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Metafiction in Marvel Comics

Written by Jude Terror on Monday, November 29 2010 and posted in Features

An Outhouse Reader examines the history of metafiction in Marvel Comics and its effect on the Marvel Universe.

The following editorial was sent to me by an Outhouse Reader who wishes to remain anonymous:

For those of you like me, whom have a passion for the 1960's comics I read and loved as a child, metafiction in comics is not a new idea. The idea of creators and characters breaking the fourth wall was prevalent in early Stan Lee stories, with Stan often bumping into the characters he was writing about. Ever since Fantastic Four #10, it has been a common theme for the Marvel writers to weave their way into the stories themselves, but what does metafiction mean for comics, and why does it happen so often?

As mentioned previously, Stan Lee would often draw himself into Marvel comics. Fantastic Four #10 even had Stan Lee appearing in the comic as a unique selling point. Emblazoned on the cover "You actually meet Lee and Kirby in the story!!". By putting himself in the Marvel Universe, Stan Lee had made one of the earliest steps into making Marvel more "real" than their DC counterpart. By appearing in the story himself, the reader is made aware of the fact he is reading a fictional story, and interestingly, this creates a sense of realism. By bringing the superheroes into our world, by highlighting the fictional nature of the comics themselves, the young mind gets a sense of how the heroes could easily be real. Many readers here have probably dreamt at a young age of being a superhero and by placing them into a world we relate with ,we're encouraged by these dreams.

Of course this practice carried on into the 70's. Chris Claremont used it early in his famous Uncanny X-men run, and other writers did the same in this early part of Marvels history. Perhaps there is a more sinister reason for comic creators appearing themselves in comics? Stan Lee was known to look down on the comic industry, and there is a well known that he believed he was above comic book writing. Perhaps by putting himself into the comic book himself, and making the reader aware of the author, on some level he is placing himself as above his work. By making himself an omniscient narrator, Stan Lee and others place themselves above the comics they are writing. They become literally a God in their own universe.

Fast forward a few years, and Howard the Duck was introduced. For this writer Howard the Duck represents a giant leap forward in comic book writing, and Gerber masterfully uses the character to critique the comic book industry. In Howard the Duck #16 we get the most overt look at metafiction in comics, as Steve Gerber, late turning in his script, crafts a wonderful script based issue where he satirically looks at comics and his own writing style. The complexities of making a series break the fourth wall, and looking at the failings of the comic book industry was revolutionary at the time. By using a comic to criticise a comic we as readers are invited to question what we know of Marvel comics, and I believe this series was pivotal to usher in a more literary and critical age of comics.

Fast forward even more years, and Mark Waid is writing Fantastic Four, and the popular character the Thing has died. In heaven he meets God, and it turns out to be former series artist Jack Kirby. By again making the reader aware of the fictional aspect of comics so directly, we begin to question what we know. Each writer and artist on Fantastic Four over the years has been a "God" as they have control over the characters actions and thoughts. By making Kirby, the earliest creator of F4, a God, we question what has come since. Has Kirbys influence over the F4 been so absolute that he is still the God of the F4 universe? Has the very presence of a Godlike Kirby stopped other artists and writers writing how they want? On a very basic level God is a creator who created the Thing. Yet on a deeper level it's disturbing how even Waid feels Kirby is still the ruler of the F4 universe. To me this reeks of the stagnation of Fantastic Four in recent years.

As we come to the present day, writers are using metafiction in increasingly different ways. Brian Michael Bendis, a writer I don't normally care for, uses it very interestingly in Scarlet. From the first issue we see Scarlet address the readers directly, and we are presented with her view of the world. The lack of perspectives and her radical nature calls into question the factual basis of her claims though. Bendis is challenging us to decipher fact and fiction, yet because of the singular focalizer in Scarlet, we are unable to do so. Bendis is blurring the lines between fantasy and the real world, much like Stan Lee did in early Marvel comics, and this writer for one is very excited to find out where the story will go next.

Written or Contributed by: Jude Terror

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About the Author - Jude Terror

Jude Terror is the Webmaster Supreme of The Outhouse and a sarcastic ace reporter dedicated to delivering irreverent comics and entertainment news to The Outhouse's dozens of loyal readers. Driven by a quest for vengeance, Jude Terror taught himself to program and joined The Outhouse. He instantly began working toward his goal of forcing the internet comics community to take itself less seriously and failing miserably. A certified trash eater ruining the pristine field of comics journalism with his sarcasm and goofiness, Jude Terror is secretly friendly and congenial, so if you've got a complaint, why not just bring it up to him instead of subtweeting like a jackass, jackass? You can find him on Twitter or try your luck with an email, but keep in mind that he is notoriously unreliable and may not get back to you right away. Unless you want to send him free stuff, in which case he'll get back to you immediately.

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