When is it moral for Marvel to fool readers?

Superior

Duy Tano wrote an essay for the Comics Cube about how his response to Amazing Spider-Man #700 shows that he doesn’t take comics at face value.

And I stopped right there, because that’s when I realized that I am no longer a mark. A “mark” is a term used in professional wrestling to describe the target audience (the lingo has its roots in carny and vaudeville). Professional wrestling, as you know, is scripted, with the moves (ideally) not actually hurting but making it look like it hurts. To believe it hurts, to believe the wrestlers actually hate each other, is to be a mark. I stopped being a pro wrestling mark a long time ago, unable to see the events without considering the external aspects (“Is it good for business?”, “Will it make them money?”, “What does this mean for this wrestler?”, “Will this draw an audience?”) not in addition to the actual product presented, but over the actual product presented. I can still mark out (think something being presented is inexplicably awesome), but I was no longer a mark for pro wrestling.

And I realized, that day on the beach, a few days ago, that I wasn’t a mark for Big Two superhero comics anymore either. I couldn’t find it in me to be outraged about what “they did” to Peter Parker, my favorite character, because all I could see was how temporary it was, how it wasn’t going to last, and wondering how they’d bring him back. I couldn’t find it in me to even say that I was going to miss Peter Parker while he’s gone, because I know he’s gonna be back soon enough, and I want to see how Slott handles it — and note how I phrase that; it’s not “how it’s going to go down,” but “how Slott handles it.” Maybe I’ve been reading too long. Maybe I’ve been running the Cube too long that I can no longer see the forest for the trees. Maybe I’m now incapable of appreciating the big characters on a surface level.

And I can’t help but think, the people who are sending out death threats, the people who are outraged, the people who are going nuts about it — I can’t help but think that that’s exactly what Slott wanted (fine, not the people sending out death threats). That reaction is so pure, so unimpeded. That’s a reaction that’s just centered on what’s going on in the story, with no consideration to external factors like “What techniques did they use?”, (700 was a real page-turner for me; I couldn’t finish it fast enough.) or “Is this good for readership?”, (Despite initial interest right now, I don’t think it would matter, mostly because of format) or “How does this affect the movie?” (It doesn’t.) And that was, honestly a pretty heady feeling, realizing at that moment that I’m not the target audience anymore. I’m not the mark. The target is the people who still buy into it, the people who still view Peter Parker as more than a fictional character. Not the people who buy it because they want to see what Dan Slott puts Peter through next.

amazing-spider-man-700-second-print-variant

It’s a phenomenon I’ve noted before. Marvel caters to readers with different sets of expectations, and levels of savvy. Some have seen the sausage factory. Some have not. It raises two separate questions: Are the readers who say that they’re not marks honest with themselves? And is there anything dishonest about Marvel Comics trying to trick some of their customers?

In most fields, it’s not particularly acceptable to trick people who give you money. But the entertainment industry can be an exception, as the customer usually wants to be surprised. It’s a moral issue only if their carefully managed expectations are the reason they decide to buy a product. A reader who is led to believe that an issue contains a confrontation between her two favorite characters is likely to be disappointed if the final product doesn’t include that.

In the case of Superior Spider-Man, I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with fooling the readers. It would require a rare breed of customer to be upset at the inevitable return of Peter Parker. This would be the comic fan who would not have started reading the title, unless they were convinced that it would last for a long time, in an industry in which cancellations are pretty common. And it’s worth noting that the Superior Spider-Man era will probably last longer than Paul Tobin’s Spider-Girl, or the acclaimed Thor the Mighty Avenger, in terms of length of publication,and certainly in terms of the number of issues produced.

In the likely event that Marvel isn’t planning to have Doctor Octopus in Peter Parker’s body still be Spider-Man in 2016, there are some problems with pretending that the change is permanent. It does mean that the readers who believe editor Stephen Wacker’s statement that Peter Parker fans will fade away are going to have unrealistic expectations.

With these types of changes, it’s probably better to do what Grant Morrison did with Batman’s absence after Final Crisis. It was pretty clear from the final pages of Final Crisis #7 that the original Batman was still around, just stuck in a place that was difficult to escape from. So Morrison provided hints of where the story was going and how Bruce would return.  The suspense wasn’t about whether Batman survived, but how he would get out of this particular trap, and what would happen next.

I can appreciate problems with this approach. It may have caused readers to focus too much on a resolution that was more than an year away, rather than the initial adventures of the new Batman. Although Batman & Robin was exciting enough, that readers were able to enjoy that on its own merits.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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