Monday, August 20, 2007

The Future is No Longer X-Rated . . . sadly

I like to pride myself on my attempts to remain dispassionate about characters. I like to delude myself into looking at the fans who post on message boards, screaming for the blood of creators who dare to fuck with their character. But, come on, I’ve been reading comics since before I could read and I tend to read mostly superhero books from Marvel and DC. I may not be exactly like them, but I’m not exactly different either.

Case in point: Noh-Varr, the protagonist from Grant Morrison and JG Jones’ series Marvel Boy. I am a fanboy when it comes to Noh-Varr and what I’m going to say in this post may devolve into ranting no more eloquent than that of a fanboy where my ultimate point will undoubtedly be “How dare you fuck with my character!” I will attempt to avoid such a devolution of discourse, but, hey, I do like to get angry and rant with many naughty words.

So, New Avengers: Illuminati #4.

In looking at this book, it really must be divided into two parts; the first in which the members of the Illuminati discuss women, and the second in which the Illuminati “deal” with Noh-Varr. Both are problematic for various reasons.

Part the First: Clea has left Dr. Strange, which prompts the Illuminati to discuss their problems with women. We learn Professor X has dated outside the species, which is a reference to Lilandra, an alien, but also is a reminder that mutants are a different species, meaning that Xavier has had sex with members of at least three species. He’s a kinky guy that Xavier. There’s also a delicious little joke about how Medusa never lets Black Bolt get a word in (Bendis and Reed are funny guys, oh yes they are). The dialogue here is that faux-realistic style that reminds you of how people talk, but isn’t actually how people talk. It’s also not how any of these characters have ever really talked. But, whatever, it’s at least interesting.

The part that caught my eye in particular came when Reed discusses his relationship with Sue and the fact that she has that habit of just leaving him to . . . does she actually fuck Namor? Has that ever been explicitly stated? I’ve always found that part of the Richards’ relationship problematic and very dysfunctional, especially when one of the big selling points of the Fantastic Four is that they’re a strong, tightly-knit family.

Except the mom may be fucking some guy on the side. Wholesome, no?

I reread the Waid/Wieringo run on Fantastic Four this weekend and noticed that Waid never did that. The closest he came to bringing up the idea that Sue will use Namor to get attention is in some back-up stories where Reed then does something similar with an ex-girlfriend, showing that maybe, you know, that sort of behaviour isn’t acceptable. Is Reed a dick? Yeah, but to just walk out and go see some other guy, that’s pretty cold and not at all healthy.

This scene, though, does something odd in that it normalises it. Reed states what happens as fact and doesn’t seem all that upset until Namor confronts him. It’s like Reed doesn’t blame Sue, he blames Namor. Or he doesn’t blame anyone. Namor tells Reed that Sue will never leave him for good and Reed responds that he knows that. Is Reed okay with Sue sleeping with Namor? Does Marvel’s First Family have an open relationship?

Am I the only one who finds this very, very fucked up?

That’s the first four pages of this comic. The remainder deals with Noh-Varr. I went in with a bias, knowing that B&R would fuck it up. They had to work hard to win me over and, fuck, it seems like they didn’t try. Much like the rest of the series, instead of working between the moments and with existing stories, B&R seem more content to alter what happened to fit their goals.

I can spot a few problems with the treatment of Noh-Varr on the first page he’s discussed. Now, I am saying these are problems in the sense that they do not jive with what is previously known about the character (actually, one is just a stupid mistake where the characters contradict themselves within the span of thirty seconds). These contradictions may very well be purposeful on the part of B&R, so let’s bear that in mind.

1) Noh-Varr was never called “Marvel Boy.” No one said those two words together in Marvel Boy. That was the title of the series, not the character, but Tony Stark calls him that.

2) Noh-Varr is Kree, but not from the Kree Empire of this universe. He’s from another universe. Now, it’s easy to see why these six idiots would make that mistake. They hear he’s Kree, they assume he’s their Kree, but later in the issue, Noh-Varr discusses Mar-Vell and the Kree/Skrull war as if he’s this Kree rather than another Kree. He wouldn’t know who the fuck Mar-Vell is and would especially not know that he’s considered a traitor. Of course, maybe he knows that because of his learning the history of humankind, which he may have done. He may even go so far as to relate to the Kree of this universe and consider him a traitor as well. That is possible. So, this may not be a mistake or a purposeful change, just something based on a few assumptions. Maybe. Although, Noh-Varr references the Kree empire in a way that suggests this isn’t the case. It’s subtle, but when we saw him before he was imprisoned, his intention was to recreate his Kree empire, not align himself with this one, because, based on what I know about it, it’s just as backwards and prehistoric as Earth is, really. Yes, it is more advanced, but not by much. It’s like saying people of the 1800s are more advanced than those of the 500s. When compared to someone from the year 5000, they both look relatively similarly barbaric. This is how I would suspect Noh-Varr would view the Kree of the Marvel universe. So, yeah, let’s call this a mistake, alright?

