Friday, July 30, 2004

While I wasn't paying attention...

I've been so distracted by recent events in DC's Identity Crisis that I haven't been paying attention to the big summer event over at Marvel, Avengers Disassembled. realizes that you can't tell the players without a scorecard, so they've created one: A bingo-card grid with pictures of the thirty characters affected by the "Disassembled" storyline, coded for dead, missing or "just plain nuts" and a note explaining how and in which comic. (Sorry, I can't link to it: You'll have to look for the "Disassembled Watchlist" at "Balder: Tagged and Bagged"? "Iron Man: Hissy Fit at the U.N."? "Jack of Hearts: Blowed Up Real Good"? And the card is headlined "Who Gets It Next?"

"Identity Crisis" looks downright sedate by comparison.

A new issue of Spider-Man is out, so now we know, or think we know, who those masked figures are: They're (spoilers ahoy) Peter's children. See, Gwen Stacy disappeared for a few months back before she was killed, and it turns out she was pregnant when she left and had twins while she was gone. (She never had a chance to tell Peter about them before she was killed by the Green Goblin.) They are grown-up and resentful now and looking to kill both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. And lucky them, they've just learned that their targets are the same person.

But wait a minute. It's been well established that comic book time isn't like real time, since characters age much more slowly than they should. If Peter has adult children (and for all Pete's shock, he doesn't seem to question the possibility of the timeline), that raises a question: How old is Peter Parker?

Okay, I understand. Comics are currently undergoing a transition. It might be birth throes, it might be death rattles, but it's definitely a metamorphosis. It's pretty clear that it's been years since comics were written for kids, but with both of the Big Two companies having instituted a form of reader classification, and both publishing comics that actually are intended for kids (Marvel has a "Marvel Age" imprint and a formal rating system, DC has a reborn "Johnny DC" mascot who appears on comics for younger readers), they're also formally tweaking their "mainstream" line to cater to the high school and college-age readers (and older, emotionally stunted readers like me, I suppose) who are their primary audience.

Of the two, DC seems to be handling it better. Two mini-series in current release are bookending and redefining the "Silver Age" of comics: One, DC: The New Frontier, is set in the late fifties/early sixties, as a new generation of heroes works to serve, protect, and earn the trust of "normal" people: The other, Identity Crisis, happens "now" but flashes back to an traumatic event at, or near, the end of that "Silver Age". The two could not be more different in tone. "New Frontier" is written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke, in a style that compares favorably to Milton Caniff (Steve Canyon), strongly influenced by Harvey Kurtzman (Two Fisted Tales), Carmine Infantino (The Flash) and Jack Kirby (Fantastic Four, Challengers of the Unknown): "Identity Crisis" is a post-Frank Miller (Dark Knight Returns), post-Alan Moore (Watchmen), post-James Robinson (Starman) deconstruction by Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales. But the fact that they are both being published, simultaneously, shows that DC is now prepared to take chances, even with their cash cow characters. We may even find out that DC has quietly introduced something approaching Real Time.

And unless events in Amazing Spider-Man play out dramatically differently than how writer J. Michael Straczynski appears to have laid them out (which is always a possibility), Marvel may be doing the same thing. Which is fine. As surprising as it is to think that Peter Parker has adult children, I'd rather he had kids than clones.

(Yes, I know that Spider-Girl is Peter's daughter. That doesn't count: It's an "alternate reality" set in the future, an improbable bubble in continuity. Amazing Spider-Man is about as mainstream as Marvel gets.)

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