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Let Us Now Praise Famous Synthezoids

I

Comics & Comics

I’m going to tell you a secret. Not just any secret, mind you.

My greatest shame as a professional critic, actually.

It’s a particular weakness in my writing that stems from what I’ve come to see as a kind of double-column bookkeeping in my brain. A slippage that won’t seem readily apparent to anyone looking from the outside in. It’s likely you never noticed yourself, or if you did, probably just chalked it up to the laziness of the writer. But once I tell you, it will almost certainly inspire you to pore over every word I’ve ever written once again . . .

OK, not really. I’m overselling it. But I’m not joking when I say that until relatively recently I wasn’t fully aware of the slippage myself. It wasn’t necessarily a surprise, merely a point of order in my own writing, something I’d always done and taken for granted but never examined. It - it being the secret I am about to divulge - let me get away with a lot of shit, maybe not always as a critic but as a reader and a consumer. Stuff that I probably shouldn’t have let myself get away with. Maybe you can relate. We are creatures of rationalization, after all.

So: the secret.

I use two separate definitions of “comics” interchangeably.

(We can pause a moment while you pick your jaw off the floor, if you like.)

But seriously, you’re thinking, that was a lot of buildup for not a lot. Get to the point, O’Neil.

OK: the point.

The first definition of comics is the one everyone uses, leastwise, inasmuch as a magazine like The Comics Journal purports - often falls short, but at least purports - to cover the entire medium. I’ve joked in the past that my origin story was being bitten by a radioactive copy of The Comics Journal #210. It’s only a joke inasmuch as it’s basically true, and perhaps if they had realized we’d still be talking about it literally twenty years later -

- oh, yeah, that was twenty years ago this February, when The Comics Journal published their 100 Best Comics of the Century list. Do you feel old yet? Well, I bought it at the Tower Records in Berkeley, CA, so let’s all feel just that little bit older.

That time frame is important here. On the eve of the millennium the magazine put down in giant granite tablets (and I know everyone involved in the magazine at the time is probably pissed at me already just for bringing it up) an attempt at a rough draft of a canon for the century. Maybe some people were overrepresented. Undoubtedly many underrepresented gaps. I had to learn and decide for myself. For all its imperfections it was the single biggest influence on the early years of my own writing about comics, lo those many years ago.

The second definition of comics is purely personal. It’s not the medium of comics as it exists and has existed, but the comics industry and medium as they have intersected with my own life. It has no mooring in anything other than my story. It starts when I pick up a random issue of Batman off the stands at the ripe old age of two (basically my first memories are memories of comics), continues on through to the present day as an appendage of my life, and carries across every interaction with the medium during the intervening years.

Perhaps its self-serving, or just lazy, but I haven’t always bothered to make the distinction in my writing. It makes a large difference: the bile and resentment from the second definition sometimes seeps through the paper walls in my brain. Especially in the first, oh, let’s say, decade of my career, when I freely admit I had a hard time distinguishing between soft and hard targets. I made a jackass of myself more than once because, I recognize in hindsight, I couldn’t distinguish quite so well between the two. And it’s sometimes easier to lash out than to step away. 

It’s a terrible thing to be a critic out of a feeling of resentment or anger at the object of your critique. Especially when the feelings aren’t even inspired by the work itself but simply a negative reaction to the enthusiasm of someone else taking joy in comics. I hardly want to live down the reputation of critics as choleric firebrands who never leave the house and bathe less often than they should - but, I mean, yeah. 

It’s not all comics fault. They didn’t ask to be the most intense relationship of my life.

II

Oh, Him Again

Comics still fucked me up quite a bit, mind you.

Usually writing something is sufficient to get it out of my head. I don’t tend to linger, especially if I’m satisfied. I felt modestly satisfied with “What He Taught Me.” Considering that I’d been thinking about the piece for years in advance of writing it, I think I did a tolerable job of getting out of my own head about a very personal subject.

But it didn’t quite leave my head, was the problem. Partly this was do to with a dissatisfaction stemming from the reception. The criticism that stung, despite the generally positive response, was the critique that I’d gone too easy on him. 

