Saturday, 20 April 2013

How just two words in a Guardians of the Galaxy preview angered SO many people this week.

I have long since started to believe that there is a perverse kind of balance in the profile of Marvel's Captain Britain. For every bit of positive exposure he receives, it only seems a matter of time before it gets balanced out with something... well, something a little bit crappy.

For every strong characterisation like that of Alan Moore or Jamie Delano run, you then get things like Brian the angry drunk of early Excalibur. For every positive reinforcing of the character, like that of Captain Britain & MI13, you then get a pretty brutal and unwarranted character assassination in the form Uncanny X-Force or Secret Avengers. 

A few weeks back we got to see a fairly positive Captain Britain appearance, in the form of his new role as Head master of Braddock Academy, in Avengers Arena. 

I should have known something like this was on the horizon... :)

Guardians of the Galaxy #2 isn't even out yet. But it certainly seems to have made a lot of people angry.

A preview for the issue went up last night, and quickly started prompting responses like these:

Pretty clear displeasure, I'm sure you'll agree. Wondering what prompted that kind of response? 

Well, at the end of the previous issue an alien race (The Badoon) had begun invading London.

Yes. London.

So as you can imagine some folks were actually hoping for an appearance by Captain Britain. Or MI13. Or Union Jack. Or students from Braddock Academy. Any number of British Marvel characters, really, though especially those local to London. 

I on the other hand was a little more cautious. I mean on paper it might make sense, but I've come never to expect such things from the modern Marvel. When headline characters visit non-US cities in Marvel comics these days the likelihood of their local heroes, who Marvel has had in continuity for years, making an re-appearance is incredibly slim. If they happen it's a pleasant surprise, but I certainly don't take it as a given, by a long shot.

That said, even I wasn't quite expecting... well, this:

Yeah. That was Tony Stark. Iron Man. Telling all those new to Marvel readers which the Marvel NOW program aims to acquire, that Captain Britain isn't any good.

A pretty blunt statement. Some might argue an out of character statement, also.

Maybe there's been a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction, but I think you can see why some folks were a little upset.

It is kind of odd. I mean Iron Man and Captain Britain have both been Avengers, both been Knights of Pendragon together. You'd think there would be a little more respect, there. It seems even odder when you consider that Captain Britain was one of the heroes which Iron Man hand-picked from Marvel's timeline, to help save his ass in The Iron Age limited series from a year or so back. 

If he was so rubbish, why specifically choose Captain Britain from all the other possible heroes?

I actually find it slightly more irritating that Marvel editorial seems to have once again forgotten (or possibly chosen to ignore, I suppose) that there *is* a London-based superhero initiative. 

In the form of MI13. 

The government backed team which operates through the British version of the American Superhero Registration Act.

You know, the one which Tony Stark had a hand in *writing*!?


As this blog kind of serves to point out on a regular basis, Marvel's Britain actually does have a lot of resident heroes. Many of whom held their own series, at one point or another. Now maybe Brian Michael Bendis isn't aware of that, but given that MI13 themselves have been making Marvel appearances very recently, in the pages of Gambit (and soon to appear in those of X-Men Legacy too, I understand) you'd think that somebody might have pointed that out. 

I would also have thought that maybe Mr Bendis would have learnt something about how easy it is to end up rubbing Marvel's non-US readers the wrong way. Canadian readers were practically baying for his blood when he killed off Alpha Flight in a one-panel death, a few years back. A dramatically viable and shocking death, one could argue. But nevertheless, the blunt instant offing of characters whose books they'd been buying for years is something which upset those readers greatly. And was always going to. I think that when your favourite characters actually appear so infrequently these days you do tend to be a little protective over others using them for shock value, or as the butt of a quick joke. Readers often do take it very personally, and while some might argue that's more down to a sense of perspective failure on their part sometimes, you do have to ask - is it really necessarily to bad mouth a smaller property in order to make a larger one look better?

It reminds me very much of the whole furore over when Joss Whedon had Wolverine refer to New Excalibur as "Excalisuck" a few years back, on his Astonishing X-Men run. It was a joke. Clearly a joke. Basically, Whedon had Wolverine tell young mutant Armor that if she screwed up they'd stick her on some obscure offshoot team. Like 'Excalisuck or something'. Clearly a statement for comic effect, but one which a lot of readers *did* take as a personal slight.

At that time a fair number of Excalibur fans online had rather vocally been blaming the extensive delays to the faux Hellfire Club story in Whedon's Astonishing run as being responsible for editorial asking Chris Claremont to make some pretty large changes to the direction of New Excalibur - namely removing the London Hellfire Club (which he had been publicising since before the book began) as New Excalibur's Big Bad, so as not to give away that the Hellfire Club characters in Whedon's story weren't real. I think most people had already guessed that they weren't a couple of issues in, but because of delays Astonishing X-Men was only coming out every 2-3 months. And  people were getting antsy, I guess. It was a perfectly plausible story, I guess, but there was certainly no way of knowing if it was true. This didn't stop a lot of folks posting it online as gospel, of course, apportioning a fair slice of blame in Whedon direction, on several different comics sites.

