit the hammer on the head.ReplyDelete
Ben is out in the public. You and I know that Ben is tortured by his change, but he is always referring himself as "the idol o' millions" and smiling for the cameras.
Even behind the scenes, we see him in normal settings (as normal as the F.F. gets).
Hulks and Ghost Rider are always on the run, and Alec Holland is always moping in a swamp, or clinging to the shadows, trying not to be seen.
It is even present in the X-Men, with the more heavily mutated members.
When Beast transformed into his furry form, he became the clown of the Avengers.
Nightcrawler... who looks like a literal demon... is a swashbuckler, who joked and flirted wth all teh prettty girls, priud of his appearance.
IN retrospect it is all so pobvious.
It is actually a good lesson in accepting one's self.
It is a matter of the characters outlook.
Even after Swampy had a kid and wife, and accepted his role as protector of the Green, he was still hiding away from the world.
Even the Hulk, who is classified as a monster, stopped when Peter David created the combined Hulk, and in the same run was referred to a monster again when he lost Banner, and was on the run again.
Again... a pretty good message.
It is indeed!Delete
Since it is a Civil Rights metaphor, I wonder if that is why Beast and Nighcrawler leaned into the accepting element, especially NIghtcrawler who fully embraces it.Delete
Anyway, Holland could learn a lesson from The Idol o; Millions.
Get out there and be proud, instead of hanging out in a swam all the tie, sulking. Thinking about how he is not good enough, while hating the world.
Occasionally leaving the swamp with his friend, he only kind of likes because they are oth outcasts, who smokes and talks about his old punk band and how much everything and everyone sucks.
Wait... is Swamp Thing a teenager?
I think it should skew even younger. I'm calling DC today to pitch L'IL SWAMPY!Delete
MIgnola beat you to the basic idea...Delete
You Know Will Eisner's Spirit?
Is he just deeply disturbed by all the buildings and other city infrastructure that spells out "the SPIRIT?"
is it some obsessive fan who is either incredibly wealthy or has ties to the city planner?
Or was it there beforehand, and that was what inspired the name?
Buildings shaped like an 'S" or "P" are not best shapes for such purposes.
Or are we seeing the stories through his eyes, and Denny Colt is just a deeply psychotic narcissist? How does that apply to the stories that center around other characters?
Wait. Doesn't your town have buildings that spell out YOUR name? Mine does!Delete
Your town has buildings that spell out my name? That is more than a little disturbing. I don;t think I have ever been to it, at most, I MAYBE drove through it without stopping.Delete
I mean.. I have no idea where this town is, but it is somewhere in upstate New York, right?
Creepy? Is this like a weird cult thing?
It's a little disturbing at first, but you get used to it. (You know what I meant.)Delete
Here is something for your brain to posit...ReplyDelete
A lot of non-Big Two company comics like to deconstruct comic superheroes as just authority figures, ruling over things,
These are often British writers, so they perhaps have an issue they are trying to work out, but there was there are other examples as well
There was this comic you probably never read, I think it was called the "Life and Tim S. with Guardian 82." it was written by some guy with an Italian name, based on an unused Captain Atom script, G.N. Demarcus I think.
IN it there is an idea of a super team trying to enforce the norm, which goes along with it, but that is not what I find interesting. It is a literal element.
There was a specific scene, where the main character is a shown to have hippies grow to hate him in the 60s.
I want to make this clear, all these things make perfect sense in the internal world, and often lead to good stories, Demarcus made a really good story out of it, you might want to see if it is still in print.
Anyway, on the surface this reading makes sense. But applied to the real world, and the trends of superheroes, there is an issue.
Since the modern hero was entered the popular mind in '38, it has been tied to rebellion and counter culture. Seriously.
SUperman does not work with the authorities, and fights injustices of the people as much as gangsters as much as humanities of Ultra varieties. It was clearly a reality where the institutions had failed people, and Superman was needed.
the SUperheroe faded out in the post war conformity, Superman stopped being the outsider, Batman worked with the cops. Weird, since a world with a functioning police force and would not need superheroes.
They come back in the late 50s, with little personality.
Then the 60s bring the Marvel revolution. Stan wrote a bunch of prose stories just before F.F., about characters unhappy at their jobs.
He throws in all the dysfunction frowned upon in TV at teh time. Fills Johnny Storm with a little Beatnik, and a lot of JAmes Dean.