Not hard to see why. On some level I did feel like I had gone easy on him. For a number of reasons. It was the last thing I had wanted to do even if I recognized on some level that the occasion begged for the most scrupulously even-handed approach.

The problem, and here is where I think I might differ from some, is that I don’t think it takes anything away from his perfidy to point out his positive contributions to the art he made. Rather, I think it makes him look worse - ten times worse, a hundred times worse, to have been a capable creator when it suited him and with the right collaborators, and yet have been unable to apply even the most basic ethical principles from his own storytelling to his own life. The irony is so thick at this point it’s just soup.

Because - and here’s why the criticism stung - I personally despise the man, now, to a degree that I would never have dreamed possible when I was eight years old.

It didn’t occur to me when I was writing the piece that the title had any specific meaning, but as the criticism of the piece echoed around my skull these last few months my own question recurred back to me - well, what did he teach me? Specifically, what the hell have I learned from spending so much time with Stan Lee?

Never trust a salesman, and extra especially never trust a salesman with a story to tell. They never stop being salesmen even if the stories are really good.

In the case of something like Marvel in the 1960s that kind of hustle just happened to find two collaborators who, for very different reasons, both needed grounding. The reason why I despise Stan Lee so much is just that I hold no two men in greater esteem than his two most famous collaborators. Although Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko could not have been more dissimilar in many ways - and neither was perfect by any stretch - both of them not just believed but lived by the precept that their work had moral value, and not just that it had moral value but that it carried a kind of responsibility as well. As widely different as Kirby & Ditko’s post-Lee work was, both men’s careers are replete with, perhaps even at times fixated on stories of frauds and hypocrites.

Wonder why . . .

So it’s not just that I despise what Lee did to his collaborators. It’s that I despise that he could do all that and then turn around and make himself into America’s beloved comic book grandpa. It didn’t matter. None of it ever really mattered. The stories themselves were always just content, long before #content was even a thing. Lee knew all along the brand was king.

We’re living in Lee’s world. All the money that he made for the company by screwing over his collaborators eventually ended up lining the pockets of one of the guys sitting in Mar-A-Lago running the Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of the President. Makes me feel really good about the choices I have made in my life. Mm-hmm!

He taught me, at a shockingly young age, that getting invested at the behest of a charismatic salesman is a recipe for disappointment. They are always hiding something.

What did Stan Lee teach me, specifically? Never trust anyone. Don’t bother with heroes. Kirby & Ditko were the only ones I needed.

 So how the fuck you think I feel about Stan Lee?

III

How We Live Now

So now, since this is The Comics Journal, a magazine dedicated to all things related to cartooning and the comics medium, let us discuss Jonathan Franzen.

It wasn’t even a decade ago, after all, that TIME put Franzen on the cover of their magazine accompanied by a headline announcing the advent of the Great American Novelist. Are you wincing in hindsight? It was the August 23rd, 2010 issue, if you want to go back and wince along in time.

The earth moves under our feet. I think of Franzen as an early twentieth-first century composite of a number of late twentieth century American authors in much the same way that The Strokes were a New York Magazine composite of all your favorite late twentieth century New York bands. Not precisely John Updike, but Updike here stands in for dozens of writers who dominated the shelves of your grandpa’s study back when grandpas had studies. (And forget the books Franzen wrote before The Corrections. Literally everyone else has.)

I bring up The Strokes for the odd reason that they share with Franzen the distinction of having created cultural artifacts (Is This It? and The Corrections, respectively) that surfaced immediately before 9/11 but came immediately afterwards into a stranger and deeper meaning by dint of having been on your tip of the country’s tongue on the eve of trauma. Jay-Z’s Blueprint album as well - the promotional video for  “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” has a crowd wearing T-shirts advertising the drop date for Jay’s album - September 11th, 2001. When they started running the videos again after the attack the T-shirts were blurred.

What do these associations mean? Absolutely nothing whatsoever. 

