Results 1 to 11 of 11
  1. #1
    Mighty Member Hybrid's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2018
    Posts
    1,501

    Default Then vs. Now: The "real" factor of New York City?

    I've seen it brought up before, and I see where it's coming from. Back in the '80s, there was a sense of "realness" to the Marvel Comics, specifically how New York City was both written and portrayed, that today's comics lack. A lot has changed since the '80s, both in the comics and in the real world, and I thought it'd be interesting to discuss.

    I was reading some '80s era comics the other day, specifically Spider-Man and Daredevil, and I felt a sense that this is New York City in the art. Something about it popped out, from the skyscrapers of East Side Manhattan to the lower areas such as Queens, and of course whether it's large scale chases across wide spaces or in smaller areas from alleyways or home settings, I just get a better sense that they're in a representation of NYC.

    In today's comics, it doesn't feel quite as, shall we say, real? I sometimes feel it's more of a generic, almost futuristic metropolis that's a sandbox for the heroes to be in. That's no knock on today's comics, because I mainly read comics made today, but this was definitely a plus when reading the older ones. Considering this was pointed out to me before I actively started noticing, I'm know the only one who saw this.

    So that begs the question, what makes this the case?

    I personally think a major part is back then, internet wasn't a thing, and the writers and artists were either NYC natives or have moved in and around that area to work, making them intimately familiar with the locale. Marvel always had its roots in East Coast culture, and looking at the writers and artists of that era...

    Tom DeFalco (Queens, New York)
    Ann Nocenti (Manhattan, New York)
    Jim Owsley/Christopher Priest (Queens, New York)
    Jim Shooter (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
    Bill Sienkiewicz (Hainesville, New Jersey)
    Chris Claremont (Long Island, New York)
    Frank Miller (Montpelier, Vermont)
    Klaus Janson (Bridgeport, Connecticut)
    Jo Duffy (New York City, New York)
    J. M. DeMatteis (Brooklyn, New York)
    Ron Frenz (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
    Bill Mantlo (Brooklyn, New York)
    Ed Hannigan (Newport, Rhode Island)
    Peter Allen David (New Jersey)

    There were definitely exceptions, like Walt Simonson (Tennessee), Louise Simonson (Georgia), Bob McLeod (Florida), Mark Gruenwald (Wisconsin) and John Byrne (Canada), among others, but overall I feel like a major factor is that many of Marvel's talent back then were either native New Yorkers, or were from a very close area to the city, and after they moved to that area for the job, only became more familiar with the locale. Of course, you can go further back then that -- the earliest days of Marvel were also this, considering that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are New York natives, while Steve Ditko was a New Yorker by way of Pennsylvania.

    Compare this to today, where many writers and artists are from all over the world, and may not have even been to NYC apart from maybe attending New York Comic-Con or something like that as a matter of business. Brian Michael Bendis, the star writer for Marvel for over a decade, is an Ohioan who settled in Portland, Oregon for his entire career. Many artists in particular are international, from Central or South America, Eastern Europe or Asia, which is pretty far away from NYC as you know.

    While it's definitely good that more creators are able to shine, and be more connected than ever, it does have a side effect in how NYC is portrayed. NYC in today's Marvel is said to be a fantasy version of the real thing, as opposed to it being a real world setting that houses the superhero action. It doesn't help that a lot of the real world progression undermines Marvel, making things seem odd. Such as the gentrification of New York City, and rising costs of living, making the street level heroes' careers improbable. Same with how many of the tech geniuses are based in NYC, as opposed to the more modern standard of Silicon Valley or Boston.

    I guess this is definitely a selling point for reading the older comics again, apart from the stories themselves, is the feel they have that's unique and hard to replicate now. The best comparison is that today's NYC in Marvel is like a doubled version in a movie filmed elsewhere, while back then it was filmed on location.

    What do you think of this? Anything you'd like to add? Discuss.

