But isn’t the Marvel Universe a Fictional One?

July 16, 2002

By Avi Green

As anyone who’s ever watched Sesame Street on American television probably knows, Sesame Street is supposed to be set in New York, but it’s still an entirely fictional neighborhood that only exists in the studios of PBS and the Children’s Television Workshop. You could spend a year searching for it throughout New York and you’d never find it.

Well isn’t the Marvel universe similar in some ways?

To say the least, it is. Real life cities like New York may be used as a location for many of the Marvel superheros and their enemies to reside in, and yet, there are only so many areas within, from neighborhoods to buildings, even within places like Queens County and Brooklyn, that are entirely fictional and cannot be found anywhere in the city’s real life counterpart.

And likewise, many of the goings-on in the MCU are not only altogether fictional and science-fictional, they’re also much more dangerous than anything that goes on in the real world. And what may go on in our world does not neccasarily go on in theirs.

Which brings us to our latest discussion: do fiction and reality go together? The answer is, sometimes yes, but also, sometimes no. Real life problems are what can be dealt with, and comics like Spider-Man have dealt with these quite well. But when it comes to real life tragedies like that of the World Trade Center destruction last year on September 11, that is where fiction and reality just don’t go together.

And comics like last year’s Amazing Spider-Man #36 have dealt with tragedies like that one quite badly.

Last year, following the destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers on September 11, Marvel and other companies put out some charity books, most notably Heros, by various authors and artists for the sake of the victims. And these books dealt with the situation without trivialising it.

But apparently, for Marvel, this was not enough. In a very rushed move, they assigned Joe Michael Straczynski, during the middle of his tenure as writer of Amazing Spider-Man, to write a story in the 36th issue that would depict the superhero community of the MCU taking place within the real life horror of last year and showing them taking part in clearing away the destroyed building and searching for dead bodies. Straczynski reportedly wrote this all within a fortnight, and it shows.

When the issue first came out (over here in Israel anyway), I was too upset to read it. It appeared in stores on December the 1st, 2001, a day after the horrific suicide bombing that took place in the Ben Yehudah mall street in Jerusalem, in which two children who lived in my neighborhood were murdered in cold blood in the bombing. Because of that, I was just too enraged and upset to even stay in the store when I saw it. Just like the issue was an insult to the thousands of Americans whose lives were lost in the destruction of the World Trade Center, it was also an insult to the many Israelis whose lives were lost in terrorist attacks by such terrorist cells as the PLO and the Hamas over the many years, and to read it then would’ve made my blood boil even more. I just backed away from the shelf in disgust and left.

Several months later, I am able to read it, and having done so, I can only say that my worst worries have been confirmed by this issue: it trivializes the plight of the victims, quite simply, by presenting super-powered fictional characters in a real life setting which almost any of them could’ve prevented at ease had they existed in real life.

Lines that don’t fit the scenario

Following the crash of the hijacked passenger planes in the WTC, a news reporter says on TV, “bodies in freefall motion.” This line, to say the obvious, was in extremely poor taste, and I just cannot believe how contemptuous Straczynski could be to use something as disgusting as that.

Among some of the most baffling questions raised in this issue, are, where exactly were the Avengers, the X-Men, Fantastic Four, or even Spider-Man himself during the hour or so before the WTC buildings collapsed? This very question is asked by two passers-by fleeing the wreckage of the WTC to Spidey himself as he reaches the scene. “Where were you?”

To which he responds by saying: “we had no idea…we just couldn’t imagine…”

Really? This is coming from just one of many characters in the MCU who’s done battle with some of deadliest fiends in the MCU’s rogue’s gallery, from Doctor Doom to Kang the Conqueror to even Mephisto, enemies who’ve caused death and destruction on an even greater scale than the Taliban, the PLO, and Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi dictatorship have ever caused. These are villains who’ve leveled whole cities and nations in even less time than it takes to fry an egg, and neither Spidey nor anyone else could imagine something on this big a scale happening?

To say the least, this does not sound like Spidey at all. It sounds only like it could’ve come from the mind of its very own writer himself. About the only word in here that Spidey said that sounds convincing enough is “God.” But past that, nada.