I’m gesturing in the direction of fairly well-trod territory. Franzen seemed almost instantly quaint, an avatar not of the older ways but a shorthand for the same. He still sold a lot of books, and that was the media at the turn of the century, more or less: there was a sense that something was going to change, but no one knew in what direction. The Corrections did good business but the publishing ecosystem in which it prospered was already antiquated and was about to undergo a period of seismic change and corporate consolidation that has not yet abated.

This was also the precise moment in cultural history that comics truly “came of age,” to judge from the way everyone in New York publishing suddenly decided to start pushing graphic novels when the clocks flipped. It was more complicated than that but there was a distinct catalyst: the publication of the collected Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid on Earth in the Fall of 2000. Prior to that the comics that achieved mainstream success had been regarded as dancing bears: Maus got a special Pulitzer, The Sandman had all the middlebrow literary types nodding their head at the absurd idea of a superhero reading E. T. A. Hoffman, a handful of others. But these were still circus tricks. Jimmy Corrigan was a success on the literary establishment’s own terms, which perhaps may have made slightly less noise on the stage of the wider culture but which also led directly to normalizing the idea that comics would be getting more critical and commercial attention going forward.

What I like to point out here - and I have made this joke more than once so forgive the repetition - is that everything you need to know about my critical judgment can be summed up in the fact that, based on the evidence of the stories themselves, I thought David Boring was going to have a much wider impact than Jimmy Corrigan. That’s down ultimately to the fact that I thought Chris Ware’s talents were far more inside baseball than Clowes. You can give David Boring to anyone who likes David Lynch and expect them to be right at home.

What I got wrong was in failing to anticipate the degree to which, even if I personally find Ware an astringent and technically demanding cartoonist - and thus not one I’d recommend to someone who didn’t already read a lot of comics - his subjects and themes were readily legible to the kind of people who thought Franzen was right for standing up to Oprah. Who, if you recall, was only guilty of the sin of wanting to make him a very rich man. Now, this isn’t any kind of value judgment on Ware or Clowes, or any of the cartoonists who were immediately identified as their peers. The folks who had been publishing at Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly steadily through the eighties and nineties and then woke up after the turn of the century being suddenly, y’know, in. They were in the right place to take advantage of favorable cultural headwinds. They had bodies of work and distinguished careers.

I didn’t see that comics were going to go from being talked about in the back pages of Spin to the back pages of TIME, or at least, that it wouldn’t be that unusual to see it once in a while. But I also didn’t see that the burgeoning canon of great late twentieth-century comic book masters who the publishing industry helpfully promulgated in the early aughts was going to become itself a dated concept, and rather more quickly than I could have dreamed. Considering how heavily I had invested in learning said canon.

Again, these aren’t value judgments. I really like Clowes, at least early and middle Clowes. It’s an admission that the kinds of value judgments represented by those lists reveal as much about the passage of time as the art itself. The art doesn’t change, after all, but the way we read most definitely does.

IV

Standing on the Edge of an Abyss

In 2015 Marvel did another Secret Wars. This one was preceded by years of buildup in the pages first of Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four and later his Avengers. It was the usual bullshit - worlds live, worlds die, et al. Maybe you heard about it. They followed it up with a sequel to Civil War that was itself so bad it inspired me to quit reading comic books completely for a year.

Secret Wars came out in 2015 and was massively delayed, such that the final issue didn’t appear until early 2016. The crossover was such a big deal that Marvel canceled the entire line in the build-up. From what I gather the decision to sideline their entire mainline for half a year in favor of alternate universe stuff was later adjudged to have been a mistake.

Sorry, eight-year old girl reading a Kamala Khan Omnibus in 2030, Marvel needed that sweet Q03 bump and that’s why the story reads like a drunken man is randomly shouting plot elements from the alleyway below where the writer is working.

Marvel’s a funny company. On the one hand they are absolutely predatory and have proven themselves time and again to be nothing but the most unscrupulous actor in every situation at every juncture of their eight-decade history. But on the other, they own Spider-Man. So then, on the one hand, they’re also owned by Disney and run by right wing fucks. But on the other, they own Wolverine. You get the idea.