  2. #2
    Extraordinary Member
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Posts
    6,072

    Default

    I guess the thing I sort of like about today's MU NYC is the, well, oddly "small town" vibe where everyone knows everyone.

  3. #3
    Extraordinary Member j9ac9k's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Posts
    5,261

    Default

    A few years ago, I saw the church across the street from me in a Daredevil comic. (I think they even used its name) Just wanted to share that....

  4. #4
    Fantastic Member areacode212's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2014
    Posts
    252

    Default

    Yup, great post and I’ve thought the exact same thing for a long time now. The fact that so many of the staff & creatives actually worked and lived here gave the world a really authentic feel. Like there would be street corners and subway stations that looked a lot like they did in the real world. Peter lived in a Chelsea walkup that looked like it really was just off 8th Ave or whatever. As you said, it seems like nowadays, it’s portrayed a generic fantasy city in the comics, with some exceptions I guess. Though to be fair, modern NYC doesn’t have the same character that it did back then.

  5. #5
    Astonishing Member Revolutionary_Jack's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2018
    Posts
    3,968

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Hybrid View Post
    I was reading some '80s era comics the other day, specifically Spider-Man and Daredevil, and I felt a sense that this is New York City in the art. Something about it popped out, from the skyscrapers of East Side Manhattan to the lower areas such as Queens, and of course whether it's large scale chases across wide spaces or in smaller areas from alleyways or home settings, I just get a better sense that they're in a representation of NYC.
    Ross Andru the Spider-Man artist of the 70s and early 80s often traced and recreated real locations in the backgrounds of his comics. But that got him into major trouble when in an issue with ASM, the "Mindworm" one, he created an actual location and house in Queens. Residents read the comic, knew the house and pestered and created a nuisance that led that homeowner to sue Marvel and settle, and after that Marvel decided not to go too real. It's similar to that Joker 2019 movie which uses those Bronx steps, and created enough of a nuisance that local residents complain about tourists creating a ruckus on a location people still use.

    Brian Michael Bendis, the star writer for Marvel for over a decade, is an Ohioan who settled in Portland, Oregon for his entire career.
    Bendis said that when he wrote USM with Ultimate Peter Parker, he modeled that high school on a Portland high school where his wife was a teacher, whereas when he wrote Miles Morales he tried to make it more like New York and more accurate to 21st Century NYC.

    What do you think of this? Anything you'd like to add? Discuss.
    I think it's important that Spider-Man and his cast stay in New York City. But I don't know if it's important for anyone else.

    Take Daredevil, you could easily transplant his story to Boston...Big Irish-American Catholic community, a big legal scene, a lot of corruption and activity by gangsters and others, such as James 'Whitey' Bulger who was pretty similar to Kingpin in his active years. Characters like Iron Man, Cap, the Avengers in general have a global reach (heck there was that whole 50-state initiative), as do the X-Men. The Fantastic Four needs the Baxter Building and that lab and that can easily be moved by Reed technology to Silicon Valley or MIT or wherever.

    So you can spread characters around the map.

  6. #6

    Default

    with that in mind, I'm sure the native/adjacent nature of NYC folks contributed to their writing and art sensibilities.

    But I'm also for moving the focus from exclusively on NYC stuff in the Marvel world, and going further into other states and countries. Whether for mini series or one shots, etc. Go beyond the NYC bubble, and get writers from those other cities. Midwest, Deep South, Southwest, California, Pacific Northwest, etc.

  7. #7
    Astonishing Member Vordan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2018
    Posts
    3,911

    Default

    Well the NYC of the 80s and 90s was also a hotbed of street crime in a way modern NYC is not.

  8. #8
    Mighty Member Hybrid's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2018
    Posts
    1,501

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Vordan View Post
    Well the NYC of the 80s and 90s was also a hotbed of street crime in a way modern NYC is not.
    Yeah, I mentioned that in the OP. I guess real world changes have undermined a lot of what made Marvel the more realistic (relatively speaking) alternative to DC. At the same time, they can't really change those things because it's so core to the identity -- like it or not, NYC will likely continue to be the main hub of all Marvel stuff because it's so ingrained in the brand itself.

