We found ourselves with far more to say on our recent article. The answer was either, redo the article, or make something new. So, we started a little podcast. Talking about subjects that might not fit into articles, or to expound on thoughts.
While the properties are everywhere in the 21st century, comics are still one of the hardest mediums to get started with. Especially if you want to dive into the mainstream stuff, such as Marvel and DC. With the use of the internet, you can make the job a little easier for yourself. You can look up character history, cool stories, and maybe get an idea of what you want to read. But it can still be over whelming, with nearly 100 years of comic book history. Enter, YouTube! Through YouTube, it’s never been easier for you to stumble across great comic book content. There are countless Comic Book channels, giving you brief histories of key characters. Run downs of major or recent storylines. Tips on collecting and preserving. Even channels doing fun comic related games, and dares. All you have to do is quickly type ‘comic book’ in the YouTube search engine, and there you go! However, these channels can start to blur together after a time. The same brief histories, of the same characters, feeding back the same information till you can recite it from memory.
Since launching their first Comic Misconceptions video on March 26th, 2013. Scott and the Nerdsync crew have worked hard to deliver quality, fun and informative videos for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a well-read veteran, who can recite ever single Lantern oath from memory. Or a movie going fan, who wants to break into the source material. Nerdsync breaks down their material to be completely accessible to even the newest of readers. Beyond that, their choice of subject is far and wide. Giving nice little twists on the now stable Comic Book/YouTube formula. You want a history of Superman? Not only will they give it to you, they will go through the real-life reason for his creation, and the story behind that. When a film comes out, and every channel is scrambling to bring you a funny story or origin relating to the characters involved. Nerdsync proves their nerdy worth by talking about science, history, mythology and psychology. There is a reason why the Nerdsync slogan is ‘helping you grow smarter through comics’!
The show’s host, one Scott Niswander, brings a fun, passionate and energetic feel to the show. Encouraging his audience to get involved, create their own content, and start discussions. The show prides itself on its community of ‘loveable nerds’, banning together to help pool together resources, create on going jokes, and sometimes, just taking to the internet to spread their love of comics. Over the 4 years since Nerdsync burst on to the scene. Other shows and creators have taken to the channel, and added their own little segments, connecting to their own work. Giving us an even greater variation, to an already wonderful channel. We have Hass with Comicana, bringing us insightful looks at how comic pages work. Exploring the flow of panels, pacing and tone, using recent books, and well-known classics. We are given a dose of legal history with Joel in Super Suits, breaking down the insane history of comic book lawsuits. Not to mention the fantastic cameo and cross over appearances from the like of Auram, Ricky of Stewdippin, and Mike of PBS Idea Channel.
What makes Nerdsync stand apart, is its dedication to education through comics. In the world of academic, comics have a surprising and glorious history. They have been the subject matter when talking about so many real-world events. Including politics, genetics, physics, mythology, and pseudoscience. While these concepts, books and papers, may seem dry and none accessible to outside readers. Nerdsync delivers compelling, interesting, and outright fun material, that inspires and entertains the audience. It’s hard to deny the number of comics, characters, theories, and principles you will be exposed to, without realising it. And, you will enjoy every second of it.
“Holy here we go again Batman!”
When introduced in Amazing Fantasy #15, Peter Parker’s described as “Midtown High’s only professional wallflower!” We see a lonely kid, stood apart from the rest, dressed in noticeably uncool clothes. With the only stand out being the foreboding shadow dwarfing poor Peter. Something only we are treated to. A page later, we see him attempt to ask out the beautiful, raven haired, Sally. Only to be turned down for what is apparently the “umpteenth” time. Even after gaining phenomenal Spidey powers, his life is still a mess. He’s still a troubled neurotic teen, who can’t catch a break. Before the end of his high school career, he starts dating Betty Brant, the first girl who was kind to him. Only to break off the relationship because he doesn’t want someone he cares for to be hurt from his super heroics. Harkening back to Uncle Ben, and foreshadowing the rest of his life. We see him continue with his life, growing as Spider-Man, going off to college. And then Gwen Stacy walks into his life.
When we talk about Gwen Stacy, the defining moment is her death. Discussion of Gwen starts at her end. The reason for this is simple. She’s incredibly bland. She is wish fulfilment. As former Spider-Man writer, Gerry Conway puts it:
“She brought nothing to the mix. It made no sense to me that Peter Parker would end up with a babe like that who had no problems. Only a damaged person would end up with a damaged guy like Peter Parker. And Gwen Stacy was perfect!”
So if she was so bland, and the only interesting point is her death, than why do we still talk about her?
