Heroes Never Rust #101 by Sean Ironman
In Marvel: 1985 issue three, Marvel villains continue to invade the real world. The Hulk was seen in the second issue, but no other Marvel heroes seem to be around, leaving humanity with limited support to fight off the bad guys. While this issue does feature Fin Fang Foom, a giant green alien Buddhist dragon and the Iron Man villain that has been sorely missing from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are no world-conquering plans afoot. So many times in superhero stories, and in summer blockbusters and other popular writing works, the stakes are raised for not only a person or a small town but the whole world. In the mainstream comic universes, there are very few serial rapists. There may be petty thieves Spider-man dispatches early in an adventure, but most villains have wonderfully complex and grandiose plans. While the audience gets to see a lot of destruction, with many battles toppling skyscrapers, the men and women caught in the middle rarely get much attention. This ends up taking the bite out of the violence. I’m not necessarily a fan of violence, but I do think that if a story shows violence than it has a responsibility to show the full ramifications.
Also, by focusing on such large, complex villainous plans, the reader, or viewer, is actually kept at a distance from the story. A few weeks ago, I read an article on the new Jurassic World and why the CGI looks bad compared to the original Jurassic Park. A lot of reasons were given, but one that hit me the hardest is that filmmakers, for Jurassic World and for other films like The Hobbit trilogy, go overboard, not with how many frames are CGI but with what happens with the CGI. Because filmmakers can do whatever they want, they do. But, the audience doesn’t really have a frame of reference for what’s going on. When the helicopter in Jurassic World gets attacked, spins out of control, breaks through a large aviary, crashes, blows up, and dinosaurs flee from the wreckage, the audience can’t process what’s going on. The scene is too foreign. I though back to that article when reading the third issue of 1985.
Here, the villains are truly terrifying. MODOK, probably one of the goofiest looking villains in comics, is incredibly creepy as he mind controls a group of townspeople and leads them to drown in the river. One woman even holds a baby, and everyone slowly walks single file into the waters. MODOK doesn’t kill a whole city. He’s not out to rule the world. The simplicity of the scene is why it’s creepy. I can imagine that scene, and because I can imagine it, the scene becomes horrific. I become afraid. If the villain’s plan becomes to ambitious and elaborate, if the action scenes have too much going on, then the whole thing seems cartoonish, and instead of building tension, the scene becomes laughable.
The issue ends with our protagonist Toby and his father driving down a road, and the Lizard, one of Spider-Man’s set of bad guys, jumps onto the roof and tries to claw at the boy and his father. The issue ends without a resolution, but the cliffhanger works because the scene builds terror and tension. The Lizard doesn’t have some crazy plan of turning everyone into lizards with some kind of new technology that readers have no idea how it works. The Lizard is a monstrous half-lizard half-man creature atop a car trying to kill, and possibly eat, the occupants. We don’t need anything else. If we care for the protagonist and his father, the danger doesn’t have to be incredibly complex with all these moving parts. The kid is in danger. We like the kid. We don’t want the kid to die. That’s it. We, as writers, or at least the writers of the usual summer blockbusters, are making storytelling more difficult for themselves. What difference does it make if our protagonist is going to be killed by a two-by-four or by some kind of alien technology? Well, the difference is that we can imagine what would happen if the character is beaten by a two-by-four. We can imagine it, and that’s why we don’t want it to happen.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic as I see trailers for Terminator: Genisys. The original Terminator still looks more terrifying, and I think it has nothing to do with the R rating of the original versus the PG-13 of the new one, or the CGI in the new film. In the original film, the Terminator walks into a police station and shoots a whole bunch of cops. The building doesn’t blow up. The Terminator isn’t flinging vehicles at the heroes. There isn’t some kind of domino effect of falling debris. It’s one man, or robot in this case, walking confidently down a hallway and shooting whatever is in his path. In the new film, the Terminator is jumping out of a helicopter into another one. A bus falls from the bridge with the heroes inside, clinging to each other to avoid falling to their deaths. The film is trying to be too big. Last year, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was released. Obviously there was a ton of CGI used for the apes. Yet, the film seemed more real than most summer blockbusters because the action scenes weren’t over the top. The audience was grounded. Our imaginations help drive tension. For me, a horrifying act for a villain would be to have the villain walk up to a person and shoot the person point in blank in the head. I don’t want to get shot. I can imagine what getting shot would do to me. I don’t know what being turned into a lizard man would do to me. And I don’t know what a MODOK is, but I can imagine being drowned in a river, and that is terrifying.
Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s Chronicle, Redivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.