Thursday, May 24, 2012

Terra Cotta Shoes

Doug:  We all know that Marvel Comics is renowned for its heroes' "feet of clay" issues.  Today we'd just like to throw the door open for a discussion of our favorite good guys' and super-baddies' faults.  Which characters had the best design, and which schticks have grown very tired?  Are there personality flaws that were really important or hyped in the past (Silver and Bronze Ages) that have faded over time? 

How about some of the physical issues, like befell the Thing (some among you spoke ill last week of the exo-skeleton's brief era, although I kind of liked it and felt the creators could have gotten quite a bit more mileage out of the idea) or Rogue?  The inability to get physically close to another person is a pretty good plot device.  Mental issues?  Some of the telepaths at times had issues staying out of other people's heads.  Let's hear what you have to say, and thanks in advance for sharing.


Rip Jagger said...

The one that always stuck me as painfully contrived, was Hawkeye's hearing loss.

Hawkeye's "terra cotta shoe" has always been his flaming temper and his irascible nature, so giving him an official impairment seemed one needless.

And they forgot about it half the time anyway, so it didn't really strike at his core. A weakness needs to be central to the essence of a hero to work.

DD's blindness, Thing's ugliness, Sub-Mariner's isolation, etc. These things can't be contrived or they never work.

Hawkeye is a classic case in point.

Rip Off

david_b said...

To me a more interesting one was the Visions aversion to water. I love how the clues started showing up with Steve Englehart, who finally climaxed it with the entire Wonderman/Original Torch backstory.

But before the explanation, it was all QUITE compelling.

Loving him as much as I do, I still love the Bronze inconsistencies..

1) Being able to save Wanda's fall in ish 116, yet not Mantis in 121.

2) In the same ish, pile-drive right into the Surfer in mid-air, yet having to be lighter than air to fly..

Ah, but he was OUR Vision.

(Well, before Byrne got a hold of him..)

Edo Bosnar said...

Wolverine: obnoxious attitude and often not at all a team player, potentially homicidal, and, most famously, prone to "berserker" rages. Needless to say, loved the character when he was like this, and when his past was mostly shrouded in mystery.

Lemnoc said...

Spider-Man as eternal loser is a tired conceit. I’d say it is a trope that ultimately led to SM’s most execrable era, the Clone Saga and Brand New Day. Can’t have Parker in a stable loving relationship with a hot girl who’s crazy about him after all. So we must contrive to either eliminate him and/or his entire history arc.

At this point, I don’t think the character even needs to have angst as a defining characteristic. Bad luck works fine on its own.

The Thing: It’s remarkable how the character went from one of Marvel’s leading lights to meh. Part of it, I think, was—ultimately—his main power was the power to punch things hard, and that just doesn’t lend itself to much. But I trace his decline to the Secret Wars era, when he was replaced from the FF book by She Hulk, who was a much more fun and vivacious character (who could also punch things), while he was off on a not-very-interesting world fighting, literally (too literally), the “monsters of his id.”

By the time he came back, he’d been cuckolded by Johnny and Alicia, and that was really it for the character. That gruff ol’ softie persona crafted by Kirby, gulping stacks of wheatcakes while holding one of Reed’s building sized gizmos to keep it from scratching the floor, was long gone and replaced with a whiny kind of loser. Meh.

So I guess what I'm saying is that when the "feet of clay" schtick stops actively helping the character evolve and instead starts holding that character back, that's a problem.

Fred W. Hill said...

I stopped collecting Marvels not too long after the Secret War, Lemnoc, so I didn't catch the entirity of Ben Grimm's fall from grace, but the idea of Johnny & Alicia hooking up struck me as incredibly wrong and I wasn't surprised that they retconned that away. Which brings up another trope introduced in the Bronze Age and which has gotten tired -- Johnny's bad luck with women! Peter Parker's relationships have been more tragic -- Gwen Stacy murdered and his marriage to Mary Jane wiped out of existence by the devil! --while Johnny's have been more farcical, Crystal leaving him for Quicksilver, Frankie leaving him to become a herald for Galactus, and the woman who he thought was his best friend's long time girlfriend and who he married turning out to be a Skrull! Even when it seems Peter & Johnny are winning at love, they wind up losing big time.

William said...

Stan Lee always seemed to love "flawed" heroes.

Iron Man had a heart condition that required him to wear his armor's chest piece all the time or he would die.

Daredevil is blind.

Spider-Man is constantly broke and down on his luck.

Bruce Banner turns into an angry, unstoppable, rampaging man-monster.

Ben Grimm has a love/hate relationship with his "Thing" persona. He loves the power, but hates the grotesque appearance that comes with it.

The X-Men are hated and feared by the very people they are sworn to protect.

Thor's original alter-ego was partially disabled.

Captain America was a man out of time, who had to live in a world he didn't fully understand.

And so on.

Marvel has a long storied history of celebrating the imperfections in their characters. It's what always made them infinitely more engaging and interesting than DC, IMO.

William said...

Adding to my post above. I always thought the most interesting "terra cotta shoe" was Matt Murdock's blindness. Mainly, because they found a way to turn what would normally be a severe disability, into a great advantage. I've always found it interesting to see how various writers over the years have found to have DD use his extra senses to more than compensate for his lack of sight.

