No, it isn’t about Farley Mowat.
It’s a rant about that Marvel Zombies cover based on Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane.
Non-comics readers…you can skip this part.
…Okay, here’s the thing: there are several factors that contribute to the brilliance of that picture, without which it’s just kind of blah. One, you’ve got to know about SMLMJ, and what kind of book it is. Two, you’ve got to know about Marvel’s recent spate of “controversial covers”. Three, you’ve got to know about the issue that runs underneath those two things: the ongoing attempt by the Quimby Patrol to maximize shock value, which is alienating some of their traditional readership (like for example, me). Four, you’ve got to take into account the issue of how Marvel and DC have been repeatedly called on the carpet lately for visually mistreating their female characters.
All these things combine to produce the feeling I get when I look at this picture. Which is: wow, what a punchline. What a barb. What a black, ironic, nasty joke this is. The artist has done a magnificent job. I’m offended. I’m fascinated. I’m repelled. I’m hypnotized. I see the humour. Ouch. You really got me, there. That stings. Nice burn.
But now…quit it.
I’m not complaining about the picture itself, you see, or its references. Think about it, after all: if this picture had been commissioned for (say) an article that was harshly critical of modern-day Marvel, and especially if it had stolen a march on Marvel Zombies in the process, we’d all be cheering it. “Hee hee,” we’d be saying perhaps, “did that artist ever stick it to you, Marvel!” As an editorial cartoon, this is pure genius.
Though I admire whoever okayed this cover for their willingness to say “this is gonna get us creamed, but…damn it, it really is the essence of the joke, and it’s great work, so I’ve got to run it”, I’d admire it even more if I could be sure in my own mind that that decision didn’t also include a little disdain for the fans. “So they’re pissed at the HfH cover, huh? Well, this’ll put the cat among the pigeons for sure!” In that latter construction, the decision to publish looks a little less courageous, and a little more mean-spirited. A little more cynical.
Of course we can still go with “courageous” as our default even so, if we want to be charitable: knowing that the perception of Marvel as a cynicism factory is already out there makes the image that much more likely to raise controversy, doesn’t it? So now we’re talking about the danger of the art being perceived as deliberately provocative. It’s genius, yes, but part of its genius is also that Marvel’s starting to get a pretty bad reputation these days among a certain vocal group of fans and commentators. And, fact: the general public may not have heard of SMLMJ, but we have, so we know just what’s going on here, and just what level of play we’re looking at. SMLMJ is Marvel’s retro-fan/all-ages/girl-friendly experiment, designed as an ameliorative alternative to the main line of increasingly bloody Michael Bay rip-offs and porn shoots. And this Marvel Zombies cover trades on that. To say it doesn’t is absurd, and very possibly an insult to the artist’s professional skills into the bargain! We know what we’re seeing. If you’re a dedicated Marvel fan, and this cover doesn’t make you think of the MJ statue and the HfH cover, then — I’ll just say it — there’s something wrong with you. The picture’s allusiveness is right there in front of your nose. Are you blind? And if you’re even a little bit conscious of the more generalized fuss over Marvel/DC’s treatment of women in their comics, you must think of how bold an image this is to throw out there, with all that other stuff, at this particular time.
I’m not talking about the artist, now. Although I’m sure he was conscious of all this as well. I’m talking about the editors, and their decisions. Their professional decisions, that they’re responsible for.
What makes the joke extra black, as black as tar, is that it can’t fail to be seen as a symbol of everything that the admirers of SMLMJ (myself included) think is wrong about Marvel Comics’ current editorial direction. Everything, possibly, that they see as despicable about it. This is some daring stuff, I swear! This is out there! The fan-teasing, nose-tweaking joke at the heart of the Marvel Zombies thing has never been more blatant, and it’s never been funnier, in part because it’s never been closer to going just a little bit too far.
“Here’s your sweetheart, folks! Like her makeover?”
Oh, you devil. What insouciance. What a slap in the face. Yes, my “sweetheart”, my fond nostalgic feelings about the comics I loved in my childhood…yes, you’re quite right, you have destroyed her. Or, you’re going to. Or you’re in the process of it. Whatever. As I said: nice burn. You got me. Ha! Ha!
And now: quit it.
See, the problem with irony is that once it’s out there, you can’t call it back. And irony is what makes this image so cruel, so funny, so intelligent…and, ultimately, so forgivable. As long as you, y’know, quit it now. Because in one second, I’m going to start getting the real strong feeling that we’re not having fun anymore. In one second, I’m going to start feeling like maybe you’re not exactly laughing with me.
You knew it would be controversial. Well, here’s your controversy: I can laugh at this joke, but if I hear Joe Quesada once come out and say he doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about over it…
Then that will mean finally crossing the line for good. And I’ll be GONE.
Because what am I, an idiot? Like I don’t know this was nose-tweaking? Joe, would you really ask me to believe there was no joke intended here at all? Being provocative is one thing. Insulting my intelligence is another. I’m not your fan, I’m not your piggy-bank, I’m not your younger brother, I’m not your whipping-boy, I’m your audience; and if I start sensing anything like contempt from you, then I’ll be out of this theatre so fast…! I’m already halfway up the aisle, if you must know. So the good time to decide if you want me to come back would be, oh I don’t know, now.
“Y’know, we knew that image was going to cause controversy out there. Because it’s a very strong image, even within the world of the Marvel Zombie covers, and we’re aware that there are some people who’ve been unhappy with the content of our covers lately anyway. And we didn’t want to just add fuel to that fire, but…look, ultimately my job is to get the best work out of the creators that I can, and this was very good work, very witty work, and risky, and edgy, and I couldn’t say “don’t use it” when after all it was just what I’d asked for. So I decided to take a risk with it, even though I knew some people would see it as provocative. If you’re one of those people, mjfan2330015, all I can say is…well, first, I’m really sorry you feel that way, but won’t you look at the art again, in context with the story it’s representing? Personally, I think it’s some of the best and most intelligent cover art we’ve ever had here at Marvel, and I hope once you give it a chance, you’ll agree with me. Despite the controversy, I’d choose to run it again in a heartbeat; I can’t remember when I’ve been so impressed with an artist’s performance on a cover assignment. But, if you still don’t like it after that…well, if there’s one thing we’re known for at the House of Ideas, it’s taking chances! So I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”
Yes: even something as mildly confessional and mealy-mouthed as that might induce me to take my seat again. But Joe, seriously…I’m giving you just an inch, here. If you try to take a mile from me instead…
Well, ha ha! And nice one: you got you. Because the really funny thing is that I find myself caring for Marvel less and less all the time! Ha! Ha! You really are destroying my childhood “sweetheart”, and you’re doing a pretty bang-up job of it, too!
Ha! Ha! It’s funny, right?
The very least you could do, is to say it’s funny.
Because if you don’t want me to think it is…well then, I won’t. And oh boy, will that be ironic.