Being a fan of anything now just means accepting life as a kind of rolling hostage situation, with a handful of truly awful companies owning all the stuff we love, and us unable to move on because obviously people are not going to give up buying Spider-Man crap. Marvel is an awful company in so many ways but one saving grace for much of its existence is that it was also as much the victim of its own bad business decisions as anything else. Being owned by Disney shields it from those consequences.

The books feel different now. The characters have become completely aware of the contingent nature of their lives and seem to walk around with the thousand-yard stares of returning veterans who know they can be called back to active duty at any time. Being a superhero is fucking terrible.

I guess I can relate. Looking back on the last two decades its amazing how quickly it all snowballed from one little massive terrorist attack into the incompetent and yet exuberant junior varsity fascism we know and loathe today. We’re all paranoid because, unlike Rockwell, we don’t feel like someone is watching us, we know someone is. We are living through one of those periods they’re going to make movies about for decades to come. Yay us?

Never trust a salesman, and extra especially never trust a salesman with a story to tell. They are always hiding something.

Superheroes aren’t inherently right wing, I don’t think, but I think they got their foot caught flying through the Overton Window and smashed hard into the right-hand side of the frame. It’s a weakness of the genre that if you’re going to have superheroes inhabiting anything like our world, they have to remain creatures of the nominal status quo. The superheroes who flit between the raindrops of our vast security state apparatus in order to maintain any actual super heroic responsibilities above “crushing dissidents for the police state” don’t seem very happy. 

Now that some time has passed I can admire what Hickman was saying about this during the buildup to his Secret Wars, which saw the core founding Avengers broken apart by paranoia and resentment due to their inability to solve the end of the world. The futility of the exercise turns them all into the worst versions of themselves. Then the universe was actually saved by the one person who saw with clarity just how bad it was going to get and planned accordingly - Dr. Doom, so you know it was all downhill from there.

I realized fairly early in the buildup that Hickman’s Secret Wars was going to end up being similar in scale to Crisis on Infinite Earths. Now, I don’t want to press too hard on that comparison because they are two very different stories. Crisis couldn’t have existed separate from its function as a celebration of the company’s history, and while Secret Wars was a lot of things it wasn’t really that kind of celebration. Hickman had a story he wanted to tell about the core themes of the Marvel Universe, Reed Richards vs Doctor Doom, all that good shit. It wasn’t about shoehorning in cameos and narrative density, which is part of the fun from the first panel to the last of Crisis. (Honestly, the lack of captions and dearth of exposition is a persistent peeve of mine in Hickman’s work, and the book could in places have benefited from a bit more in the way of loquacious narration.) Esad Ribic’s work is painstaking and intricate but on a completely different valence from Perez.

When I was a kid I loved Marvel’s weird-ass cosmology more than just about anything else in the world. DC will never not be a little fusty for me in that regard: Marvel has decades of Kirby & Ditko’s best and most potent psychedelic fantasy stuff without any of the Judeo-Christian mythology DC insists on. In the buildup to his Secret Wars Hickman dismantled all those elements, killed all the cosmic beings and smashed all the universes together, pretty much just like in Crisis.

Only, the fun part about Crisis is that most of the stories it was memorializing were from before I was born. It was more like an archeological reconstruction of a prehistoric trauma in terms of the fact that by the time I read it Crisis was a few years past and the immediate aftermath had already elapsed. Secret Wars was, for lack of a better word, my stuff. What I had grown up with. I loved the first Secret Wars for being a toy tie-in trifle filled with fun character bits and loved the second for being a weird as hell personal journey for Jim Shooter. The character of the Beyonder sparked an interest in phenomenology in grad school, which only sounds like a joke if we’ve never had a conversation.

Hi, I’m Tegan. I have problems.

Anyhow. It wasn’t the story I would have written. It was grim and nasty in places and didn’t know what to do with all its pieces - seriously, Thanos didn’t fit even though I know why they thought he needed to be in there, and you could say the same for a dozen characters who could have better served a more busy plot. But it wasn’t my story.

