Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Playing Favorites excerpts, pt 44

Every Most Tuesdays I post excerpts from best selling at not selling super blog, Playing Favorites.

Seriously, I never read Osborne as a Spider-Man villain, so maybe being a cackling maniac with no depth was what made him one of the arch-nemeses of one of comics’ standard bearers, but, man, I’d like to think that there was some characterization at work that made him a loathsome counterpoint to the na├»ve, morally-driven Peter Parker. Even in the movie, he was an aggressive, dominating figure who loved his family, but took it (well, just Harry) for granted in his quest to remain powerful (perhaps even powerful enough to protect them, which I don’t think was the angle from the movie, but it could have been, given that if they did explicitly cover what happened to his wife, I’ve long since forgotten.). That’s a hero.

Taking out a hit on Punisher because…? Too small-time to be top-tier super-villain material. Trying to keep Professor Xavier hidden from Emma Frost in your mutant-depowering concentration camp? Too stupid to be top-tier super-villain material. Trying to harness the destructive, negative personality of your omnipotent, schizophrenic sun-god? To ballsy for The Marvel Universe. I get that he was supposed to be the central figure for a brief storytelling foray about a transition period in the universe; the story was supposed to be about someone unstable wielding centralized authority to explain why centralizing that authority would be bad, like making The Absorbing Man the nation’s Drug Tzar (Do we still have a Drug Tzar? And how good would that comic be?) or replacing The US Army with Cain Marko hauling a sled of Cable-guns. I guess they just teased me with a fascinating concept that was played well in exactly one comic and I’ll have to wait until they dig back into it ten to fifteen years later to see more on it (See “Spider-Man & The Secret Wars,” “X-Men: Deadly Genesis,” everything “Crisis,” and “Nextwave.” “Nextwave” isn’t related; you should just read it because it’s good.)

Narratively, Victoria Hand is balance; grounding a story that (because they are stupid) many fans wouldn’t have swallowed otherwise (and most[for the same reasons] didn’t go along with anyway). She wasn’t any of the straw men who were trying to present the pro-registration side in “Civil War,” because Marvel seems to have better plans for her. Maybe she’ll continue to serve as a “regular person’s” perspective on things (do regular people meet The Avengers with Cable-sized guns? Now that I think about it, most people we see meeting The Avengers do just that.). Her outspoken normality is what can make her good for a book; she spares Spider-Man (and others) the “What the fuck is happening!?” response that some writers think is obligatory for what most heroes should be calling Tuesday morning. Seriously? Time is coming unraveled, loosing dinosaurs, zeppelins, and flying saucers in New York City. This is the kind of thing that should make Spider-Man or any hero of larger scale sigh, roll their eyes, and start looking for the nearest freaky-looking calm dude for the next page of exposition. As much as it pains me to say this, she could be...The Avengers’…Troi, the exposition character who prompts the heroes who should know all this bullshit to explain said bullshit to the reader who just started reading this thing.

She can also provide the characters with an average person’s perspective. She can play devil’s advocate and even bring them to heel when the comic book answer to a problem just doesn’t make any sense. Now, this probably won’t happen; people read comics for comic book answers and if Luke Cage needed hipster S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to tell him how to do his job, odds are pretty good we wouldn’t be reading an Avengers comic with Luke Cage as their leader.  Flawed B-string characters need to have their compasses whacked to make them do the right thing. Heroes caught up in the passion of the moment need to be reminded that they’re heroes. In all likelihood, Victoria Hand will end up handling a lot of outsourced internal conflict (because seriously, I’ve only seen one superhero team bicker more than The New Avengers) and occasionally convince the team to do something against their nature that’s convenient for the plot. Good day? She’ll probably come up with the clever solution of the month every so often.

But no matter how she ends up acting as a narrative device, as a character, she’s an opinionated ‘normal,’ and while I’m reiterating here, her outspoken normality is what makes her so compelling. As long as it’s not played so faithfully that she becomes as stupid as the rank-and-file populace of the Mavel Universe (which isn’t a swing at Marvel’s handling of its average civilian population; most ongoing universes have their populaces who aren’t the main characters act as intelligently and consistently a helium-filled kiwi fruit, which includes DC and [because it’s a free swing] Battletech). I like that she sticks to what she believes and won’t back down on it. Despite that, her loyalty is to her beliefs, which, like Batman, drive her to find new solutions to problems.  If she’s backed the wrong horse to lead her and others to fulfill her goals, I’m sure there’s some soul-searching about her methods and some of her choices, but not her objectives. If she made the best decision she could at the time, she has no regrets over that either. She’s got a resolution and self-confidence on par with Batman, and while she is sensitive to bloodshed, most of his moral prohibitions are things that she seems to accept as both part of her duty and sometimes necessary for her goals.

It’s that larger moral picture and her duty that really separate her from the heroes. As a soldier, she lives in a world where death and deceit are necessary compromises. They aren’t something she necessarily likes, but they are options she’s willing to explore. As I’ve said before, the morality of mainstream superhero universes is such that the ends do not justify the means, and indeed ‘more violence’ rarely ever solves a problem permanently, a theme of “The Dark Avengers” run.

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