The past was a different super-country (#SFWApro)

One of the problems with redoing and updating comic book origins is that they often have overtones it’s hard to update.
As I’ve written in the past I’m fascinated by the way cultural references age or become incomprehensible, whether it’s satire, Cold War comedy and drama or SF.
Consider the Fantastic Four. Their origin in 1961 had a very contemporary quality to it: Reed was determined to launch a spaceship and beat “the Reds” (the USSR if you don’t know) to the stars (I’m guessing this was written right before cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin did indeed become the first man in space). At the time, beating the USSR in the Space Race was a hugely important deal: the Cold War is still on and proving we could out perform the Commies and their five year plans appealed to our ego and our PR. It was urgent enough it could rationalize Reed launching his rocket without clearance or checking for cosmic storms.
No-one has ever come up with a rationale that has the same punch. Instead we have to settle for testing a space drive or just exploring or in the newest iteration space tourism.
Fantastic Four Season One (Season One is apparently Marvel’s answer to DC’s Year Ones) by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and David Marquez has Reed launching the rocket because he believes a space-tourism sideline will underwrite all his serious research. Unfortunately updating it doesn’t get around the fact he’s still taking up his girlfriend and her teenage brother which still isn’t the smartest thing in the world. Supposedly it’s because the flight is unauthorized (one part of the origin nobody ever changes) but there’s no good reason why.
That said, Aguirre-Sacasa does a very good job handling the flight, the FF’s transformations and their transition to super-heroes (“No, Ben didn’t say he’d become a thing, he said, er ‘The Thing’—we all have code-names.”). That aside, though, this is dreadfully bland.
The early FF issues were a maelstrom of melodrama (and that’s not an insult). Ben was understandably pissed off about becoming the Thing. Johnny got so pissed at Ben jeering at him that he quit the team after the third issue (didn’t last, obviously). After the Sub-Mariner appears, Sue spent two or three years torn between him and Reed (one of the things I like about the series is that Reed’s the one panting to get married and Sue’s the one pushing him away) before finally choosing. And in between that, of course, we had super-heroes smashing monsters, alien invaders and super-villains.
None of that here. The fights with Mole Man and Namor get wrapped up very quickly and without much monster-smashing. And the melodrama’s gone: Ben adjusts to his new life (though curing him is a big part of the plot) and Sue gets over any interest in Namor very quickly. There’s no there there (another annoyance is that while Ben, Reed and Johnny have lives and jobs away from the team, Sue apparently does nothing but lunch with her girlfriends).
Of course, Spider-Man Season One by Cullen Burn and Neil Edwards shows not changing has its own problems. Spidey’s origin doesn’t age the way the FF’s does: all you really need are to update the cultural references (the Ed Sullivan Show, for instance) and you’re fine.
And that’s pretty much all they do. This is a faithful retelling of Amazing Fantasy #15, not changing anything (though it shifts the Vulture up to being his first super-foe) or adding much other than delving into J.Jonah Jameson’s motivation. It’s not that it’s bad, it just doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Which is a problem with an origin that’s been retold so much (two recent movies for instance).
I’ve more to say on the topic, but that’ll have to wait for next week.

2 Comments

Filed under Comics, Reading

2 responses to “The past was a different super-country (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Mythos and misunderstanding (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Comic-book TPBs (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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