If you’re a regular reader here (Do we even have regular readers?) then you probably know that I generally keep to DC comics. But that hasn’t always been the case. In my mis-spent youth, I read just about everything out there. Gradually, I narrowed my focus to almost exclusively DC books.
In the last few years, I still kept a toe in the Marvel Universe by reading their big events. Generally speaking, I didn’t read the tie-in books unless it was a book I was already reading. But I found that these event books were extremely unsatisfying. I decided to vote with my dollar and stopped supporting them after the train wreck that was Secret Invasion.
Recently, I decided to pick up an issue of Amazing Spider-man. The circumstances were less than ideal. It was part 3 of a 5-part story and a Dark Reign tie-in to boot. But against all odds, I liked it. My curiosity was piqued. I resolved to give more Marvel books a try.
A friend of mine who has been following Dark Reign decided to sate my curiosity. Over the weekend, he dropped off a pile of comics for my perusal. As far as I can tell, it was basically every book that Marvel has released with a Dark Reign banner on it. There had to be at least 100 comics. There was no way I was ever going to make it through them all.
I did find the time to read a lot of them. And those I didn’t read, I skimmed through. I was surprised to enjoy just about every book I read. But the “event” as a whole really leaves a lot to be desired.
First of all, I’ll state the obvious. There’s no Dark Reign mini-series. There’s no central storyline here. Everything is a tie-in. The closest thing to a central story is Dark Avengers, I suppose. But it doesn’t really tie into any of the other books carrying the Dark Reign banner. Dark Reign isn’t so much of a story as it is the current status quo of the Marvel Universe.
Marvel is marketing this thing like they would a cross-over event. To say the least, this is misleading. They’ve got that Dark Reign banner on 100 books and counting. As best I can tell, if a book has anything to do with an past or present member of SHIELD, HAMMER or the Avengers, it gets the Dark Reign banner. 100 books in and I still haven’t found a hint of a beginning, a middle or an end. It all feels like a massive cash-grab to me.
As I mentioned before, I enjoyed just about every one of the comics I read. Part of this was due to selection. I skimmed the books that didn’t interest me. (Honestly, I skimmed a good 2/3rds of the pile.) There were plenty of good stories being told. The one thing they all had in common was a premise. And frankly, that premise is flawed.
I imagine everyone reading this is aware that the premise of Dark Reign is that following Secret Invasion, Tony Stark was replaced as the director of SHIELD by Norman Osborn. The Green Goblin himself has been given “unprecedented powers”. There don’t seem to be any checks and balances to his powers the way there are in the real world.
Norman’s rise to power hinges on one event. During the big battle with the Skrulls at the end of Secret Invasion, camera crews caught him picking up Reed Richard’s anti-skrull gun and blasting the bad guys with it. A psychologically unstable mass-murderer picked up a weapon and shot a mutual enemy, and he is rewarded with the keys to the government. Only in comics, people.
There are obviously some parallels between this situation and one that DC ran with a few years back. I’m sure most people remember that the people of the DC Universe elected Lex Luthor as president instead of George W. Bush. That storyline required a suspension of disbelief to be sure. But it was a much easier story to buy than Dark Reign.
For one thing, Luthor has a better public image than Orborn. Following Crisis on Infinite Earths, Luthor was typically portrayed as a successful business man. Only the readers and the heroes were aware of his sinister motivations. Occasionally, DC would decide to have Luthor do something overtly evil, but they always had a cover story ready for the public at large.
Norman, on the other hand, has publicly acknowledged his history as the Green Goblin. He’s talked a lot about second chances and chemical imbalances and whatnot. But seriously, do you think anyone would allow a convicted felon to be appointed to a position of supreme military power? How many government appointments have turned into scandals over lesser matters?
Which brings me to my next point. Luthor won an election whereas Norman was appointed. On the surface, it may seem easier for a villain to be appointed than elected. But, I’m going to say the opposite is true.
At the time of the Luthor story, George W. Bush was elected as president despite losing the popular vote. We all remember the “hanging chads” and other bizarre events that made headlines at the time. With only a smidge of suspension of disbelief, it was relatively easy to buy that someone like Lex Luthor could buy an election.
