Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Special 3D post! How Marvel Comics turned me into an atheist

Kids today have got it pretty good. Much better than I did as a kid. For one thing, the technology today is such that superhero movies are actually well-made.

For another, the 3-D technology is nauseatingly real. When I was a kid, these were cutting edge 3-D technology:

If you've got a pair of those old-thyme red and cyan 3D glasses, you can thrill to the amazing 3D effects of these Marvel comics characters origin strip covers. If not, you can just pretend.

Actually, I'm exaggerating. We also had the View-Master, and 3-D movies like "Comin' at Ya!" But nothing like what the kids have today, like "Jackass 3-D" and "Piranha 3-D."

Anyway, back to the Marvel Comics origin strips. Those were the prizes that accompanied kid-meals sold at (I believe) a fast food restaurant called Hardee's. It might have been Burger Chef. As I recall (although I might be confabulating this), the strips came with a 3-D viewer built into the box in which the food came, so that the whole apparatus was like a bulkier yet less substantial version of a View-Master. And all without the color.

Yet I insisted that we return to this restaurant every week to pick up the newest Marvel origin story. Going back over these things and re-reading them today, it's clear that I was starved for entertainment. Or, I was just an inveterate collector.

I think that I got every single one of the strips, although today I might be missing one of them -- Firestar, who wasn't really a Marvel character, being created solely for the television show "Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends" (apparently, the Human Torch was unavailable. seriously). The Iceman origin strip features a cameo by Firestar and Spider-Man, so I assume at least part of the reason for these mini 3-D comics was to promote that goshawful show.

Anyway. The origin of Spider-Woman. Thrill to the beautifully complicated absurdity:

Oh, yeah. Spider-Woman might seem similar to Spider-Man, but they're just so different (irony).

That is all nonsense. The real origin story is actually a lot more straightforward. Spider-Woman was created for the sole purpose of Marvel Comics filing a trademark on the character's name:
Filmation had a cartoon show called Tarzan in the mid-70s. They found that the show was even MORE popular when they combined it with Batman the next season to form the Tarzan/Batman Adventure Hour. Seeing that this arrangement was working, Filmation’s next move was to expand the show to include five other superhero characters, this time, NEW characters (so Filmation would not have to pay licensing fees, like I presume they had to for Batman). Well, one of those new characters was to be called, you guessed it, Spider-Woman.

When news of this came down the grapevine, Marvel knew they had to respond quickly, for fear that Filmation would have something published before them. So Archie Goodwin had to quickly come up with a Spider-Woman character for Marvel. With the help of Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney, Marvel rushed production of Marvel Spotlight #32, starring Spider-Woman.

The filing for trademark protection was almost instanteous[sic]. The comic was released in very late 1976, and Marvel was awarded trademark protection in early 1977.

As for Filmation, they changed their character’s name to Web-Woman.
So perhaps the script for that 3-D comic should read, "It all began when a Marvel editor, Archie Goodwin, discovered that another company had created a character called 'Spider-Woman'! Deciding they liked the name, Goodwin and the other Marvel officials decided to create their own Spider-Woman character and publish it before the other company had a chance!"

"Later, the character was injected with a legal serum that made it impossible for another company to use a character with her name!"


Spider-Woman has overcome her cynical origin to develop very large breasts.

Spider-Woman wasn't the only "cynical female character" that Marvel created around that time -- there was also She-Hulk.
She-Hulk was created by Stan Lee, who wrote only the first issue, and was the last character he created for Marvel before his return to comics with Ravage 2099 in 1992. The reason for the character's creation had to do with the success of the Incredible Hulk TV series at the time. Afraid that the show's executives would suddenly introduce a female Hulk, resembling the popular Bionic Woman, Marvel decided to publish their own version of such a character to make sure that if a similar one showed up in the TV series, they would own the rights.

Hard to believe that a female version of the Hulk with the uninspired name "She-Hulk" could have been created as a rush solely to pre-empt the possible creation of another character in a different medium -- at least "Spider-Woman" was an actual, forthcoming character.

But I always wondered why Marvel didn't do this with all their male characters. Someone might have brought out a female version of Thor -- better do a comic with Femme Thor! How about a Silver Surfette? Maybe a Wolvherine? Woman-Thing?

Anyway. To She-Hulk's origin. It was one of the more lame origins ever inflicted upon any character. She-Hulk became She-Hulk through a blood transfusion.
Jennifer Susan Walters, the cousin of Bruce Banner (Hulk), is the small and somewhat shy daughter of Los Angeles County Sheriff William Morris Walters and Elaine (née Banner) Walters (who died in a car crash when Jennifer was seventeen). Operatives of Nicholas Trask, a crime boss who had crossed paths with her father, shot and seriously wounded her on a day that Bruce Banner happened to be in town for a visit. Since no other donors with her blood type were available, Banner provided his own blood for a transfusion; as they already shared the same blood type and DNA, his radioactive blood, combined with her anger transformed Jennifer into the green-skinned She-Hulk when the mobsters tried to finish her off at the hospital.

As She-Hulk, Jennifer possessed powers similar to those of her cousin, though at a reduced level. She also possessed a less monstrous, more amazonian appearance.
So the cool, established male character -- The Hulk -- gives a superfluous part of himself (a little blood) so that a female can be given life. In the process, she becomes sort of like the male character, but her "powers" are "at a reduced level."

I was a tiny little kid at the time, but even I could tell this was sexist.*

What also struck me about She-Hulk's origin (and of course at the time I didn't know anything about the "protect a potential copyright/trademark" angle) was just how similar it was to another famous origin story -- the story published in a book called The Bible, in Genesis Chapter 2.
21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; 22 and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man."
So the doctor inserted the needle into the arm of the man, and caused to be drawn from there some of his blood and closed up its place with flesh; and the blood which the doctor had taken from the man made the woman again whole, and the man said, 'This at last is blood of my blood and she shall be called She-Hulk, for her powers derive from the man.'"

I was never a religious kid. My parents never took me to church -- I went on my own, to see what it was all about. Being a comic book fan, a lot of the religious stories struck me as "superheroic" in nature, but I just assumed that the creators of the comics were using old material. Didn't really think a lot about it.

 Over the years, She-Hulk has developed a pair of breasts to rival Spider-Woman's.

But the absurdity of She-Hulk's origin story crystallized in my mind the absurdity of the stories I heard on those rare visits to church. Moreover, it caused me to realize that a great deal of what people were being taught in those religious institutions made sense only if you viewed it as a way of keeping people down. In particular, women.

Imagine being a girl, and hearing that your entire species exists because a wholly unnecessary part of a man's anatomy was pulled from his body and formed into a woman (and I haven't even mentioned all the stuff about God first creating other animals as mates for Adam). Wow. And if one story from The Bible could so clearly be shown to have been written for the sole purpose of explaining why one group should be kept subservient to another, then the whole enterprise came in for questioning.

So, yes, as the title of this post suggests, I think that Marvel Comics had something to do with my skepticism of the existence of a "god." Not going to church kept my weekends free to read comic books.

*Also note that both Spider-Woman's and She-Hulk's origins involve men injecting them with some kind of serum or bodily fluid. How is that for metaphor?

1 comment:

Admin said...

Do you have any more of those 3-D images? It would be greatly appreciated.