Monday, May 24, 2010
Wonder Man, The Crybaby Fanboy Avenger
Last week saw the release of Avengers #1, the new book by Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita Jr. that returns Marvel's venerable superhero team to a position of public adoration. This is after five years of stories also written largely by Bendis that had the Avengers come upon increasingly hard times, starting with the Scarlet Witch's descent into madness and culminating in Norman Osborn obtaining the official rights to the team. Many fans have wondered if Bendis will be able to write more optimistic Avengers stories, and some have completely dismissed the book before it even launched, including one within the text...
" From my point of view...the super hero civil war, the mutant decimation, the skrull invasion, norman osborn, they have-- they all have one thing in common...they are all the Avengers' fault. "
This whiny fan would be Simon Williams, a.k.a. veteran Avenger Wonder Man. This isn't the first time that Simon has complained about the state of things, either; during the Dark Reign stories in New Avengers, we saw him ranting on national television about how being an Avenger is pointless, Norman is what the public deserves, and God is dead ( seriously ). This was, of course, him whining in lieu of actually joining the other Avengers to fight Norman. ( He would join up with some super-villains in a Lethal Legion mini-series to fight Norman, and eventually get arrested, but I haven't read those issues and can't comment ).
But Simon's refusal to be an Avenger in modern times isn't a brave stand against the heroes' failings-- it's the temper tantrum of a spoiled brat who refuses to have things any way but his. It's the reaction of a character who is seeing the world change around him and, unable to accept that life is hard and that good people can make mistakes, chooses simply to say " Screw you guys, I'm going home. ". That the cover for the next issue has Simon attacking the new team suggests that when he does take action, it will be destructive action, trying to force the Avengers to stop taking scary risks.
Basically, Simon is acting like the stereotypical Avengers fan who rails constantly against Bendis for changing the franchise, but doesn't have any constructive criticisms as to how Bendis could do a better job, ( beyond rambling on about the " Good Ol' Days " ), and refuses to accept any potential merits to what he's doing.
It seems like Bendis would be the type of writer to use this sort of metatextual symbolism on purpose, since his Avengers stories have been almost entirely about the characters trying to determine what their identities are. Wonder Man is especially symbolic of a different era in the Avengers, because he's a character whose backstory is almost exclusively confined to the Avengers books, and who represents the worst of the book being about its own arcane, insular continuity soap opera. He was introduced as a throwaway villain, a character the Masters of Evil used to infiltrate the Avengers, but who developed a conscience and sacrificed himself in the name of redemption. Later, after a long absence where he was believed dead, it was revealed that his iconic energy body couldn't die, so he returned to the team. Since then, he's been involved in various story threads concerning Avengers " office romance ", and aside from an attempt at a solo series in the 1990's, hasn't done much else.
To whit; Simon Williams' brother became a deranged super-villain known as the Grim Reaper. He has another " brother " in the Vision, an android whose brain patterns are derived from his own. Simon had a thing for Vision's wife the Scarlet Witch, to the point of refusing to offer his brain patterns to rebuild a destroyed Vision. When he died a second time, the Witch's love brought him back, and he was gleefully sleeping with his brother's ex before breaking up with her because of her residual feelings for the Vision. Oh, and he's dicked around with a career as a B-List action movie star with the help from Hercules, developed an extremely homoerotic buddy in the Beast, and had a rivalry with Iron Man ( who unknowingly ran his father's company out of business, leading Simon to embezzle funding ).
Amidst all of this, what Simon is devoid of is a compelling character hook on his own. Like many characters on the historical Avengers line-up, he's a C-Lister whose appeal is only in the context of an ensemble cast-- take away his connections to the team, and he's not much more than a badly dressed, exponentially whinier ersatz Superman. Which makes him fine when the Avengers is a book about itself, with the team more preoccupied by who's sleeping with who than with doing their jobs and fighting evil. But Bendis has actually given the team opposition much more significant and lasting than villains against the status quo-- old soap opera plot threads have turned into catastrophic nervous breakdowns taking many lives, increasingly complicated cultural situations have created schisms between former friends, and villains have succeeded by attacking through the system. The heroes like Iron Man who Simon blames for causing the problems were only trying to save lives under circumstances where there were no clear solutions, and even then they paid dearly for it. Simon, on the other hand, has been on the sidelines at best, and simply refusing to do anything at worst.
So, without the classic Avengers makeup, Simon doesn't have much to hang his hat on. Now that it's gone, and can't return to the way it was, he can't ( or won't ) think of anything to do except piss and moan about how things are so scary and complicated. Sound familiar?
While there are many valid criticisms that can be levied at Bendis for his Avengers stories ( and I've made several of them ), I can sympathize with his position. His job, as the writer of the book, is to keep it consistently interesting so that people keep buying it. He's done so by trying a lot of different things, and not all of them have worked, with some even being catastrophic mistakes ( see: the Sentry ). But like the Avengers, he's been in a position where he has to take risks-- the franchise had been reduced to B-List at best shortly before he took over, with little to differentiate it from any other super-team book, so he was brought in to overhaul it. And he, like the Avengers at the start of Heroic Age, has ultimately succeeded into transforming the Avengers into something that's once again important. Many of his online critics, like Wonder Man, don't like the direction of the team but aren't going to risk finding something else to attach their attention to, so they'll just level less-than-constructive criticism at it.
You can practically hear him screaming " Worst. Avengers. Ever! " as a battle cry.