​Why reading superhero comics is like making a deal with the devil

Illustration for article titled ​Why reading superhero comics is like making a deal with the devil

Hello, postal pals! It's another cold, snowy day in the post-apocalypse, and I'm stuck on the road, by which I mean I'm in the middle of some forest somewhere. It's so cold I had to cut open my horse so I could crawl inside to stay warm… except my horse was a pony, and I can really only get my head and shoulders in here. Also, I've been here for days, so even the horse is pretty goddamn cold. What I'm saying is, if you have the chance to stick your head in the stomach cavity of a frozen horse, it's not as great as you might suspect.

Spider Bites

Kent M.:

As I'm sure was not uncommon for Spider-Man fans born in the early- to mid-80s, I felt betrayed and let down by the events of the infamous One More Day/Brand New Day arcs. Having been an avid AMS reader up to that point and having grown up reading Spider-Man in a well established marriage to MJ, I did not like the message that Marvel was sending, essentially that I was no-longer the target audience of the strip. Now, I of course understand and respect that Marvel and Joe Quesada had the right and even the duty to keep ASM fresh and continue to pull in new readers. Had they gone about the events in a different fashion, and not retconned some great story arcs in the process (specifically the death of Harry Osborn) at the same time I might have forgiven them. I did not however, and chose to consider AMS ended and moved on with my life.

Fast forward five years and several hundred issues of AMS. I shook my head at the changes introduced in Dying Wish, but it was just more of the same by this point.

Then I had the fortune of noting a Q&A with the Superior Spider-Man writer, Dan Slott, on this very site. I decided it would be fun to check out, expecting to see a slew of Spider-Man fans blasting him for what he did to Peter. On the contrary, most posters had high praise for the direction he had taken the strip. Now with the announcement that Peter will return to the rightful place in his comic, and body, I'm wonder if it's time to bury the hatchet with Marvel over AMS.

While I don't hold any hope for a re-retconning of Brand New Day, maybe Marvel hasn't been as far out in left field as I thought. Should I give my favorite super hero another chance?



Oh, you need more? Okay.

American comic books are weird because they are not one long story, as much as the numbering system would like you to believe (not that comic companies bother with that much any more), they are institutions. Spider-Man has been more or less active for 50 years, and while the comics technically tell the life story of Peter Parker — most of the time — they are being written by countless different people with very different ideas of what the comic should be about. And then they're edited by people who have their own vision of what Spider-Man should be. And then the company itself is run by an editor-in-chief who has his own mandate about what Peter Parker should be doing.

What I'm saying is that there is virtually no fucking chance of any American superhero comic having any kind of narrative or editorial consistency because these comics run forever and the people working on them change constantly. There are always going to be shitty Spider-Man stories now and then — to abandon the character entirely because of a single one doesn't achieve anything but cause to you miss later good stories featuring your favorite character.

Do I think Joe Quesada handled "One More Day" correctly? Not even slightly. It was dumb, completely inconsistent with the character, and clumsily handled. And I fully understand you being upset if all you'd known was married Peter Parker and all of a sudden you had that rug yanked out from under you; it would be sad and infuriating.


But this is the price you pay for being an American comics fan. Certainly there were many people who felt the same anger during Spider-Man's Clone Saga, which managed to cause an outcry so fierce Marvel had to take it back. Some X-Men fans were surely upset when Jean Grey died (the first time). I was pissed at pretty much every change made in Avengers #280-300. But think about all the great Spider-Man, X-Men and Avengers comics we would have missed if we'd given them up completely at that point! And I can tell you that, while Peter Parker is still super-unmarried, many of Dan Slott's post-OMD comics have been excellent (the "Spider-Island" arc is a personal favorite of mine) and if you read them you'd probably enjoy them a great deal, unless Peter's marriage to Mary Jane was the sole thing you liked about Spider-Man.

