Wednesday, June 1, 2016

What if The Entire Marvel Universe Switched Sides?

The Internet has been on fire for over a week now regarding the latest comic book controversy. Though I haven't read the story line myself, I think we've all seen the panel where Captain Steve Rogers is standing in his full red, white, and blue regalia, and he says the two words that sent tectonic cracks raging through Marvel's fan base.

No, this is not a joke.
If you're interested in more information, you can get a general gist on a website like UpRoxx. I only brought up this controversy because the night before it broke wide open across the Internet, I was engaged in a thought experiment with a friend of mine. One of those little conversations that happens when you examine stories and characters, and ask yourself what would happen if you shined a light on them at a slightly different angle? That conversation was sparked by a Cracked After Hours video where the hosts asked why we regard Charles Xavier as a hero in the X-Men?

Think about it. He trains super-powered child soldiers, wipes the minds of his loyal pupils when they begin to question his mission, and rather than using his intense psychic abilities to influence elections, or to help stop prejudice against mutants on a national scale, he uses pawns to win ground battles in a literal race war. Those don't sound like the actions of a hero, and all we did was shift our view slightly so the shadows sit a little differently on his bald pate.

The conversation we had took this experiment to its logical conclusion, and we went through the Marvel universe hero by hero, and villain by villain, asking what would happen if their traditional roles were reversed? What we found was that the difference between good guys and bad guys isn't as far as the black-and-white natures of their comics would have you believe.

The Lensherr Academy For Superior Learning

The conversation began with the obvious starting point; if Professor X is the callous, hyper-intelligent villain who plays chess with real people's lives, then Magneto is clearly trying to oppose him in this endeavor. Which would make sense, since he was a survivor of the Holocaust, and he saw what the sort of total war waged by unquestioning fascists in black leather could do to people. And given the raw power of Xavier's mind, Erik's team was formed from the outcasts, the dregs, the unwanted, and the indomitable. Toad is a socially maladjusted jokester who lashes out when he's backed into a corner, but with a family to call his own could grow into a fighter to be reckoned with. Mystique has lived many lives in the shadows, and she's seen first-hand the destructive power a psychic with control over minds can wreak. Even Cain Marko, realizing the threat his step-brother posed, sought out the fabled Gem of Cytorak in order to unleash his own hidden potential just to stand a chance.

Mr. Marko's work attire.
And really, why wouldn't someone be afraid of what Charles has done? He's used a device that amplifies his own power, allowing him to seek out mutants anywhere in the world. Invasion of privacy on a massive scale is just the first step, though. He's used that power to gather a pair of living guns (the Summers' brothers Cyclops and Havoc), a woman worshiped as a god (Storm), a disenfranchised genius who can crush a man's head in one hand (Beast), and dozens of other people who possess colossal power, weak wills, and who devote themselves wholly to his cause. He even keeps a violent, unkillable government experiment on a leash, always helping him just enough that he can never leave... assuming that Charles is really "helping" Wolverine when he goes digging around in his brain.

It's not a superhero team... it's a cult.

How Much Further Does It Go?

The Marvel Universe is full of popular characters, and many of them can turn on a dime with minimal, if any, changes to their backstories and existing canon. For example, The Fantastic Four are seen as some of the greatest heroes in the world, and one of the first superhero teams. However, their family dynamic tends toward abuse and neglect, and it's perpetuated through continual attack and threat from the outside. Reckless behavior, personal endangerment, and experimentation for the sake of experimentation are not the actions of heroic scientists and selfless do-gooders. Is it any wonder that Victor Von Doom, a man who has learned painful lessons at the hands of his own hubris, sees the threat they pose to the world and attempts to find countermeasures?

A true scientist, and a true hero.
Pair up and hero and any villain, and you'll be surprised how easy it is to shift those shadows. What if Bruce Banner hasn't been able to cure himself because, deep down, the Hulk is who he really wants to be? A force of nature who doesn't have to think about right and wrong, good or bad, but which is like injecting yourself with a hurricane? Who would give up freedom and power like that? And, of course, wouldn't it be a mark of great bravery and selfless sacrifice to try to fight fire with fire, as General Thaddeus Ross did when he underwent experimentation to protect the world against the random rage and destruction that followed the Hulk everywhere he went?

Dr. Stephen Strange is a crippled alcoholic with an ego that destroyed his life... is Baron Mordo really that suspicious for not trusting a man like that to turn over a new leaf so quickly? Thor has the power of a god, and though he often regrets the misuse of his strength, he can be like a child throwing a tantrum among breakable toys. Loki might be seen as mischievous, but is it really such an evil act to try and hold back a thunderstorm's indiscriminate violence with nothing more than cunning? The Red Skull was the embodiment of the Nazi war machine's ugly evil... but what if "Johann Schmidt" had been a volunteer from Poland who's main goal was to get close enough to cut off the Third Reich's head, only to find when he dug deep enough that he was one man, outnumbered, and hopelessly outgunned despite the power he'd paid such a dear cost for?

What's The Point of All This?

I'm sure there are some readers who've gotten this far, and wondered if they showed up at the wrong blog. After all, isn't the point of a writing blog to talk about writing?

What do you think I've been doing?
This week's Craft of Writing post has been an exercise in creative flexibility. Because when we sit down to tell a story, we often think we know who the good guys and the bad guys are. Even if there's going to be a heel-face turn somewhere down the line, we've got a solid grasp on what's going on. But it pays to examine your characters in alternative lights, because you might find alternatives to what you thought you knew. And, as I mentioned in Under The Black Hat: Writing Believable Bad Guys, no one thinks of themselves as the villain.

Even in comic books.

As always, thanks for stopping in to hear what I had to say this week. For those of you who'd like to help support me, and keep the content flowing, stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page today. As little as $1 a month will make a big difference, and it will earn you some sweet swag while you're at it. Lastly, if you haven't done so already, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

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