Monday, July 6, 2015

TL;DR: Finally Reading Marvel's "Infinity", event comics and the DC-ification of the Marvel Universe

It took me a really long time to make it through Marvel's Infinity collection of Avengers stories.  There was no "Trade 2" of New Avengers, so in order to keep up, I had to buy a huge, expensive trade with a mix of Avengers comics that I wasn't reading.

Back in Arizona, I remember seeing the recipe for a "Kool-Aid Pie" and, more or less based on the name, I went ahead and decided I must try it out.

I hadn't ever done much baking, or made a pie, but I bought the ingredients, all of which looked like ingredients I should probably have for a pie.  A crust. Sugar.  Dehydrated milk, I think.  Then I got out the mixer and whatnot, and maybe 1/3rd of the way through the process of making the pie, I re-read the recipe and realized - "oh, I'm just whipping up sugar and Kool-Aid and putting it in a pie-crust".  It was literally an inedible pie.  It would have looked neat and cool sitting there all purple, but there was nothing really there.  No pie in my pie, just- purpleish whipped sugar.  Not even the basics of an actual pie, just something you would throw in a movie, I guess.

That's kind of Marvel's Infinity.  It seems like it should be a story.  It seems like it's going somewhere, but it was sort of a hand-waving illusion to get you to next, more expensive event, and all of this was some laborious and unnecessary Kool-Aid pie.

oh, yeeeeaahhhhhhh....!!!!

To be blunt -

This is the kind of comic that is why I'm not reading many comics anymore.  I've done it two or three or four dozen times or more, and I'm okay with not doing it again.

A 2010's approach to the exact same "collapsing multiverse" storyline of Crisis on Infinite Earths as the backdrop, it's an ambitious but pointless exercise in false narrative momentum.  An incredible amount occurs but nothing happens.  There is no concept of a well-formed narrative arc, no character development, and a hundred elements that start that never resolve themselves nor come to fruition.

The comic was a damn mess, and if this was the best Marvel can do, if Hickman is their big gun of the moment, it tells me that the Big 2 are simply done trying to make comics for any reason other than to draw lots of monsters and explosions.  Which, given the massively profitable enthusiasm for Jurassic World and even Man of Steel, maybe I'm beginning to see the problem with expecting anyone to write up a level or three for an audience that is not entirely new to comics.  Or, maybe I'm the problem.

Surely it doesn't help that (1) I wasn't reading other Avengers titles before picking this up, and (2) I don't keep my phone out to use Marvel's "AR" feature when I'm reading a comic.*  But I am not sure Hickman and Co. actually failed to explain anything in exposition.  It just didn't matter.  Because nothing here mattered.  The characters weren't characters so much as stand-ins to say what was happening, no one, somehow, was ever in real peril even as they were caught up in intergalactic laser fights and dastardly plots.

There were two storylines of equal importance vying for attention.  One featured whoever the hell is in the Avengers-proper (Cannonball?  Really?  Who is this Eden fellow?  I'm lost.) being maybe duped off Earth to go help an inter-galactic force of Marvel's more popular alien cultures fend off "The Engineers", who I guess we've maybe seen before in Marvel comics but with whom I had no passing familiarity.

Like all things in comics happening in space, this is a straight line of annihilation and billions of lives lost but still comfortably far from Earth before we find out why it's happening.  So, the Engineers are killing everyone and everything - despite the fact that all they really want to kill is Earth.  So, why not do that?  We are never told.  They just like killing, I guess.

All of this hinges on the fact that, despite the universe's 3 or 4 dimensional shape, we're to believe that all of the cultures spread across the cosmos are in some straight line between each other, like driving from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon on a flat map.  So... okay, whatever.  It makes no sense, but I'll give the story it's suspension of disbelief.

The Engineers are concerned about events that kind of started way back when Hickman lifted the multiverse concept in Fantastic Four and brought it all the way to New Avengers, where our heroes figured out how to slow down the "incursions" by killing whole universes or planets full of people (I'm not sure, and anywhere over killing 0 people for superheroes seems like a lot).

Yeah, Ol' Stretcho is planning the death of whole universes.  That's going on in your comic right now.  It's something I'm not sure feels terribly character driven - or, at least, fundamentally changes the nature of the Marvel U, but nobody mention how kind of weird and depressing this is.

There's some pointless battling on Earth at the beginning that never really gets mentioned again, and the Avengers leave and go into space leaving The New Avengers behind to find Darkseid Lite™ (aka: Thanos) cackling and invading in their absence.

Then a bunch of stuff happens.  All of it feels like Very Important Moments and bits of scenes Hickman had in his notebook, but never could work them into anything, and he doesn't bother with logical flow of the narrative here, so it's difficult to relate.  Apparently 1980's new Universe mainstay Star Brand is now part of the Marvel U proper?  And can blow up just a whole lot of ships, but only in one scene, and then we need to forget about that no matter how useful?  Could it have been really his story as he learns to protect space and come to terms with what he is?  Sure!  Does that happen?  Not even slightly.

Also, the Avengers with Carol Danvers get kidnapped by the aliens and looked at rather than simply murdered, but there's no point to that, either.  And there are yellow horn-headed aliens and one kills a planet, and everyone freaks out, but that doesn't move the story forward, really.  It just happens.  I think Star Lord's dad is a traitor, but nobody cares.  And Skrulls.  And other stuff.  And there's Captain Universe, and she's super important, for, like, two pages.  And Steve Rogers puts together a pretty simple plan that the master tacticians of four galactic confederations fail to conceive (it's called a feint), and that somehow helps them win despite odds and whatnot.  And Sam Wilson wears a pterodactyl head while he flies in space.