It gets worse – there’s more.

Thor is the big giveaway

The ensuing scenes with the Marvel superhero society cleaning up the wreckage are even worse – as if it weren’t enough that this only serves to cheapen the plight of the victims, they’re accompanied by some of the most oozing and over-the-top sentiment to boot.

And if there’s any character in the MCU who could’ve averted the disaster the easiest, it would’ve been Thor, now currently the Lord of Asgard in the Marvel universe. The scenes with the God of Thunder lifting huge steel girder beams is the most telling detail as to how the superhero community could’ve prevented the disaster at ease. Thor and even Hercules could’ve held up the fragile structure until the all the people inside had been evacuated.

There is even a very contrived scene in which a little boy runs into the disaster area to look for his firefighter dad. There’s no reason why he would be there, and it makes even less sense that the authorities would even allow him to remain in the area.

But the most offensive scene of all was when some of the most prominent villains in the MCU – Doctor Doom, Juggernaut, Magneto and the Kingpin – turned up, and rather implausibly too, considering that Wilson Fisk was recently killed by some rival gang members in Daredevil. Magneto may be dead, but it’s just not confirmed, and Doom is on another planet, as Doom: the Emperor Returns - which came out the same week as this book did in the US - can answer to.

In fairness, I can probably see Magneto and the Kingpin feeling horrified about what went on, since the former is a Holocaust survivor and the latter could operate on the terms of Orwellian “doublethink.” (Not to mention that some of his own gang members could’ve worked in the WTC too.)

But when it comes to Doctor Doom and Juggernaut, not a chance, if at all. Doom (who today bears some surprising resemblances to Yasir Arafat) has led some of the most deadly assaults on the US and other parts of the world with the coldest of hearts. Back in the 60’s, there was one issue of the Fantastic Four in which he uprooted the Baxter Building from its foundation with the help of a tractor beam, lifting it dangerously high up in the sky.

Worse still, the scene in which Doom starts crying, I kid you not, was particularly insulting, not to mention childish. And if Victor Von Doom were really sorry and horrified about all this, do you think that even Tora Bora would be able to withstand his assault? No way, Jose. Furthermore, as Chuck Dixon wrote for him in the miniseries Doom: the Emperor Returns, “Doom has no tears to shed.” And suffice it to say, for that matter, that nobody, hero nor villain, in this issue, goes after bin Laden to avenge the deaths of the WTC occupants.

While as for Juggy, Marvel’s execs apparently don’t realize it, but back in November 1991, in a team-up between Spider-Man and X-Force (the old one) in the sans-adjective Spider-Man #16, Cain Marko knocked down at least one of the twin towers and cackled evilly as it fell. When you think about that scene from back then, which would look very ghastly if done today, it just sticks in your mind, and leaves a very bad aftertaste.

Furthermore, there’s no reason why anyone would allow these demented fiends whose own crimes outdo any Nazi/Islamic crimes nine to one to enter the area without even dragging them off to jail for all their past crimes. And as for our heroes, are they not rightfully offended that these villains are arriving, not to mention crying, after all the death and destruction that they’ve caused?

And that’s one of, if not the only thing, that’s really damaging about this issue: because we all know perfectly well that the villains of the MCU are going to and already have gone right back to their old ways of death and destruction as they have before, and that’s guaranteed.

But the most surely offending part of all was where Straczynski inserted, deep within all that oozing quagmire, an overly liberal bias in which he suggests that this was all our fault because we supposedly weren’t listening to, say, what the Islamic world wants of us or even the residents of Afghanistan. In other words, he’s saying that this is all our fault, that we brought this upon ourselves.


If this is really what JMS thinks, then I’d strongly suggest that he look at this comment made by Andrew “Captain Comics” Smith on October 5, 2001:

“And to those who say that America "deserves" it for support for Israel, or the Gulf War, or some other action with which they disagree ... I wonder: If their sister was raped, would they excuse the rapist and say their sister "deserved" it for some past action? That's called "blaming the victim," folks, and it's moral and ethical cowardice. No action America has ever taken -- and there have been lots of NICE things America has done, mind you -- deserves this kind of response. Nothing excuses or justifies the outright slaughter of 6,000 people. These ratbags are murdering thugs, and they must be stopped -- because whether we act or not, the killing will go on. They'll just be killing US instead of us killing THEM, while we wring our hands in self-loathing impotence. Me, I know which side I'm on in that debate.” – Captain Comics, October 5, 2001

Absolutely correct. And while we’re on the subject, let me add that this same very powerful argument by the Captain applies to Israel too. As to those who think that Israel “deserves” it for its “occupation” of Judea and Samaria, I can only wonder, would they have any of the same thoughts about the American population as they do about the Israeli population?

