Friday, July 16, 2010

Life and Death (in comics)

It's interesting to compare and contrast the current "Thanos Imperative" at Marvel with the recent "Blackest Night", DC's best crossover in years. Both are big cosmic sagas focusing on either new characters or lesser stars of their respective universes. Both deal with the concepts of Life and Death played out on a grand scale, with symbolic avatars existing and playing big chess games with one another. Most importantly, both are the result of years of planning and detailed world and character building under a few trusted hands.

The differences however, are very interesting

First, "Thanos Imperative" is an isolated single miniseries (they actually "cancelled" the tie-in series in order to concentrate the effects!) whereas "Blackest Night" was a huge sprawling crossover that intruded on every character and corner of the DC Universe. Partly this is because "Blackest Night" concentrated the events on Earth and made Earth effectively (and literally, despite all known science and logic) the Center of the Universe. Marvel, on the other hand, tends to treat Earth as a dangerous backwater - an interstellar No-Man's Land where the natives are territorial, hostile, but isolated and self-involved and unaware of the greater dangers of the universe. DC holds humanity as a scared and precious thing; Marvel holds it as a minor danger beset in a cosmos full of greater ones.

The larger difference in cosmology is that of the value of life and death - in DC, Death (at least Nekron) was viewed as an absolute evil - something to be vanquished, whereas in Marvel, Death is viewed as part of the balance - a necessary evil that has to be respected lest the results create horrors beyond imagination. Eternal life for all is not seen as great triumph but a danger all it's own - as dangerous as Death. Two more diametrically opposed worldviews I'd find difficult to imagine.

And finally, there's scope, at least in the context of marketplace - the Thanos Imperative is a small crossover that takes place off earth and doesn't involve any real "big name" characters, whereas "Blackest Night" was DC's big summer event that DC promoted for over two years. I'm not going to make value judgements here (I leave that to you in the comments) but it's startling to see two different events that focus on the same subject matter take such divergent routes. I wonder what that says about the comics marketplace, and the distinct differences between the two corporate supercomics companies.

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