Friday, April 18, 2014

The Middle American Avengers

It's no wonder that the Sons of the Serpent, that group of power mongers who costume themselves in (what else?) serpent garb and excel in sowing discontent and outright discord in the public in order to advance their agenda, would eventually sow a little of that discontent in a few Marvel readers now and then. Particularly a Sons of the Serpent story taking place in 1970, on the heels of the strife- and racially-torn decade of the '60s.

Following such a story in Avengers #s73-74, written by Roy Thomas, Marvel devoted an entire letters column to one letter from a (at the time) New York reader who took Marvel to task for wearing blinders and failing to be more conscientious in terms of using their stories to make readers better informed about the realities of social injustice. In the following issue, Thomas took another full column to respond personally to the reader.

(If you'd care to see Jones's letter presented in a panel-by-panel format, the PPC breaks it down for you here.)

It was a rare day when such letters made it past the wall of light banter which Marvel almost always erected around its letters pages, an effort at positive reinforcement for the reader in order to have them feel good about picking a Marvel comic and hopefully stimulating them into picking up the next issue. Thomas wasn't able to include his response in the same issue due to space concerns--which, if you've glanced at the letter by Mr. Jones, was an unorthodox decision by Marvel in terms of leaving the tenor of Jones's letter to close out the issue. It certainly made for a change--and the last things you were thinking when turning the final page were the words "merry Marvel."

I would have much preferred Jones to couch his points of criticism in--well, a letter to the editor(s), rather than what comes across as mental notes scribbled down for later formalizing. I have less an impression of Jones as a thoughtful writer/reader, and more of a person grading an essay before casually putting it aside and moving on to the next. There's evidence that several of his points are well-taken--yet it's difficult to give them any thought because the points are made in a hit-and-run manner.

Thomas, by comparison, engages Jones. His response comes across as well thought out and considered--bypassing taking Jones's comments point-by-point, yet giving the impression that he's doing just that. And while there are those points made by Jones which Thomas takes particular issue with, it manages to appear as if he's responding to Jones's disjointed missive as a whole--while injecting his own thoughts at the end in order to establish a sense of dialog, rather than one-upmanship. (And while this may be small comfort to Jones, the letters page featuring Thomas's reply leaves the reader of that issue's story feeling more satisfied about the choice they've made to pick it up.)

Interestingly, the issues featuring these two letter columns would see the beginning of another story arc touching on racism (featuring Red Wolf), which gave the Avengers something of a vicious circle to navigate.  I'm somewhat curious as to whether Jones felt equally compelled to voice his discontent in that instance, as well.


Anonymous said...

How thoughtful of you to feature this post. I remember well this debate that took place those long years ago. I also remember thinking that this confirmed my belief that reading comic books was more than a childish pursuit.

maw maw said...

Thomas's remark in his carefully worded response, where he fears the polarization of the left and the right in the US, seems prophetic today.