Then comes the Hulk and SPidey two misfits hated by authorities.. CAptain America is the first deconstruction of a superhero under Stan;s pen.
The COunter Culture loves them, just as it started to take root in teh Baby Boomer mindset. The comics are read on college camouses.
The trend continues as Hippies start working for MArvel.
IN the 80s the X-Men finally become popular, as outlaws, and become the biggest comics in the world.
It just seems odd that they are always depicted as the status quo keepsakes in countless stories meant to examine superheroes, when from the beginning, they were outsiders. The mere idea shows a failing system.
It is not that the stories that do that are bad, or lack meaning, or something to say, but why is the default seemingly the opposite of the real world reality. Why is what forged the idea in the real world not seeping into the stories.
I focused on the Hippie part of Demarcus; story for a reason, because the hero team, he said was representative of the perpetual fighting in comics, and,...fair enough. I think that is why the Hippie flipping off the hero is what I most connect..
Even the MCU, which came from a company where the core heroes were embraced by the counter culture and were outcasts and rebels, were turned into an arm of the military.
There has to be some element where the idea of them as the establishment defending a status quo and a part of the world's establishment seems to fit, when the actual history conflicts with that.
Just like Superman being made an authoritarian, especially because the government tells him to, or one bad event changes his life... despite his core and history go against both, Usually with Batman, a character with actual authoritarian leanings in the MAINSTREAM continuity, being the only thing that can stop him.
Why? Why do writers keep going back to that well, and why do people keep burying it Either of these scenarios.
I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH, this is not questioning the quality or merit of any of these stories. Some really great stories have these element. It is just the why, at least in such great numbers, and why never opposition?
Interesting thoughts, as always. I think the bottom line is that these characters are flexible to the needs of the times and the stories and can be interpreted many different ways.Delete
And haven't the X-Men grown into the ultimate example of "superhero as counter-culture"?
Well, since 2019, the X-Men have started a government on the island of Krakoa, and declared all mutants are citizens, essentially becoming self-segregationists...again.Delete
They also blackmailed the world into allowing them through developed cures for cancer, and used their powers to force the U.N. to allow their membership.
it is less counter-culture than just being the new Wakanda,
They do have ritualistic trial by combat now, which is certainly counter to most of the world's culture However, since they are tehir own nation...again... it is not really that counter to anything.
You are right, the characters are malleable, especially creator owned ones.
However, that dies not get at the core of why that has become the default desire for depictions, or why there does not to be much push-back, either through creative elements or with readers/viewers purchasing.
Especially odd sin e it started in the 80s, which was the decade after the counterculture seized production of comics' biggest company. That was the decade after the same company's characters were being read on college campuses, and appearing in artwork.
here has to be a reason why the ideas spring to mind and are written Also, I don;t know if you are aware of this Dematteis, but comics are a business. If people were not willing to buy them, the trends would not continue.
Why were the MCU sop tied to the military, in the era when pulling but of Afghanistan Iraq had become incredibly popular sentiments. Why did this change make the movies the most popular thing on Earth , but for the mainstream and long term comic readers?
Why has the idea of status quo enforcers and tools of the establishment become so naturally accepted as the logical conclusion?
Captain America is the most seemingly establishment character, but every decade has stories with him questioning it, yet the perception someone who has not read the comics would have, is the common idea for the whole host.
Look in the mirror, you have written some of the most iconic characters in comics, usually weaved your hippieness into them, the stories were widely accepted as making sense within the characters. Yet, the ideas of them as the establishment being assumed still persists. You are not the only writer to do that. It seems counter intuitive.
This melding does not come out of nowhere there has to be a reason.
And does this combination of the ideas, again contradicting the actual history, the reason why many fans get so upset at a character being used to make any societal point, despite that being the way it has been since '38.
Did all these stories and statements somehow inept the idea into their minds?
I don't know. but what I do know is trends don't come out of nowhere.
All interesting, as always, Jack, but... Wait. The X-Men have ritualistic trial by combat? The X-Men?!ReplyDelete
Back around 2000, Grant Morrison created wrote the X-MEn, and turned into an actual school... like in the movies, He also created ideas of mutant a mutant sub-culture.