It was, however, an ending to all the stories I read when I was a kid. And this came at a time when my connection to comics was reaching a low point, like everything else in my life over the course of 2015 barreling into 2016. Secret Wars and its build-up had my attention because of nostalgia, and it kept that attention because it proceeded to spend a year or so smashing all my childhood toys into little tiny pieces.

It’s a dangerous thing to write an ending to a very long story - not even a story so much as a storytelling paradigm. I don’t think that’s what Marvel thought they were hiring Hickman to do. At the time, as someone who had felt increasingly estranged from the company’s output for years, I could not have predicted getting so caught up. And yet, when the story actually finished, when it got around to the final symmetry of Mr Fantastic vs. Dr. Doom, one last time for the fate of literally all existence -

I didn’t need a reason, in 2016, to want or need to emotionally divest from Marvel. But, you know, these are difficult things. I had and have a relationship with the company as someone who writes about them, not just a fan, and I don’t foresee that ever changing. But when I reached the end of Secret Wars, I surprised myself with the degree of my genuine engagement. Seeing them act a little bit like their old selves made me realize just how far they had drifted, and how ready I was to pull the plug on the relationship.

Does that sound harsh? It wasn’t actually a liberating moment. You see, it turned out that there was a reason why I had held onto things like, oh, superhero comic books for years and years past the point where any rational observer would see the point. I held onto things because holding onto things was all I had, and as it turned out Secret Wars was just one of a few endings in my life around that time. Which soon catalyzed a crisis of an entirely different dimension.

The last issue of Secret Wars hit stands in January of 2016 and by the end of that year I will have said goodbye to significantly more than just my codependent relationship with Marvel Comics.

V

Say Goodnight to the Rock & Roll Era

Funny thing about Stan: according to just about every interview he ever did his career aspirations prior to Fantastic Four #1 were more or less along the lines of writing the Great American Novel. Something “riveting,” or “searing,” to jostle James Michener and Irving Stone on the Bestseller lists. A book to get you on the cover of TIME. Which was the kind of thing that used to happen more when people used to read.

Oh, I kid, I kid. You’re reading this now, right? Obviously people still read. They closed all the bookstores and people still found ways to read. People don’t read the same way, sure. But all the new movies are based on books so that means someone still has to read books or they wouldn’t have new movies. Don’t ever ask me to explain anything else about how the publishing industry works and it will save you a great deal of disappointment.

Anyway. 

One of the reasons why postwar American fiction looks the way it does is that some very conservative people, including for many years actual US intelligence agencies, put a lot of money into American creative writing programs. It’s an easy thing to Google, people have been writing about it for a while. For decades the Iowa Writers’ Workshop was run by hardcore anti-communists who were fighting both high modernism and labor unions, and the explosion of creative writing programs across the twentieth century was largely fueled by Iowa graduates.

This is why, for decades, the dominant (if hardly the only) mode in American quote-unquote literary fiction was very close to the path cleared by Hemingway, an occasionally lyrical but often dull realism that prized the mimicry of surface affect over, say, systematic engagement with the contradictions inherent to capitalist modes of production. Realism without naturalism.

John Cheevers, as far as the eye can see!

Genre is a gauge of social function. The postwar consensus on American fiction held for a remarkably long time, all things considered. But perspective shifts, tastes change. “Literary fiction” is just another category, and thick novels trafficking in the precisely observed domestic manners of the middle class of one generation often seem like nothing so much as empty rationalization to the readers of the next.

So the small group of cartoonists who arrived in the twenty-first century with the kind of literary “juice” that enabled them to get write-ups in TIME were precisely those cartoonists whose artistic value most reflected the commercial consensus of the late nineties literary scene. That’s not a slight on the work itself, nor the men who made it. Jimmy Corrigan is a fine book and I don’t want the takeaway from this very demanding essay to be some kind of attempted takedown of a beloved industry figure by a crackpot Journal columnist with an axe to grind. More to the point of this conversation, Jimmy Corrigan was the right book for selling comics to the crowd that was poised to buy them at the turn of the century.

