Avengers Revisited, in Two Spasms

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I have little patience with some of the heroes called Avengers and a steady appetite for others. Which enemies of evil fall into which of those categories is likely a function of my generational tastes and my own twisted eccentricities, and yet, though this be madness, there’s some method to it. I was weary of the graphic versions of Thor, Ironman, the Hulk, Captain America et al before they came to the giant screen, but I can binge with the most fanatical fans over John Steed and Emma Peel. I even harbor some fondness for Peel’s antecedents and successors like Cathy Gale, Tara and Purdey. If this is a little cryptic to some readers, The Avengers was a British TV series about a team of blue-blooded agents back in the sixties, and at least three of the four women who took the lead female role would be familiar even now to most American pop culture followers. Honor Blackman quit the show to become Pussy Galore in the film Goldfinger, three years later Diana Rigg (as Mrs. Peel, the brightest star of the whole series) stepped away to become James Bond’s only (and very temporary) wife Tracy in the big screen’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Those too young for that film may well know Rigg from her Emmy-nominated performances in Game of Thrones. Joanna Lumley, a widely successful actress perhaps most remembered for the BBC comedy Absolutely Fabulous, was the last of the sixties femme-Avengers.

Now that we’re straight on the players, just what is it that leaves me cold about the Hollywood Avengers, beyond the possibility that much of the production is aimed at gamers and comic fans perhaps too young to drive? Despite the few attempts at off-color humor or drive-by high culture allusion (a quotation from Nietzsche, reference to a Eugene O’Neill title), the stories resemble evidence in a repetition-compulsion case study. Heroes from the Marvel Avenger team – one a Norse God, another an inventor, yet another an indestructible WWII G.I. altered in the kind of experiment sci-fi writers have been cooking up since Wells – engage in endless fights (building to the most recent Mother of All Brawls) with a few misguided mortals and legions of cyberthingies (none of which can chill me like Hal). These bouts involve a magical Viking war hammer, zap rays, Glocks, fists, exploding arrows and the hurling of everything from furniture and vehicles to whole plots of urban real estate. Irresistible forces meet immovable objects again and again, things fall apart, and “those that build them again are gay” (“gay” in the Yeatsian, near-obsolete sense; that is: “merry”). These durable combatants include computer programs, glittery facsimiles of the aurora borealis, robots and to some degree humans, the superheroes being more than resilient than mere mortals.

avengersI understand that this spectacle is all unfolding in the video-arcade post-realistic mode and with metaphorical implications with apocalyptic overtones, but I’m not stirred by the mix-tape version of which laws of physics are to be trusted and which not, when gravity works and what color button makes which items levitate or dissolve, all in the service of fleeting and sometimes indistinguishable steps in the tangled but plodding plot. In short, I don’t believe the creators of these Avengers are very interested in physics, astrophysics, metaphysics, phys ed or curative physic. And if the plot lines and character complications resemble WWW Raw, the cosmology is not too far off from the Scientologists’ version of our origin and destiny. Though I suspect that devotees of this kind of inventiveness may rush to the fore with charts, tables, Smart phones, cross-references, hard-drive burdening statistics that argue au contraire (and perhaps Tasers), I’m compelled to maintain that the boundaries and limitations of powers and faculties are viable only to the degree that they are systematic and successfully dramatized, which would require more clarity and less velocity than Stan Lee and his cadre are addicted to.

A central tenant in my impatience with the crew that Tony Stark funds and Nick Fury inspires is best caught in Coleridge’s phrase “the willing suspension of disbelief.” After all, if the aphorism that “religion is what we believe, even if we know it’s not so” carries any witty wisdom at all, then I’m prepared to suspend my skepticism and practical sense in order to entertain conceits like Marquez’s Macondo, Bond’s marksmanship, Erewhon, the magical Forest of Arden, Hannibal Lector, and certainly Renfield, if the improbabilities are marshaled meticulously and presented with originality and verve, which do not result from mere scale, volume, number, color and wholesale destruction. In other words, the film makers have to “sell it.” So the StanLeevengers leave me cold on a couple of counts: the plots are chess without rules played by characters whose physical limits are inhuman or superhuman but blithely undefined. I don’t even want to think about the psychology and motivation of gods, cybots, spybots, green Jekyll-Hulks and James Spader’s voice. Yet I’m sure they’re all calibrated just right for the comic books from which they leap with hands (or claws) outstretched to seize our admission fees.hammer

That’s all my wind and energy for now, but in a few days, Confessions of a Nostalgic Em-appeal Geezer. Enter at your own risk.

About R.T. Smith

recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.


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