When that 'Excalisuck' comment turned up in panel, I would certainly hope that it was pure unlucky coincidence. But that self-same group of fans didn't, and wouldn't, see it that way. As far as they were concerned this was Whedon responding directly to them. A direct and personal middle finger directed back at them. And while that remains unlikely, and any threats of 'boycotts' were never going to effect (what certainly was at the time) a Sales Giant like Astonishing X-Men, it was perhaps a little bit stupid to allow derisory comments made in a larger title to be made about any other book in your current publishing catalog. By that time New Excalibur had started to slide in terms of monthly sales. I'm not claiming that comment was responsible for its demise. But it was hardly doing it an favours. Joke or no.

So, yes, whether intended or not some folks will always read a joke as a personal slight.

Nevertheless, I can't help but think, that in the case of Guardians of the Galaxy #2 this was a bit of an unhelpful move. It's already been receiving a fair bit of criticism from long time readers, and I really don't think it needed something like this adding into the equation.

For the uninitiated Guardians of the Galaxy was an obscure late 60s Marvel property, left largely forgotten until a few years back when it was relaunched by Marvel UK stalwarts Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Back  in 2006 (while Marvel were still being a bit more adventurous, and trying much more to expand their universe of titles rather than consolidate) they decided to take their Cosmic/Space characters out of mothballs and throw them into a big multi-series event named 'Annihilation'. It was a huge success, with the standout series being Abnett and Lanning's 'Nova'. This began somewhat of a Cosmic Title Renaissance at Marvel, with these multi-book Events taking place each year. Somewhere along the line it was decided that some of these characters who featured regularly in the events together might function well in a book of their own.

So was (re-)born Guardians of the Galaxy. Separate to the original team (which had been based in the 31st Century) but true to the original concept. It used the recently revived Star-Lord (who had been an incredible success in his new aesthetic from the 'Annihilation: Conquest' event), sometime Nova love interest (and adopted daughter of Thanos) Gamora, space mage Adam Warlock, former Avenger Moondragon, Thanos-obsessed bruiser Drax the Destroyer, the towering living tree Groot and gun-toting, talking raccoon, Rocket Raccoon.

They weren't the most coordinated of teams. They weren't the best of teams. But they tried to do a job, living out at the edge of space, in the floating giant head of dead Celestial. 

With a telepathic Russian space dog named 'Cosmo'. 

Yeah. Really.

It was all a little off-beat, but that was the point.

The book lasted 25 issues, and gained a very dedicated though cult level following - many of whom were long-term Abnett and Lanning fans, going right back to their days at Marvel UK.

Look at that image for a minute. That's a pretty distinctive aesthetic. Star-Lord with the helmet and face plate, sword-wielding Gamora like a sword & sorcery warrior in space, Rocket in the standard 'Guardians' uniform. Visually it all worked very well together. It was always a little bit tongue in cheek, it had a very distinctive vibe to it, but it worked.

Even the most ardent fans were more than a little bit surprised when it was announced that Marvel Studios were going to make a movie out of it. A little concerned about it too. In this Avengers-centric movie world were they going to meddle with that aesthetic? Were they going to change the characters involved? Luckily for them, both in terms of concept art and casting rumours, so far the movie seems very much to be matching up with Abnett and Lanning's vision of the team.

Which is actually why the new relaunch of Guardians of the Galaxy seems even more odd to many. It's only an issue (and a set-up #0) old, but right from the earliest publicity material it was fair to say that the Guardians faithful were getting a little restless.

A very different aesthetic, I'm sure you'll agree. Gone are the uniforms, replaced by what the online consensus seems to feel is a wholesale ripping-off of the armour style of the videogame Mass Effect. As a fan of said game I will state that it *isn't* the same, but do also concede a certain amount of similarity.

Gamora has swapped warrior robes and swords for the same body armour, and assault rifles. She's also being referred to a lot in publicity material as 'Thanos' Daughter'. Which is slightly misleading, bit tells a little of where this is likely to be focusing. A lot of people are complaining about this particular change of look. Gamora wore what she wore because it suited her fighting style. I can certainly understand it. It's a certainly a bit of an odd choice. If she's now dropping swords for guns permanently that really is disappointing.

Despite the movie very much going with concept art of a helmet and face-plated Star-Lord the new Guardians series has opted for crossing this same armour with the brightly coloured, slightly campy 70s costume for the character. This too has been met with a fair bit of hostility. You can get a clearer picture from the panels up-post. I can sympathize. 