If it makes you feel any better, in 20 years, there's going to be a new Marvel EiC who thinks that Peter Parker should be married to Mary Jane, and there'll be a new wedding. And in 40 years, there'll be another EiC who thinks that Peter shouldn't ever be married, and retcon this new marriage so that Peter unknowingly married a Skrull or something. In 50 years, there'll be an EiC who thinks that the Clone Saga had the right idea and will decide Ben Reilly was the original after all. This shit is going to happen, constantly, as long as you read American comics. This is why people can handle things like Peter Parker dying tragically so Doc Ock can run around in Spider-Man's body for a few years; even if writer Dan Slott wasn't going to bring Peter back (although he was always going to), another writer would eventually.


This is your deal with Mephisto — you're going to get Spider-Man comics for your entire life, but the price is that some of them will be terrible, and some will dramatically change the status quo. The best you can do is not read the comics you don't like, and try out new writers whenever they get assigned to the comic. Collect what you like, don't read what you don't. Don't stress about one single continuity because that way lies madness. If true continuity is all that matters to you, you should read manga, because those are generally written and drawn by the same people for their entire runs, meaning they are (usually) consistent, start to finish. Major American superhero comics don't finish. This is the trade-off.

Illustration for article titled ​Why reading superhero comics is like making a deal with the devil

Girls, Interrupted

Lisa R.:

Dear Carrier of Future Mail:

I just finished reading the December 4, 2013 column you wrote analyzing why certain female characters in genre movies and TV shows are deeply hated by the fans. It was great! I thought your opinions were very challenging and honest, and there is a great deal of validity to your observation that some viewers give female characters less leeway to make bad choices than they do male characters, which I find disturbing but unsurprising.

However, I write to raise a related issue that I would like to read your take on, namely why are some female characters — sometimes in the same movie or show — loved by the same fans who excoriate other female characters? Two examples come to mind: First, Michonne from The Walking Dead, who has made some bad choices herself (starting with "killing" the Governor's walker daughter which, even on a show that revolves largely around killing walkers, seemed a poor choice at the time). Second, Sif from the Thor movies who, while not known for her bad decision-making, is still just not that interesting or compelling a character (for my part, she seems defined mainly by her body-hugging armor); by contrast, Jane Foster is cute, funny, extremely smart, gutsy and in every reasonable way an admirable character, her only apparent downside being that she doesn't sling a sword or wear armor, yet I distinctly recall comments on this very site from fans who said variations on "I hate Jane Foster, I wish she would die and Thor would marry Sif." Obviously, there are other possible examples.

One thing that both Michonne and Sif have in common are that they are brave fighting women who can beat their enemies as well as the male characters in their stories can. That makes me wonder if the key difference between female characters that fans hate and those they love is that fans hate "girly" female characters but love "tough guy" female characters. That's not to say that I think Jane Foster is particularly "girly" (though she is clearly "girlier" than Sif), but then again Andrea, for example, was not particularly "girly" (though there was that fling with the Governor that could be viewed as sexualizing her, but on the other hand I think Andrea was a hated character long before the third season). So, I think there may be something to this but I'm not sure how much of a role this phenomenon plays.

What do you think?

I think it's unfortunately pretty prevalent. Beloved female characters are generally ass-kicking female characters — Arya from Game of Thrones, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Black Widow, Princess Leia, Sarah Conner, etc. etc. Female characters that aren't capable of physically harming someone — Sansa Stark, Jane Foster, Lois Lane, etc. — get short shrift (if they get any shrift at all) no matter what they achieve or endure.


But I don't want to say this is a female character only problem; male characters who physically beat up bad guys are generally more celebrated than male characters who outthink their opponents. That's why Sherlock Holmes in his TV shows is a detective, but Sherlock Holmes of the infinitely more prevalent movies is a bare-knuckle boxer who has fights on the tops of semi-constructed buildings and trains. It's why people like it when Batman outsmarts his opponents, but they prefer it when he beats the crap out of them.

I don't really know why this is; maybe it's a gender thing, maybe its an American thing. All I know if we generally prefer our heroes to be strong more than smart, and since female characters have to split time as love interests, wherein they need to be less powerful than the hero in order to warrant them needing to be rescued, they're more likely to not be physically powerful, and this not be considered badass, regardless of what else they might accomplish.


