a quote from Joss Whedon, addressing the readers of the Whedonesque site on the success of Avengers.
This cascading wave of joy and nerd pride overwhelmed me nearly two weeks ago when I left the theater after the midnight showing of Avengers. As I walked across the Pathmark parking lot, I found myself whispering, “Yeah, Joss! Alright!”
You guys know I’m a massive Whedon fan, his work is so integral to those of us who went through high school in the mid-to-late nineties, and even after! He is such a seminal ingredient in everything I do now. Immediately after seeing the movie, I couldn’t help but think of all these people who were brought to him through this movie. Sure some will come out of this movie and seek out A Cabin in the Woods or Firefly, and be richly rewarded, but I would be interested in an exit poll of moviegoers after seeing Marvel’s The Avengers (boy that really says it all doesn’t it?) asking if they’ve ever seen a Joss Whedon film or show before seeing this movie. I would be willing to bet that less than half of the people I saw the movie with have ever seen anything he’s done, and probably didn’t care going into the movie. Perhaps the average Avengers audience member doesn’t care about the creators they care about the character, and in many ways this is the only way they could think about things, because it’s in the setup. Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America movies to setup this movie. The best possible movie with the guy who could do the best possible job, and satisfy someone like me who pays attention to that kind of thing. That’s the difference between these movies and the Nolan Batman movies—the Nolan films possess a singular creative drive where this entire movie universe was created by committee.
What makes this a singular Whedon act is by bringing the elements only he can bring to pull something like this movie off. He’s more than just a hired gun; the dialogue, the capacity to orchestrate great fight sequences, and moments of great character emotion are delivered in a way that only he could do. Please try to convince me that Jon Favreau or Kenneth Branagh or whoever it was who directed the Captain America movie could have pulled this off. In anyone else’s hands this movie would have gone from one fight to the next. It would have been Michael Bay Explodo Vision. If it was just one action piece to the next we wouldn’t care about what happened to the characters. Whedon brought what he does.
It should be said that I’m extremely biased. I don’t think there is a single writer who could have been a bigger influence on me during high school, and in turn the rest of my life, all of which I’ve stated before. I have to say, I fucking loved this film. It was fucking ridiculous and fun and absolutely probably the purest form of comic book put on screen, and in many ways, that’s why it is utterly ridiculous at certain points. I’ll probably watch it twenty times when it comes out on DVD. And at least a few more times in the theater. It is definitely not the best thing that Whedon has ever done (I mean it’s tough to put this alongside his creations in Firefly and Buffy), but it is uniquely his.
This is a fight movie. There is probably an action sequence every fifteen minutes—or what feels like every fifteen minutes—but what makes it a capital F-Fight Movie is when these characters aren’t physically fighting, but when they are emotionally fighting, and those moments count and have weight and pervade every other sequence in the movie. That’s what made the movie a uniquely Whedonesque experience, (sorry, I’m not sorry).
The thing that really set me up to like it was that he was kind of signaling those of us who have seen everything he’s ever done. I couldn’t have been the only one to notice this, but the opening sequence was like he was starting with the end of one thing and continuing it in something different. The first ten minutes of Avengers seemed distinctly like the last ten minutes of Buffy. Like, yes, I am speaking to you. This is for you, and thanks for sticking with me. Now we’re going to party.
Even though I’m very happy for Whedon, I’m also disturbed by the air that seems to be settling over comics these days with regard to how the medium treats its creators and how it affects those of us who love the medium. The often-linked Grantland piece and this GQ story, both by Alex Pappademas, on Stan Lee and Whedon really got me thinking about that Mary Shelley-relationship between the creator and the creation superseding it. We all have our leanings and it depends specifically on what we lean on—I buy according to the writer, because that’s just the way I lean. Everyone leans. Of course I’ll buy great art, but I really debate it if I don’t care for the writer. When I begin to take into consideration the element of the writer and artist as creators and why I take in these works I do it for them and not for the company. But does anyone actually care about the creators? The Grantland piece raises this point:
The Avengers is the end result of a gradual process of superhero-movie-denerdification that started around the first Iron Man. According to exit polling, it’s a multi-quadrant hit enjoyed by young and old, male and female. These movies are now mainstream cultural events that happen with or without the support of a niche fan base. And there’s a lot of emotion swirling around this transition. I think the anti-Avengers movement was partly about a target market shooting back, resentful of the notion that they can be bought off with 3-D flash, the hiring of a geek-demigod writer/director, and a few nods to beloved threads of old-school continuity. I think it was about actual comics readers (a demographic that overlaps less and less with comic-book moviegoers) objecting to an emerging paradigm in which comics act as an IP farm for the movies, to the way the medium increasingly contorts itself to catch Hollywood’s eye, and to the notion that movie interest somehow validates the art form.
Comics fans are protective and nostalgic and prone to overidentification with corporate trademarks, and the Marvel Universe is growing into something a lot of them don’t recognize. The emotional undercurrent to the anti-Avengers outcry isn’t rage; it’s loss. Kirby’s case — the story of a man Marvel left behind as it grew — is a convenient emotional focal point for people who feel similarly abandoned by what the company’s become. And his martyrdom depends in part on the demonization of Stan, who doesn’t deserve it, but has made it easy.