And of course there's the addition of Iron Man. I can actually understand the logic of his being here; for Tony Stark to be exploring space frontiers. I was actually quite interested to see where they went with the character. Perhaps a little less after reading this preview. :) But many longer term fans see this too as the clear homogenizing of the Guardians into the Avengers brand. And that's something which they simply cannot stand, and viewpoint they will not budge from.

Now generally speaking I have been a Brian Michael Bendis fan for quite a long while. From Powers to Daredevil, Alias to New Avengers. Between him and Mark Millar I had a reason to come back to Marvel in the early 2000s, after a long break. Without them I probably wouldn't have. I'm also currently loving his All-New X-Men - Finally putting some order back into a line of books which just hadn't been working for several years. 

But Guardians of the Galaxy, so far? I've not been blown away. I've tried talking myself out of all the complaints above, of the 'Galaxy's Avengers' tag that gets banded about, and the fact that a lot of people just seem to find it really fashionable to criticize Bendis at any opportunity. But I can't help but think that this time a lot of what is being criticized is legitimate. The Guardians weren't great heroes. They were a patchwork team of bit-part players, thrown together, and quirky as hell. What we have in this new incarnation is quickly becoming something very different. Now they're the best at what they do, sons and daughters of Kings and rulers, changing fighting styles, visual styles so dramtically from what they were. 

Is it just me, or are they losing a little bit of their charm?

It's not just me, of course. I read forums. I know this. And microcosm within the buying public though forums are I'm clearly not alone. For many folks Guardians of the Galaxy will always BE Abnett and Lanning. That fanbase was already kinda being eroded by certain creative decisions. Badmouthing the corner of the Marvel Universe that many of these same readers first encountered Abnett and Lanning in just works as another grudge for them to bare. A somewhat counter-productive move all round.

I'll be honest, I personally think that there has been an overreaction to this one 'Joke'. But at the same point Guardians of the Galaxy is a part of Marvel NOW. The entire point of Marvel NOW is that it's an opportunity to introduce new readers (especially those who have been watching Marvel properties in other mediums) to Marvel comics, getting in at the start of a new comic series. 

The guy who's never read a Marvel comic before has also likely never heard of Captain Britain before. All he knows about the character now is that Iron Man (the guy he HAS heard of before) thinks that the guy's not worth bothering with.

Ask yourself this: Is that guy now MORE or LESS likely to pick up a future title featuring Captain Britain, as a result of what they have read?

I fully accept that I am personally part of a fandom (be that Captain Britain or Marvel UK in general) which I'm sure Marvel do not see as being a huge or significant part of their business. Nor, more than likely, would the die-hard fans of Abnet and Lanning's take on Guardians of the Galaxy be. But my point is this:

Surely if a fandom forms around ANY property you own should that not be something you are happy about?If a set of people independently decide to show appreciation and enthusiasm for something which you have produced, no matter how large a response, no matter how small, should it ever be considered sensible or even acceptable for another part of your business to belittle that enthusiasm, to try and put down the property which interests them? That just seems to me to be a really shabby way to treat folks.

Joke or not if you want to try and score points against people maybe you should be working harder at targeting the opposition, rather than counter-productively targeting the people who actually buy your products.

Because sooner or later, they might just decide it's time they stopped doing that. 


  1. The irony is that -- for some reason I can't fathom -- Marvel have decided that Rocket Raccoon is English.

    1. He has been voiced as English in Marvel videogames, hasn't he? :)

      Oh, well. I know it's all just a joke, but I can't help but feel that it was totally unnecessary.

      If Stark had been shown to respond to Star-Lord even slightly differently there wouldn't have been a problem. I mean if it had rolled out like:

      "Hey, Stark, are there any London-based super hero initiatives? Any British X-men?"

      "There is a Captain Britain?"

      "Is he any good?"

      "Hard to know. He's never in the right damn Universe for us to work out".

      People wouldn't be complaining. Sure, it's still disapaging, but not cruel. Not unwarranted. Not at anybody's expense.

      This kind of comment pits one fandom against another. Because, like it or not, that's how fandoms ALWAYS respond.

      Bendis has defended this preview on Twitter, pointing out that these aren't *his* words. They're Tony Stark's. The intention being to show that Iron Man is a bit of a dick. But that's was never going to be how that was interpreted.

      There was just no need.

    2. I believe Rocket's also been voiced as English in the recent Avengers cartoon. I think it was the same actor as in the video games.

    3. The new Rocket Raccoon and Groot collection arrived a few days ago and I have just read Rocket's -- or "Rocky" in this case -- first appearance in Marvel Preview #7. I'd read it years ago but back then I hadn't noticed what I noticed this time, which is that Rocket seems to be English. He's been given an upper class English accent rather than the more, er, earthy one he has on TV and in video games in recent times, but there is a precedent for it.

  2. There's also been a fair bit of rumouring over the past few days that David Tennant might be playing Rocket in the Guardians Movie...