The Fifth Color | Marvel and Man
Battle Scars slipped my ever-vigilant shelf search of what to read, but it’s not terribly surprising to see why. It’s only vaguely tied into the events of Fear Itself, the title is kind of bland and the banner of “Shattered Heroes” seems kind of arbitrary. I mean, that banner hasn’t exactly pulled readers to books with the big bold words above the title, have they? All the rest of the banner-titled book have made a little more sense before; “Initiative” spun out of Civil War, “Dark Reign” spun out of Secret Invasion and so on. I know our heroes are little more fragile after facing the deified embodiment of fear itself, but I wouldn’t say “Shattered Heroes” is all that essential reading for a continuation of story. Everyone came together, had a good fight, then went home and back to their jobs, a little wiser or thoughtful from the experience. Not really worth picking up.
Back to Battle Scars: it seems a very mild book. I did read the first issue and learned about Marcus Johnson, but little else of why this books was going to be the most important book for the future of the Marvel U. Stories about intrigue and espionage are par for the course and sadly, the first issue left me with more questions than answers. Worse, Spider-Man wasn’t even in it.
Anyhow, I picked it up last week for whatever reason, something tingling the old Plot-Senses and lo and behold, issue #4 brought in a very unique development. Something so extraordinary that it had me digging into old issues and invested in Marcus Johnson’s great secret. Not only that, I was even starting to believe the hype and ruminated on how this book really could change the future of the Marvel Universe.
And we’re not even talking about Nick Fury’s shocking last page statements…
WARNING: Battle Scars, we’re talking about it! There’s only four issues out of this six-issues miniseries, so it’s a short investment for a big payoff, so go grab your copies and read along!
Classically speaking, regular folk and Marvel heroes have always sort of lived shoulder to shoulder in the pages of our comics. In fact, seeing the common man’s response to super-heroics often sets the tone for our heroes to go to work. New York City is as much a character in Amazing Spider-Man as ol’ Web Head himself, while the general population’s fear and lack of understanding of mutants makes the X-Men essential and keeps them on their toes. Heck, Broxton, OK has made neighbors of Norse mythology, teaching us about what it means to be a God and a little more of what it means to be mortal. When this mix isn’t equal, when we lose sight of the everyman for more galactic space battle or more insular super-heroics (say, superheroes fighting superheroes for example), the reader can get lost without a more human connection.
Rick Jones (original formula) is the best example of this; just a kid who was in the wrong place at perhaps the right time and suddenly, he’s shoulder to shoulder with the Hulk and essential for the first assembling of Avengers. Seeing our favorite superheroes through the eyes of their more mortal friends and family like Rick or Foggy Nelson or Aunt May or Jarvis or Moira MacTaggart, etc. makes the what they do more dramatic, more personal. When a guy like Hawkeye stands next to Captain America and Iron Man, armed with little more than a bow and a bad attitude, you know he’s earned it. If anything, the relationship between the powered and non-powered, the human and superhuman, is one of the most important foundations of the Marvel Universe. Seeing New Yorkers watch Spider-Man swing by, we are reminded of the extraordinary and our own place within it. It’s human, and the House of Ideas really want this to be the world outside our window.
Now, back to Battle Scars: in this miniseries, we’re being introduced to Marcus Johnson and, while his story is certainly valorous, it’s not all too far fetched. He is the kind of soldier you might see features in your local news or hear of as a friend of a friend: a remarkable athlete, he could have had played football professionally or gotten a full scholarship to a big name school, but instead chose to enlist in the army at age 18. He became a Ranger and served a tour in the Middle East, came back home, went to school and then went back to serve another tour in Afghanistan. His mother dies in The Serpent crisis (otherwise known as Fear Itself) and it’s when he comes home to attend her funeral that things get weird. It turns out she didn’t die in the hubbub of Fear Itself fighting, but was killed by Russian terrorists and that Marcus Johnson is next on their agenda. In fact, it turns out that mercenaries have been alerted everywhere to the bounty on his head , which runs him into the Taskmaster, Captain America, and SHIELD. SHIELD doesn’t give him enough answers and being a rather bold young man with the skills and know-how to get the truth, he escapes SHIELD custody and starts fighting back for the truth. By issue #4, Taskmaster, SHIELD, Deadpool and hey! The Serpent Society! Even Scorpio shows up in the shadows to watch what unfolds. It seems everyone is out for Marcus Johnson and he wants to know why.
With two issues left to go in the story, Scorpio has unmasked in front of Marcus to reveal Nick Fury who tells him, “My name’s Fury… and so is yours!” A collective “Ohhhh!” went up from comics shops everywhere and now we have better foothold into the story and Marcus Johnson né Fury at large. No matter what happens next, whether he’s Nick Fury’s lost son or even Jake Fury’s last legacy, Marcus Johnson has been given a key into the world of superheroes your every man doesn’t normally receive through the quick expedience of family birthright. Remember how I said that the divide between the common man and superheroes makes us more connected to each as a reader? How if Hawkeye, sans superpowers, can stand next to Captain America with bow in his hand, you know he’s earned it? Marcus Johnson was already a hero before this adventure even started; those of serve and protect this country are heroes in their own right and the actions of mere mortal men and women can set the bar for what heroism is, what superheroes have to rise above in order to be considered superhuman in their altruism. Marcus Johnson, already a hero, is starting to crossover into a new world in the most mighty of Marvel manners.
While we all might be thinking along the lines of brand synergy or movie fans are might not recognize our classic 616 Nick Fury, so here’s the next generation of the Fury clan to take over the role, I still think there’s a larger reason than simply matching media faces. Marvel editor Tom Brennan has said that “Battle Scars – and Marcus Johnson in particular – will change the Marvel Universe for years to come.” Now, that might be hyperbole, but I don’t think he’s that far off the mark. If all goes well, Battle Scars might not change the landscape of the Marvel Universe, but how we perceive it. Adding the common (if not extraordinary) man broadens our own scope and can bring the reader closer to our favorite heroes and the universe we all live in.