Nobody can agree on anything within comics. Whether you prefer Alan Moore or Grant Morrison; reckon Archie loves Veronica and not Betty; or remain convinced that Wonder Man beats Wonder Woman (for some reason) - the one thing we can guarantee is that somebody disagrees with you.
But while it's fun to argue...some debates simply must be resolved.
And so to deal with the greatest controversies to ever hit the printed page, we've formally set up a Comic Book Court to finally reach a definitive verdict on the cases you've always wanted closure for. Each court session will see Christian Hoffer take on a case against Steve Morris, as they go back and forth over some of the biggest issues in the history of comics. Also...some silly ones.
With that in mind...
Will you please rise for the Case to Ban Celebrities from Appearing in Superhero Comics!
The Argument Against Having Celebrities in Superhero Books (Christian)
A few months ago, two separate Marvel comics referenced the smash hit musical Hamilton in within a few weeks of each other. On its surface, they were cute throwaway scenes, designed to show how Silver Surfer and Deadpool enjoy the same sort of pop culture we do.
But as I thought more about Silver Surfer interacting with a hastily recolored Lin-Manuel Miranda stand-in, I realized how odd future readers might look at that scene. Would readers in five or ten years even understand what Hamilton was?
It's that sort of question that makes me wonder whether comics should rely so heavily on using "current" pop culture references and tossing in silly celebrity cameos. While a Pokemon Go reference might make a reader smirk in July, will readers "get" the joke a few months later? Shouldn't comics be just as concerned with keeping its books relevant for years to come instead of only appealing to readers in the present day?
To be clear, I'm not arguing that comics should totally steer clear of celebrity cameos and pop culture references. Ever since Captain America cracked Hitler in the jaw in Captain America Comics #1, superhero comics have reflected the times in which they were published. But there's a difference between real world issues influencing the themes and stories of a comic and loading up a book with pop culture references and celebrity cameos to show how "hip" with the times it is.
There's also the continuity issues to consider. Both Marvel and DC operate on a sliding timeline of sorts, one that requires readers to accept that Superman or Spider-Man has barely aged over the last 30-40 years even as the world around them changes. It's hard enough to accept Marvel or DC's weird timeless continuity, but it becomes nearly impossible when you throw in fixed events in time.
Take the much ballyhooed Amazing Spider-Man issue in which Spider-Man meets Barack Obama. Now that Marvel has established that Barack Obama is the president of Marvel's version of the United States, does that mean that the Marvel Universe has aged 8 years once he leaves office? Since none of the Avengers have really aged since they appeared on David Letterman's show in 1984, does that mean that a young-ish Letterman is still the host of the Tonight Show in the present day?
At the end of the day, it's a weird balance. I don't think superhero comics necessarily want to be disposable entertainment, so publishers should avoid references that needlessly date their stories. A comic book that references Pokemon Go is only relevant as long as Pokemon Go is relevant. Anchoring a comic too much in the present day ultimately means that it will appeal less to future generations.prevnext
The Argument For Having Celebrities in Superhero Books (Steve)
Barack Obama began his Presidential career by meeting Spider-Man and coming up against the Thunderbolts. He's ending it by attempting to bring down the Suicide Squad. Over the last eight years he's appeared in a whole lot of comics, and it's been fascinating to see how comics have used the first African-American President in their stories over that time.
Comics don't get to see time pass. The best way to describe the majority of comics, and especially at companies like Marvel and DC, is "a whole lot of middle". Stories give the appearance of continuing forwards, whilst in reality maintaining a status quo which allows their most marketable characters and brands to remain in focus and useful in whichever ways are best for business at any point. As a result, comics can sometimes feel stranded, disconnected from time. Any way you can shake things up is welcome, and one of the more interesting ways is to connect comics to a particular moment.
Some will say that comics get dated very easily when celebrities or politicians show up - but in fact, it's hard to see why that's a bad thing. Seeing the original New Mutants fan out at episodes of Magnum PI may date the issue it happens in, but it's also a quaint, charming moment which gives comics a sense of time and passing. Having characters meet and react to celebrities, too, has the ability to date comics in a charming way. Seeing characters react to Donald Trump circa 1990, 2000, and today shows us how our attitudes and (usually left-leaning, given the typically liberal nature of comics writers) beliefs have changed and grown over time.
It's important to see history laid down on the page, whether it be through Kiss saving the day, Muhammad Ali squaring up to Superman or Stephen Colbert running for Mayor of Spider-Man's New York City. These have all to some extent caught the zeitgeist as they were released, and in hindsight have done no damage to the comics industry at all. It provides a quick sales boost - always appreciated - and adds a little sense of history to comics which would otherwise meander into obsolescence.
If Hillary Clinton shows up to meet Faith, that's not simply a cheap gimmick or marketing ploy, but a way for comics to show a little relevance, a little reverence - or irreverence - and connect themselves to a part of social history. Comics are a part of the conversation, and it makes no sense for them to pretend they exist in a vacuum. As Obama starts to see his career in the White House come to a close, we can look back at him as the star of various different comics, each of which had a different approach, a different take on the man and who he is - and who he has been. That's a fascinating artifact for us, both now and in future. Celebrities showing up in comics? I'm all for it.prevnext
For those unfamiliar with Comic Book Court, each side will get a brief chance to make a final closing statement to sway the jury (that's you!) to their side:
Christian's Closing Argument:
Steve inadvertently brought up another issue I have with silly celebrity cameos, and that's the sales gimmick aspect of it. Usually when Marvel or DC want to draw a comic with a politician or celebrity in it, it's just a cheap attention grab and not just creators trying to "capture" the real world on page. Sales gimmicks are fine, I guess, but I think we've all seen how they can hurt the industry in the long run.
Ultimately, comics are already part of social history, regardless as to whether celebrities appear in them or not. So why mess with an already fragile continuity and introduce fixed moments in time that will give fans headaches for years to come?0comments
Steve's Closing Argument:
I'd argue that comics aren't designed to appeal in hindsight now anyway - especially at a company like Marvel, operating in their shared universe. The Universe is All-New or Now! or All-Now! or something like that? Comics are more disposable now than ever before, I don't feel like people are buying comics from 2-3 years ago anymore. So why not make comics for the moment, with throwaway references, pop-culture cameos of the moment, and more? Make each six-issue cancelled series a time capsule, rather than a collection of forgotten pages lying at the bottom of the bargain bin. There's nothing wrong with disposable comics - we're far too precious about them anyway. Give me my Meghan Trainor/Batgirl dance montage! Bring on the references to Lemonade and Hamilton! Let's let comics live in the moment, rather than dredge them in a non-committal limbo with no bearing on the world we live in now. Squirtle! I choose you!prev