After my rant against DC comics, I felt like I may have been a little unfair because I didn’t compare them to what has been going on in their rival company Marvel Comics in the last few years as well. So I’ll do so now. (Don’t worry, this won’t be as long.)
Marvel has done some dickish things too, particularly the superhero Civil War and the so-hated-it-burns “One More Day” Spider-man event. But here’s the thing: for all the “darkening” in Marvel comics, I never felt that their comics were “not safe” to read; unlike DC’s, you don’t have to worry about decapitations or rapes turning up in any of their comics (for the most part, such stuff is limited to particular series like Punisher Max or Marvel Zombies). Yes, the general atmosphere did darken with things like the anti-superhero law and Norman “Green Goblin” Osborn being put in charge of America’s law enforcement, but I could tell those where just plotlines- long-range ones, but ultimately ones meant to be resolved and the more heroic status brought back. DC’s problem lies with its staff and their “throw in anything in to sell” mentality.
Let’s look at the timeline:
All started with “Avengers Dissasembled” a story where the heroine Scarlet Witch goes on a relapse of her madness and her reality-altering powers cause the deaths of some Avengers. This leads to the team breaking up. The idea, by writer Micheal Bendis, was to reassemble them as a new team, which he did soon after, adding some strange choices, like Wolverine, Spider-Man, and [STRIKE]Superman [/STRIKE]The Sentry to the team. This in itself isn’t too bad- these things happen often in comics, though Bendis was criticized for the poor writing research he did and for using the Avengers to showcase his pet characters (like Spider-Woman).
This story led to “House of M” a crossover where the heroes found themselves now living in an alternate version of Earth where mutants were the ruling class and humans the oppressed ones; this was again, the work of Scarlet Witch, apparently manipulated by her father Magneto. This wasn’t that original (the similar Age of Apocalypse was done years before) but it had the neat twist that the heroes were granted their fondest wishes in the process (Spider-Man never failed to save his first girlfriend for example) to motivate them not to rebel. But of course they do and reality is restored, with one difference: most mutants lost their powers. They don’t know why, but suddenly millions of mutants are helpless (except of course, the main X-Men heroes and villains) and no more mutants are born. The idea was obviously to reduce the number of characters in the X-books which admittedly has grown to ridiculous levels. This wasn’t a new idea either, a storyline in the 90’s had already done the mass depowering thing but nobody seems to remember that. Anyway, this was the first true big status quo change in the Marvel Universe of the current period.
Next came the Civil War. I’ve already discussed that at length here so I won’t go into it again, other than to point out it also changed the situation by splitting the Avengers into a “sanctioned” team and an “illegal” one. But other than Captain America’s death (which nobody who is a true comics fan believed would be permanent) and Tony Stark now being considered an asshole for siding with the government (admittedly the story was very poorly written) things were still more or less the same.
The War had very few effects on the X-Men related titles since the 198 or so mutants left with powers were already registered. Plus they had their own problems, like finding the “mutant Messiah” the first mutant baby born since “M-day” which according to two separate time travelers was either going to save the world- or ruin it. This led to a series of incidents that where only recently (apparently) resolved
“Secret Invasion” another big story by Bendis revealed that the alien shapeshifters, the Skrulls, had infiltrated Earth and replaced many key persons, including superheroes, for years. This looked like a way to undo many of the changes mentioned above… but in the end there were very few important “reveals”; it’s main impact was that Osborn got the credit for saving the Earth, so he got command of the USA’s forces. What, that whole psychotic killer phase? Oh he’s better now. (Read: not really.) Secret Invasion was greatly criticized for looking like it was going to deliver more than it did. And seriously, people with lesser scandals in their past have been booted out of the US government, how does a blasted former killer get in!?
This led to the “next phase”: Dark Reign, where the bad guys were (in effect) in charge, including a team of Avengers composed of disguised villains (venom as Spider-Man for example) and the team of actually reformed villains, the Thunderbolts, recreated with VERY sick villains in it. Now all the true heroes where in one side again, with the government as the clear villain. Obviously this was the long-planned outcome; Captain America came back from the dead (he was actually lost in time, in an incredible coincidence (?) with the also-presumed dead Batman’s own current status in DC Comics) and Osborn committing the mistake of declaring war on Asgard (Thor’s homeland, accidentally stuck in America.) You can guess the ending: Osborn is exposed, his forces are defeated, he gets replaced with Steve Rogers (Captain America, who refused to reclaim his old identity from his successor, Bucky, but let’s see how much that last) and the anti-superhero law gets eliminated, and all heroes are buddies again. They are calling this the Heroic Age, and so far it looks like it indeed is a return to the pre-Avengers Disassembled era (except that mutants are still mainly powerless, but watch that get reversed over the coming years).
Oh yeah, there’s still that “One More Day” thing where Spider-Man made a deal with The Devil to save his aunt’s life at the expense of having his marriage erased from history (???) which makes no sense yet Marvel refuses to undo it, despite the heap of hate from fans it got them. But that’s probably because Joe Quesada, the Editor in Chief of Marvel is behind it. Just wait until he’s out of the position though, and you can bet that it will be corrected.
As you can see, while life in the Marvel Universe got though for a lot of people in the past years, it never went as bad as DC Comics’ “Kill, rape or eat characters if a comic needs a sales boost” approach. And you could tell they were going to reset things sooner or later. After all, what good are superheroes who aren’t truly heroic?