Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wait...why are you considered a good guy, again?

There's a category of hero in the Marvel Universe who have no redeeming characteristics whatsoever, yet we're told over and over they're good guys – despite the fact they have a clear, real history of actual villainy and no real heroic characteristics.

To be clear as possible: I am not talking about "cool jerk" characters who end up extremely likable because they're badasses that don't take guff and they play dirty, like Wolverine or especially U.S. Agent. Likewise, I'm not some Spanish Inquisition lunatic (the type Superboy-Prime was created to parody) who thinks anyone who so much as uses bad language is a bad person forever.

I'm not saying every character needs to be the same to be considered a hero…but at least give us something, anything, to make a hero someone you can root for.

Remember this moment from the Bloodstone Hunt storyline? Arguing U.S. Agent's not as cool as other heroes because he's got a lot of swagger and doesn't behave himself is a little like arguing Vincent Vega from "Pulp Fiction" was the cooler of the two hitmen because he was more polite.

Besides J. Jonah Jameson, John Walker Lyndh may be the only conservative Republican in the entire Marvel Universe, a guy who, unlike the typically rebellious Marvel heroes, was a patriot of the "love it or leave it" variety who had more in common with Oliver North than Steve Rogers, a guy who was totally okay with being a full-time civil service agent of the government.

Then again…and here's my point…U.S. Agent is a guy who occasionally shows signs he can be redeemed, some of the other people I've mentioned haven't. Take Spectacular Spider-Man 137, where the Latin American assassin Tarantula was trying to kill politically inconvenient asylum seekers in the United States with the consent of the U.S. Government. Good old U.S. Agent showed he had something of a glimmer of a conscience and helped Spider-Man against orders to stop the Tarantula.

Besides, U.S. Agent brought a lot to West Coast Avengers, a book referred to as the "Wackos" because unlike the east coast team they were, like their leader Hawkeye, wilder, prouder and more unorthodox. U.S. Agent was the "heavy" who was all for following the rules, which made him personally unlikeable, but meant he brought a lot to group dynamic and reminded us that Hawkeye only learned how to "turn off" his brashness because of the responsibility of leadership.


Defined by her baldness and desire to have sex with Quasar and the Mighty Thor because they were the only guys good enough for a true goddess like herself, Moondragon's massive sense of superiority, haughtiness and arrogance alienated everyone she met. The primary characteristics defining Moondragon's interactions is a haughty disdain for most of the earthbound Avengers, intrusion on their private thoughts, and her revulsion with human sensuality.

Moondragon was also "religious" and raised by monks, and she had all of the vices but none of the virtues of religious people: a simultaneously depraved and sexually repressed egotist who is sanctimonious but without compassion.

On first joining the team, Moondragon's first acts were to try to undermine Thor's status on the team by wondering why a god like that palled around with lesser beings…an action typical of her winning personality.

Moondragon is, in a historical footnote, the first Avenger to actually turn evil: in Avengers 219-220, she used her mental powers to enslave an entire planet.

Let that sink in: Moondragon was actually the villain of an entire story-arc where she used her mind powers to enslave an entire planet "for the greater good," and then betrayed and lied to her former Avengers team-mates when they came poking around. She then used her powers to make Thor love her and then set him against his friends.

What's more, she even attacked her own father when he realized the full extent of her plans and influence, and she used lethal force and killed him (it didn't take, but that's not the point). The full scope of her intentions beyond Ba-Bani was not known, but she and the mind controlled Thor used creepy language like "bringing order to the universe."

How is it possible after a morality-horizon crossing event like that Moondragon can be taken seriously as a superhero? It absolutely shocks me how much effort has been spent in Solo Avengers and elsewhere trying to "redeem" her.

A lot of time and effort was spent rehabilitating Wanda Maximoff to a whole generation that knows her only as the psycho bitch who pulled "no more mutants," but Wanda was a beloved character that was one of the mainstays and longest serving of the Avengers. On the other hand, I've never met a Moondragon fan in my entire life.

