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Thursday, 3 May 2012

The hype for the new Avengers movie (especially in the Boston Globe) has gotten so loud that it’s starting to make me forget the Kree-Skrull War. One item stood out: Alyssa Rosenberg’s brief essay at Think Progress:
I’m excited to see an intellectual debate between [The Dark Knight Rises] and The Avengers. Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies have always had an element of monkish sacrifice to them: to be an impactful superhero, Bruce Wayne’s had to surrender his true public image (in the first film, he acts the playboy to disguise his intentions), the love of his life and of the populace, and now, it’s implied, either his life or his physical health. . . .

The Marvel franchise, and The Avengers in particular (without spoiling anything), take the opposite tack. Its superheroes become better individuals more closely drawn to their communities for their experiences as superheroes. . . .

These two movies are going to make serious bank for their studios. But taken together, they’re also a vigorous argument about superheroism.
And the superhero genre is usually, I’d say, an exploration about what it means to be a hero, writ large and acted out while kicking other largely symbolic characters in the face.

The debate that Rosenberg envisions is, we should note, between Marvel’s mightiest team and Batman, not DC’s hero lineup or outlook. One theme of Kurt Busiek and George Pérez’s two-company crossover of the Justice League and the Avengers back in 2003-04 was the Marvel heroes’ surprise and suspicion that the DC team was so comfortable with popular acclaim. In that case the Avengers stood for “monkish sacrifice,” for doing the right thing without expecting praise or popularity. The Justice League was their world’s mightiest law-enforcement organization.

But Batman changes the equation. Since the 1980s the Dark Knight has stood apart from most of his DC Universe colleagues because of his lack of attention to social niceties and preference to work alone (albeit with a large “family” of supporters and protégés). Nolan’s movies give Bruce Wayne two in-the-know father figures (Alfred and Lucius Fox), but no other surviving confidants.

That Batman would fit with several of Marvel’s heroes as Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and colleagues originally conceived of them: the Hulk is an anti-hero, Spider-Man an outsider, and so on. He wouldn’t get the modern Tony Stark, also a billionaire playboy but one who’s told the world that he’s Iron Man.

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