Since the dawn of our species, humanity has undertaken an unending quest for knowledge in an attempt to come to grips with himself and the world around him. (Yow! What a prententious opening for the subject matter to follow. Too late now...) Ahem. The same quest goes on in that tiny subset of humanity known as the Comic Reader. Every month the Comic Reader buys his/her quota of books to learn more about the (fictional) world presented in their pages. And while there are always minor questions answered every given month (e.g., how is Daredevil going to get out of that trap he was left in last issue? or who's Thor going to fight this month?), early Marvel Comics pioneered Big Questions; mysteries that went on for years, inviting endless reader speculation.
Among the many great all-time Marvel Mysteries...Are Rama-Tut and Doctor Doom temporal counterparts of the same person? What is Captain America's shield made out of? Why do the Kree hate the Skrulls and vice versa? How did Professor X get crippled? Did Don Blake have real existence before he "became" Thor? Who built the Blue Area of the Moon? What caused Atlantis to sink? Besides being deliberate mysteries as opposed to accidental ones ("Oops. We forgot to explain something. I know-- let's call it a mystery!"), what all these Marvel Mysteries have in common is that they're not mysteries anymore. Each has been answered in some story somewhere. Why? That's no mystery. Just as readers have a thirst to know things, writers have a need to tell the untold tale, to leave an indelible mark (no relation) on the fictional universe. Thus, in this, the 27th year of the Marvel Age, none of the above is a mystery any longer.
My question to you, my rapacious readers, is: Are there any great Marvel Mysteries anymore? if so, what are they? (I'm not talking about annoying trivia like "What is Wolverine's first name anyway?"-- I'm talking significant big deals.) Write to me c/o Mark's Remarks and let me know-- do you love a mystery?
Having recently given up the editing chores on two of my four regular books (IRON MAN and WEST COAST AVENGERS), I now have but two receptacles for my Mark's Remarks columns (keep the applause to a mild roar please): here and in AVENGERS. The problem is I have all this terrifically interesting reader feedback to various past columns I've done, and a dearth of space to run them. So what I thought I'd do is to take time out from our regularly scheduled SOLO AVENGERS commentary now and then to run your riotous responses to M's Rems topics. This month, the subject is the Comics Code Authority, about which I waxed opinionated in WEST COAST AVENGERS #32. Take it away, fanfolk...
Your willingness to hear people's ideas on the Comics Code Authority is important and deserves public debate, especially by those who read comics. Recent editions of Marvel over the past two years have, to my mind, been stretching the Code rather hin. I must admit that I agree with the theory and idea of the Code but I must take issue with your comment that it should be more specific. Such a move would only limit the potential for growth that comics have. I agree that you can do a very good issue within the restrictions but to have the Code revised every ten years or so would lead to problems (in regard to the material acceptable to society in general). The radical move by Stan Lee to dispense with the Code to show the dangers of drugs may lead to fewer addictions. Comics are an excellent medium to educate and the idea that if you ignore a problem and hope it goes away does not hold water, especially with the abundance of the other media. This is the crux of the matter and to merely self-regulate one aspect of the media is pointless. This does not mean, however, that you should dispense with the Code altogether or start to use unsavory material. The reason for the introduction of a self-regulatory code was a good idea.
With the most recent revision of the Code (the one I'm involved in), we've been trying to keep the general standards worded broadly enough that they won't need revision in ten years. There's never any way of predicting what will be acceptable or in good taste a decade into the future, but I can't envision comics ever being allowed to (or even wanting to) advocate drug abuse. It was short-sighted of the Code's original writers in 1954 to prohibit all references to drugs since that also prevented anti-drug references.
Incidentally, folks, the story Greg refers to appeared in AMAZING SPIDER-mAN #96-98, and was deliberately published without the Code seal.
One other point to clear up. In our reworking of the Code document, as I've said, we've tried to make the general standards and principles as broad as possible so there wouldn't be annoying little bugaboos (such as prohibiting the words "crime" or "horror" on covers, or depicting zombies) to contend with. As for the brass tacks point-by-point guidelines, which I said I would like to see as specific as possible in my original column, I'm not going to get my wish in the revised Code document. As an editor, I still want specific concrete information regarding acceptable material (e.g., just how much bloodshed is "excessive"? Can our stories have the word "crap" in them? Is is permissible to let this heinous villain make a racist remark? And so on.) but the Code cannot give me that information without loosing its ability to withstand changing cultural attitudes. So the specific guidelines I've called for will be developed "in-house" by Marvel for Marvel comics, and while they'll fit well within the Code's standards, these guidelines will not be binding on other publishers. Thanks for writing, Greg.
