Marvels Mystery

Marvels Mystery

Tim O’Neil continues to reflect upon Marvels ‘ rejection by folks like myself. It’s another good piece, but I’m still not at all convinced (I’ve cut, pasted and edited this from my response on Tim’s site) :

As I mentioned in my comment thread yesterday–it’s been a long time
since I read this book, and you may be right Tim–my hostility may have
something to do with a basic diasagreement with Busiek over why people read (or ought to read) superhero comics…

Your “comfort zone” assertion is interesting, because I read the book
in exactly the opposite way–i.e. Busiek/Ross have found the ideal means of placing a certain type of superhero reader (and, for me, an
unambiguously “bad” type of superhero reader–i.e. the kind of reader
that grew up wishing that they had lived in the Marvel Universe) in
their ideal “comfort zone”, for the very first time… Yes, it’s true
that, for most of these Marvel Zombies (in the truest sense of the
term!), a corollary of the wish is that they want to get in on that superpowered action too, not play the role of bystander… But again, if the “lesson” of Marvels
is that these readers cannot participate in the power fantasies that
they’ve thrilled to for so long, then this is tantamount to consigning
the whole genre (and, really, all genres that depend upon “larger than
life” figures) to the realm of escapism… The one thing that Marvels
does rule out is my own approach to these books–i.e. that the
super-characters’ world is not there to be marvelled at, feared, or
“escaped into”, but rather to provide an ideal venue in which to
explore “real” existential/epistemological dilemmas… Of course, some
might consider Berkeleyan skepticism (and speculative philosophy in
general) “mere escapism”, and “less real” than a straightforwardly
“moving story” about a family that can’t communicate with each other–but I’m afraid I just can’t agree with that position…

Still, I will re-read Marvels at some point, with your ideas in mind, and I’ll report back on the experience!

A few more points before I go:

1. Has anyone ever asked Kurt Busiek if he had Orson Welles’ radio version of The War of the Worlds  in mind when he took on this project? (it strikes me that the book’s narratological shift creates a very similarly skewed portrait of the fantastical source  material)

2. Getting back to the whole idea of making romance “real” (again, I admit to an extreme bias against this whole procedure):

The joy of the Marvel Universe is that it’s close enough to our own world that we don’t need for it to be real, and this frees the storytellers to key up that “existential spotlight” that I’m always talking about to the max. It’s the ideal compromise between straightforward fantasy, in which creators tend to be burdened with the responsibility of “realizing a world”, and “realism/naturalism/whatever”, in which the artist is expected to perform miracles of mimesis. In both of the latter cases, what gets lost in the shuffle are the “creatures of the artist’s brain”, as Hawthorne would say… And the American public’s troublesome response to “romance” is not at all a new one–Hawthorne was raked over the coals by critics for setting The Blithedale Romance in a place that was instantly recognizable to his readers, and then, satisfied that this would do for “setting the stage”, unleashing Zenobia, Hollingsworth, Westervelt, Old Moodie, and Priscilla upon an unsuspecting public that was looking for a history of Brook Farm… And many of the people who did like the book were perhaps its worst enemies, because they turned it all into a roman a clef–enjoying it as a sneak peak at “real” celebrities/culture heroes (Margaret Fuller, Emerson, Hawthorne himself, etc.), and driving its author to distraction! My problem with Marvels is similar–it’s like those debunking exercises that devote themselves to “proving” that Old Hollywood genres are bad for you, or, at least, best to be enjoyed as mere daydreams (that cannot “say anything about your life”)…. and don’t get me started on people who like Dashiell Hammett because they think it’s “realistic”! The best superhero comics, as in Hawthorne and Hammett, merely gesture toward a reality that is mainly supplied by the reader him/herself–and the artistry is all in the romance!

3. Steven–this discussion needs more of your input!

Good Night Friends!



  1. Dave, this is a bit of an aside, but not entirely: are you familiar with the novels of Javier Marias? If you get the time (ha!) it might do you some good to check ’em out.

    Also, I’m working on getting my thoughts together for a post on the senseless descent into a slavish devotion to plausibility that I’ve been noticing in superhero comics for the past God knows how many years, something I largely blame on Marvels (whether justified or not) , and some of your thoughts here will certainly work their way (credited) into the discussion.

  2. I haven’t read Marias, Dan–but a quick googling confirms your suspicion that I ought to… someday!

    Looking forward to your entry!


  3. I prefer to think of it as a summoning Steven! Your perspective on Marvels is so different from mine or Tim’s… It would be a crime to deprive the reading public of your thoughts on these matters… Plus, unlike me, you actually remember the details of the story!


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