I understand they tried to say the devil made her do it, but when they pulled the "devil made him do it" card when Iron Man had the Kree Supreme Intelligence executed after Operation Galactic Storm, it made sense as that was obviously a real lapse and really unusual, out of character action for Tony. Yet Moondragon betraying her team-mates, and using her mind powers to take over a planet because she knows better was perfectly in character: arrogant, snotty, with an elitist view of her own importance over lesser mortals.

The only other character I can think of where so much effort was expended on explaining away evil actions was Hal Jordan. In fact, I wonder if the "dragon of the Moon spirit made Heather conquer the planet Ba-Banis" explanation in Solo Avengers might have been the inspiration for the Yellow Fear Monster.

I can't think of a single other Avenger that everyone on the team hated - even the otherwise alienating U.S. Agent earned Captain America and "bleedin' heart" Hawkeye's respect eventually. The other Avengers feel the same way about her that the audience does. The single most shocking thing about Moondragon's turn to evil in Avengers 219 -220 is that nobody, except Thor and her father, were all that shocked or surprised...and how none of her former teammates really were choked up or conflicted at all about having to slug her, either.

Oh yeah, and Moondragon is apparently gay now, a fate usually reserved for unimportant, minor-league, unimportant X-Men supporting cast members like Richter, Karma and Shatterstar…despite the fact that 1) Moondragon was revolted by sexuality, and 2) most of her master plans involved getting laid with Quasar or Mighty Thor. As nonsensical as that gay revelation sounds, it basically means Moondragon will never go full villain now as she ought…because how would it look if one of the few Marvel homos is a bad guy?

It is for this reason the now badly "Flanderized" out-and-proud Northstar will never be an interesting or edgy character ever again. The whole point of Northstar is that he was a pompous, pretentious guy who had an intriguing political past as a former Quebecois nationalist-separatist – a terroristic past Northstar was utterly unrepentant about.

Now the only thing anybody knows about someone as cool as Northstar is that he's gay – an incidental and minor element of the character – especially since Northstar had been around for a decade as a regular part of a team book before he outed himself. Northstar is a jerk, but a cool likeable jerk who you love to hate. How does it look if the one well-known Marvel gay character is a jerk…even if that's kind of the whole point? Not looking bad in the press trumps consistent characterization, I guess.


There are some bad guys it's impossible to accept they'd ever reform because they don't have any redeeming characteristics or glimmer of a conscience. Crossbones is evil trash, the Red Skull is a depraved sociopath megalomaniac, and Viper/Madame Hydra is a cold, casually murderous nihilist and terrorist.

Juggernaut is one of those villains. A brutish criminal who happens to be totally unstoppable, Juggernaut is a mean, dumb thug and bully who worships power and does what he feels like: in his mind everybody else is a "pencilnecked geek" and "twerp."

Juggernaut made for a good protagonist during the "8th Day" storyline because unlike the other avatars of the Octessence for whatever reason his original human personality was dominant. He was a goon, but he was a normal person that wasn't a crazy fanatic.

Chuck Austen, that human disaster area, seriously wanted us to believe the Juggernaut would stay a good guy…because he made friends with some mutant kid that thinks he's cool? That's absolutely unbelievable. The only way that story could have been more emotionally manipulative was if it involved cute kittens, good hearted blue collar people, and possibly Forrest Gump.

Of all the low points of his Marianas Trench-like X-Men run, Chuck Austen's "Juggernaut befriends a little kid which makes him turn good" was not the worst, but it definitely was the sloppiest and most sentimental. The X-Writers have for the most part collectively agreed to never discuss anything from his run again, so why is it the Juggernaut reforms bit of crap is still sticking around? And it gets worse: Juggernaut has thus far been in more superteams than any other X-Character other than Wolverine, including not only the X-Men but the renewed Excalibur and Luke Cage incarnation of Thunderbolts.

There are so many villains in the Marvel Universe who have redeeming characteristics and who could possibly reform, that I have no idea why Juggernaut was the one who got this plot, other than the subhuman hominid Chuck Austen fails at everything from writing to walking erect. Batroc the Leaper would be a great choice to reform: a man of honor with lines he would not cross, he once helped Captain America against Mister Hyde when it was obvious Mr. Hyde would have destroyed Manhattan, and once saved Steve Rogers when he was outnumbered and attacked by sharks, for instance.


