In trying to honor the past, is Marvel devaluing the present?
Thankfully, Matt Brady at The Science Of already did a great job on that front, explaining that humans weren’t really what we know as “human” back then — Homo erectus was the most well-known hominid and our species, Homo sapiens, didn’t exist yet.
So let me just update with some quick “highlights” now that more imagery has come out this week.
Abstract thinking probably didn’t exist 1,000,000 years ago, so you wouldn’t expect a symbolic hairstyle. It’s also doubtful the men of the time insisted women shave their legs.
Clothing, beyond animal skins, probably didn’t exist 1,000,000 years ago, for similar reasons. Cavemen certainly weren’t dying their pelts bright red.
Same goes for shame. No reason to think this Homo wouldn’t have let his erectus fly freely.
But there were mammoths! There were mammoths, so it’s not a complete shutout.
Now, with that out of the way …
Make Mine Modern
My real problem with the characters of Marvel Legacy is that they rob the original (chronologically, later) characters of their uniqueness. Yes, you can argue that the influx of kids donning the clothes and colors of existing heroes — like Miles Morales Spider-Man and Amadeus Cho Hulk — already do that, but at least those incarnations are derived from the originals.
The advent of Superman blew people’s minds, so much so that Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster had trouble getting anyone to give their comic strip a chance. When superheroes took off and publisher Martin Goodman and writer Stan Lee finally hopped on the bandwagon, Lee was sure to maintain that sense of amazement, even as the number of extraordinary individuals in his universe grew dramatically. The age of Marvels had begun.
Of course not many of us were around for that beginning, but the feeling was further crystallized with the landmark 1994 collaboration between writer Kurt Busiek and legendary artist Alex Ross, dubbed simply, The Marvels. In the fully-painted mini-series, we see through the eyes of photographer Phil Sheldon as he witnesses the history of the Marvel Universe firsthand, all the while feeling privileged to be alive during this special time.
But how special is it if it’s just recapitulating what happened A MILLION FRICKING YEARS AGO? It’s bad enough that Howard Chaykin made a 1959 version of the Avengers in 2011 (complete with Sabretooth and Kraven the Hunter, if you can believe it), but at least that was set in the current geologic epoch. It’s hard to scoff at the science when Marvel’s most important characters turn out to be not agents of their own destiny, but cogs in some grand, inevitable plan.
The worst offense has thankfully not been dredged up for Marvel Legacy (yet), that being the bizarre retcon of Peter Parker’s originally accidental spider bite into the will of some mystical SPIDER TOTEM BEING, who chose the very special young man to be its avatar. All this fix-to-something-that-clearly-wasn’t-broken showed was that television producer turned comic book writer J. Michael Straczynski didn’t understand that what makes Peter truly special is that Spider-Man was not his destiny — it’s a choice (or a responsibility?) he himself has to continue to make and live with every day.
So just as the concept of “ancient aliens” robs our ancestors of their intelligence, the Ancient Avengers continues the 21st century trend of taking from our favorite characters what made them interesting in the first place. Once they’re no longer unique, they’re no longer special, and making them agents of destiny means they don’t have agency themselves. If I wanted to see high-profile puppets manipulated by powerful forces, I’d turn on C-SPAN. Let my superheroes remain in charge of their own fates.