Michael Maiello's picture

    The Age of Marvel

    I haven't seen Avengers: Age of Ultron yet, but there's no doubt that will happen.  I actually haven't seen the second Captain America either.  Parenthood will do that.  But I have seen most of the Marvel movies, I watch Agents of Shield and just finished Daredevil on Netflix.  I know what all the plans for the Marvel cinematic universe are and I know the term "Marvel cinematic universe."

    Once upon a time, I interviewed Avi Arad, then chief creative officer of Marvel Entertainment and the man credited with turning around a company nearly bankrupted by Ron Perelman by licensing successful movie deals including the original Spider-Man trilogy to Sony and The X-Men to Fox.  My fanboy question was, "Will the heroes from the various movies ever exist in the same universe, the way they do in the comic books?"  See, when I was a kid in the late 1980s and early 1990s, comic books were all about cross-overs.  Spidey would be fighting off the Kingpin's goons and then wind up trapped on a space ship with the Avengers trying to avert a Kree-Skrull war.  Don't worry if none of that makes sense to you.  The point is, one of the joys of comics was that this one company printed a ton of magazines about a ton of characters who all shared the same world.  It's as if every character in The Lord of the Rings had their own book, in addition to the books Tolkien actually wrote.  You could read a new issue of Galadriel every month and get the whole Lord of the Rings story while also getting her story.  With Marvel (I don't know about D.C., I was a Marvel kid) a big part of the fun were those moments when Wolverine was going about his business and all of the sudden, The Silver Surfer popped up.

    Arad's answer to my question, which I didn't really understand at the time because I asked it from the perspective of a fan rather than a business journalist (despite my, you know, job) was: "No.  I'm sorry, but that will never happen."  The reason, of course, was that Arad was going to sell rights to characters on the best terms he could, on a case by case basis.  Studios don't share.  Marvel's agreement with Sony was, at the time, well-known as a financial lifeline for Marvel but also as kind of a bad deal, where Sony owned the character in perpetuity, as long as it cranked out enough movies.  Given that Marvel had created Spider-Man, this was a huge give up.  It's what a desperate company sells to a powerful company.  It worked.

    Within the last few years, I've seen Marvel and Star Wars sold to Disney.  Watching a company that has owned American childhood snap up my childhood was a little dreadful.  But one of the results, and we'll see how it goes, is that both Marvel and Star Wars are becoming expanded universes -- comic book style universes -- powered by Disney.  Sony is even letting them use Spider-Man.

    There are problems with this.  Doc Cleveland writes here annually about the works of public note that should have entered the public domain had the copyright laws not been expanded, largely at the behest of Disney.  These characters are enjoying a renaissance under Disney, but they will never not be under Disney, at least not in my lifetime.

    It's funny to me that the culture is now saturated in super-heroes.  When I was a kid, buying my comics at the Circle K in Bernalillo, New Mexico, none of the other kids knew who Hawkeye was and I never imagined that a primetime ABC show would have a character based on his comic book wife at the time, Bobbi Morse, agent of SHIELD, aka The Mockingbird.  Reading comics was never something any other kid hassled me about, but I never talked much about it, either.

    As I was entering high school (and, ironically, the adult "graphic novel" sprang into being -- my first was Frank Miller's Daredevil) my father kind of ruined it all for me.  My parents had split up when I was 7 or 8.  I was moved to rural New Mexico.  My father stayed in New York.  My sister and I were legally obligated to visit during the summer.  It was not a good situation.  Trips that were supposed to last months were gradually scaled back to weeks.  Not because anybody was bad, but because the situation was.  My father is a very smart man.  He's intellectually rigorous. But one of the highlights of going to New York, for me, were trips to real comic books shops -- the kinds with every title available in the world and a Fantastic Four #1 for sale.  As I entered high school and requested another trip to the comic book store, he made a crack about it being children's material.  I ignored him at the time.  We made the trip.  But by the next year, I didn't even ask.  I'd say that a few months after I got home, I started to tally the cost of buying every issue of the comics I wanted to read and just decided I needed to stop and to funnel some of that money into the kinds of used books my father would respect me for reading.

