Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School

Oh man, they're really not trying too hard to keep the end of Civil War a secret, are they? I mean, seriously, any monkey with an awareness of Marvel history can guess by reading the submissions info for this month that Mary Jane is going to bite it. I am pretty sure the "surprise" cliffhanger in this most recent issue of Amazing Spider-Man is a fake-out, and the real death will occur (most likely) in the series itself. (I didn't buy the comic, mind you, I didn't even read it for free on the internet: I've been making a habit of picking up the Civil War books in the store and flipping to the last page to see what the "shock" ending is, because the "shock" ending is the most important part of these stories. As someone else was telling me just last night, it's all about building a book around money shots, with little or no attention paid to the nuts and bolts of actually building the story on a firm foundation.) (And man, how weird is it that hardcore porn terminology has penetrated so deeply into the colloquial lexicon? Heh, I said penetrated . . .)

But, yeah: Spider-Man is going back to wearing the black costume, which he hasn't worn for almost twenty years (to my recollection) because MJ didn't like it after being traumatized by Venom back in the day. Civil War needs a big honkin' capstone to end it, something that will abruptly end the fighting while also effectively taking the steam out of both sides of the argument. I mean, God knows poor Bill Foster's death isn't that important, he was only a token who had appeared maybe twice in the last decade before Marvel pulled him out of mothballs to get clobbered by Clor. (The only thing they missed with Bill Foster was the scene where he says "I'm only a week away from retirement! I've bought a boat and I'm going to sail around the world with my wife . . . once we get this Civil War business behind us!" Cue delicately plucked Spanish guitar in the background.)

I mean, seriously, who else could it be? No one else in the Marvel Universe would care if Aunt May bit it (she's already died as well, and that never stopped her . . . of course, they've tried to kill MJ before, too, and that didn't work either). Man, this is just too depressing -- you don't suppose this could be a fake-out in lieu of the "real" surprise ending, do you? Because this is an awful long ways to go just to get Spider-Man unmarried . . . I have a hard time believing they're this bad at keeping a secret. But I suppose that's life in the big city.

Speaking of things which surprise me with their lameness, let us discuss the original Human Torch. DC's "Golden Age" gets lots of attention from the blogosphere but I almost never see anyone discussing Marvel's (Timely's) wartime output. There aren't nearly as many good reprints of Marvel's older material, but also, whereas most of DC's continuity is explicitly built on connections to stories published as long as seventy years ago, little of Marvel's golden age has had much impact on its present, despite Roy Thomas' attempts to create just that type of intra-era continuity with the creation of The Invaders. Most of the characters themselves were forgotten: whereas many modern DC fanboys can cite chapter and verse for Mr. Terrific and the Red Tornado's convoluted histories, to say nothing of the Crimson Avenger and the Red Bee, who but Peter Sanderson sheds a tear for the original Angel or Vision, neither of whom have any connection to their modern-day counterparts?

Anyway, the Human Torch.

This dude name Phineas Horton built a scale-model human android, complete with blond hair and blue eyes, in every way identical in both form and function to a real human. Only, there was a problem, see? Every time the android was exposed to oxygen it caught on fire. And continued to burn, totally unharmed.

So of course everyone thinks the robot is a menace (as most people probably would) and lock the Torch in a concrete tomb. Only they made the mistake of having non-union workers lay the slab because in no time flat a crack opens up and allows oxygen to seep in. But it's OK, see, because this time Horton has been piping information into the Torch's perfectly functional artificial brain with a pair of headphones -- probably some kind of civics lessons being recorded off educational acetates. Despite the fact that he had no context with which to place this input he was able to learn language skills and basic human conventions from the random noise being pumped into his empty mind.

There was still the basic problem of the fact that he kept lighting on fire. This was solved very easily when the Torch came into contact with nitro glycerine, which just happened to douse his flames as well as giving him the power to control his flames at will. So then he decides to become a police officer, for which he conjures up the human identity of Jim Hammond.

Yes. Yes, I'll have what he's having.

Perhaps it is redundant to mock the golden age for its rather odd leaps of fancy . . . but the fact remains, this is an assortment of particularly wide leaps. Bizarre, baroque . . . pretty much a fantasy, whereas DC always made an attempt to stay rooted in some element of the quotidian. Marvel was grimy and strange, DC was the respectable older sibling. Marvel's golden age may have been weird, but I'd still much rather read about a robot that spontaneously combusts than a midget in a yellow and blue jumper who kept beating people up when they called him short.

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