Writers and Artists, such as Gerry Conway, and John Romita, have frequently pointed out Gwen’s true role in the Spider-Man comics. Wish fulfilment for the readers. Peter Parker was created by Stan Lee to stand in for the readers. A nerdy teen, riddled with anxiety and problems. Even when gaining incredible strength and abilities, he’s still burdened by the same everyday problems as the reader. The introduction of Gwen, and later Mary Jane, was Stan’s way of adding a little light to Peters life. And there for, us. Conway describes the look and creation of Gwen as:
“It was basically Stan fulfilling Stan’s own fantasy. Stan married a woman who was pretty much a babe – Joan Lee was a very attractive blond who was obviously Stan’s ideal female.”
When John Romita took over on the art for Amazing Spider-Man, his experience with romance comics, brought a stunning beauty to Gwen. As well as finally revealing the outright bombshell that is Mary Jane Watson. With Steve Ditko’s moody style pushed aside, we could fall in love with the truly stunning Gwen. We fell for her alongside Peter Parker. Meaning that when she was taken from us in that moment of tragedy, it meant something.
When Gwen died in 1973, comic deaths for heroes were rare. The most significant deaths in comics at this point, were Uncle Ben, and Bruce Wayne’s parents. Deaths that have not been undone. In a post Death of Superman, Blackest Night world. A comic book death is almost an everyday occurrence. Something that is almost certain to be undone in a few months to a couple of years. We would have walked away from the event with only the mildest of annoyance or empathy, taking to the internet to predict how and when the death would be undone.
However, it wasn’t originally Gwen Stacy who was up for the chopping block. Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, originally planned for Aunt May to die in this arc. Something that, to be honest, could happen at any moment simply by the look of her. It was artist John Romita who suggested to the pair, that they kill Gwen Stacy instead. As Romita put it in an interview:
“Yes, I’m the murderer.”
The tragic circumstances of Gwen’s death, adds to her legacy. Being kidnapped by Spider-Man’s arch enemy, The Green Goblin. As the Goblin throws Gwen from the George Washington Bridge, Spidey grabs her with his web. Only for the smallest sound effect of a ‘Snap!’ by her neck to appear, as he catches her. As he pulls her pack up, he cradles her in his arms. Forever feeling responsible for the death of another person he loves. Gwen died never knowing of Peter and Spider-Man’s connection, providing an extra layer of tragedy to her end.
Our attachment to Gwen Stacy, comes in hindsight. Stories such as the beautiful Spider-Man: Blue by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, have retroactively given us more detailed, and touching reasons to love the blonde beauty. In Spider-Man: Blue, the entire story retells Peter and Gwen’s meeting, and their short time together, in the form of an audible letter from Peter, as he spends his valentine’s day felling blue and thinking of her. At the end of it all, her death brought us two things. An overly referenced but iconic death. And the relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane. Both Romita and Conway have spoken about their feelings on Mary Jane vs. Gwen Stacy. Romita, the man who suggested the death, states:
“The reason I said we should kill Gwen Stacy was Mary Jane was an airheaded comedy character at the time. She was there to jazz the place up. She was not his girlfriend. His girlfriend was Gwen Stacy.”
Conway mirrors this by saying:
“I think Gwen was simply Stan replicating his wife, just like Sue Storm was a replication of his wife. And that’s where his blind spot was. The amazing thing was that he created a character like Mary Jane Watson, who was probably the most interesting female character in comics, and he never used her to the extent that he could have. Instead of Peter Parker’s girlfriend, he made her Peter Parker’s best friend’s girlfriend. Which is so wrong, and so stupid, and such a waste. So killing Gwen was a totally logical if not inevitable choice.”
The relationship of Mary Jane and Peter Parker came into being because of Gwen. The issue after Gwen’s death, Peter is distraught. He goes home, and finds Mary Jane waiting for him, having just heard about Gwen. He lashes out at her, arguing that she wasn’t sad, she doesn’t know how to care about ‘straights like me and Gwen’. He tells her to leave, not wanting to spoil her fun. And with that, their relationship starts, with the clip of a door. She closes the door, and stays to comfort her friend.
On the second to last page of Spider-Man: Blue, it’s revealed that Mary Jane has heard the entire story. That she has just heard her husband pouring his heart out to the deceased Gwen. Instead of resorting to anger or despair, she turns to him and smiles, simply saying:
“Will you do me a favour, Peter? Say ‘Hello’ for me and – tell Gwen I miss her, too….”
The monthly trip to the comic store is a must for collectors. The lines of new issues and collected books surrounding individual characters, events and teams, can provide hours of enjoyment. When Marvel releases a new film in their line-up, it’s an opportunity to promote their books to the none comic reading public. However, when looking for a starting point, an interesting question strikes. Does Marvel release too many event comics?