3) Tony: “...AND HAS DECLARED WAR ON MANKIND.” Thirty seconds later, Namor: “HE DECLARED WAR ON THE EARTH.” Tony: “YES.” Dr. Strange: “ALL OF IT?” Tony: “WELL, YES.” Can anyone spot where the problem is? Tony himself says that Noh-Varr declared war on humanity, not the Earth. In fact, haven’t at least two members of the Illuminati done the same thing? Namor is the most eager to “BEAT THE SHIT OUT OF HIM” (or, it’s censored, but we all know what he’s saying) when he’s declared war on humanity, what, a good half-dozen times? This mistake I just find funny, because it’s a mistake that happens in plain sight and isn’t based exclusively on knowing what happened in Marvel Boy.

The rest of the issue is a laughably lame attempt by the members of the Illuminati to make peace with Noh-Varr by having Namor beat on him a bit, while the others make some speeches about how the Kree want to protect the Earth and how Noh-Varr should become the new Captain Marvel. Oh, they don’t say that, but, come on, it’s heavily implied.

Noh-Varr has very little character here beyond the most superficial of his asshole-like nature. He swears and has the ever-so-witty line where he tells Namor to put on some pants. Mostly, he just keeps asking what’s going on and has little respect for these people. All in line, technically, with his past, but not. It reads as if written by writers who missed the point and took only the most superficial elements from that series. I actually have a hard time believing Noh-Varr would remain so docile and questioning for so long; why wouldn’t he act more? Yes, there is surprise, at first, but beyond that? Hell, he barely gives Namor a fight, when, really, his physiology places him in a position to handle Namor, especially any of the hits Namor lands. Frankly, we’ve seen Namor get beat on worse and take it much better.

Of course, my ultimate problem is that I don’t think they should use the character. That’s a petty and unreasonable position, but that’s how it is. Nothing here (or in Noh-Varr’s other non-Marvel Boy appearance) shows that these writers have the skill or understanding to write this character without taking away the unique and interesting qualities in an effort to force him into pre-existing situations. I’ve argued that Noh-Varr is a character specifically of the current “age” of comics in that he builds upon what has come before and is more advanced than these characters. He comes from a society that is beyond this one by millennia. At least. He can’t work in stories with them, because he is better than them. He’s defeated versions of almost every Silver Age Marvel hero, himself being an updated Spider-Man (a more realistic Spider-Man, in my opinion).

Here, he’s just another alien invader that isn’t really a threat and will be converted to the opinion that the species he looked upon as barbaric and pre-civilised is somehow worth fighting for. It is unoriginal, mundane, typical, clichéd, boring, but, most of all, it’s completely and utterly unsurprising. It’s everything Marvel Boy was not, basically.

But, let us sum up in a dispassionate, detached manner:

This was a poorly written comic book in nearly every way. There is little story, little character advancement, and little point. It relies on prior knowledge, but contradicts all prior knowledge. It contains an opening and ending that does not actually fit any previous portrayal of these characters, and also breaks with the established flow of the series, and does not tie in thematically with the rest of the issue. There is no sense of unity or completeness. I honestly cannot see any purpose to this comic except setting up Noh-Varr to take over the Captain Marvel mantle, but it does so in a clumsy, inelegant manner that is neither convincing nor logical. As well, the cover of the issue has nothing to do with the contents except for the fact that these women are discussed briefly. That may be a minor problem for some, but it bothers me, because that makes the highly static and uninteresting cover not just those two things, but also a manner of false advertising, telling the potential reader that the comic is about one thing, but then is actually about something else entirely. I understand that the cover image is a play on a similar image featuring the members of the Illuminati, but the similarity is useless if not actually built upon in the issue. The entire thing is rather useless and, in that way, is indicative of the entire series up to this point: half-formed ideas that do contain potential, but go nowhere. It does not raise hopes for the fifth, and final, issue where the Illuminati is discovered.