Let us be perfectly clear here: just like nothing justifies or excuses the murder of thousands of innocent people in America, nothing, and I repeat - NOTHING justifies or excuses the murder of thousands of innocent civilians in Israel. To do so is to commit an act of moral and ethical cowardice, and in doing so, you’re rewarding not only the enemies of Israel, but also the enemies of America. And worst of all, to do so serves only to encourage more acts of terror and gives the enemy the impression that they can get away with their crimes.

What J. Michael Straczynski – and Marvel’s leadership and board of directors did – is, to say the least, one of the most truly contemptible acts against a population that needs no further scorn than what they’ve already received.

An interesting aside, JMS reportedly donated the payment he got for writing this issue, with Marvel donating a similar fee, but the money that was made off this issue in sales was never donated to charity. Quite simply, this is what’s known as profiteering from someone else’s tragedy. Not to mention that many copies of this issue were sold on E-bay and only after awhile did even Bill Jemas or anyone else have the nerve to call for those scumbags to be banned from selling them on the number one auction site on the web.

The critical hypocrisy under which this issue went to press was also astonishing: comics reviewers almost everywhere heaped some of the most gushing of praise on this issue in an almost deliberate bias in Marvel’s favor. But the worst promotion of this issue came via their ever so faithful servant, Wizard, who said in their hype for ASM #36, “this issue’s going to kick ass!” Just one of many reasons why nobody with sense should ever have to buy Wizard.

And why write about all of this in Spider-Man? Why not write about it in another book like The Mighty Thor, the additional ludicrousness notwithstanding?

For a very simple reason: Spider-Man makes money. Spider-Man is the world’s most popular comics superhero next to Superman and putting him either in the midst of a tragedy or the other way around can draw interest…and dollars. And while Thor is certainly one of the best books from Marvel with the same theme, and writers like Walt Simonson and Dan Jurgens have done some of the best work on the Norse God of Thunder, even he doesn’t reach the same kind of popularity and sales that Spidey does.

I suppose there may be one asset to this utter atrocity: the stellar artwork of John Romita Jr. For a book rushed into production for the purpose of cashing in on a tragedy, it’s surprisingly well done. Yet, given the terrible circumstances surrounding the WTC, I can’t help but point out that somehow, it just doesn’t fit the scenario, and it doesn’t belong in this issue. Tragedies are not something to deal with in color.

I would like to say that if you haven’t bought this issue yet, don’t. To buy it is an insult to the thousands of Americans and Israelis alike whose lives were lost in acts of terror both yesterday and today. And what’ll they trivialize next? The Holocaust? The Rape of Nanking? The enslavement and murder of the Sudanese blacks? The Iraqi massacre of Jews in Baghdad in 1941? The genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman empire during WW1? The PLO’s massacre and murder of the Lebanese Christians in 1976, something that’s virtually ignored by the media elite today? Or even the Iraqi dictatorship’s use of poison gas against the Kurds, another tragedy ignored? DC comics as of today is doing the right thing to try and at least keep their superheroes at least along the sidelines of WW2, because it would’ve been insulting to the many soldiers who fought against Nazi Germany back in the 40’s. But this on the other hand is breaking one of the most important rules of storytelling: that reality and fantasy simply don’t intersect.

Recommended links:
Review from NeedCoffee.com by Tobias Clutch
USA Today column by Michael Medved

Avi Green, who found the The Kang War in the Avengers to done a lot better than the travesty spoken about here, can be reached at avigreen2002@yahoo.com

Copyright 2002 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

Home FAQ Columns Reviews Links Favorite Characters Special Features Politics Blog Comics Blog Food Blog