Wasn't Sunfire raised by an arch-fascist who never forgot Japan's loss in World War II and trained his son to bitterly continue the struggle against his American enemies? I mean, wouldn't that basically make Sunfire a Japanese version of the second Baron Zemo?

Sunfire's major role in stories tends to be abandoning fellow heroes in deadly situations with a forced apology because his responsibilities to Japan outweigh trying to help them fight for their lives.

Macho, proud, arrogant, prejudiced, inflexibly traditionalist, cynical, easily insulted, vengeful and woman-hating, if there's a single redeeming characteristic there that justifies his consideration as a hero, I'd love to hear about it, yet this guy shows up every so often in the X-Books because people remember his short-lived appearance in Giant-Sized X-Men #1. It says something that even among the many snarly, short tempered characters in that book like Wolverine and Thunderbird, Sunfire was distinguished enough to be the only one that couldn't even complete the mission. That's like winning the chode Olympics!

Namor is an arrogant, proud guy who has a legit grudge that leads him to be prejudiced against outsiders, but Namor is occasionally very courageous, fights fair, and has a tremendous personal dignity, regality and other traits that make him a compelling and fascinating antihero. And every so often Namor fought alongside the good guys and been instrumental to their victories over enemies like Doctor Doom and Magneto, whereas every word from Sunfire tends to be "I am sorry, because of my duty to Japan you're on your own."

Look, Marvel – Sunfire's a dick. Why not just admit he's kind of a bad guy? He's basically a mutant version of every single jerk Asian Dad.

Sunfire is an especially tragic victim of the Marvel sliding timescale, since his origin is that he was born a mutant as a result of his parents getting rads thanks to Hiroshima, which caused illnesses that eventually killed them and filled Sunfire with wrath at Americans and Westerners. In the mid to late 1960s, he'd be about college age, the same as the original X-Men...but a lot of time has passed since then. Unlike Baron Zemo II, who kept young as a result of his father's Chemical X, there has, as of yet, been no explanation for Sunfire's longevity.

Sunfire can be born later, even as late as the 1970s assuming his parents were younger than supposed and had children late - and Hiroshima could still have cut their lives tragically short. After all, contrary to Hollywood voodoo science, most people exposed to huge amounts of radiation don't die right away. Some can live for decades before developing serious and lethal illnesses.


David said...

I'm not surprised you've never met a Moondragon fan, as everyone in the Avengers, without exception, thought she was an insufferable bitch from Day One. Any character can be -- and most have been -- written terribly as Wanda was (only Robert Downey, for instance, could have saved Iron Man from the damage done by Civil War), but that's because we can weigh the bad moments against the greater whole. In Moony's case, there's nothing good, ever.

Since I've just hit issue 151, I've finally decided the whole reason for her creation was to provide a halfway plausible reason for Thor to quit the team (and so far, halfway plausible is about as good as this run gets). The only other logical conclusion is that they were laying the groundwork for her turn to villainy from Day One. And the only reason the Avengers should have considered having her on the team was to keep a close eye on her.

True story; when I saw the first publicity photos of Persis Khambata in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, with her bald head and high-collared dress, my first thought was, "Holy Crap, it's Moondragon!" It was almost enough to kill my enthusiasm for the film. (As it happened, it took an actual viewing to finish the job.)

I couldn't make it past issue 12 of Alpha Flight, so Northstar is pretty much a cipher to me. Likewise USAgent: I know him when I see him, but that's it. I do agree about Sunfire, though; the surly malcontent act is pretty much owned by Namor, and really I could never figure out what Japan needed protecting from, as in the MU the only city that ever got any action was NYC. On the other hand, with all the time Godzilla spent in the US in the Bronze Age, maybe we can conclude Sunfire was doing a great job.

If nothing else, Sunfire should stand as a good example of why you shouldn't build a team based on a "nations of the world" hiring quota. Charles gets brownie points for attempting "multicultural diversity," but it might have paid to pick a team based on something a little less touchy-feely.

Eduardo M. said...

