Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Blame 1986

People rightly complain that comic books were shit in the 1990s (and they were; there's a reason the 90s are called the Dark Age of Comics), but those seeds of shittiness were sown in the mid-80s, specifically 1986.

In 1986, DC Comics started Crisis on Infinite Earths to simplify continuity, because allegedly comic book readers couldn't keep track of which characters existed on "Earth-1" and which on "Earth-2". This is of course pure bullshit, as anyone who has hung out with comic book nerds knows they love learning trivia and arguing minutia. Hell, I could keep track of the fact that Alan Scott was the Green Lantern of Earth-2 and Hal Jordan was the Green Lantern of Earth-1, and that the former was magically based and had a vulnerability to wood while the latter was super-tech and had a vulnerability to yellow, before I was 10 years old.

Regardless, the "simplification" of DC Comics happened, and it screwed up a bunch of things in an attempt to cram multiple origins into a single universe. For example, Power Girl was no longer a grown-up Supergirl but was instead the descendant of an Atlantean sorcerer, and Hawkman's origin was broken so badly that I don't think it's ever been resolved (is he the reincarnation of an Egyptian noble? Is he an alien police officer from the planet Thanagar? I think that at one time they tried to make him be both at once). But instead of actually fixing things, this move instead resulted in an endless series of reboots that attempted to fix continuity: Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, and eventually Flashpoint which ended up throwing most of DC continuity into the bin and restarting the entire universe over again The New 52.

So yeah, that simplification worked out really well.

Compare and contrast that with Marvel Comics: while DC tends to reboot itself to varying degrees on a regular basis, Marvel doesn't reboot anything.  To avoid the whole awkward "Iron Man built his suit in the 1960s so he ought to be in his 80s right now" problem, Marvel just sort of nods in the vague direction of linear time. This is especially applicable in the case of decompressed storytelling, which is what you get when stories that could be resolved in a few issues are stretched out for 6 months to a year.

In 1986, Marvel comics began its transition from "good comic book stories" to "soap operas in spandex" as they systematically fucked over books and characters in the name of drama and increasingly decompressed stories. For example:

  • The Thing leaves the Fantastic Four and decides to be a professional wrestler for... reasons. I was 13 at the time -- THE target demographic for this sort of thing -- and I thought this was one of the dumbest things I've ever seen. "Sure, I can believe that Ben Grimm, who is both rich and famous as a member of the Fantastic Four, feels unfulfilled and decides the best thing to do is become a fake wrestler. Riiiiiight."
  • Steve Rogers is forced out of being Captain America and is replaced by Super-Patriot. He then becomes "The Captain", or basically "Captain America with a plain shield and the blue in his costume replaced with black", and he acquires a ridiculous sidekick named D-Man who is every awkward stereotype you can think of and who dresses in an outfit that looks like Wolverine's yellow-and-blue number hate-fucked Daredevil's old yellow-and-black costume. Ugh. 
  • The Scourge of the Underworld kills a bunch of villains, culminating in a mass murder at The Bar With No Name. I don't recall ever finding out who this person was, just that it was a heavy-handed way to remove villains (who no one had seen or cared about in years) from continuity. 
  • Cyclops goes from "heroic leader" to "massive shitheel" who abandons his wife and baby to take up with pointlessly-reincarnated Jean Grey, because mutants are a hot commodity now and the editors wanted to bring back the original five-man X-Band. 
  • The Mutant Massacre (again, killing characters for no reason other than shock value), leading to the X-Men -- a top performing comic, by the way -- being splintered as half the team goes off to Britain to form Excaliber (a comic which I couldn't read, by the way, because it was direct-to-specialty-stores-only title and I didn't have one where I lived; I could only buy my comics off the spinner rack) and the other half was shunted off to Australia for some damnfool reason. This is also the storyline that gave us Jubilee, so now you know precisely who to blame for that. 

In short, blame 1986 for the trainwreck that was 1990s comic books.

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