Avengers is a fantastic movie. You should see it. The Thor and Captain America characters are far better than they were in their own movies, and Mark Ruffalo as Banner is the best we'll likely see (the Hulk steals every scene he is in). Here's Alyssa Rosenberg's epic review, ‘The Avengers’ Brings Superhero Movies to Another Level. In honor of the Avengers, let's do a comic book related post. No movie spoilers, except in the last paragraph, which will have a warning.
Specifically I want to examine the use of space and time in Marvel versus DC comics. Recently DC rebooted their comic line. All their titles stopped, and most were relaunched with an issue #1. Continuity was thrown for a loop, with some issues starting at the beginning of their hero's career and others happening much later. I stopped reading DC right before that, but my overall sense is that it is a mixed bag.
I was surprised by this move, as I always thought the deep time dimension to DC comics was what animated it and gave it a much different tone than Marvel comics, and this more or less threw that away. To me, the dominant horizon for Marvel comics is space, as in location, and DC comics is time, as in history. Marvel's comics were best read as unfolding across their Earth, in multiple locations, with the challenge as following how the different spaces overlapped and conflicted. For DC, it was about mining the deep history and overlapping continuity, constantly in flux, to make sense of where the characters had come from and how they were engaging each other.
The two major, era-defining runs on Marvel were the Chris Claremont run on X-Men, and now Bendis' run on Avengers. They both set the tone for how Marvel operated. The thing I remember most about Claremont's X-Men, especially once the original characters spun off into X-Factor, is how the characters were always split up in different locations. There was a team off in Australia. There was a group off in New Orleans doing other things. There were people at the mansion and in outer space and on the Moon. Getting people in the same space - would they all make it to Muir Island to fight the Shadow King? - was always a source of dramatic tension. But as a fan, keeping track of the continuity of who was where was always a task, and the geek fun was trying to keep a mental map to make sense of it as it unfolding each week.
Bendis' Avengers, especially after the Civil War storyline, works the same way. You had to know which characters are underground, who is staying with what team, and who is chasing and fighting with whom. Like the X-Men at their height, you really need to follow several titles to keep track of who is doing what where. Their big events are all about this as well. Most of Siege takes place across an afternoon of battle, and it is just a matter of getting all the characters in place for the action to take place. Fear Itself requires Tony Stark to go to one place, and Thor to bump into the Hulk and the Thing, and then everyone to get to Asgard, and so on.
DC Comics never had that issue - instead they exist across time. To really make sense of the stories, especially after Geoff Johns took over the world, you had to engage continuity across time.
I think it's safe to say that the Ron Marz run on Green Lantern, which turned Hal Jordan into the villian Parallax, introduced Kyle Raynor, then immediately put his girlfriend in a refridgerator and made it so Kyle's ring could impact the color yellow, is a low point in DC Comics history. Johns not only rebooted Green Lantern, but turned it into a major comics achievement by fitting all those items into continuity. While lesser writers would have ditched the old story, or other comic universes would ignore huge parts of it just to make it fit however they wanted (who is Xorn again?), part of the joy of the Green Lantern reboot was watching Johns make it all work together. When you geek out with DC comics, the continuity to fixate on is going to be how the story exists throughout time.
The revamping of the comic universe that happened in DC around this time amplified this - creating the JSA (Justice Society of America) as a dual-generation comic alongside the Justice League. Grant Morrison's run on Batman gloried in pulling up every arcane reference to old Batman stories. James Robinson's fantastic Starman run was all about nostalgia and the relationship between Golden Age and current day comics. DC's big events follow this as well. The Crisis events usually are about the various reworkings of the history - what universes are in, and what universes and stories are out.
(There are plenty of pieces of evidence against this division - Bendis' excellent Illuminati comics series, which is all about revisiting major events in the Marvel timeline, for instance. And practically, DC's longer timeframe and its purchasing of numerous comic titles that had to be worked into continuity add to this, as well as the fact that the headline characters move at such speeds it is assumed they can get anywhere quickly.)
Why does this matter? As the comic book audience ages, and as the fandom is done online (with the ability to discuss every esoteric detail of every comic and being available to all), there's a big advantage in going complicated for the comic book titles. By having to read several titles, or having had to have read a deep backlog, it boosts sales. But it also creates a more complete universe, which is an excellent thing for the fans. I'm surprised DC tossed their advantage in this realm on a gimmick.
AVENGERS SPOILER: Speaking of deep history, I can't believe they put Thanos in as the major baddie at the end. After the midnight showing, several teenagers were trying to figure out who that was. I can tell I'm old because I really wanted to go: "sit down, son. When I was your age, actually when I was younger than you, there was this comic called Infinite Gaunlet. After the first issue came out, everyone scrambled to find the entire backstory, from Thanos Quest to all the Silver Surfer issues where he chases Thanos around (and the latter ones, including that one with the spiffy reflective cover). It was the greatest comic ever." In other words, the one bone they threw to fans in the closing credits was perfectly pitched to obsessive comics readers in their early 30s. Well played.