Meanwhile, on Earth, other stuff happens including apparently Wakanda and Atlantis aren't getting along but Black Panther and Namor are hanging out so we can have scenes of them being mean to each other in a kingly fashion which feels like two old Aunts who hate each other forced to spend the holidays together.  Thanos' fighting forces are exactly as effective as they need to be for any given scene, and that fluctuates wildly.

Then a deus ex machina or four occur and Earth is Saved™ and Thanos is defeated by a guy who, to this point, got all of five pages out of 250+, and, no, I'd never heard of him.  And, of course, mind-control!  Because you can't have a @#$%ing comic book story that doesn't include @#$%ing mind control.

If I were less cynical, I'd believe the whole thing was a meta-commentary or something on the pointlessness of these big events, because it was all really just leading into Secret Wars which was really just leading into the relaunch of the Marvel U, which - if you didn't see that one coming, we're taking away your comic nerd card.

But I am cynical.  Deeply and bitterly so.  And so I think this was kind of forced in between other events so we'd keep having comics on the shelves until Secret Wars and I kind of got talked into buying this comic and reading it believing it would be okay.


It doesn't help that the next trade I should logically read would be Secret Wars, which is, apparently, the better version of Convergence,** which was a rip-off of Marvel's Secret Wars from the 1980's, back when DC was doing Crisis on Infinite Earths.

And it's in this mindset that I feel there's no real point in buying all that many new comics these days.

There was literally no point while reading Infinity that I thought "I am enjoying this" or  "this is really working" or "this is really taking some old ideas and doing something new and fresh with them".  It was kind of just a bunch of Marvel stuff thrown into a blender, whipped up, the sugar of some pretty terrific art added in.  Kool-Aid pie.

Marvel has always been able to rely on its characters, and how they differ and interact, but all of Hickman's New Avengers are world-weary kings with exactly the same disposition, and all with a willingness to destroy everything else to protect their kingdoms.  In Hickman's world, there's no difference between T'Challa, Iron Man, Namor, Reed Richard or Victor Von Doom.  Just the history of the comics that tells us that Doom is a bad guy (and Doom even gets a scene to be told as much).

There are no characters in Infinity except for maybe Thanos, and even his minions are more or less carbon copies of him in different outfits.  It's just posturing cardboard cut outs making grand statements at each other, up to and including Cap.

What spooks me is that this used to be a DC problem.  All plot, no character.  DC's events have always been plagued with "a really big idea" but the refusal to reflect on that big idea through the eyes of the characters.  They all just rush headlong at cosmic forces, like their fists are going to smack reality back into place.  It's always about how many characters they can cram in the panel - and that's been their specialty since COIE.  For thre decades DC readers have known that it's about getting through the events to get to the next part when editorial can simmer down for a while again.  Marvel's events never struck me quite the same way, but, of late...  I dunno.

In my darkest hours, sometimes I think "was I making it up?  Were comics always... this? And I was fooling myself?" but then I pull some of my favorites off the wall, and I'm reminded that - no, there have been Big 2 superhero comics that have been all plot but at least clever or worth plowing through.  There have been really good Big 2 superhero comics out there.  Recently, too.  But, somehow, not in the past...  I dunno, three years?  Literally the only New 52 title I found tolerable was Azzarello's Wonder Woman, and spots of Johns' Superman.  Everything else felt, and I know this is a weird description, but like someone was sort of shouting a comic at me from across the room.  There was no immediacy to the work, no character, no nuance or anything to hang onto.  Just the bare essentials of plot and characters and a lot of hand waving to communicate that something was going on.  Frankly, Marvel has been in more or less the same boat.

I feel for the kids out there.  I don't know how they avoid this.  Marvel, in particular, has insisted on wrapping every one of their titles into an event to the point of incomprehension within stand alone titles (and God help you if you don't keep up as the series get renumbered over and over).   It all feels so precarious, like the collector's tricks of the Chromium age, but woven into the narrative so it's impossible to avoid.  I'm currently trying to read Captain America's latest trades, and it's slipping and sliding between events on the periphery to an annoying degree.

I guess I'll have to just read books without pictures or something.

*If I need a computer to follow your comic, I may see part of your story problem.

**and Convergence was terrible, but the spin-offs were amusing


Anonymous said...

Hickman is a huge fan of Morrison, and he was/is trying to pull off something Morrison-esque with the FF/Infinity/New Avengers/Avengers. Eden is a new character. Star Brand is Hickman's attempt to pick an old forgotten characters and re-introduce and makes them significant (a la Morrison). The Builders (along with Aleph, Gardeners, Caretakers, Curators, and Abyss) are creations of Hickman. I don't know if you would enjoy the story more, but it makes more sense if you read Avengers and New Avengers all the way through Secret Wars. (And I really like the name "Ebony Maw").

The League said...

Yeah, I'm not surprised he's a Morrison fan, trying to capture some of that chaotic throughput of a Morrisonian megastory. Especially when you think about Morrison's JLA run. I just don't think he quite made it work the way Morrison manages to by playing off the mythic nature of the DCU. Morrison is always riding a razor's edge, and sometimes he pushes so far over that I'm not sure it's entirely working (and he's getting crazier with it), but I always feel that if you take a breath and pay attention, beneath the rapids of information in each speech bubble and rapid fire pacing, there's always layers of depth. I didn't feel this was anything but that overlying layer of white water rapids.

I agree the Thanos villains did have excellent names.