Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Waiting for the Ultimate Crisis

Hello there. Nathaniel here. Regular visitors to this blog will know that Wednesdays are reserved for the rantings, musings, non-sequiturs, and comics highlights of my blogging buddy Alex; I only step in when I get engaged or when Commissioner Gordon shines the Bat-Signal before Alex can hit the "Publish" button on the day's post. I haven't gotten engaged to anybody else recently, so I can only assume that Alex is out fighting Batzarro again.

It's been two years almost to the day since I first wrote about comics, so it seems appropriate to check in about the status of my progress into this vast fandom that was once so alien to me. Some of my previous posts may give what I'm about to write a little more context, so feel free to jump back in time to my first real update, my acknowledgment that I'm not a comics fanboy, and my issues (pardon the expression) with maintaining a collection. Go ahead; I'll wait for you.

Now then.

My original plan was simple: Familiarize myself with new characters so I could make clever references and keep up with fans in conversation, and gain enough of an understanding of the Marvel and DC universes to have a chance of following the storyline of any given major crossover event. Keeping up with individual characters and series I particularly enjoyed was fine as long as it didn't interfere with my broader goals.

The flaw in my plan was that I decided early on to isolate my Marvel reading to the "Ultimate" universe--guaranteed continuity for a guy who craves it. Though there's Ultimate Galactus and Ultimate Elektra and The Ultimates and so on, my library is dominated by Ultimate Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and (on a CD-ROM) X-Men. While this is great preparation for the Ultimatum crossover event, and I've seen a wide sampling of Marvel villains that I'd never met before, I can't help but feel that there are so many heroes missing from my self-education...and that the heroes I've been following aren't quite the same people the majority of fans are familiar with.

I've been much more successful with DC in terms of meeting my original comics goals, and I'm finding that familiarity with characters is more important to me than the continuity that (presumably) leads up to one Crisis or another.

In one Superman comic I read, Clark Kent and Lois Lane were married--I have no idea how or when that happened, but I'm familiar enough now with the characters to extrapolate why. Plus, I've noticed that major plot points tend to be recapped in some form or another for new readers--for example, the earliest Green Lantern comics beat the reader over the head with notes from the editor explaining that, "due to a necessary impurity in the strange materials from which it was made, Green Lantern's ring has no effect on anything yellow!" If I understand the characters, I'm better able to jump in to any story and at least understand the motivations and personalities that are shaping the plot; if I'm handed a plot recap on top of that, so much the better.

It's been an interesting split--I've been going to Marvel for continuity and to DC for variety. After two years of reading both about evenly, I've come to the realization that I prefer DC--at least, the variety that DC offers in the context of this project of mine.

The events of Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men seem to form the foundation of the Ultimate universe, but Spidey has taken some unsettlingly dark turns in the past few trades, and X-Men on CD-ROM is too difficult to read now that I'm not taking unemployed lunch breaks in front of my home computer anymore. I've committed myself to finishing these entire series that I possess, but I'm now involved deeply enough in these stories that the characters are starting to matter, and it's making these stories harder to read (especially as PDFs).

If Pa Kent is killed off pointlessly, I can frown and pick up another book; if Gwen Stacey is horrifically murdered, I have to continue turning each page of the next dozen volumes in fear of what will happen next until everyone Peter Parker cares about is dead, including himself.

Probably; I'm just speaking hypothetically here.

I'm at the point now with DC comics where I've checked out nearly all the mainstream heroes and villains and have determined which characters I most want to read more of: Batman, Blue Beetle, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Booster Gold (all the color-coded heroes--and yes, "Batman" is a color). Now I'm rounding off my education with the likes of Lobo, Eclipso, the Atom, and the Metal Men (whose nominal similarity to a certain Mega Man villain may or may not be a driving factor in their inclusion on my list). No matter which DC comic I choose, I'm either exfanding my horizons or enjoying one more outing with a character I already know I like.

The same cannot be said for where I am with Marvel. Despite my auspicious beginnings with Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Fantastic Four, and Ultimate Iron Man, the closer I get to Ultimatum, the more I'm questioning whether diving headlong into the Ultimate Marvel universe was really the way to get into comics after all. I still get a kick out of some of the action scenes and the witty banter and the references back to previous events, and I appreciate that all these different characters are tied together in meaningful ways across multiple books. I like that there's truly a sense that all these things are happening in the same universe. I'm concerned that all this continuity is going to result in more heartache than satisfaction.

Ultimatum is one of those big crossover events I wanted to be able to understand when I started this project. As I read more of Marvel and DC, I suspect more and more that the ultimate payoff for dedication to a character is death. From what I've heard about Ultimatum, the entire universe ends up an absolute mess and at least one character gets eaten alive. From what I've heard about any given Crisis, half the characters end up dead or banished to a cave in the past.

Do all fandoms reward fans for their loyalty this way?

Of course, I can't speak with any kind of certainty or authority until I've read more. Maybe the stories are fantastic and I'm looking at character death as inherently bad (which I argue it isn't, if used properly). I can only speak about how much more fun I'm having with DC than with Marvel due to my lack of serious commitment to the history of any one character.

Once I've read through all the Ultimate Marvel books I've stockpiled and have survived a Crisis or five, I'll likely be faced with a decision. On the Marvel side, I'll need to determine whether I'm ready to start over with a new continuity that's more Amazing, Astonishing, or Giant-Sized than what I'm used to. On the DC side, I'll need to determine whether I'm committed enough to the characters to fill in those gaps in continuity resulting from reading everything selectively and out of order.

Or, maybe, I'll finally listen to Alex and read one of the many independent comics he's been faithfully plugging all these years. But that's a long way down the road yet. I've got plenty of Marvel and DC to keep me busy for now, and that's to say nothing of Star Trek and other fandoms I enjoy that have been adapted into the comics medium.

For someone who's not a real comics fan, I've got an awful lot of reading to do.


Scott said...

I never liked the Ultimate universe for the same reason you're starting to dislike it. It's trying too hard to be "realistic" and "gritty," which seems to mean "painfully sadistic" like George R. R. Martin.

Flashman85 said...

Speaking of George R.R. better half just finished A Game of Thrones, and from what she's said, it's sounding like that's exactly right.