Why I won’t be looking forward to J. Michael Stracynzki on the Fantastic Four

February 12, 2005

By Avi Green

It was announced in December 2004 that Mark Waid would be leaving the Fantastic Four, which he’d been writing since 2002, after just 3 years of writing adventures for Marvel’s First Family. Some time later, it was announced that his replacement would be none other than J. Michael Straczynski, who’s been writing Amazing Spider-Man since 2001.

Alas, I could only say “eh” to the news of that. And certainly can’t feel enthused by it.

Given how underwhelming JMS’ run on Spidey’s series has been since then, showing sporadic potent but in the end, not living up to it, and the fiasco of the “Sins Past” storyline in late 2004, let’s just say that that’s but one reason why this Fantastic Fanatic simply isn’t looking forward to the arrival of this hack from Hollywood, who worked on Babylon 5 in the mid-90’s. A Star Trek rip that was, the irony is that he showed much more devotion to developing the characters there than he ever has when writing comic books.

Will he try to screw with the Foursome in any ways if he ends up writing the FF’s book? Maybe yes, maybe no. But either way, simply put, I’m not interested.

There’s a most interesting reason why. It’s probably miles worse than his messing with the minds of Spider-Fans when it comes to Gwen Stacy. It’s what he said in defense of his actions on UseNet, during October 2004:

J. Michael Straczynski: One doesn't prove the other. As I've always said...whether someone likes or doesn't like my work, that's as it should be. I don't argue the validity of opinions. Matters of fact, sure, but not taste. Some people like white chocolate. Some people, like me, know it's an offense in the eyes of god.

There are some who don't like the Gwen aspect of this story, and some who think it's deepened the character in a positive way. Why would I want to weigh in on that? Arguing is good. For the first time in a very long time, people are getting passionate enough about the title to have arguments on this scale, and that's good.

If I stay out of the way, it's to allow the dialogue to continue unimpeded, whether the book is being praised or raked over the coals. As a long time fan, I remember almost the identical reactions when it was decided to kill Gwen off, so I knew I'd be walking into a firestorm here.

To write is to take chances. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don't, because the measure of success is in the eyes of the reader. And a subjective opinion is always right for that reader, always true for that person.

So yeah, I've kept low to watch the arguing and see where the bodies land.

The only thing I will mention, the only thing that did surprise me, was the degree to which some folks have turned on *Gwen*. I've heard of the madonna/whore dynamic, but I've never actually seen it played out this strenously.

I can't even begin to count the number of posts I've seen from folks who are calling Gwen a slut, a whore, and a tramp...that this destroys her as a person...that it would be better if she had been raped than having had consensual sex.

Better to be *raped*? Having sex with someone makes that person a *whore*?

I'll admit it, *that* flummoxed me. Because I've known plenty of women who, young and naive and foolish, found themselves caught up with an older guy, even if only for a moment, because they are drawn in by them...especially if that someone is as powerful and manipulative an older figure as Norman Osborn.

Maybe because I've known so many of them, all of whom are fine people, I've never once thought of them in those admittedly ugly terms. We all make mistakes in our lives. You who are without sin, throw the first stone, right?

Gwen made a mistake. But she took responsibility for it, had the kids when there were other options (I don't want this to turn into a debate on those options, I'm just saying), and was prepared to go toe-to-toe with Norman, who on some level she had to be afraid of, and to raise those children, even if it meant screwing up her career, and marrying Peter.

Now, to *me*, that is a person of immense personal strength and integrity. It gives her a spine and a conscience and a will that we really haven't seen in her before.

To me, Gwen is a person...and like all people, she has good and bad, makes mistakes and adjusts for them. Always tries to do the right thing. And when cornered, she'll fight, not just for herself, but for other people.

To other people, this seems to make her a slut.

This aspect of it isn't a writing thing, isn't a storytelling thing, it's a matter of how one views people who have sex in this world.

And you'll note that at no time does Peter ever say or think these things about her. Because Peter understands. Peter loves her even though she made a mistake.

