I stopped making New Year’s resolutions so long ago that I don’t remember the last time I made one. This, I think, is because of something that I think John Lennon once said: “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans”.
When someone doesn’t keep a New Year’s resolution, people usually chalk it up to either a failure of will or a failure of discipline—failures on the part of the person in question. I don’t pretend that there aren’t people lacking in will or discipline, but this explanation omits a very important factor: life itself—or what we humans have made of the experience of life—gets in the way.
Think of what you have to go through just to function in the world and conduct the basic, daily business of living. Think of what most people seem to think life really is. It’s not about living and growing and experiencing and enjoying. Life isn’t really about life at all. We talk a good game about goodness and virtue and righteousness and morality, but what is it that really drives and governs our day-to-day existence? Money—or, to be exact, the grinding, gnawing, soul-sucking need to accumulate as much money as possible; the inextricable intertwining of the need for money with the content and quality of every minute detail of our lives. New Year’s resolutions are supposed to be about making better lives for ourselves, but the way we’ve set up the world is antithetical to living fully. The majority of us don’t really get to enjoy our lives until most of life is behind us—if we’re lucky. We humans have pretty much made our whole world a conspiracy to take time from people’s lives, energy from people’s bodies, and most especially money from people’s pockets. Everyone who goes about wearing a St. Christopher’s Medal or any other form of cross should rightly be wearing a dollar sign. Our true religion is greed. And yet, every year we keep right on making resolutions in the face of a world that is set up to make us break promises to ourselves because of the covenant we’ve already made with money.
However, resolutions are also about a sense of purpose and direction, and other than reason, rationality, humor, and love, I consider a sense of purpose essential for any attempt at a well-lived life. Without purpose, life is aimless, directionless, pointless. Which is why rather than making a resolution every January 1 with the deck stacked against me because of the way the world puts everything in your path but living, I proceed with a general sense of purpose that I check and reevaluate frequently as I go along. It’s about planning your work and working your plan, regardless of the time of year. And it spares me the artificiality and futility of New Year’s resolutions.
Thus, even before I took down my 2007 calendars and put up my 2008’s, I had added a new directive to the latest revision of my general life plan, and I’ll share it with you now. Where the decisions of certain comic book companies and what they choose to do with their characters are concerned, the new directive is to remember that they are not my characters.
For anyone else, I’ll admit, this would be a pretty frivolous item to put on the agenda. However, I am not anyone else. I am J.A. Fludd. If you’re a regular visitor to The Quantum Blog, you already have a good idea of whom you’ve been dealing with. If you’re not…well, I have very copious bon mots on previous posts to get you acquainted. I direct your attention in particular to the posts titled “The Marvel Super Heroes Had Arrived” and “The Homeless Fan”. Anyway, in light of the things I’ve been seeing in comics, and the things I’ve been writing about comics here, I think it is very appropriate to make a mantra to myself that it’s a waste of my energy to fret and spike my blood pressure over comics and characters that I do not own. They’re not my characters. They’re not my property. I have no responsibility for making any decisions about them. I am not a contributor to their stories and their worlds. I have no part of them, and no one in the organizations to which they belong has ever wanted me to have any part of them. They’ll gladly take my money (and they’ve been getting less and less of it by the year, I might add), but they haven’t the slightest use for anything else I might have had to offer. I am out of the loop. And in a way, I’m glad for it, because the things I’ve been seeing, and continue to see, convince me more and more by the month that I don’t want any part of it any more.
Submitted for your approval (as Rod Serling might have said): The character not of my own creation who has historically been second only to the Fantastic Four as my very favorite hero: the ever-amazing Spider-Man. What’s been happening with Spider-Man lately, and going back about a couple of decades, is right now the prime example of what makes me glad to have been shut out of participating in the doings of these comic companies.
