On History: Archeology

By | Tuesday, October 04, 2016 Leave a Comment
As I've noted in many places before, the first comic that really sucked me into the medium for life was Fantastic Four. I loved the mix of adventure and superheroics and a fun set of character dynamics. Of course, it wasn't long after discovering that team that I began seeing how they were connected with the rest of the Marvel Universe. (Daredevil had a cameo in my second issue, and the entire Avengers showed up in the issue after that.) So while my primary interest was the FF, I began expanding my reach across the entire Marvel Universe.

The next two titles I began picking up regularly were The Punisher and Silver Surfer. I could only afford three books a month and I figured this way I'd be able to keep tabs on the street level stories (via Punisher), national and sometimes world-threatening stories (via the FF), and the cosmos at large (via Surfer). While the FF always remained at the heart of things, the interconnectedness of it all fascinated me. I once mapped out* an extended family tree of Wonder Man (which ranged from the Inhumans to Galactus' heralds) because he once made an off-hand comment about not really having a family. So when books like Marvels came around, I was all over them! I probably missed half the references at the time because my knowledge was still pretty limited, but I really enjoyed what I caught.

That interest continued right up until I stepped away from Marvel altogether. The last titles (besides the FF) that I recall really enjoying were Avengers Forever, Marvel: The Lost Generation, and Marvel Universe. All titles that were steeped in history, written by guys who also really loved that type of storytelling: Kurt Busiek, Roger Stern, and John Byrne. It wasn't long after those books ended that Marvel started changing direction. Mark Waid kept some of that basic notion going, to a lesser extent, over in Fantastic Four for another few years but the idea that everything worked together along an ongoing continuum was certainly dropped as a matter of editorial direction by the time Civil War started.

It became a perpetual "now" with no real connection to past stories. And while those of you who are familiar with my disgust with nostalgia may think I might welcome that idea, the problem was that the perpetual now meant that the stories had no consequence. If future stories never reference past ones, then that means current stories will never be referenced again. And if current stories are never referenced, they may as well never happened since they have no bearing on anything to come later. It inherently cuts off even the illusion of change! "Nothing will ever be the same" means nothing. I don't want to dwell on old stories for the sake of their being old stories, but they did lead characters to where they are now.

You ever play one of those thought games where you're asked what would you change about your past if you could alter one thing? They pop up on Facebook from time to time. My answer is always, "I wouldn't change a thing." I like who I am right now as I'm typing this, and changing anything about my past would lead to a different person that who I am. Yes, there were some really painful experiences, both physically and emotionally, but the scars I have from them shaped the person I like today. I don't sit around reminiscing about how great things were in high school or college or anything like that -- well, actually, high school was pretty miserable and I try not to think about that at all -- but I still regularly tap on my past experiences to inform my current decisions. And I want the characters in my fiction to do the same.

Now, Marvel has certainly done very well for itself the past decade following this perpetual now approach. I expect the writers who are very proficient in that type of storytelling aren't keen on the lack of opportunities from Marvel these days, and I'm sure there are more than a few readers like me who miss trying to sort out how all of the stories surrounding the FF's first meeting with Rama-Tut fit together. But it's evidently not hurting their business.

Fortunately, the comics industry has plenty of fantastic comics out there these days to keep me up to my eyeballs in my favorite medium! But I wonder what kind of monumental effort it might take for some other company to try to capture that "archaeologist" market that Marvel (and DC) have largely pushed aside.

* in MacPaint! That's how long ago I was working on this type of stuff!
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