Friday, August 22, 2014

The Shift in Hero Versus Hero Fights Over Time

When I was reading Ms. Marvel #6, I reflected for a moment that we never see those "misunderstanding fights" Marvel always used to have. The villain tricks two heroes into fighting each other, or they cross paths while investigating some mystery, and each assumes the other is the villain, so they fight until they reengage their brains and team-up instead. That sort of thing. In this case, it started to happen, but she recognized him, and stopped her attack, and I guess Logan was able to figure out she wasn't an enemy from that.

I'm not calling for Kamala and Wolverine to have a fight, mind you. Part of Kamala's character is she's a huge fangirl, so of course she recognizes Wolverine and knows he's a good guy. And she's not really the sort who enjoys violence, so she wouldn't be spoiling for a fight anyway. But it's definitely the sort of moment that would have lead to a brief fight between the two if the comic was written some years ago.

It's the difference in the Marvel Universe now from then. Originally, nobody knew each other, or if they did, it was simply as "that costumed guy who fight criminals sometimes like I do". But outside of specific teams (which were fairly cliquish initially), they didn't hang out, certainly didn't know each others' identities. It was a frontier, you never knew who you'd meet around each corner, whether they'd be friend or foe. And since the foes like to strike first, this made the heroes prone to trying to gain an advantage when they see a shadowy figure skulking around a crime scene. Throw in the media presenting a slanted and incomplete perspective, and even once they saw who they were attacking, they couldn't be sure who they were dealing with. Sure, Spider-Man stopped the Vulture, but now there's reports he was working with Dr. Doom. The Avengers added two members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The Hulk, well, things tend to break around him. So everyone's pretty defensive when they first meet everyone else, and maybe for a long time after.

Gradually, they got to know each other a bit, and people shifted between teams, which seemed to help. Hawkeye and Namor spent time on the Avengers and Defenders, Hank McCoy was an Avenger for awhile, the Thing and Spider-Man worked with practically everyone. But there was still a level of uncertainty. The X-Men were kind of on the fringes, and when they started running with Magneto, the Avengers and Fantastic Four both got pretty wary. Spider-Man kept his personal life to himself, so even though he'd worked with everyone, nobody was entirely sure of him. New heroes were showing up, and they often knew of the more established heroes, but could still butt heads, because everyone still seemed to assume that if they met a stranger, they were probably a bad guy. So Iron Fist slugs it out with the X-Men, or Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) ends up fighting one of the Avengers when they're both trying to protect some shipment. It's starting to become a clique, or small town, but they're very suspicious of new arrivals.

Now, everybody knows everyone else. All the old hands have worked together a lot, all the newbies grew up hearing about the old hands. Which means the newbs are frequently very quick to demonstrate they're on the side of angels. It's less a frontier, and more a thriving community. I'm not sure exactly when that shift took place. Post-Heroes Reborn, I'm sure, and I'd probably place it after the creation of the Ultimate Universe. Everyone in that universe knew each other, and all seemed to be under the government's thumb to varying degrees. Secret identities were either nonexistent, or largely a joke (see Spider-Man). When Bendis took over the Avengers books, this style seemed to carry over. See Steve Rogers showing up at the high school Peter Parker teaches at to recruit him into the Avengers. Because of course almighty SHIELD or whoever knows who Spider-Man is. But it might have been going prior to that, and I wasn't reading the right books.

There's a line from one of Dennis Miller's old rants, to the effect of why should you hate someone over race, creed, religion, when you can take the time to get to know them and find all sorts of perfectly valid, personal reasons to hate them? Once you get to be neighbors or coworkers with someone, you find out all those surface assumptions you made were stupid. You may also find out they're still total asses. You find out Iron Man will attack anyone to protect his armor's secrets. Or that Iron Man thinks everyone should do what the government says (assuming Iron Man agrees with them) and serve in law enforcement agencies (run by Iron Man). Or Cyclops thinks everyone should do nothing about the giant space bird made of fire destroying every world in its path as it moves towards Earth. Or Hank McCoy thinks bringing the original X-Men to the present to make Present Day Cyclops feel bad is a sound strategy for accomplishing. . . something. You find out they might do good things, but you still think they're idiots and totally wrong.

It's like those sitcoms where the two neighbor families get mad at each other and engage in a prank war, or talk smack loudly about the other family when they see them. Except since they're superheroes, they skip the prank war and just punch each other a lot. Maybe. Depends on the writer. Eventually, they make peace and rally to each others' side in times of need. Replace "Both families' kids go missing together", with "Red Skull uses Xavier's brain cells to envelop the world in hate", and there you go.

I suppose it should be endearing they're able to put those differences aside when they really need to. But then they all seem to become friends again. You'd think after a while, they'd stop casually associating with someone they disagree with so strongly. After the 500th time Tony Stark does something stupid and somewhat totalitarian, because he's still convinced he's right - apparently he's soon going to infect everyone in San Francisco with Extremis. No word on whether he bothered to ask first, but my guess is "no" - shouldn't you avoid the guy? At least make it clear you let him hang around so you can keep an eye on him. Some neighbors you just don't want to talk to, because they're crazy or insufferable. That doesn't mean you won't lend a hand if their home is on fire, but it doesn't magically make you friends again.

The Marvel Universe leans in that direction occasionally. Wolverine's side of the X-Men certainly appeared to be angry enough with Cyclops after Xavier's death that they wanted to cut off all contact. They were going to do their thing with the school, let Scott hide out in an old Weapon X bunker and do whatever he was going to do (found a rival school?) In practice, they seem to meet each other all the time. Cyclops is coming over to the school, whether it's to interrogate Hank about something in his lab, to see Kurt back from the dead, or because there's an evil group of future X-Men running around. And the folks at the Jean Grey School seem largely OK with this. Wolverine grumbles, or tells Cyke he has to pay for his own drinks, but he doesn't slam the door in his face or activate the school's automated defenses. Either of which you might expect if they were really that angry about things.

Maybe that's the next step in a fictional universe where all the good guys know each other, but seem to constantly disagree about the best way to handle things, and how far they should go. The heroes fall back into various cliques that don't intermingle. Before it was a matter of not knowing one another well enough to trust. Now they'd know each other too well to trust.

I don't know if it's a good idea to go in that direction, but I feel like it ought to be going that way, based on a lot of current stories, whether that's what is intended or not. Hickman has the Illuminati destroying entire inhabited worlds, ostensibly to protect their Earth, and they're working real hard to keep it a secret, but come on: The other heroes are gonna find out, and you're telling me they'll be cool with it? Surely at some point you start screening the jerk's phone calls, and not inviting them to play in your fantasy football league.


SallyP said...

I WISH the Avengers and X-Men would have a Prank War!

Also I am really looking forward to everyone finding out what the Illuminati have been up to.

CalvinPitt said...

I'm kind of surprised they haven't had a Prank War already, or at least something along the line of Captain Boomerang's stint at the mystery pie thrower in Suicide Squad.

I think Bruce Banner has figured out what's happening, and confronted Stark about it. Unfortunately, I think Stark was able to spin it in the media as "Hulk goes crazy and smashes stuff again", rather than, "Hulk pummels mass-murdering sleazeball with bad mustache".