Saturday, 5 November 2016

Marvel, Bor and Unsolicited Opinions on Israel

As you may have guessed from reading my blog-post entitled Fanfiction, I read comics. In fact, I used to be really low down the nerd hierarchy because I pretty much only used to read what I understand to be "X-Men" imprints.* These days I read a greater variety of Marvel comics and "suitably insane"/otherwise interesting ones I see in the library. So, okay, I read graphic novels more than comics. That's important because it means I am generally going to be a long way behind the current set-up. Which is why months after this thread, I am discussing that thread's subject matter.

Now, I disagree with all sorts of recent things that Marvel's done. Firstly, making Iceman gay. That's nuts. Sure, you've got songs like this but people who are actually familiar with Marvel are sitting there trying to count all the characters who are gay (as far as I know, the two we're going to discuss shortly are gay... they're in a same-sex** relationship). This isn't necessarily ideal (a character is a character, shouldn't be provoked into counting exercises), but we're dealing with a character who the last two times I saw involved in relationships were with women. The shortness of these relationships was raised as evidence of homosexuality, but in the older of those examples Iceman seemed legitimately reflective (sober? I'm not quite sure what the word I want is) about the relationship's demise. Make new characters gay or flesh out characters who have always just been in the background a bit (Bling, for example... although Mercury's response, allowing for any intervening development, required some foreshadowing given her views on Wither). But, the more important thing is that young-Jean Grey reveals to young-Iceman that he's gay. Well, no, homosexuality doesn't work like that. Just because young-Iceman thinks about men this way doesn't mean he's gay... he could be bisexual (which, you know, is a more excluded sexual orientation anyway), but young-Jean's convinced her mind-reading resolves any and all inconvenient backstory (and this is the only way she can know any information). I don't think it's a necessary direction, and maybe Scrubs did it first with the Todd, but if you're going to change existing characters, bisexual was the way to go. It just feels like pandering to people whose only engagement with these issues is driven by journalists who have only seen the movies (where that song is spot-on).

Another direction I dislike is/was the Magneto, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver relationship shift. Now, apparently Magneto hadn't always been their father, but it was a pretty established thing when they decided to change it. Similarly, maybe they've resolved this issue so that a story element that had always been very cool and powerful was restored, but we'll assume it hasn't (maybe some writer has also corrected the above mistake) been even though it's really easy. Seriously, Wanda's got chaos magic and so we can stick with a law of unintended consequences that only hits mitochondrial DNA. In other words, Quicksilver, her mother and many maternal relatives would be affected (by the anti blood of my blood or whatever it was spell) but not any paternal ones. The problem here is that rather than strange storytelling you're choosing to get rid of something powerful in favour of a cheap twist. I really hope it was untwisted.

My final example is the "female Thor" controversy (is it worthy of the name?)/change. In brief, Thor's de-Thoring is abhorrent. I can understand what they did. I thought about this for a long time. I don't know if they've always made the wielder of Mjolnir into Thor, but when Thor initially lost his worthiness and an inverted Loki picked it up during Axis, Loki bloody did look like Thor. See, people behind Iceman? Foreshadowing. The problem here is that Thor somehow ended up losing the rights to his own name. He just decides to call himself something different because someone else is doing Thor stuff. This needed much more attention than it got because... Do you understand, writers, the baggage that comes with that? I think not, because if you did, you'd have never taken it that way. I know lots of Matthews, for instance, it's okay for there to be two Thors in a way that's different to there being, say, two Hobgoblins (which has been established as a sort of bad-guy brand name). And while I don't know if this specific objection has been raised to Marvel, labelling all objections to female Thor as MRA-ist in a panel, as happened, is unfair. And remembering this formed the core of my initial response to the following:

This sort of thing isn't particularly unusual for Marvel. There's an hilarious one where the narration points at a bomb and says, "He's right, it's a bomb". I'm pretty sure that's from a Frogman/Spiderman team-up (Spiderman is best as a team-up/Otto/Miles Morales). The continual fourth wall references are also a big part of what makes people like Deadpool (he was better, I feel, with Slapstick). The trouble is who is saying this, i.e. Bor, and being "censored". Bor is cool, like, really, really cool. And, sure, maybe I missed a whole bunch of comics where it turns out that Bor is a little bit more less cool than where I first encountered him (being killed by Thor, "the original one", because he's been cursed by Loki, twice!), but the point remains (partly because tests of loyalty are totally something that we give leaders leeway for... especially in the past***). But let's pick out some comments from that thread, but you'll have to ctr-f to find them because I don't know how to link to specific posts in that forum (I found it via a Google Search):

Page 1:

"Keep your Language! tumblr political Language! out of my Language! comic books."

As should be clear, one of the things which makes Marvel comics fun to read is that they can often be irreverent, memey and all sorts of other things which often explicitly require this kind of Language (and, maybe, this kind of thing... we'll address whether it works later). That comics are able to comment on the real world is something that people really take from X-Men and, in a different way, Watchmen... I do not think that this... er, hmm, ah... advocacy of censorship is appropriate at all.

"It's all the humor [sic] or attempts at humor [sic] that I dislike which was already present in the previous run which I also found weak."

One of the things that annoys me about the Harry Potter movies that they're just no-where near as funny as the books. Hell, people have issues with the Cursed Child, but I think they've spent too long since they last read the Philosopher's Stone. Anyway, the issue here is that humour has its place and it is an important one. The tyranny of seriousness is alive and well in this world, don't let it claim another domain.