On a random note, I really love Jane Foster, but the reason I love her might not be what you think. I love that Jane is a brilliant astrophsyicist whose brain basically shuts down whenever Thor takes off his shirt. Not that male characters have a tough time of it, generally, but one of the most prevalent clichés in entertainment if for men to turn into drooling morons whenever a pretty girl comes on-screen, and I genuinely appreciate that they made that choice with Jane — not only does it give her sexual agency, it makes sense, because Chris Hemsworth's body should be mesmerizing women, no matter how many degrees they have. It's a weird sort of equality, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

Illustration for article titled ​Why reading superhero comics is like making a deal with the devil


Mauricio D.:

Mr Postman —

Just finished reading "What killed the American anime industry?", and I felt like asking you one question.

I'm a child of the 80's and 90's. I grew up with the NES. I loved (still do) playing games, Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, are my favorite games. You can imagine my excitement when I found out about the Mario movie. I didn't get the chance to see it n the theater, so when it finally came out on VHS, I went with my mom to my neighborhood video rental store, got the tape home, turned on my TV, put it on channel 3, placed the tape in the VCR, started watching and...... SURPRISE!!! My 12 year old eyes could not believe what was on the TV. Big disappointment.

Based on this: Will we ever see another movie based on a Nintendo franchise?

My personal opinion is that the franchises that I love contain good enough material to make a good movie, CGI can accomplish the proper visual effects we need to see, and there are writers, that also love this characters, that could create a great script.

Let me know your thoughts!

Sorry, man, but the Postman had to track down his Magic 8-Ball for this one, and the answer came back "Reply hazy, ask again later." Back in the Nintendo 64 and GameCube days, Nintendo probably could have made live-action Super Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and Donkey Kong movies, and done pretty well for themselves.


Nowadays? I don't think so. Nintendo's lost its cultural cache, as have its franchises. The Wii was popular, but not because of the games, because of the motion control gimmick; and neither the WiiU nor its games have much clout. If Nintendo can gain the industry and pop culture dominance it had in the late '80s and '90s — which is not impossible, but going to be pretty damned difficult — then they can make these live-action movies and have them do well, but not before. It's all dependent on Nintendo getting its shit together, and that does not seem to be in the cards any time soon.

I'd also like to say that I'm guessing videogames are going to be the next big craze after superhero/comic book movies lose their luster (not that they'll go away, but they'll become part-and-parcel of our entertainment world, so that studios begin looking for a new entertainment genre to mine from).


Illustration for article titled ​Why reading superhero comics is like making a deal with the devil

Save the Date


Dear Mr Postman,

News recently broke that the Superman/Batman movie originally slated for 2015 will be pushed back for a May 2016 release. Some entertainment news outlets have characterized this move as a "showdown" or "throwing down the gauntlet" against Marvel, because early May has traditionally been when Marvel releases a big superhero movie.

Is it really though? I mean, if they were interested in a big "showdown" you think WB would open up Superman/Batman against Avengers 2. Instead they're pushing back the film by a whole year to challenge... Unnamed Marvel Movie 2016. This feels less like a throwing down of the gauntlet, and more like WB backing down from a fight, and then sneaking over to Marvel's door to leave a bag of flaming poop the next day.

Seriously, we don't even know what the heck Marvel is doing in 2016, only that they'll be doing something. Seems likely that it's Ant Man, given what we know about Marvel films in production. Would be funny if Marvel surprises everyone by announcing Iron Man 4 for that date though, because I really don't think WB would want to have a showdown against that.

Why do you think WB pushed the movie to 2016? And, being in the future post-apocalypse, can you tell me how Marvel responded?


Let me assure you this is not WB throwing down the gauntlet, Infinity or otherwise. Movie studios don't use release dates as pissing matches; think of them more like a game of chicken, where both drivers are completely terrified of the possibility of being in a wreck. Neither Marvel nor WB have any desire to go up against each other, because they know the audience for both films are the same people — and instead of all those people seeing their movie, some of them will go see the other guy's movie, which means they're both going to make less money than they would if they had their own weekend.

These studios aren't trying to "win", they're trying to maximize their profits — winning is priority #2. Cannibalizing each other's box office is not winning, it's mutually assured destruction.


