There are moments in life that are sent to try us. When you go on a trip to the seaside and it starts raining, or when you try and tape a TV show and realise you’ve accidentally recorded ITV instead. But how about when you start talking to someone, only to find out that they have an obscure fascination of some kind which completely passes you by? In our occasional series here at Illicitly Eating Flowers, we’ll try to help you bluff your way through such conversations, with your sanity still intact.
The Different Comics: Marvel
The Marvel Universe is based more around teams than the DC Universe is, because there are so many characters running around together. Marvel own the X-Men, and Spiderman, and the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four, as their four main titles, and all of them are simple enough to follow in a conversation, if you know where to go. The important thing when talking to a fan of Marvel comics is to mention how much you hate “retcons”. A retcon is when a writer in, say, 2002, revisits a story from 1975 or something and changes the reason why it happened, or the ending, which means that characters come back to life or die or turn evil. This happens a lot in Marvel, and is in fact the only thing you need to mention if someone tells you they like Spiderman. See, Spiderman has just undergone a story called “One More Day” which wiped out the past 20 years of comic-book continuity, thus rendering all the stories told about him over the past 20 years void. It’s the most talked-about thing in Marvel at the moment, and by saying “I don’t care about Spiderman because of OMD (one more day), which ruined the series” you can skip having to talk about him altogether. There are other comics though:
The Fantastic 4 – The Fantastic 4 are made up of Mr Fantastic Reed Richards, who can stretch his skin into any shape he wants; his wife Susan, who can turn invisible; her brother Johnny who can burst into flames at will and fly around; and Ben Grimm, Reed’s best friend, whose skin has been turned into rock. They were all affected by gamma radiation during an experiment gone wrong, thus giving them super-powers. Their main enemy is Doctor Doom, and their stories tend to ignore the general Marvel Universe in favour of deliberately complicated and paradoxical stories about different dimensions and time travel and space.
The X-Men is the group with Wolverine in it. Founded by Charles Xavier, the X-Men run a school where mutants can gather to learn about controlling their abilities. The X-Men themselves are a military team who protect mutant rights around the globe, as they are thought of as a lesser species. The X-men are currently split up due to a massive event that happened last December, but all you need to say here is that your favourite comic is either ‘X-Factor’ or whatever Mike Carey is currently writing. Your favourite X-Man must NOT be Wolverine; he appears in at least five different books monthly and is oversaturated to the point of ridiculousness. Cyclops should be your character of choice, or Jean Grey (who is currently dead, but very much beloved by fans)
The New Avengers/The Mighty Avengers are also where you will find Wolverine. These two groups of superheroes are made up of pretty much every other famous Marvel character, including Iron Man, Captain America (although he has recently been killed), and Spiderman – who has his own book on the side. The two groups are on opposing sides of the law; the Mighty Avengers are a legal team, the New Avengers are an underground team made up of heroes who don’t want to work with the law (Wolverine, Spidey, and several lesser-known characters are in this group).
The main issues with Marvel are that there are so many different characters who have some kind of importance to the Universe they live in. DC comics focus generally around their big five people, whereas Marvel… well they tend to tell lots of big stories with as many people as they can. Another issue is that Marvel is currently in the midst of a big event called “Secret Invasion”, where many of their characters have been taken over by evil shape-shifters, thus rendering it the worst possible time for you to get drawn into a conversation about Marvel Comics. If the conversation does take this route, then quickly derail proceedings by mentioning your respect for one of the following writers:
Ed Brubaker – he writes Captain America and Daredevil, two of the most acclaimed comics at Marvel at the moment. Captain America especially is hailed as the best comic you can buy anywhere, currently. Brubaker killed off Captain America, who is a massive character in the States (of course), and has just introduced a new one. Brubaker is the first name you should drop into the conversation, followed by endless words of praise.
Chris Claremont – who is responsible for the X-Men, more or less. He took over X-Men after they got to issue 70 or so and ran with it for hundreds of issues. This guy is the God of X-Men, and is responsible for classic stories such as “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past”. Nowadays he’s been pushed to the side and writes stories which mainly seem to concentrate on filling in the gaps on the X-Men, but in his ‘glory days’ nobody was more important.
Joss Whedon – loved and hated in equal measure by Marvel fans, because his stories for the Astonishing X-Men (the most famous team – Cyclops, Wolverine, etc) and Runaways (about a group of kids who, uh, run away from home. Incidentally, he took over this title from Brian K. Vaughan, who is as loved by Marvel as he is by DC) are fantastic, but take ages to arrive. So mention how much you enjoy Joss Whedon’s stories, but point out that he takes so long to get each one out that it’s hardly worth it anymore. This will get you kudos.
All three are keeping out of Secret Invasion, thus rendering them unconfusing… well, considering. If you really want the conversation to end quickly, however, then tell the other person that your favourite writer is Chuck Austen. He’s possibly one of the most hated writers for Marvel of all time, and you’re guaranteed to disgust the Marvel fanboy just by mentioning him. That’s Marvel sorted, then: tomorrow we look at independents. And yes, the primer is going to involve bearded wizards from Northampton.