But a confessed looney like Norman Osborn would never even be a candidate for an appointed position. Anyone who attempted to appoint him would suffer the political drubbing of a lifetime.
Making matters worse, the president in the Marvel Universe is the real life president. Obama appears in issues of the Thunderbolts to test Osborn. And while Osborn puts on a hell of a show to convince Obama he is a hero, there’s just no way a politically savy guy like Obama would allow a loose cannon like Osborn to be in charge of a massive super powered military, national security or any of the other things Osborn seems to be in control of.
Even with a fictitious goofusof a president, this would be hard to believe. Having Obama in office just makes it all the more ridiculous.
At several points, the books I read acknowledged that the central premise was far fetched. Clint Barton goes on live television and publicly lists all of Norman’s crimes. He accuses the Dark Avengers of being murderers and criminals. And no one seems overly concerned. In spite of the fact that during Civil War the public didn’t even trust Captain America, they are now willing to accept any masked character based on the say-so of a madman and convicted felon.
The heroes themselves have no idea how to respond. I lost count of the number of times one Avenger told another Avenger to wait it out. The theory seems to be that Osborn will screw up big eventually. Well, of course he will. We all know how the story is going to play out. But should the Avengers really just sit on the sidelines waiting for a big, public screw-up while Norman sits in his office abusing his power?
In the Spider-man issue I reviewed, Spidey decided to get pro-active. His answer was to pose as Venom and infiltrate the Dark Avengers.
Several characters (including Spidey himself) pointed out that it was a stupid plan. And Spidey pays the price. Wouldn’t it be 1,000 times easier to arrange a public unmasking of Norman’s Avengers? Seriously, one snap shot of Bullseye as Hawkeye and this story should be over. How hard could it possibly be to bait these guys into screwing up their public image?
That brings me to another point. There’s really no one to root for in Dark Reign. The heroes are all sitting on their hands while the villains take center stage. At some point in the future, they are going to self destruct. That’s the story?!?
The hero who has been the most impacted by Dark Reign is Tony Stark. I’ve never been the biggest Iron Man fan. And Civil War really made me hate the character. So, I have to admit I kind of enjoyed seeing him on the outs. But even as low as Tony is now, I’m still not rooting for the guy.
It’s really hard to feel sorry for Tony seeing as how he appointed Norman Osborn to head the Thunderbolts to begin with. Tony got in bed with Norman, Bullseye and Venom when he ran the show. No surprise it bit him in the ass.
Every now and then I found myself asking, “Is Norman Osborn really all that much worse than Tony Stark?” Well, of course he is. Tony is portrayed as a hero who made some bad decisions in tough times whereas Norman is a psycho who portrays himself as a hero.
But, if you really look at their actions objectively, both Norman and Tony abused their power to further their interests. They both believe that the ends justify the means. The Marvel Universe as a whole doesn’t seem to be any worse off under Osborn than it was under Stark. They are both just different shades of grey.
The shame of it is that a lot of the comics that tie into Dark Reign are good comics. You just have to get past the absurd premise. Sometimes, that can be hard to do. But if you can, there’s some good super hero stories being told.
In the last few years, I’ve gotten really leery of big event comics. Frankly, I can’t think of one that really delivered the goods. (As good as Final Crisis was, it made for a pretty dismal event.) Dark Reign seems to exemplify just about everything I’ve hated about recent Marvel event-driven stories.
It’s bloated. I pity anyone who (like my friend) feels compelled to buy every chapter. He’s already hundreds of dollars in the hole. I bet he’ll have invested a grand in Dark Reign before it’s done. That’s crazy!
The premise requires the characters involved to behave out of character in order to further the plot. In this case, the entire Marvel Universe is acting out of character.
And while it’s too early to know for sure, the ending is likely to be an anti-climax that leads directly into Marvel’s next big event. I mean, how else can this end? Given Marvel’s track record with ending big events lately, I’ve learned to expect the worst.
On the upside, I’m probably going to be reading a few Marvel books for a little while. And by any measure, that’s a success for Marvel. But despite a few good reads in the bunch, I couldn’t help getting in a good rant about the larger issues.