I’ve been writing the summary for next week’s Civil War reading and also trying to catch up to current comics (I just finished comics from the first week in June) and also re-reading some Avengers Assemble comics from last year. The contrasts even between 2007 and now, a gap of less than ten years, are sort of remarkable.
I don’t actually know (I’d have to look it up) if there were major editorial changes between then and now; I know 2008, with the Iron Man film, was a turning point for Marvel as a company but I don’t know if it was a turning point for Marvel comic books. Disney bought Marvel in 2009, but that isn’t necessarily indicative of much, again, in terms of the comics. Especially since it’s not like Disney’s record with regards to some of what I’m seeing is particularly great either.
I often bemoan Marvel’s behaviors, and sometimes it seems the company has taken steps backwards in terms of representation and diversity since earlier eras. But looking at the way women in particular are treated in the Civil War comics – looking at the Ms. Marvel comics in 2007 and the Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel comics today, just as an example – there is a marked contrast for the better. In the quality of prose and dialogue as well as the quality of representation, though mostly I’m talking about representation and just…basic narrative elements.
There seems to be more room in the narratives in 2015 for kindness, for humor, for stories that don’t directly revolve around punching – stories about being different and navigating that difference, about carrying burdens and mentorship and friendship. I understand dark stories carry a purpose and make a point, and I like a good dose of cynicism as much as the next guy who was a teenager in the nineties; I’m really enjoying Moon Knight too, for example. But the kinder stories feel like they’re the other side of the coin – like darker stories point out the flaws in society and the funnier, gentler ones show how to fix them, set an example. They’re not more valid, perhaps, but not less valid either, even though traditionally they’re undervalued as narratives in modern literary culture. If there aren’t as many as I’d like, I do at least like what I see.
You do get the odd total shitshow like Superior Iron Man, which neither criticises nor exemplifies, but there’s so much more to counter stuff like that than there used to be.
I don’t know what twists and turns took place to encourage this – clearly something happened, especially since Marvel and DC in 2014 looked like they weren’t even on the same planet, let alone producing within the same media – but I think at least a significant chunk of the credit probably comes down to writers fighting for the stories they wanted to tell that weren’t the same old punchface-die-and-resurrect rigmarole we’d had for the twenty-five years previous. I mean I don’t know what goes on behind the office walls at Marvel but I got an instinct that the people who are writing the books I like right now had to fight really hard for them, and I don’t know if that’s talked about very often.
So while there is still a long way to go I want to acknowledge that there are tentpole writers at Marvel who are killing it in a way that was barely possible in 2007, and I appreciate that they and possibly their editors clawed these really great stories out of the mess that was early-oughts Marvel Comics. And it makes me very excited for what they’ll do in the next eight years.