Gangway!

Gangway!
(X-Men #22 & #23–see also Paul O’Brien, here and here)

As I mentioned earlier–it’s 1966, okay? We’re less than five years into the Marvel Saga here, and already we’ve got Count Nefaria crooning “yesteryears”? (and what’s he doing on this cover anyway–auditioning for the role of “monocled carnival barker” in a Fellini film?) This may seem demented, but it’s actually par for the course in American pop culture during the period in question (I’m thinking of stuff like The Bagdads’ “Bring Back Those Doo-Wops” or The Penguins’ “Memories of El Monte”–both of which pine for the glory days of 1958, in the early sixties!) Comics editors, in the fifties, expected 100% turnovers in their readerships every 5 years, and Hollywood studios like Warner Bros. made a habit of remaking movies like Tiger Shark and The Strawberry Blonde at about the same clip–the assumption being that people would welcome these narratives like old friends. That’s just how this stuff works–Marvel was no more dependent upon popular nostalgia than their contemporaries (across the various media) were.

However, Marveldom had begun to distinguish itself by the meticulousness of its
accounting for the interest generated by its collective memory banks. And, again, this was Roy Thomas’ doing, more than anyone’s… Now, I’m aware that my investment in “dynamic stasis” makes me love the weirdness of Marvel’s “sliding time line” in a way that most of you can’t possibly condone–so I won’t ask you to join me in cheering Roy on as he crams FIVE lame-assed villains into six pages of Central Park, singing songs of themselves, to the tune of scholarly footnotes–but, come on! this pretty cool!



(Actually, for some reason, the Porcupine DIDN’T get a footnote, but he did get an appreciative welcome from Hank McCoy:

)

My point, with the whole dynamic stasis thing, is that what appears, on the face of it, to be a forgetting machine is actually a memory machine deluxe. Yes, it may seem like madness for a text to ask us to believe that all of the times that the FF have faced Doc Doom, or the Thing has been cured of his affliction, or Professor X has stood up and sat back down again can/must fit on a five-year chart–but the upshot of this practice is that it  takes the emphasis OFF of the characters (and the canons of “realistic psychological development”) and places it squarely upon the readers, who are then given carte blanche to ponder the events of the current issue in juxtaposition with EVERYTHING that has ever happened in the unclassifiable Marvel past, rather than being forced to accept the current author’s diachronic power play–it’s historiography without history! It’s wonderful! (this, by the way, is why I HATE reboots, which are nothing but diachronic power plays–Marvel was a lot better off under the old dispensation…)

Okay–I think that’s all I have to say about these issues–although people who actually read them will note that Roy again makes much of the fact that these X-Men are completely anonymous, as far as the public is concerned, and are therefore particularly vulnerable to identity theft, supervillain style. But check back here soon, ’cause the next issue (which contains Roy’s first wonderful addition to the Marvel roster) was one of my favourites, back in the day, and I don’t expect that’ll change this time around!



Good night friends!
Dave

7 comments

  1. “…it’s historiography without history! It’s wonderful!”

    Ladies and gentlemen, here we have Dave’s aesthetic in a nutshell🙂

    And it was also in the context of you writing about historiography that I was scratching my head and suspecting that less well-meaning people might regard it at least slightly frivolous to compare reading about Civil War with plowing through a “huge run of Dr. Strange”, as you did in “Continuity” Revisited.

    FrF

  2. Another point about comics, movies etc. bringing back fifties concepts in the sixties is that archival material wasn’t available like it is now. Movie fans didn’t have DVDs and comics fans didn’t have Essentials or Masterworks. The audience had to take what was currently being produced.

    I’m not a historian of pop culture at all but I would think that since the audience had far less control over what material they could revisit that nostalgic enterprises like ol’ Roy’s here would be welcome. Although I wonder, and the letter pages of future issues might reveal this, how many readers remembered this characters and how many readers were just learning of this part of Marvel’s past they never knew of.

    Ian Brill

  3. absolutely Ian!

    It’s a point that can never be stressed enough! (the one about the lack of control that audiences generally had over their encounters with the pop cultural past, I mean)

    and you can bet I’ll be scanning those lettercols for information of the sort you describe!

    Dave

  4. The lack of footnote for the Porcupine reads like the punchline to a joke to me. Almost as if—Stan’s done all the work on the previous references, this one’s left as an exercise to the reader. Or perhaps, as Beast says, the Porcupine doesn’t need an explanation, he’s self-evident—I’d like to see more of him on the basis of this single panel, he looks great!

    Plok once wrote me a comment on collecting too much history: “possibly, the equation works like this: the more knowledge, the less freedom, and the bigger disaster”. This seems to apply to the reprints and scans that make old comics more present now than they were in ’66. Writers just can’t seem to get the right distance that the sliding time line represents. They seem to love old comics so much that they’ve got to either trash them or apologise for them.

    I recently read the Kree-Skull War, where Roy has superheroes from yesteryear spring from the mind of fan Rick Jones, twenty years before Flex Mentallo. I think Morrison understood what Roy was up to. Of all the contemporary writers, he eschews reboots most of all.

    higs, Dave

  5. The use of the second-string villains supports your statement that the emphasis was on the readers’s enjoyment.

    Who are these guys? Where did they come from? Can I be part of the community?!?

    All that was for the reader to try and figure out with the help of back issues when they could be tracked down.

  6. Okay, Dave, I’ve read this repeatedly and finally think I understand most of it. Which is an achievement for you, because anyone who can hook me up to a ‘diachronic power play’ and a ‘dynamic stasis’ is taking me further than I thought I’d go.

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