I'm 99% sure the reason WB pushed back Batman/Superman is because they realized they needed more time to make it — not exactly a shocker given all the superheroes they've been adding to it (confirmed and rumored). Since they had to delay anyways, they decided to claim May 2016 before Marvel could. I'm sure they're glad they took the release date before Marvel did — much like anyone who calls "Shotgun!" is glad to have beaten his or her fellow passengers — but giving Batman/Superman even time to get made and picking a good release date were the main priorities. May 2016 was open, and they took it.

Marvel responded by continually releasing three-to-four major superhero movies and making a zillion dollars.


Illustration for article titled ​Why reading superhero comics is like making a deal with the devil

Rec' It Ralph

Chris P.:

Thanks for delivering the New Years card from my neighbor. Quick question though. Given that my neighbor lives next door to me, why did the card arrive four years late? Has the calendar become a somewhat subjective recommendation? Has the majority of people forgotten how to count or are we just throwing darts at the wall to pick what year we're getting ready to head through?

On another and far more important note: since you're somewhat of an anime buff I wanted your input about the best way to sort through the mounds and mounds of crap out there to find the anime that a particular viewer would like. This is mainly coming up as a sidenote from my experience with Netflix (from the framing of the first paragraph I'm apparently also living in the post apocalyptic future, so let's I just raided one of their shipping facilities). I've sat down to a number of series that sounded interesting only to get an episode or two in to just decide that it is too far from my tastes. Is there a better way?

P.S. What do you do when you get a letter or package that's supposed to go overseas?


Unfortunately, without more specific details of what anime you enjoy, it's difficult to give you specific tips about the most effective way to find new shows you'll like. Your best best is to go check out the anime you do like on Amazon, Netflix, Anime Planet, or whatever, and then check out the "People who like So-and-So" also enjoy…" sections. Check out enough of these, and you'll see certain titles repeated a few times, and those will be your best bet.

One caveat: I've found that the first episodes of many anime series to be, in a word, terrible. I'm not sure why this is, but waaaaay too many anime series play their pilots completely safe, going through almost universally the same motions to establish the premise, and as such they are frequently boring — sometimes the second episode, too. Back when I worked at Anime Insider, I tried to give most series 3-4 episodes to grab me, because only by that point could I get a decent sense of how the show was really going to be.


Obviously, this is not always the case; some anime start out strong right out of the gate, and sometimes you can tell a show isn't up your alley in the first three minutes. But if you're on the fence, I'd try to make sure you at least make it through two or three episodes before giving up.

Oh — the reason it took four years for me to deliver that letter to you? Because it's the fucking post-apocalypse. I'm not talking about the rogue armies and roaming marauders, I mean nobody has a GPS anymore, and nobody has maps. You can write "New Portland" on your letter all you want, but unless I've been there, I have no fucking clue where that is, and no idea how to get there. I know the suns sets in the west, in the evening, and that's about as much navigation as I can handle. Basically, your mail gets delivered when I accidentally wander into your town.


PS — "What do you do when you get a letter or package that's supposed to go overseas?" I punch you in the dick, that's what.

Do you have questions about anything scifi, fantasy, superhero, or nerd-related? Email thepostman@io9.com! No question too difficult, no question too dumb! Obviously!


Share This Story

Get our newsletter


Michael Ann Dobbs

< sigh > Has anybody actually read the Conan Doyle Holmes' stories? He is tough guy. Yes he solves cases by being smarter than the criminals, but that's in direct opposition to his brilliant brother who sits around. Holmes is active, a good shot (V.R. in bullet holes in the wall with a revolver is pretty darn good), physically strong and a fighter.

In "The Speckled Band" the bad guy tries to intimidate Watson and Sherlock by bending an iron fireplace poker with his bare hands. In response, Sherlock straightens the poker with his bare hands.

In "Gloria Scott," "The Yellow Face" and The Sign of the Four his boxing prowess is described. He carries a cane and his singlestick is described as excellent in "The Red Headed League" and "The Illustrious Client." Watson also remarks on Holmes' fencing ability in couple stories.

Honestly, the Downey adaptations are more true to the spirit of the original stories than say the Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone versions (can you imagine Rathbone taking notes on his cuffs?)