The last paragraph is true, at least in my case. This is when I begin to think that I’m not that interested in this situation, that I should really just do my thing and avoid situations like this all together. That I’m buying into this battle of who is more important: the creator or the creation. I mean Jim Starlin, the creator of the awesome Thanos had to pay for his movie ticket to see his creation on the screen. Give me a break. Then I begin to think, I love this stuff, it’s really wonderful, I want to push it in a way that gets people to read and create, and I get way excited about these movies and these books because of the creative drive of the people who work hard on these characters to make them so fascinating on that screen or in the book. The business wouldn’t be anywhere without guys like Whedon and Jack Kirby or Archie Goodwin, or Mark Waid and Stan Lee. But more and more I’m beginning to really believe that the people who contract these guys don’t actually care about them. I don’t want to support the suits who create by committee and slot in people like Whedon because it will get someone like me into the movie chair. But I want to support Whedon because his work means a lot to me. That’s the point, that really what we’re engaging in here is Company Men using pure Creation, this is the very nature of business. And I think the comic book publishing business does the best job at spotlighting the flaws of business, and reflecting its themes back on itself as an industry. It says, We’re creating work that is literally about “good” vs “evil” but we’re also shining a light on how shitty this business is. But that’s just a fact of how business runs. When is it ever “ethically” good? We could get into a Nietzschean digression of the previous statement, but I don’t feel like straying into that territory.
However, in this passage from the Grantland piece, Stan Lee says:
I think, if somebody creates something, and it becomes highly successful, whoever is reaping the rewards should let the person [who] created it share in it, certainly. But so much of it is — it goes beyond creating. A lot of people put something together, and nobody really knows who created it, they’re just working on it, y’know? But little by little, the artists and the writers now are a different breed than they were, and most of them, if they create anything new, they insist that they be part owners of it. Because they know what happened to Siegel and Shuster, and to me, and to people like that. I don’t think it’s a problem anymore. They make much more money than they used to make, when I was there. Proportionately.
This makes me ask: Who are you (as a consumer) really for? Do you buy a book for the character involved or the creator? I’m there for the creators. I’m there for Whedon, I’m there for Fraction, Vaughan, Kelly Sue, and Waid, because I support them in a no-win scenario in which they endeavor to push their skills and talents on something that is utterly timeless, that will continue on long after their children have grown, and do their own thing. I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about Captain America, Iron Man, or Thor. I care about the people who breathe life into them, make them seem alive, and make those characters interesting. I think that’s the lesson here: Doing your thing as a writer, artist, letterer, whatever is ultimately more important than filling a role in yet another saga of Captain America in his ridiculous costume.
This is really the source of my thinking from the GQ story:
“That moment,” Whedon says, “where you stand up and say, ‘I have the right to exist.’ I’ve written it a lot of times, and I never get tired of writing it. And if I could just believe it about myself, I think I could stop writing it.”
I think people are beginning to realize that it’s more about the Talent that fuels the company owned creation, and that it’s the companies who need us and not the other way around. I think comics readers, scholars, and bloggers get that already, and I think people are beginning to see through company gimmicks. If we continue to call this shit out, maybe the herd at the midnight showings will begin to understand, because everyone is on the Internet. Then again, I generally have a belief that absolutely no one actually cares about anything written on the Internet. I think the creators absolutely care, because by association we’re writing about them, and their livelihood. That’s where the Business has them by the small bits. But I don’t think the people who run the business care the way we do about the creators. Companies, as a structure, are about the bottom line, and keeping what they have, even if it means cutting extremely talented people.
I think the solution is we go and do our own thing and when we get that little tap on the shoulder and someone says, “Alright, Kid, it’s time for you to come up to the majors.” And if we say, “No, I’m good where I am. Doing my thing, but thanks for the offer.” That’s when things will really change. The question is though: Can we really support ourselves doing that? Especially with a family. What about my mortgage? What about sending my kids to a good school? And that’s when we know we’re fucked, but I really think that is beginning to change, especially considering the statements by Chris Roberson and Roger Langridge, and all the creators at Image now. It’s there that I come back to the first ten minutes of Avengers, Loki’s escape from SHIELD, the station collapsing into a giant sinkhole of mystical energy (remember this?) it was there that Whedon was saying to us: Don’t worry, I’m still doing my thing and I’m here because of what came before. I’m the one in charge.
In the meantime, if you go see Avengers, I strongly encourage you to donate to the Hero Initiative, because there are a lot of creators who were involved in the Avengers that don’t even get screen credit or money as a result of the film. I mean, even Jack Kirby and Stan were shuffled off to somewhere in the end credits. At least they get that credit, and they’re not even credited in the books. Go look. That’s how fucking scared they are—they won’t even put a “Created by” credit in the book, and that’s really sad, and—honestly—fucking pathetic.