Is it possible to say that Marvel had a general political viewpoint,
meaning were they more conservative or more progressive? For example, I
heard that at least early-60s Marvels were stridently anti-communist,
and that their gender politics weren’t that good, either. (Alan Moore
“milked” this extensively for all its satirical worth in his great
“1963” mini-series.) It would be interesting if these characterizations
are true and how you see Marvel’s politics. Was progressive thinking
introduced more from the authors’ side or more from the readers?
That’s a really tough one to answer. On the surface, the political viewpoint is pure “Great Society Liberalism” (attitude toward communism is a poor litmus test for conservatism or progressivism during this period, because everyone–even the emergent New Left–was anticommunist, at least to some extent) –i.e. in favour of mild wealth redistribution, racial equality, a “fairness”-based morality, rather than the “values”-based morality that has a stranglehold on American political discourse at the moment, some consideration (but not nearly enough) of gender equality… I would argue that the authors invited the readership to determine how far the stories ought to pursue their (explicit) critique of power–but that the ironic narrative voice that Stan Lee developed (and passed on to the epigoni) presents an implicit challenge to all norms and certainties… And here the gender picture is much brighter, or, at least, more interesting–just think of all of that “romance” content that the (implied male) reader is continually asked to “suffer through”…why is this material there at all? (and so memorable!) The Spider-Man and Daredevil lettercols were particularly rife with discussions of this sort…
How do Marvel superheroes react to democracy? Re: DC – I know there
are a couple of incidents where Batman (I know you don’t like him)
humiliates politicians who dare to interfere with his vigilantism. Of
course they are depicted as physically feeble and Batman (brawn equals
righteousness, obviously) has his revenge by doing things like seizing
them by the collars and shaking them into submission or by removing his
opponent’s hairpiece. (He’s really a nice fellow…)
Generally, there’s a real Frank Capra thing going on in these comics… i.e. anyone with any sort of power is suspect–including the protagonists themselves, hence the need for secret identities, which exist mainly in order to protect heroes from the temptation to rule… (acknowledged by Gruenwald through the wholesale abandonment of alter egos in Squadron Supreme) of course, the Fantastic Four constitute a massive exception to this rule, which is one reason why I am always so skeptical of arguments which attribute all of Marvel’s success to Jack Kirby. Kirby (when given free reign–as he was in the FF, even more so than in Thor, where Lee did some tricky things to undermine the King’s mythologizing) is the power fantasist supreme, and most of the problems I see in the current subculture can be traced back to this Golden Age holdover’s influence…
How important is it for you to be given the motivations of characters?
I’m especially alluding to villains. Is the depiction of villains who
are “evil” without an explanation of their motives “reactionary”?
Not very important at all. I see these stories as romances–and the “villains” as the objective correlatives of an existential struggle within the protagonists. They enable a character like Spider-Man to confront the “wrongness” of the universe without taking out his frustrations upon his peers/society (or, in a case like Batman’s, they provide the character with a means of escape from his intersubjective duties–but that’s another story!)
I’m sure you’ve talked about it at some point, nevertheless I’m asking:
In your opinion, when did Marvel begin to lose its narrative magic?
I’m not sure it has! As long as people continue to read and discuss Marvel comics in interesting ways, the magic lives on! That said–I do think that the onslaught of “reboots” (an entirely different animal from the “retcon”) has done some damage to the historiographical reading tradition that I privilege.
good afternoon friends!