Consider where his most recent storylines have found our favorite Webhead. Spider-Man had joined the Avengers—an idea that I considered completely wrong-headed. It went completely against the grain of our entire understanding of Spider-Man. For years, we’ve known that Spider-Man was not cut out to be a member of a team. He gets along with most other super-heroes at least most of the time, but his nature is that of an outsider, even a loner. Stan Lee was always smart enough to flirt with the idea of Spider-Man become an Avenger without actually having him do it. Spidey is not a joiner. But there he was, in the Avengers. What’s more, he came out to them, so to speak, sharing his secret identity with them, and moved himself, Mary Jane, and Aunt May into Avengers Tower. (Don’t get me started on the abandonment of Avengers Mansion and all the other stuff they’ve done with Marvel’s heaviest-hitting team in the last few years; we’ll be here all week and it won’t be pleasant.) This had the effect of giving Spidey a very glamourous, un-Peter-Parker-like life. It also made him the protégé of Tony Stark/Iron Man, one of the scientific leaders of the Marvel cast. Then, when the Marvel Super-Heroes Civil War broke out, Spider-Man—with Iron Man’s encouragement—came out to the public in a nationally televised press conference, revealing that he was Peter Parker, and endorsed the Super-Hero Registration Act that was causing all the strife between the heroes. In the midst of this, Spidey also took to wearing a Stark-designed red-and-gold “Spider Armor” about which you don’t want to hear me ranting either, but I’ll just say that it, and all the other stuff they were doing with Spidey both as an Avenger where he didn’t belong and in his own book, was stupid and leave it at that.)
This, naturally, had the effect of painting great big targets on both Mary Jane and Aunt May, and in the fallout of the Civil War, Aunt May took a bullet from—I believe—a sniper working for the Kingpin. This and all the other Civil War upheavals took a heavy toll on Spidey and had his life circling the drain as Aunt May barely clung to hers, with a prognosis that held out no hope. This all seemed to crystallize the storytelling baggage that Spider-Man had been accumulating in the years since he married Mary Jane. And finally, Marvel realized something had to be done.
What they decided to do, which has caused one of the biggest controversies in comics at the moment, was to have all the baggage just taken away. In a storyline called “One More Day,” Peter and Mary Jane have made an actual deal with the Devil—or Marvel’s version of him, anyway. Mephisto, the supernatural embodiment of evil, has apparently undone decades of Spider-Man continuity going back possibly as far as the 1970’s, all in the name of scoring a personal triumph over the virtue and purity of Peter and Mary Jane’s love for each other. (I’m getting this second hand from the guys on the Gay League Listserv; you may want to look this up on http://www.newsarama.com/ for a truly accurate accounting of it.) Under Mephisto’s magical fiat, Peter and Mary Jane are no longer married and were never husband and wife; Spider-Man never came out to the Avengers or the public; and thus Aunt May was never shot and never in jeopardy (at least from any of this business; they actually have “killed” and resurrected her once).
Now, what you should understand if you’re a reader of this Blog is that Marvel Comics is the company that practically codified the practice of treating comic-book heroes as real people and their stories as real events that have consequences. The consequences of altering perhaps as much as 30 years of Spider-Man’s history—which affects not just Spider-Man, but the entire Marvel canon—are daunting, to say the least. There are now going to be a lot of areas where things that were printed either didn’t happen, or didn’t happen the way we remember them, not only in Spidey’s books but across the Marvel line. The Marvel Universe stands to become a “Twilight Zone” where anything we think we remember may at any time prove to be no longer true.
And my reaction to this? They’re not my characters.
Even as I write this, I am feeling the relief of just not caring. I’ll still read those Marvel titles that I think are beautifully drawn and in which I find the characters appealing. They’re not anywhere near as numerous as they once were, but they’re out there. But as far as Marvel’s decision making goes, I am to an ever-increasing degree just going to let stories be stories. I’ve seen enough stupid things done, and I’ve spent enough years watching from outside as a non-participant whose involvement was never desired, that I can bring myself to care less and less. I haven’t been getting any Spider-Man titles on a regular basis for the past few years, and I won’t read Spidey again until later this year when John Romita Jr. comes back and Spider-Man returns to battling costumed super-criminals of the sort that he is best suited to battle (or so it’s been said). And if they mess it up again…well, at least I’ll still have the art of John Jr. to enjoy. There was a period when I was getting Spidey books just for that.
And in another month or so, when the new writer and artist of The Fantastic Four take over my most important book, I will watch what they do with the same understanding that I’ve had about the FF for the past decade: If they screw it up, I’ll stop buying it. (And believe me, there was a period of about 3 years when I did not buy The FF. I flipped through it every month and put it back on the rack. This went on until the writer and artist to whose work I objected were removed.)
Meanwhile, I’ll be continuing with my own work, my own plans, and my own purposes. I’ll have more than enough to keep me busy. Some of it will probably be on display here at The Quantum Blog in the months ahead. (And you can see some of it at www.comicspace.com/quantumartist.) That should be entertaining. Life may be what happens when we’re making other plans, but it’s important that we do make plans—not artificial resolutions that are doomed to fail because the world is greedy and puts everything in our way but life, but organic, life-affirming plans that keep our direction constant and our eyes on the prize, yet can flex and alter just enough to accommodate changing circumstances.