You made a slight boo-boo with regards to Sunfire. He did complete his first mission with the X-Men. However, he did ditch the team after saying he only took part in one mission as a debt to Xavier that he now considered paid.

Sunfire and USAgent aren't villians to me so much as they are exmaples of extreme nationalistic pride. This can place them in either the hero or villian category depending on the circumstance.

Julian Perez said...

If nothing else, Sunfire should stand as a good example of why you shouldn't build a team based on a "nations of the world" hiring quota. Charles gets brownie points for attempting "multicultural diversity," but it might have paid to pick a team based on something a little less touchy-feely.

Hehehe! I always got the feeling Professor X had to find a rescuing team on the last possible minute so he contacted Banshee and Sunfire not because they were the best possible guys for the job, but because as former X-Men enemies he keeps tabs on...he knew exactly where they were!

Except for Nightcrawler, who obviously was discovered at the last minute, there's nothing in Giant-Size that gave off this was Professor X's first meeting with any of the "all-new, all-minority" X-Guys. The fact the Prof found them so fast shows he probably was aware of Colossus, Thunderbird, Storm and the rest for some time. His "you could do so much better than just living in this small town" speech to "goddess" Storm gave off the exhausted air of a conversation he'd had before.

It's interesting to note that figures as diverse as John Byrne and Kurt Busiek proposed X-Men series with just that idea. The Giant-Size crew and the O5 could have met before - not form long friendships, but met? They could have met.

If I remember right, Sunfire lost his cushy government job as Japan's hero because of corruption charges. The idea of Sunfire as a Japanese national hero always clicked with me because it's totally believable many foreign countries WOULD make their national hero someone who isn't very nice. We Americans like nice guys and make nice guys our heroes, but just look at the creeps the Russkies in the Marvel Universe love. Their heroes are strutting bullies and killers like Titanium Man and they LIKE IT LIKE THAT. They like it their heroes kill all their enemies.

Nobody cares about democracy and fair play in the world. Honestly, I don't care about those things and most people in this country don't either...what we - I - want is to have an America that's like the Romans, that kicks ass.

If you think about it like that, Sunfire's appointment makes perfect sense.

Sunfire and USAgent aren't villians to me so much as they are exmaples of extreme nationalistic pride. This can place them in either the hero or villian category depending on the circumstance.

I have no problem with U.S. Agent being a hero...he's just kind of a dick, though a lot of effort was spent in CA and West Coast Avengers to give him nuance and make him swaggering and likeable, that Sunfire never received.

Recently, in Young Avengers, a lot of effort was spent to make Super-Skrull, previously an arrogant warrior from an alien culture, into a very likable, honorable "good guy," a Colin Powell type good soldier who gives loyalty to scummy cowards unworthy of that loyalty, jealous of him for being powerful and heroic.

I really recommend Young Avengers...guys like us, Eddie, are the target audience: who know Avengers history.

Eduardo M. said...

Before Young Avengers there was a Fantastic Four Annual that had a Super-Skrull backup story which portrayed him as an honorable warrior of sorts. Also the recent cosmic stuff Marvel's been doing has doing the same thing with both Super-Skrull and Ronan the Accuser

Julian Perez said...

Before Young Avengers there was a Fantastic Four Annual that had a Super-Skrull backup story which portrayed him as an honorable warrior of sorts. Also the recent cosmic stuff Marvel's been doing has doing the same thing with both Super-Skrull and Ronan the Accuser

Super-Skrull as an honorable "good soldier" guy makes sense to me, but Ronan the Accuser is really pushing it.

Ronan was always classist and racist (he looked down on Caucasian-looking Kree like Mar-Vell for not being pureblooded), he was insanely aggressive and keen to continue the Kree-Skrull Wars and rebelled against the Supreme Intelligence when it looked like he might slow those down. Likewise, Ronan was always interested in power; he staged a coup against the Supreme Intelligence.

Eduardo M. said...

Technically Ronan now has power. The only thing is he has to answer to the Inhuman Royal Family. Good news is he's married to Crystal

Matt Celis said...

uSAgent stands as an example of how leftist writers perceive anyone who doesn't share their political ideology: they must be redneck a-holes