Event comics act as a massive crossover, involving multiple teams of heroes coming together to stop or incite a major shift in their universe. The outcome of these events changes the dynamic within each of the company’s title, the same as a real life major event would affect our own lives. One of the first, and Marvel’s first cross-over event was 1982’s Contest of Champions. A three-issue story by Mark Gruenwald, John Romita Jr., and Bob Layton. The story followed The Grandmaster challenging Death to a game to resurrect the Collector. The pair decide to use teams of Earth heroes as their champions in an all-out battle. The short story allowed fans and first-time readers to see the likes of Captain America, Wolverine, Iron Man, Daredevil, and Captain Britain, fight in an all-out brawl for a genuine reason. Giving long time readers a fun cross-over story, and hopefully attracting new customers who would see heroes they might recognise, on a number one cover. Making the company a little extra money in the process. The more well-known and praised event, Secret Wars, debuted 2 years later in May of 1984. Secret Wars was created completely for marketing purposes, to sell toys and comics to new and existing readers. The event was demanded by Kenner toys, the company who had the Marvel toy rights, and was named Secret Wars, because marketing showed that children responded well to the words ‘secret’ and ‘war’. Pure marketing. Since these first two stories, Marvel has produced fifty-five events in thirty-two years.
Surprisingly, twenty-five of those events have taken place in just the past 8 years. Marvel went from producing one event every two or three years, to an average of three every year. From the company’s position, the point of these events has remained the same. To draw in new readers, while shaking up the status quo for regular readers. While new events make sense from a business stand point, as they do bring in money and attract attention. But for regular, ongoing fans, do the constant shake-ups come off as an annoyance, rather than an actual event?
For an example, take Spider-Man. To the public, Spider-Man is Peter Parker. A high school nerd who is bite by a radioactive spider, and now swings around New York in a red and blue suit, fighting crime. For fans who have been dipping in and out of comics for years, and keeping up to a degree on events, we are aware that there are several people in comics that take up the Spider mantle. Right now, there are two Spider-Men running around, plus Spider-Woman, Silk, Scarlet Spider, and an alternate reality Gwen Stacy known as Spider-Gwen. However, event with this surface knowledge, this does not mean that casual fans know the entire story. For many casual fans, there is a limited number of books you can pick up month to month, due to limited budgets. Meaning that without online scans or piracy, it is almost impossible to be one hundred percent up to date all the time. With the increased price of event comics, it leaves readers with a choice, do you buy those event comics in place of your regular books, continue with just your regular books, or spend extra for both. A logical work around, and method many adopt, is to carry on with your usual books, and later collect the event in a complete book, months later.
In the case of last year’s events, Marvel released the highly enjoyable Civil War II, hitting shelves around the same time as the similarly named film, Captain America: Civil War. The similar name, likely to attract fans of the film, even those that don’t read comics. However, those jumping into the comics through this event, maybe confused by the appearance of Spider-Man. When Spider-Man shows up, sporting a different costume than the public is used to. The new readers maybe a little confused, but would assume that it is the same Spider-Man they are familiar with, just in a different costume. However, when his mask is removed, it’s revealed that this is not Peter Parker, but a young boy named Miles Morales. To those who did not know this, they are faced with several questions, who is this kid? Why is he Spider-Man? What happened to Peter Parker? Now new readers have several options, to five up because they are confused, an extreme option. To keep going with the story and hope that it is explained later, it may not be. Take to the internet and do some detective work, a sensible but time consuming and confusing venture. Or continue with the story, and pick up a few solo issues to try and figure it out themselves, the option Marvel would want you to take.
The problem with Marvel releasing so many major events, particularly around the time of the film releases, is that these shake ups could be causing more harm than good. Starting in 2000, there was a line of Marvel comics that was created to help new readers feel more welcome to the world of comics. The Ultimate line of Marvel comics. These comics set all the characters back to their origin, and gave us a clean start in their own world. The popularity of the Ultimate line even influenced the look, and style of the Marvel films, with design and character choices taken directly from the pages. Logically, and especially now, these would be perfect for those wanting to transition from the films to the comics, but don’t know where to start. Unfortunately, this line of comics no longer exists, thanks to the 2015 event comic, Secret Wars, named after the original 1984 event. The universes were merged to create one knew comic continuity where there are two Spider-Men. One Peter Parker, one Miles Morales.
With the overly confusing nature of comics, especially to new readers, Marvels constant cycle of events may be a detriment to the readers. It seems that Marvel has gotten into the habit of thinking that major events need to happen, regardless of the actual stories being told. New readers feel overwhelmed by the amount of information needed just to follow along, while existing readers become victims of reader burn out. If every little event that pops up every few months, is a must read, world changing story that must be read, then why bother reading anything else? If the universe changes every five minutes, then why get attached to it?