If you look back over the run of these essays, one of the themes that I’ve tried to return to throughout was the way my perspective on art has changed with age and after life changes. If that seems like a simple remit - well, so be it. The person I was at the turn of the century - not the kid who grew up reading Jim Starlin and Crisis on Infinite Earths, the person who first set out writing about comics, before even I had the blog - the person I was when I first started writing for the Journal should not have been writing for the Journal. That person had an axe to grind and pretended to know a lot more than they did.

(Whereas my motivations now are clearly pure as the driven snow and my expertise second to none. Clearly.)

My perspective changed and I outgrew a lot of early bad habits. I thought I had to very vigorously defend a certain kind of literary value within comics, which isn’t that bad a goal until you stop to ask after the definition of “literary” within a given context. Every definition is inherited, but from where? And defend against what? The superhero comics industry that almost destroyed the entire industry in the nineties? That was a false dichotomy if ever there was one, but at the time we were all trapped in the same small bottle and Marvel was trying to eat a live grenade. Myopia can be forgiven in hindsight.

Because of who I was and the chip on my shoulder due to any number of factors both intrinsic and extrinsic to comics I didn’t really need a reason to lash out in the direction of comics. Comics, or so I believed, had it coming. And I was clearly full of shit.

VI

Heartbeeps starring Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters

So I’m trying to get over that whole codependency thing.

Because, really, what was I mad at but myself for being a massive hypocrite?

I learned the truth about Marvel fairly early. Remember, one thing that happened around the time of the Image defection in the early 1990s was that people wrote lots of articles about the history of the creators’ rights movements. Comics’ original sin was abusing the creators who made the industry, and Image made a lot of hay out of being the company that didn’t screw creators. (Until they did, which didn’t take very long at all. That’s a different article entirely.) But stuff like Neal Adams fighting for the Superman creators and Kirby’s lawsuit against Marvel was usually covered in the standard narrative.

Even after I knew all that, I still bought the comics. Because obviously people are not going to give up buying Spider-Man crap.

And I hated myself for it. For years. Hated myself for being addicted to a medium that was often most plainly humiliating to its most ardent fans. But I held on long past the point I probably should have walked away for good. Long past when, honestly, I had started to resent comics and suspect comics might be to blame for some of my problems. Which they weren’t, of course, but they were along for the ride nonetheless.

Comics were the most potent narcotic I had, at least in youth. The engrossing intertextuality, the endless research for endless back issue hunts, the piecing together bits of history from random documents - those were the fun parts. I stayed on the hunt for that high longer than I should have, to an absurd degree. It was there for me, even as the years passed and the initial high faded into a hollow addiction.

I had hung onto it through all those years, just like I’d hung onto everything else, because it was all I had. My personality was a clutch of habits knotted together into an accumulation of opinions, the former unhealthy and the latter acerbic. I learned how to be a critic by beginning with spleen and working backwards to justify that spleen, which is precisely the wrong way to do it unless you want a reputation as a hack and a parrot. And not precisely a substitute for a personality, either.

The first batch of post-Secret Wars launches appeared in the Fall of 2015, simultaneous with the final issues of the terminally late main series. One of the more surprising success stories of that launch was a brief run on The Vision by the then-newcomer Tom King and Gabriel Walta, which Tucker recently passed on to me as a candidate for this column. I remembered having read parts of the run when it initially appeared, but couldn’t remember finishing it.

Originally I had been excited to get back to the story. Although I hadn’t enjoyed it all that much the first time around in parts, time had burnished its reputation. It was already talked about like one of Those Runs, you know. I figured I should give it another go.

 I just couldn’t get into it. I struggled. 

The storyline follows the Vision as he tries to build a family and sets up shop in suburban Virginia, outside Washington. I use “build” literally, as his family is all synthezoids he has constructed for the purpose of being his family. It’s interesting, I suppose, to see “literary fiction,” quote unquote, finally put in the same genre blender as everything else comics absorbs. This book follows the same stately and laconic pacing as any number of prestigious television productions. Lots of conversations that say only half of what is actually intended to be communicated.

