Reading BLACK WIDOW: The Ties That Bind by Kelly Thompson and Elena Casagrande earlier this year made me realize the way I read comics has changed.
I picked up the book based on a recommendation here and I mostly enjoyed it. The premise is that a Black Widow Revenge Squad has decided trying to kill Natasha will only piss her off. Instead, they take her off the game board by brainwashing her into Natalia, an architect with a warm, loving partner and a baby they’re raising together. She’s happy. So much so that when Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier find her, they wonder if she’d be better off staying as Natalia (I find them considering that as an option to be incredibly creepy).
The thing is, one of Natasha’s adversaries here is Arcade. I had no idea Arcade had any sort of grudge against the Widow, or that they’d even crossed paths. That’s not surprising — the past 20-25 years, I’m a lot less familiar with the Big Two’s output than I used to be — but it’s surprising how little interest I felt in finding out.
No, not surprising, more like profoundly weird. When I restarted my interest in comics after my parents moved us to America, I couldn’t afford everything Marvel and DC were putting out, but I was always interested in the superhero books I wasn’t buying. Even if I didn’t like them, they were part of the same universes as Avengers and Flash and I cared passionately about that universe, the whole thing. I browsed what I couldn’t afford or didn’t want to buy and continued doing so until about a decade back, when I stopped buying the current DCU and MU books.
The Internet has compensated for not browsing, of course. Between the various fan and corporate wikis and sites such as Marvel Universe Appendix, I can always find out some bit of backstory I need to know if I click on enough links. For example, after running into the latest White Tiger in Avengers Academy, I got curious about what happened to the original and looked it up. But this Arcade thing? I didn’t give a hoot.
Why not? Thinking about it, I realized I don’t see a point in knowing current continuity any more. If it’s DC, it’s only a matter of time before a new reboot changes everything. Since Infinite Crisis we’ve had New 52, Convergence, Rebirth and maybe another since then? Anything I learn about anyone is ephemeral, sure to be wiped out of existence a few years later.
Marvel, as far as I know, has only had the one universe-changer (that dreadful Jonathan Hickman COIE knockoff about the multiverse merging). Even so, backstory remains ephemeral. Black Widow, for example, has suffered massive memory implants to the point she’s as unreliable a narrator of her past as Logan (something Paul Cornell’s Deadly Origin touched on). That’s an open invitation for future writers to reboot whatever they don’t like (Richard Morgan introduced the memory implants as a way to do exactly that).
Even characters who don’t have memory implants don’t have reliable history any more. The dark, dirty secrets Professor X has hidden from his students probably take up more of his life than the stuff we’ve seen on the page. The “everything you know is wrong” twist remains a favorite for Bold New Directions: everyone’s been lying to our hero or everything they know is yes, a memory implant (e.g., Greg Rucka.’s Rebirth origin for Wonder Woman). Or a writer will hit on a direction I like, then the next writer will completely undo it None of which is new but the sheer accumulated weight of it over time has taken its toll on me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still checking current books out of the local library (I’m six volumes into Immortal Hulk so far). The way I read them now, though, is closer to the way I read them when my age was in single-digits. Back in the 1960s I had no access to old issues, no Internet, no way to learn anything I didn’t know unless some key story got reprinted. So I rolled with it. When I first encountered Dr. Destiny in Justice League of America #34 I was fascinated by the references to his two past encounters with the team (JLA #5 and 19). I wanted to learn about them, but I couldn’t. I accepted the story as a thing in itself (and a fun thing it was, too) and didn’t worry too much about the big picture.
Which is where I am now. For example, I’ve been enjoying catching up on Sterling Gates’ Supergirl run from a decade ago but I’m only slightly interested in which of Kara’s multiple reboots it is. I’m sure the big reveals about gamma radiation in Immortal Hulk will eventually be retconned out or otherwise undone but I still have fun reading the books.
There are worse states of mind.
#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Adam Hughes, Bob Larkin and Mike Sekowsky.