Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Preview

Posting is going to be light for the next little bit, at least through the holiday (so what's new, you ask?) - it's coming up on the end of the semester, and that means not just finals but applications and all that jazz. So no in depth blogging for the time being.

However, I wanted to leave you all with a little taste of something I've been thinking about lately, i.e., this comic right here:

Chances are most of you have never read this comic, or even read the crossover storyline from which it departs, The Evolutionary War. The story ran through all of Marvel's 1988 Annuals. Rather than being a single storyline with continuous throughline, as was 1989's tightly-planned Atlantis Attacks event, it was a bit more loose, a series of stories built from the basic premise that the High Evolutionary has had enough of humankind fucking things up, so he was going to take matters into his own hands by forcibly evolving the human race into something better than its present condition. (Of course, that's not really how evolution "works," but without going into more detail here, evolution in the Marvel Universe doesn't work the same way as it does in our universe, and there are very elaborate explanations for why that is.) He failed, of course - beaten, in the end, by a rag-tag group of reserve Avengers that included the Beast, the gray Hulk, Captain America in his black-suited "Captain" phase, Hercules and the female, criminal Yellowjacket. But it was a close battle, and this issue picks up at the moment right after these mismatched Avengers fail. The High Evolutionary wins, and what this actually means is that he explodes a genetic bomb whose fallout changes the genes of every human and superhuman on the planet.

(Of course, as I said, that's not how evolution works: evolution is blind selection with no predetermined telos - there is no fateful "big brained" incarnation into which we will all one day evolve. Basically, although the comic doesn't linger on the details, the High Evolutionary just spreads a genetic virus that makes people a lot smarter. He doesn't actually "evolve" anything, but he advances humanity through genetic engineering in such a way as to simulate millions of years of actual natural selection, albeit with a predetermined end. But the superheroes are different, and the reason has a lot to do with the Celestials and the fact that, as I said, evolution doesn't quite work the same way there as it does here. It all goes back to Jack Kirby, but I've already digressed enough for now.)

Anyway, this is one humdinger of a weird comic, is putting it mildly. But it's weird in a really focused and incredibly sincere way. It is important to remember that it was written by Roy Thomas. Knowing that, you can go back throughout his Marvel work and see that many of his stories were about these kind of themes all along: human evolution was the crux of the Kree / Skrull war, after all, and the interaction between humans, gods and Space Gods was the focus of his run on Thor (the same run that fully integrated Kirby's Eternals into Marvel cosmology - a move which some will argue was unnecessary, but that horse left the barn during the Carter administration.) Thomas' roots go back deep into classic sci-fi, and reading this issue is almost like reading a white paper on the subject of just how far superheroes can go as metaphors for the human evolution. If you know your E.E. "Doc" Smith and your Robert Heinlein - writers who were very concerned about the next step in human existence - you can see their fingerprints all over this story. (Thomas even puts in a couple shout-outs for those paying attention, such as a reference to the "green hills of earth." If you don't get the reference, educate yourself and learn more about the genre's foundations.)

Anyway, I've already said more than I intended to. It's a really interesting comic, compelling (although, admittedly, the occasionally shaky execution, due to the in-way-over-their-heads team of Ron Wilson & Mike Gustovich - distorts some of this thematic center). Because it's so doggedly sincere in its dedication to elaborating old-school sci-fi tropes via the lens of Kirby / Ditko cosmic, it is also unabashedly weird in the way that only truly sincere cosmic superhero books can be. But it's important, nonetheless - and I think, in a very vital way, this single issue explains a great deal about why the Marvel Universe is what it is, how it functions and what sets the setting apart from other comic book universes, and other fictional universes in general. In terms of methodically elaborating the thematic core of every Marvel comic book published from 1961 pretty much through to the present, it may just be the single most important comic Marvel has ever published.

Am I high? You tell me:

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