28 February, 2000
As a rule, I am not a big fan of Marvel Comics, the publisher or the product. Their hype factory disappointed me too many times as a younger reader for me to pay them any heed these days. "Earth X" promised to be something of an exception to this rule. However, I was ultimately disappointed with this story on a philosophical level, and this led me to write the following response to Marvel in the wake of the final issue. Needless to say I will not be buying into Universe X or any of the ripoffs that will inevitably follow. I don't expect many readers will agree with me, judging by fan response to the books, but my opinion will remain unchanged all the same. Now, to paraphrase Dennis Miller, I don't want to go off on a rant here, but.....
That meaty "THUNK" you heard was the sound of
my jaw hitting the floor upon reading the last two pages of the
last issue of "Earth X" and realizing that, after being
drawn back into the world of Marvel Comics for the first time
since Jim Lee left the X-Men, you dropped the ball once again
and blew any chance there was of my becoming a fan of the Marvel
Universe in this decade.
I went into this series with mixed expectations, knowing that I could expect good things from Alex Ross, but also knowing the type of high-market, low-content work that Marvel has produced in recent years. Still, I reasoned, with books like Kevin Smith's "Daredevil" in the shops, maybe there was a chance of something worthwhile.
Several issues into the series, I was suitably impressed. Ross's covers were captivating. Leon and Reinhold's art, though a little muddy, were a welcome break from the Jim Lee/action figure inspired art seen in most other books. The story had the potential to infuse the kind of life into Marvel that Crisis did for DC in the '80's. Perhaps the Marvel Universe of old still had a fighting chance.
Then came issue "X". The Celestials have always been one of my favorite Jack Kirby creations, and I truly learned to appreciate the King's art on "2001". So, to see the characters figure so prominently in this story was uplifting, and the climax of this tale was worthy of the finest cosmic sagas Marvel has published. I was even willing to accept the "savior" role of Mar-Vell, in honor of the work of Jim Starlin. The concept of a science-hero based Messianic figure is actually somewhat intriguing and opens up interesting possibilities for future stories.
Then, in the afterglow of the upheaval, Captain America, the Defender of Liberty and voice of the American spirit stands prepared to light the torch that would signify the life of the world. Proper to the significance of the moment he begins a speech. "No one dares question humanity's inherent urges to grow and develop along the lines of knowledge and technology. Yet we have nearly forgotten the most important ingredient necessary for any change to be for our lasting good. We have forgotten our NEED for EACH OTHER. And I emphasize the word "need"." (Capitalization mine)
Say it ain't so, Joe!!!
Have we really come so far from Cap's days of fighting tyranny, Nazism and Communism throughout the world, keeping America safe for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that he is now able to spout the jargon of those he once called his enemies? Should I be prepared to accept that the voice of democracy is really, and has always been, the voice of Communism? Have we learned nothing?
"But if we slay our dependency upon each other ,we
also sacrifice democracy."
Never have I heard the definition of democracy so openly and dramatically twisted as in this statement. America (in spirit) has always been about independence, political, religious and perhaps most importantly, individual. This was the basis of your founding, this is what has made you an example to the world, and this is the wellspring from which your democracy has flowed. Yes, your country "was founded upon the belief that different people...can still live together, united in a state of peace", but as individuals, not as some Hydra-like collective, each dependent on the other for survival! It will not happen, as Cap states, if you "look for need. See the need in yourself, and see the need in your fellow citizens." Remember that the core statement of the Communist movement was always, "From each according to their ability, to each according to their need." Cap has paraphrased this nicely.
Yes, "We are human before we are anything else", but how do you define that humanity? I have always seen that "I'm only human" is a statement of potential rather than a statute of limitations. The strength of humanity has always been in its creative power, as expressed through the thoughts and actions of individuals. The actions of collectives have only served to bring about the greatest horrors and shames of our history.
To sum up, for you to put these words in the mouth of such an icon as Captain America, in any form, is an insult to the work of everything the character has come to symbolize, and a defamation to the concept of the hero as it has partly come to be defined by comics and the creators who have built them. The hero, in art and life, has always stood for the strength of individual will, the power of individual achievement, and the belief that in the face of great adversity, one person can make a difference. You have successfully undermined that that concept in the minds of the growing generation who have read this story, with your portrayal of the hero as a servant of the common good. Worse, you have attempted to commit them to the mediocrity of being unable to rise above their limitations by binding them to the need of others.
"But it's just a comic!", you'll object. Not so. The fact that I am here writing this, the fact that so many people buy your books and so many people want to create them indicate that comics are more than just entertainment. They are also the source of ideas, morals, and individual philosophies. For those who appreciate them, they inform our sense of the world and the actions we take as part of it. They are art, and as such they present a picture of the world either as you, the publishers and creators, see it or want to see it.
For me, this story has been the worst betrayal that you can offer to the people who have believed in and supported these characters over the years. It's no wonder that Stan ditched you for DC. You have lost me, Marvel, and I hope that you have lost a lot more because of this. You have made it clear that those who dream of heroes had better go elsewhere. "Human torch" be damned.....the flame has gone out.
Excels ---nah. Forget it.
Equal Time Addendum:
Since sending Marvel this message, I have received a response from one of the people involved in the book, and have carried on a short but interesting argument by email regarding the philosophy that went into the conclusion of this story. It has not changed my mind about the final effect of the work, but I do now appreciate the depth of thought that went into it, and was pleased to have my critique answered in such a reasoned fashion. To the respondent (who asked me not to post his responses here), thank you for taking the time to answer my letter.