And, naturally, part of this tyranny is making it too risky to try being funny.

"I was just talking about this exact issue in another thread. I was really looking forward to this comic. I thought it had so much potential, but it's just been very confusing and just not good (in my opinion) so far."

I included this here because I agree, this particular graphic novel is confusing. Batman vs Superman (I had an opportunity to watch it for free, I took it)... not confusing. This... confusing.

Page 2:

"Why does Bor care about Israel? Why does he even know what Israel even is?"

This is a particularly important question and thinking about how a character from a pre-racist era (most historians agree that racism is a modern invention... Bor's been dead for at least a thousand years) manages to (a) be racist and (b) have opinions on a state he definitely pre-dates and/or a religion he probably pre-dates (depends on the nature of the opinions) is one of the big reasons why I shifted positions.

"It's a joke and allows readers to get an idea for the personality of Bor by using those things as synonyms."

I think the thread had at least two responses to this theme, such as: "Except the actual character of Bor is nothing like this considering he is worthy of Mjolnir." If you accept their premise (i.e. that Bor's character is like this) then maybe this makes sense, but really the plausibility of this argument is one of the reasons why this storyline is confusing and why the specific episode didn't really work.

"You find lazy and cheap writing that are used as a form of character assassination funny?"

As you can see, someone else who disagrees with the characterisation of Bor. The question of interest, here, is whether or not the writing is lazy and cheap in doing this sort of thing? Of course not. Even if it were a short-cut as argued above, if the short-cut adds value, then it's a good thing. Laziness can be a source of innovation, but thinking of these things (what to satirise) shouldn't be thought of as cheap or lazy.

"I just want to point out that we have no idea if that is even the real Bor. Sera says it basically outright that he could be one of Helas [sic] tricks since he actually should be in Valhalla."

Specifically, what she says is, "this might be one of Hela's tricks" (as can be seen above). However, we can add weight to this interpretation because Heven (where Angela was raised) has a legend about "Bor the Butcher" and misogynist (said loyalty test led to a very long and very disproportionate curse*), a point that sits very nicely among the earlier line "Hel and Hell -- both are memory". But, wait, there's more... even after Angela has made contact with Bor, she herself wonders if he could be an illusion. Also, Angela defeats a character (if dead) that a more powerful than usual Thor had to kill to stop pretty easily, and Angela seems best described as a "slightly weaker, much faster" version of Thor power-wise, so this is suggestive (I think). Most convincingly, there was quite a lot of stuff about family and familial identity in both Bor's lines (makes sense) and the book as a whole, so it has an appropriately psychological power as an illusion.

What I think has happened here is that the writer wanted us to know that Bor was meant to be an illusion but due to the way it was done, and that everyone else we meet seems to be real, they accidentally created doubt about whether it was the real Bor or not. This is not Bor. It was not meant to be Bor. It's just not that well written.

*Which Sera showed little compunction in restoring... "That was pretty mean of me. Poor things. Not their fault, really" is linked to Sera's "I am never going back to prison"-shtick but still seems very insincere given how Angela characterises the curse, "cannibal ghouls".

"It's clearly you that doesn't find it funny. You're obviously not the target audience if you think that making fun of MRA's and meninists is something bad"

While I don't think making fun of MRAs is necessarily helpful (and imagine how you'd be perceived if you called women who disagreed with you fat, as opposed to the old neckbeard attack of MRAs), their ideology is extremely paranoid and unhelpful. The issue is that who else is the target audience of a comic but Marvel's readership? I think that was lost here and if Marvel is trying to sway its readership, subtlety is necessary for any Illusion-Bor-sympathisers out there.

Page 4:

"I just had to point out, Bor isn't worthy of the Hammer."

Their reasons are convincing. However, Marvel Wiki says he catches Mjolnir in his initial fight with Thor but also offers an issue where his reanimated corpse (or something like that) can't lift it. But the strength of the argument is reduced when they later argue that worthiness may not be all that happens with Mjolnir these days. And apparently the fight with Bor damaged Mjolnir and repairing it after that may have been the cause of the funkiness. I don't know, but that wasn't Bor... and I think the lack of clarity on this point (notice he says the really strange stuff after we're introduced to the idea he may be an illusion) is a big cause of the problems people had (but, clearly, there are people who have funky ideas and as convenient as it would be to No True Scotsman them, they're there) with what is pretty standard operating practice.

*I also read fantasy (a little sci-fi, I watch more of that but mostly I'm all about "police procedurals" but since they're all secretly about terrorism I call them cop shows), play Age of Empires and Total War games, watch Digimon (ideally, dubbed) and have dabbled in trying to write my own fantasy themed stuff. I imagine pretty much everyone who has ever heard of the hierarchy is in at least as many of these categories.

**Technically, one's Asgardian and the other is some kind of Angel so it's a bit more complicated than that.

***To quote J. C. Holt, "We may decry the men concerned [those involved with the creation and "signing" of Magna Carta in 1215], but their contemporaries and successors did not do so; the men of this period were prolific in providing subjects for gestes. We may judge them if we like, but first we must understand." From, ‘The Barons and the Great Charter’, English Historical Review 72, 284, 1957, pg. 24.


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  2. I deleted an ad bot's comment from this page... it seemed to believe that flattery would spare it. Not so!

    Alternatively, I deleted the post of a comment made by someone paid to advertise some site or other. I'm pretty sure the Turing test was meant to work the other way! Bots were presumed to become more human. Not humans more bot!