If we’re being completely honest the book lost me early, during a scene wherein the Vision delivers a running commentary to the reader of the 37 times he’s saved the world. In the context of bawling out a school principal after his kid gets into trouble, it seems petulant at best. As I continued with the story it continued to bug me. It’s one of the ugliest thing I think I’ve ever seen in a superhero comic book. That there are no consequences for such a noxious display of entitlement on the part of a powerful man is perhaps indicative of the era as much as anything else. Makes me never want to read about the Vision again.

Clearly the book isn’t precisely endorsing the Vision’s strong-arm tactics. It’s evident fairly early in the story that something has slipped within him and he’s not playing by the same set of rules as the Vision of old - he was going through one of his periodic periods of emotionlessness, thank you John Byrne for setting that wonderful precedent. But I wondered, as the story continued, if I was reading a book in which the Vision was actually a hero, or whether he was even a good person. A lot of people die in this story as a direct result of his basically just wanting to create potentially unstable new lifeforms and set it right down in a population center for the fuck of it.

It’s the kind of book that wants you to pay attention to how much money superheroes have - the Vision talks about his salary and savings - but also provides the Vision access to billions of dollars of technology without so much as a hand-wave. Most superhero stories don’t even need the hand-wave - with the exception of a character like Spider-Man, it’s rare to know how much is in someone’s pocket. But since the story goes out of its way to tell us how much money the Vision has, it’s worth asking why he also gets a blank check from . . . Tony Stark? Whomever is bankrolling his very expensive boutique family habit.

The Vision’s behavior is macabre and unbalanced throughout, the events set in motion by him being weird and secretive eventually kill multiple people, and yet at the very end (SPOILER, I GUESS?) his wife takes the rap for him. Because . . . I don’t know. I mean, the story gives another explanation involving alternate futures. It’s an unsatisfactory explanation in light of what has actually occurred in the events of the story, in which the Vision has proven himself to be an absolutely reprehensible individual unworthy of even a fraction of that devotion. It’s very much a story where a woman sacrifices herself for her husband’s reputation after her husband has fucked up decisively, which, uh. Sordid doesn’t begin to cover it.

Maybe I’m misreading it. It’s possible. I freely admit I came to the book from a defensive posture. But I think it might be better simply to set the book aside as something that, while many intelligent people do appear to sing its praise, is decidedly not for me at this point in my life. Perhaps ever.  

I don’t want to be mad at comics anymore. If it seems like all I do is vent spleen - well, I’ve had a lot of spleen to vent, years of accumulated spleen, but we’re also coming to the end of that. Something else on the horizon. A light at the end of this tunnel.

And that is why after trying and failing with The Vision I can finally conclude that in regards to Marvel and its characters . . .     

It’s not you, it’s me. We’ve changed. We’re both different people. It’s just that you remind me really strongly of someone I used to know, a long time ago . . . but it’s not the same. Not the same at all and never the same again.

 It’s OK to just let it go. If it’s gone. 

 It’s OK.       

*  

NEXT MONTH: . . . THE END.


3 Responses to Let Us Now Praise Famous Synthezoids

  1. Robert Boyd says:

    For what it’s worth, Jonathan Franzen’s first two books, the 27th City and Strong Motion, were really good in my opinion.

  2. Alex says:

    Another great article– thank you for it! In Vision, I think we’re supposed to find the character’s 37 thing annoying. Doesn’t he say “I’ve saved the world…” and then his wife goes “37 times, yes, you never shut up about it, Christ?” or something to that effect? My reading, which could be too generous, is that people can justify anything to themselves as long as they’ve done a couple good things in the past. I feel like most “one small mistake spirals out of control and ruins everything” fiction starts with something like that, where a character decides it’s okay to pocket stolen money or whatever after some rationalization.

  3. Daniel T says:

    Oh, I would LOVE for you to write about King’s Mister Miracle.

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