Dear Mr. Gruenwald,
I will try to keep the language of this letter within Comics Code standards, but I'm sure to find it difficult. You see, I can't believe that the guy who writes CAPTAIN AMERICA is either a fascist or a wimp.
Self-regulation is outside regulation. Why would you self-regulate, unless it was because you were afraid of possible future government regulation? You are still letting the same people dictate terms to you. Self-regulation is the coward's way of facing evil government intrusion. Unfortunately, it only delays the inevitable, and gives the government more ammunition when the big crunch of censorship really comes-- you will find that you have already weakened youself by backing down from them in the first place.
So which are you, Mr. Gruenwald-- one of the many would-be tyrants of young thought-- or a hopeless sycophant who is an insult to everything that comics are supposed to be about?
--Jody B. Weitzman
Sorry, Jody. But I strongly disagree with you here (and I don't consider myself a fascist or a wimp, either). Self-regulation is not outside regulation. Why would anyone self-regulate unless one fears outside regulation? How about because it feels right? For example, why don't I just go and kill the next person who aggravates me? Is it because of fear that I will be caught and "regulated" (punished) by the government? No; it's because I believe killing is wrong, morally indefensible, not good. In the same light, I believe that certain material is inappropriate (wrong, morally indefensible, not good) for adolsecent readers. (I feel this way because I was exposed to certain material I was not maturationally ready for when I was young, and I know what a good job it did disturbing me.) We self-regulate out of a sense of responsibility, not out of fear. This doesn't have anything to do with the First Amendment, Jody. I, too, believe that Americans should be allowed to exercise their right to free speech and a free press-- and should be allowed to publish or read anything they want to. But that's not at issue here. What's at issue is a publisher (Marvel) determining of its own free will (and with an eye on producing work for a specific audience) standards for the material it publishes. How dare anyone tell us we can't have standards? This is America, and we can publish whatever we want, even if what we want to publish is in "good taste" or what we consider acceptable to a general audience. I am not a would-be tyrant of young thought-- I'm not forcing any child to read only our material-- nor am I a hopeless sycophant-- I'm too opinionated to swallow anyone's party line. As for my being an insult to everything that comics are supposed to be about, I guess it depends how you define "everything."
Am I the only fan who wonders just what is contained in the Comics Code? Are copies of the Code in the original and revised editions available? Would a Code-related issue of MARVEL AGE be feasible?
Personally, I tend to agree that Code-originated characters should not have non-Code stories, but on the other hand I wouldn't want to condemn Stan Lee's drug abuse story, which appeared without Code approval.
I think that people who constantly complain about being "hampered" or "censored" by the Code are so concerned about their own personal rights that they have forgotten the concept of responsibility to others. Any attempt to tell them what they cannot do is objected to as "legislating morality". In a way, it is, but then the whole concept of having a society, indeed, of having civilization, hinges on accepting certain rules of conduct between individuals, which is the same thing as establishing morals.
I also think that many writers are unsure of their ability to craft a thought-provoking, entertaining, well-plotted, solidly characterized story. So they resort to prurience and vulgarity. A truly sophisticated story is one that is suitable for, and understood by, nearly every reader. Most of the non-Code work I've seen (sorry, but this includes several Epic projects I've sampled) is no better than Code-approved stories. In fact, I usually find Comics Code-approved stories to be better plotted, probably because the writer had to work harder on them-- not being able to resort to gore, nudity or profanity to gloss over weak plotting.
I don't know if it's worth devoting a whole issue of MARVEL AGE to the subject of the Comics Code, Rick, but when the new revised edition of it becomes available, I'll either find somewhere to run it if enough of you would like to see it, or else tell you where to write to get a copy.
My point with not having Code-approved characters appear in non-Code-approvable adventures is simply that I don't feel it's fair to deny some readers access to any of a given character's adventures. It's also misleading to the public (is this character fit for general audiences or not?) and ultimately damaging to the character's image and viability, to appear in "general" and "mature only" stories. It's another matter entirely if the character is only published in a non-Code publication.
I tend to agree with you about your assessment of "sophisticated" stories, by the way.
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