Given the ferocity with which some have turned on a dime and attacked Gwen -- calling someone they say they respected a whore and turning their backs on her character, damning her as a slut and a tramp -- it seems that I may write the comics, but a few other people have the issues....

But that's just my opinion.

Frankly, I don’t have any idea what Mr. Straczynski is talking about, in regards to people who supposedly condemned Gwen as a “slut/whore”, as he claims.

I actually had the non-pleasure of once speaking to JMS when he once registered for the forum of a site I became disillusioned with, that being Hero Realm. He did it in order to argue in defense of what he was doing on the title then. Not surprisingly, he also stuck to his guns in defending his actions regarding Mary Jane Watson’s forced estrangement with her loving husband, Peter Parker, alias our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, responding to me by saying that he’d gotten “numerous e-mails” from female readers praising his actions and lauding him for making it plausible, and something they could identify with. This part of course, was what he said when responding to me.

The part where he argues that, "For the first time in a very long time, people are getting passionate enough about the title to have arguments on this scale, and that's good." is also insulting, due to the fact that it's very similar to what Rags Morales told the Associated Press about DC’s overrated travesty, Identity Crisis: “If nobody really cared, that’s an insult to us,” said “Identity Crisis” artist Rags Morales. “If they hate it, that’s great. If they love it, that’s great. But if they’re like ‘Ehhh...So what? No big deal.’ Those are the ones that would bother us.” In other words, it's a wonderful thing if they're upset, or it must be very good if it upset them, is that it? It's a very poor defense, and just goes to show how comic creators today are really flying off the handle, abandoning their audiences for the sake of sales and publicity stunts, not to mention sales through controversy. (For more on what I have to say about this, read both this column and this one too.)

Getting back to the part regarding Mary Jane: Frankly, given MJ’s past experiences with Peter, any perceptions of “reality,” quite honestly, don’t gel. In fact, maybe this is just me, but, to make her act more concerned about their being together, than to have any concern for the safety of the world’s innocents would be, quite simply, reducing her to a self-concerned jerk. And by now, I must say, the whole would-be demand for realism is in all due honesty…starting to get tired.

As for the part about the e-mails: Now of course I could be mistaken, and maybe JMS did have some correspondence that lauded him for his writing there, but either way, his defense, if anything, could not overcome the cynicism and contempt that permeated his tone.

Acting disrespectful of the audience is a most disturbing trend that seems to have littered the comics industry as of late, and it’s a very ill-advised step for any comics creator too, just one reason why sales are flagging in this day and age. Who really wants to read the works of someone who doesn’t have any genuine respect for the audience? This is something that, as mentioned above, even Rags Morales did when he spoke to the AP about IC, and it was not pleasing at all. In fact, it was downright insulting. John Byrne too has gone overboard when running discussions on his ultra-biased message board, at the same time he’s writing a pseudo-take on Doom Patrol. In Hollywood, you don’t usually see that kind of talk, so why is it that comicdom by contrast allows it? Do they really think they’re going to get anywhere that way?

Straczynski’s tone, to say the least, is quite foul, and does not make me feel like warming up to his writing on the long term. And if I do read any of his comics, it certainly won’t be for him as the writer. Rather, it’ll be for the characters, assuming he hasn’t done them more wrong than need be. In all due fairness, why can’t he get himself a publicity agent who can teach him a thing or two about etiquette?

So to put it this way: when he gets on board the Fantastic Four this year, I simply won’t be there. I have no interest in what he’s got to offer, and lost interest in his Spider-Man stories long ago too. I simply cannot and will not support someone who speaks with the disrespect that he does towards the audience, and in fact, by now, it’s apparent that any popularity of his has waned.

As much as I hate to have to skip my favorite comic book series, I can’t let my fandom get in the way of my moral and common sense, and realize that, if I don’t send a message that I cannot approve of what actions Straczynski takes, then I just won’t buy his stuff, or anything else from Marvel that suffers the same fate.

And sadly, while there are still some gems just now at Marvel, there are still quite a few series that are taking some very bad damage.

Copyright 2005 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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