    This was not a tragedy, exactly.  Those books were necessary.  I needed most of them far more than Avengers Annual #14 or Marvel Team-Up: Spidey & The Human Torch, but it did end the romance.  I still like these things.  Every now and then, I just want a comic.  But I haven't been sucked in like I was.  I'll go to Carmine Street Comics and ask for a self contained Marvel story, usually about the Avengers, with a beginning and an end and no obligation to start buying monthly again, looking for cross-overs.

    I don't think my dad was wrong for his point of view.  It's a seemingly minor thing that I remember, though.  It affected me.  I made a change.  I wound up switching comics for early 20th century American fiction, largely centered around the Jazz Age and I think I still have a weird sense that all the characters of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, West, Anderson, Wolf, Woolf, Barnes, Stein and even Joyce and Eliot, all lived in the same universe like the characters at Marvel and that a Gatsby team-up could happen any time.

    Universes, man.




    I have two cousins, both in their 50s now, who have been comic book readers and collectors all of their lives.  One is a physical therapist and the other is a teacher, but they make time for ComicCons all over the country and they would probably love to share stories with you about those characters.  I can't do that, but I loved, loved,  loved this piece.

    Your dad was probably wrong to say what he said, and if he knew what an impact it made he might not have said it.  Still, books are good, too.  One of my very favorite books, even though I have almost no interest in comic books, is Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Have you read it?

    I love everything Chabon writes, including these:  Wonder Boys, Manhood for Amateurs, and my favorite of all, Summerland, A Novel. 

    But then I love everything you write, too.  Also.  Yes.

    Love Chabon and K&C.  I think Wonder Boys is still my favorite.

    There's so much here besides comics, Michael, and you've woven it all together beautifully.

    I can especially relate to the summers with dad, though mine were across the river in New Jersey. It's a scheduled interruption in a kid's life - you've done a great job describing just a bit of the conflict along with the necessary growth. Now that you're a dad, how great is it that you can draw on that?

    Thank you, barefooted.  Now that I'm a dad, my son is steeped in Marvel and Star Wars but also loves Thomas and Friends.  I love how he combines them.  There are frequent super villain attacks on the Island of Sodor and when the villains are sent away, the heroes party with the trains.

    But my favorite part is this... My son recognizes three modes for these characters -- "good, bad, and complicated."  Spider-Man is good.  Doctor Octopus is bad.  Galactus is complicated.  That much, I gave him.  On his own, he decided that Dr. Doom and Magneto are also "complicated."

    This kid, I tell you.

    My hope is to give and not to impose too much.


    I think, as children, we want to believe in order;  in a consistent world, where ultimately, everything makes sense.  Our optimism that such a world exists, or our determination that one could exist, is what makes us Liberals, isn't it?   One of the things that makes Star Trek so compelling after all these years is that consistency of story, the weaving of their various worlds into a whole, where the next generation can have visits from characters from the original series, characters from Deep Space Nine show up on the Enterprise and events like the Khitomer Massacre can affect storylines on multiple shows.    But, I think, as we grow older, we also see that the world is a complex place and order is more a matter of context than content, so we are able to let go of our need to have the worlds we visit in our fantasies be consistent or have perfectly shaped endings to their stories. At a certain point, we see that such perfection and symmetry is rare in the real world and travels down a path seldom, if ever, as interesting as the one filled with mysteries and inconsistencies.

    Marvel was the place to go for Black superheroes. The Black Panther and the Falcon led the way. Storm followed years later as a female superheroes. 


    I still have a love for the occasional comic. marvel has an all you can eat subscription that allows you to pay an annual fee for every Marvel comic. I love going back to the classics like the first appearance of the Black Panther and Storm. I read some of the newer characters as well. Thanks for the post. Stan Lee did for comics what Gene Roddenberry did for televised science fiction. Blacks were part of the story lines.

    Also, Power Man of Heroes for Hire.  And, of course, James Rhodes taking over as Iron Man for much of my childhood.