This created the problem of him giving a huge number of mutants in the Marvel Universe... a little hard to be the world outside your door, right? Also, every X-men story now required a bunch of background or sort of characters now had to be considered
So, to fix this the House of M event happened, which ended in the Scarlet With saying "NO more mutants."
This took the number of mutants down to just about 200, world wide. Now every mutant on planet Earth was under the X-MEn;s care.
they traveled around, settled on Alcatraz for a while.
Cyclops killed Xavier by accident with e eh Phoenix Force. The Inhumans released Terrigen Mists into the atmosphere, which apparently kills mutants. The IN humans got mad that the mutants wanted to continue being alive, because it meant some inhumans on Earthwould not get powers...but still be alive.
It was when DIsney was upset about not having the X-Men film rights, and tried to kill off the team, and make the Inhumans the new mutants for the MCU
so the X-characters were put through the wringer, and had not read most of it, but this desire to phase out teh X-Men made everything complicated.
They Called in a guy named HIckman to fix it.
He put all the mutants on Krakoa, and start a new society, where all mutants were welcomed, and now no longer died. They could just resurrect anyone who died as they were before, through the use of five specific mutants.
One of the mutants taking residence on Krakoa was Apocalypse, who as you may recall from working at Marvel in the 80s, was a villain, who believed in survival of the fittest.
So, to get the powers the Scarlet Witch undid back, they can just be reborn However, Apocalypse suggested it be done through a ritualistic compact, where any mutant who wants this has to fight to the death.
All the mutants gather around to watch this, and cheer on the death, for the point of resurrection. Bypassing of course, the possibility of peacefully killing the person for them to be resurrected, or having the five mutants that can resurrect the body with powers just bring the powers back to the living.
Yeah. They have ritualistic combat, and other similar social elements that would seem to match that type of outlook, like covering their ears and acting like the name "scarlet Witch" is a literal cursed word that will summon her when it is tutored. These would be teenagers, and it is reminiscent of medieval peasants would do.
It is a different take on the X-Men. No once can deny that.
Live and learn!Delete
Going back to the question of if the weird idea of superheroes enforcing the status quo is part of why some current readers freak out at any hint of social commentary, despite it being a part of the genre since 1938...Delete
It is interesting to look at a certain patter in television.
After two and a half decades of having a lot of working class characters, in the 80s began to phase them out pretty hard.
This is a trend that continued until, about the 2010s... the wake of the Great Recession. Even then, only kind of, the biggest sitcom was Modern Family, which was about three pretty well off families.
It was really just at shows aimed towards 20 and early 30 somethings that started to focus on a working class cast.
People talk about the importance of representation, that adding people of multiple backgrounds adds both richness to the story and members of that group feel more a part of the world. I agree with all of that, and that it is a good thing.
However, what happens when a group's representation. NO, not straight white people, I like to think I have made it clear I don't think that way. The working class, which has members of all races, religions, and sexual orientations.
This phasing out was all as the real world was kind of doing the same, although one was not informing the other. At least not at first
Hell, I was watching a scrubs mini marathon, and Dr. Cox was upset about being expected to tip minimum wage coffee servers, and tries to get patients to do the same, and every blue collar employee at the hospital is portrayed as part of a cabal that is lazy and/or nefarious in some way.
Cute gags in some respects, sure, the Janitor was by fa the most entertaining character, but big picture... kind of weird. Especially since the only live action show to be successful post 1980 and pre--2010 was Roseanne, which portrayed its main cast as lazy and kind of dumb.
There is a lot of talk about politicians harassing working class rage, which could be connected, but the truth is the working class (of all backgrounds) are less likely to vote at all. sometimes because they are busy working, but also in large numbers because they don't see much difference in politicians, since both usually just pay lip service.
The rage is real, and has been used by both major parties, but a sense of nihilism on the subject is far more common.
That is a stark difference from the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s.
Just a thought, to get the ball rolling on the comics status quo v. counter culture element.
OH MY GOD! DeMatteis! You have soy sauce on your shirt.
My God. So gullible, Dematteis. Did you even have anything with soy sauce today? Why did you look?
For fun, think about this....
Why are there a million movies about Jimmy Hoffa, and none about Walter Reuther? Both were union leaders, but Reuther was a far more decent, and interesting person?
And did you know the Oscars were originally created as a way to keep people in the industry from unionizing?
I can't believe I looked!Delete