For the benefit of people who don’t read comics or have been out of the loop, a bit of a preface: About four years ago, the entire published output of regular, main line Marvel super-hero comics was consumed by a super-hero Civil War that went on for more than half a year. The cause of the Civil War was a new law requiring all super-powered people, good or evil, living on American soil to register their powers and identities with the U.S. government and make themselves effectively government operatives. (In principle, this even extended to the Fantastic Four, who are a private-sector corporation.) Captain America refused to obey the legislation, arguing (and I agreed completely) that this would give the government the authority to tell super-heroes who the villains were. Iron Man urged everyone to comply before someone was made an example. The hero community was thus divided into two camps, one falling in behind Cap, the other behind Shellhead, which set the super-heroes not against the villains of their world, but had them battling each other. Instead of fostering order, the new law violently tore the superhuman community apart. And in the wake of the Civil War, Captain America was assassinated. (This is comic books and he has a movie in the works; he got better, but wait for it.)
Since then, evil has run amok on Marvel Earth. Spider-Man’s old arch-foe, Norman Osborn (the first Green Goblin), already a corporate power broker, insinuated himself into the highest ranks of government and organized many of the other major villains--even Dr. Doom himself--into a global cabal of evil. (Osborn, in turn, has been secretly manipulated by one of his allies, Thor’s evil brother Loki, but that’s another story.) As “the Iron Patriot,” a red-white-and-blue-armored Iron Man knockoff, Osborn has banded together a group of other villains posing as heroes into a Dark Avengers, further solidifying his power. The Dark Avengers includes, in addition to the masquerading villains, a couple of other heavy hitters. One of them is the Sentry, a paranoid-schizophrenic Superman type. The other is Ares, who, like Thor and Hercules, is another god acting as a super-hero.
However, as of this winter, a miniseries called Siege is laying the groundwork for toppling Osborn and reestablishing the ascendancy of good over evil. Captain America is back (for the time being; once the dust is settled he’s giving up the role of Captain America to his World War II partner Bucky, who’s supposed to be absolutely and permanently dead--but that too is another story, and don’t get me started on that), and one of the aims of Siege is to get him, Thor, and Iron Man back on the same side and have them lead other true heroes in giving a righteous smacking down to the evil-doers who have been getting away with too much for too long.
With me so far? Okay. So, in the second of the four issues of Siege, Ares learns that he’s been on the wrong side and turns on Osborn. In response, Osborn sics the Sentry on Ares, and there’s a huge battle between the two of them. And this brings me to the letter of which I just mailed two copies to the Marvel offices in New York, the body of which I’ve copied below...
Dear Tom [Brevoort]:
I am writing this letter to express a very serious problem that I’m having with the content of Marvel Comics; specifically and most particularly, the events of the miniseries Siege issue #2.
For quite a few years now, I have felt a growing displeasure and unhappiness with the creative direction that your company’s books have taken. I have lived in varying degrees of satisfaction with the ebb and flow of good things and bad things. But as of Siege #2, enough is enough and I can’t keep quiet any more. I want to tell you in all seriousness that if I ever see another scene such as the one that occurred between the Sentry and Ares in this issue, I will immediately cease buying the book in which it appears and I will reevaluate my interest in buying all Marvel titles.
What was the need to have the Sentry actually, literally, tear Ares in two, and to have this scene rendered in lurid detail with internal organs flying across an entire double page spread? Did you or anyone in your editorial offices actually think this would make a better story, or enhance anyone’s enjoyment of it? What were you thinking, what was anyone thinking, when Brian Bendis and Olivier Coipel [the writer and artist for Siege] were permitted to present such a scene? Whom did you think would appreciate seeing such a nauseating sight? I want you to know, I did not appreciate it one bit. It was hideous, repulsive, tasteless, offensive, and uncalled for. And I want you to know further, I as part of the paying readership that supports your work am never, ever, for any reason, under any circumstances, going to tolerate such a thing one more time. Ever.
A scene like this does not reflect the Marvel Comics that I have read since the original collaboration of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The Marvel that I grew up reading, that made me love and believe in this medium, was about intelligence, taste, and class. It pushed the boundaries of comic-book storytelling in intelligent, tasteful ways. The thing that Marvel has become is a thing that wallows in the ugliness of life, where the standard for “heroes” is a character like Wolverine who is crude and homicidal and embodies the baser nature of humanity, and now, evidently, an organization that thinks a scene in which a character is torn open and his viscera are spewed from one page border to another makes for good entertainment. Well, Tom, you didn’t entertain me one bit with that scene. You nauseated, disgusted, and outraged me. And I repeat, if I am subjected to one more such display as this, you’re going to be in jeopardy of losing yourself a reader.
Marvel Comics has become an appallingly ugly thing; a thing that, regardless of the quality of its storytelling and art, thinks in ugly, hideous ways. I am tired of reading and looking at ugliness, and I’m not going to do it any more.
Of course, I’m just one reader. You and your organization very likely don’t care what I think. There are thousands of other fans where I come from, and many of them, I’m sure, are much more tolerant of tasteless, vulgar, needless gore than I am. And the company’s characters are its own property, to do with as it sees fit. If this is the kind of thing you want to publish for the entertainment of the comic-book-reading public, go right ahead. But do so with the knowledge that your readership will have diminished by at least one person. And if I have to go, I will make sure that every other fan I know, and my comic dealer, is made aware of the reason why.
I have tolerated a lot from Marvel over the years, but I have now reached my absolute limit. A thing like this scene in Siege #2 reflects on the mentality, taste, and class of all the parties involved, creative and editorial. I want to read comics that I can love and believe in. If I’m not going to get them from Marvel, that will be reflected in how I spend my money on Wednesday afternoons. Sicken, offend, repulse, and disgust me one more time, and I will be history--just like the Marvel Comics that I once loved. I have really had it. I am absolutely not going to take any more.
Your Editor-in-Chief will receive a copy of this letter. The ball is in your court.
Now, I’m sure you and I both know that one letter from one fan--in particular a fan like me, whose mentality and sensibilities are in no way compatible with those of the people running the company--is apt to have much the same effect on Marvel Comics as the Wasp had on Galactus when she flew into one of the eye slits of his helmet (Fantastic Four #243.) I sent that letter as a matter of principle. It is my own personal--and somewhat saner--way of throwing open my window, leaning out over the street, and screaming, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!” Brevoort and Quesada will probably not be impressed. But at least for the time it takes for that letter to be read, I will be heard.
And you may be assured that I wouldn’t have said any of the foregoing if I didn’t mean it. I don’t say things I don’t mean. Siege, we are told in Marvel’s promotions, is to be followed this spring by something called an “Age of Heroes” in which, supposedly, the balance between good and evil is restored and heroes start acting heroic again. Of this I have two things to say immediately. One: I’ll believe it when I see it, and then I’ll believe it only until some editor gets it into his head that readers aren’t paying enough attention, or some new hotshot writer or artist starts doing some other ugly, nasty, vicious, unidealistic, unheroic thing that catches on, and that will wrap it up for the much-touted “Age of Heroes”. Two: I don’t care if it’s the Age of Heroes, the Age of Dinosaurs, the Age of Aquarius, or whatever else they want to hype at us. If I ever see another tableau such as that in Siege #2, that really will wrap it up for me as a Marvel reader. In the words of Stan Lee himself, that will be the final “Excelsior!”