Friday, January 16, 2009

JLA/Avengers: "More Than Heroes, Less Than Gods.."

  With the start of a new year, Landon thought it a good idea to assess where we are and where we’re going with our site. I just finished JLA/Avengers, a company crossover between DC and Marvel comics. While it contains the usual setup as other crossovers (heroes manipulated into battle with one another via some cosmic entities for the sake of the multiverse), this particular story stands out in its stark presentation of the different approaches of the respective company’s to their idea of heroism. Even more, it hammers home the point of why Landon and I started SUPERHERO BABYLON to begin with.

 JLA/Avengers is a somewhat lengthy story, but most of it is taken up with action panels, of course. But out of these pages, a few panels, together in isolation, really tell their story (and ours) in microcosm.

  In the panels below, the Superman and friends are angered by what he sees as the “failure” of the Marvel heroes:

  Traveling to the Marvel Universe, the DC heroes see how the populace views that world’s champions:


Superman doesn’t accept any excuses:


The Marvels, in contrast, are amazed at how well the DC heroes are regarded in their homeword:

  But Captain America is not so impressed and compares the DC heroes to demagogues:

  What we have here is really an amazing dynamic, a tension of opposites that makes for great drama, going beyond the standard hero/villain approach. What this is, ultimately, is a picture of the maxim “the good is the enemy of the better.” It’s a cliché to think of the “power mad villain” twisting his mustache, indulging in evil for the sake of evil. Most "villains" see themselves as heroes in their own right. But what happens when one world’s heroes become another’s villains? Superman and his allies are powerful, and revered, but at what expense? In this story, they take it upon themselves to set the world right, as messiah-like beings. Superman, in particular, comes off as the Nietzschean “ubermensch” his creators never meant for him to be. Aquaman, aka “Arthur, King of Atlantis,” paints himself as a benevolent ruler in contrast to what he sees in Doctor Doom. The Avengers, however, see themselves as defenders of freedom, even if that means allowing others to make mistakes, and even more so, even if it means not being revered and respected.

   But the Avengers could be said to be “jealous” of the power and respect of the DC heroes. They "marvel" at how much easier the DC heroes have it, as they "marvel" at the “futuristic” architecture of Metropolis versus that of their New York. (Tellingly, they don’t show Gotham…). In some way, what the "Marvels" are saying is that it’s great to achieve and be the best one can be, but at what cost? This is by Stan Lee’s design, of course, who purposely created the Marvel universe as a flawed answer to DC’s perfection. So the battle comes down to: is perfection and achievement possible for man, or are even the best among us flawed and ugly?  (This is played out in Batman’s snobbish reaction to “the rough-edged charm” of The Thing.) The DC heroes are called “fascist” by Captain America. This brings up an interesting irony: Cap was the hero of WWII, fighting the REAL Nazis. The irony is that many today use the term “Fascist” to describe America (erroneously, in my opinion, but there we are). The very idea of achievement and progress has become associated with Fascism by enemies of achievement and progress, especially when that progress is of the scientific and technological kind. What is considered “Fascist” is the idea of hierarchy and being "better" (often because of the false means used to achieve these things, and because of those people who pass themselves off as "better" without having truly earned that distinction), and what is “desirable” is tolerance and equality, even if it means bringing the best down to the level of the worst.

  Another important part of this: what is not asked of both sides, whether perfect or flawed, is whether or not the sacrifice of the heroes to society is required. Neither side questions whether or not they SHOULD do what they do, both accept that they must. In this, the story becomes almost a battle of biblical proportions, the battle between the Old and New Testaments. Oddly enough, while it’s usually Superman who is portrayed as the failed Christ symbol, in this story, the Marvel heroes are the ones on the Cross, while the DC characters enjoy the luxury of passing judgement.

 And this brings us back to the existence of Superhero Babylon, where we believe that a third option is available; not to rule, or to be ruled, but to walk side by side freely of one’s own choice. To help when one can, to uphold truth, justice, and, yes, the AMERICAN way, but not via a duty of sacrifice. What DC and Marvel lack is a John Galt. They have their slogans, such as “With great power comes great responsibility.” What they don’t have is a hero’s bill of rights. But of course, Ayn Rand has already written that:

 "I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."


RyWllWatch said...

An addendum, as in at least a Big Part of Why the accusations flew, per the Grandmaster in JLA/AVENGERS #3: "Universes fundamentally incompatible... natures too... different... Some of you... affected... so strongly ATTUNED to your true realities... SENSING changes... making you EDGY... uneasy..." So there's something of a rational explanation to the name-calling, as opposed to a lot of real life individuals who throw words around. (All those dots are Verbatim form the comic, the words in CAPS printed there were in Bold/Italics.)