    Love the Marvel names where race/demographics are concerned.  I am constantly tickled by the idea of Janet van Dyne ("of the Chicago van Dynes") being named "The Wasp."

    As for "The Black Panther," -- he's in the new Avenger's movie and I believe there is either a solo movie for him planned or that he'll factor into Captain America 3: Civil War, or both.  I suspect that Fox will, sooner or later, react in embarrassing fashion, to the existence of a super hero who shares a name with the Black Panthers.

    I'll have to go see the new Avengers movie. I thought Wesley Snipes had an option on the Black Panther, but that was eons ago. It may have fallen by the wayside by now. 

    Marvel also introduced one of the first black super villains, Centurius, in Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Marvels evokes great memories.

    To stay alive during hard times, Marvel optioned a lot of its properties to companies and people. But most of those options have expired.  Wesley got to be Blade. Movie T'Challa is coming!

    I feel ya, big man. 

    I got shut down on comics, and pretty violently so (my Mum burnt them all) when I was 11. Took me til my 20's before I felt free enough to pick them up again. 

    What turned the trick, from the comic side, was Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and the grand explosion of the 80's. Swamp Thing, The Watchmen, V for Vendetta and the rest were magic.

    But no matter how you spin it, what my Mum did was shitty. Straight up, imagine that your wife, or husband, did that shit to YOUR kid? You'd shut that nonsense down in a hurry. And it was probably only the situation that let your Dad pull that crap off, unscathed. 

    My advice? Read what you goddamn want. I eventually found that my fave novels were all over on that wing of life anyway, SciFi and Fantasy, but also the whole Magic Realism and Surreal books by Robbins-Rushdie-Ruff-Vonnegut-The South Americans.

    You're already a really strong writer MM. And you're busy putting in a solid, working, adult life. Maybe from here on though, reading-wise at least, just... let it rip. 

    And I can think of a certain wrestler who'd take that same stance as well, eh? ;-)

    Thanks for this, Q.  I don't write a ton of personal stuff here.  Your comment really touches me. You had it even worse in this regard.  But you're your own Q.

    I didn't find The Watchmen and Sandman until I was an adult.  I love sci-fi and fantasy, too and I see very little gap between it and Vonnegut, magic realism and Tom Robbins, a name I haven't heard in too long.  It's also attached to David Foster Wallace (big hero to me) and so many others (Max Barry... an often overlooked dude).

    Here's Slick Ric making a point to a big man...

    Yeah, they took away my snuff porn collection*, and I've been pretty bitter ever since. Sexy Sadie was my favorite - perhaps not the best looker but a great vivacious spirit and the rowdiest screams as they put out her lights. But I guess if I hadn't put away my childish things, I would never have had the successful career I've had in cattle stockyard design and chicken factory processing. I count my blessings.

    *might have had something to do with filming with my younger sister, but I think they were mostly just uptight prudes - you know the type, Q - always in your shorts over something. Speaking of shorts, that photo above could really be turned into something totally man-style sexilicious - shouldn't those dudes be pursuing a second career for the rough trade? (the ref looks like Emilio Estavez - he could use a career picker-upper I'm sure). Seems like such a waste.

    Well, the pic is entitled "Willie Wrestling," so..... y'know.

    Q, this brings up another subject that is dear to my heart.

    Why cannot you become verified?

    I mean this place verifies me which means that this site will verify anyone for chrissakes.


    Go ahead and get verified.

    I mean it is not like joining a political party or anything.


    My parents weren't stupid but they were uneducated. My mom, as the oldest daughter, had to drop out of high school to care for the family when her mom got sick and bedridden. They had one mode, Reading good, so anything with the printed word was good. I couldn't afford to buy comics, but Dad was a mechanic for much of my childhood and people were always dropping off stuff at his gas station. Often a stack of used comics. Could be Spiderman, Thor, or Archie comics. When mom got a job at a department store I started to get these erotic novels that were discarded, long before they were age appropriate. I was very introverted and the library was never enough since I spent so much time reading in my room.

    I surprised no one has mentioned The Fabulous Ferry Freak Brothers. I went from super hero comics to hippie comics in my late teen years with hardly a pause.

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