Lemnoc said...

You're right, William, that Marvel wove a character's weaknesses and foibles much more strongly into the identity and presence of a character than did DC.

Kryptonite for Superman was just a device to take him down a peg. Not something that uniquely defined or explored some aspect of the character.

This probably reached the apex of stupidity with Green Lantern and his inability to affect things colored yellow. Sheesh. Why didn't Hal just carry around a giant spray paint can?

William Preston said...

And Kryptonite wasn't even invented in the comics, but was a device on the radio program employed first (I believe) when the voice actor wasn't available and they needed to explain why Supes didn't sound like himself.

Anonymous said...

Hawkeye's hearing loss is a favorite. I think he id unique among marvels 'disabled' heroes in that he has no superpowers to make up for it.

aldo read story today in news sbout 4 year old boy in new hampshire with severe hearing imparement who didnt want to wear hearung aid until he was shown that hawkeye has one too . google gor the story! for that alone hawkeye and marvel is the man. or is that the men?

also why marvel is so mych better them dc if you ask me

Unknown said...

DC fan that I am, I agree with William and Lemnoc's comments. A lot of the characterization retcon's that DC does try seem a little too contrived to me. I love Aquaman, but the more bitter and angry you make him, the more I feel I should just read the real thing in Sub-Mariner instead.

I thought the Green Lantern film , though not perfect, actually had a lot going for it, and was unjustly dumped on. The aspect that worked least well for me was the attempt to give Hal Jordan "feet of clay". It just felt like the film-maker's were trying to graft some artificial "personality defects" from other movies where they didn't necessarily belong.

Green Arrow is the perfect example of what can be done to effectively give a character dimension. O'Neil & Adams (seperately at first) took the dullest member of the JLA, and gave him personality. Losing his fortune and changing his look were the best things that could have happened to GA. He became a contentious, tempermental, imperfect liberal who alternated between taking things too seriously or not at all. He was outwardly cynical, but his idealism was never very far from the surface. And, he had a sense of humor. I think he was probably DC's best written character in the bronze age. Certainly the most compelling member of the JLA.

I'm glad I stopped collecting before the Thing went downhill. He was always one of my favorite Marvel heroes. Hopefully he'll be better cast in the next FF film. Hey, here's how to open an FF film: Ben in Reed's lab holding some humongous piece of machinery in one hand, and a Dagwood-sized sandwich in the other, while Reed pushes buttons. Of course, Ben complains between bites. That's the Thing.
James Chatterton

Anonymous said...

I was mainly a DC and Gold Key fan in the Silver Age. Marvel's emphasis on angst was too melodramatic and soap operish for my taste. (In the Bronze Age, DC decided "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," and began imitating Marvel, so then there was no noticeable difference between the two.) So I found Marvel's romantic complications tiresome in general. Matt Murdock was admirable because he coped with his handicap, but they ruined it by downplaying that aspect and playing up his being afraid to approach Karen because he was afraid her affection for him was really pity, not love. And Scott and Jean in the X-Men seemed to constantly mope around being secretly in love with each other or something. And Peter Parker was a loser. There was a scene in the newspaper strip in the 1970's where Flash Thompson was bullying him, and Peter wouldn't hit him because, "With my spider-strength, I could total him!" Nonsense. Spider-Man often fought ordinary street thugs as well as super villains; he surely could pull his punches so as to knock down a normal human without killing him. Stan Lee once said that he thought Spider-Man's appeal was that he made the reader feel superior. If we had super powers, we would cope with problems better than he did.

Lemnoc said...

I thought, and still do, that the best retcon Marvel could do in a future FF film would be to set them in a different era... like they did with Captain America and the last X-Men film. They don't quite work in our post-post-Postmodern era.

The FF rightly belong in the swinging psychedelic Sixties, and with the appeal of MadMen and the nascent Space Age, it would be a resonant fit.

Agree with that opening James Chatterton proposed.

Doug said...

I have to confess that I didn't know about Hawkeye's hearing loss. After some research this evening, I found that it occurred during the time I was out of comics collecting, and although I've amassed a complete run of the Avengers I've not read all of the stories from that period when I was out. Hey, upon buying them all up and checking out the art in the first half of the 200's, I found that I didn't miss much! And to be honest, I don't recall that his hearing loss was ever dealt with much. If it was, I certainly slept through it!

So thanks, Rip, and others, for bringing this up. Learn something "new" every day!!


humanbelly said...

If I recall, didn't Hawkeye wreck his hearing by holding a Screech Arrow-head in his mouth, or something? I remember thinking that SURELY something with that much sonic punch would shatter his teeth as well-- yes? Boy, a guy like Hawkeye wearin' dentures. . . THERE'D be some terra cotta shoes for you--!

This particular disability is wildly illegitimate, though, because it's completely inconsistent with the rest of the way the MU operates. ALL of these heroes would be stone deaf by now if their hearing had that level of vulnerability. Heck, in the real world they'd have long ago been deafer than 65-year-old British Invasion drummers. . .

There is REALLY a WHAT IF-? #34 gag waiting to be made about this quirky factoid, dontcha think-?


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