  9. #9
    Astonishing Member Revolutionary_Jack's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2018
    Posts
    3,968

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Hybrid View Post
    Yeah, I mentioned that in the OP. I guess real world changes have undermined a lot of what made Marvel the more realistic (relatively speaking) alternative to DC.
    Well if they didn't abandon comic book time, and actually kept pace with social changes, then this wouldn't be a problem for them. So it's more on Marvel than reality.

    I think part of the reason the X-Men took off in the 70s and 80s, was that it was dealing with a lot of contemporary issues around the world but it wasn't really tied to any one place, it became a metaphor for oppression in general, dealing via allegory with apartheid, the AIDS virus, LGBTQ oppression and other issues that minorities still face. It had a real internationalist approach and that led it to having an universality that gave it an edge over any other Marvel title. Which isn't to say X-Men comics didn't make use of NYC and so on, just that it kept the Marvel themes of change and so on, and abstracted it from the real world.

    At the same time, they can't really change those things because it's so core to the identity
    Only Spider-Man needs to be in New York City. Few other cities in America have that many tall buildings and structures you could swing around roof to roof and cover and map out an entire landscape in a short run. His web-swinging is not very germane outside the city, like in the suburbs (as in "The commuter commuteth"). Other cities in America don't have that. Like San Francisco as a city has most of its tall buildings and structures concentrated in the North of the City whereas everything South (the biggest chunk of the city) is a lot of smaller buildings and houses. Chicago is a city of suburbs centered around the loop in the middle. Might be doable (and indeed parts of Raimi's Spider-Man movies were actually shot in Chicago, like the train sequence in 2 used the Loop). Los Angeles is a bunch of freeways, and not as easy to imagine someone swinging around in. Quite aside from that, Spider-Man and Peter as a character is quintessentially New York. He embodies a lifestyle about speed, movement, and juggling stuff i.e. "new york minute" that is hard to replicate outside of that. Spider-Man is far more a New York Superhero than he is an American superhero.

    But other Marvel characters aren't so strongly defined or tied to the city. Daredevil definitely needed Hell's Kitchen to stay rundown and now it no longer is rundown but gentrified, and today Boston and other cities could serve him better. In the MCU, Tony Stark was largely based in Malibu and the West Coast and that really fit Tony Stark's Silicon Valley techbro and casual libertarian ideology. Hank Pym and Ant-Man is also based in the Silicon Valley. Doctor Strange is a New Yorker but him living all his time in his Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village and doing his own private stuff is not really something that's a problem anyway. It's both timeless and perfect, and not something that a lot of political and social changes would need to affect or contradict in terms of verisimilitude.

    -- like it or not, NYC will likely continue to be the main hub of all Marvel stuff because it's so ingrained in the brand itself.
    Quite aside from all that, New York City is America's most populated city, it has people from across the world, so a lot of migrants, and making characters New Yorkers allow Marvel to not be tied to deeper ideological issues. New York also has a lot of amazing architecture and locations, so even aesthetically it will always be an inspiration. It's got some of the best art museums on the planet, and the best theater and active movie scenes. So Marvel would like to tie itself to all of that.

  10. #10
    Mighty Member Hybrid's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2018
    Posts
    1,501

    Default

    I guess what works on page doesn't always translate to screen. I believe the MCU diversified the locations because they didn't want the movies to feel too "samey" if it were like the comics, where it's essentially "New York City and the surrounding universe". Sure, one could say that in the comics, the prominent use of NYC gives the setting a character and an easy connection, but when we're talking big budget movies that got to sell to a wide audience and make stories feel unique, then yeah, it's probably best they feature other locations more prominently rather than have everyone living in New York.

    Talking about the movies, not the pre-Disney+ shows by Loeb (which I don't think are canon and will be rebooted), NYC is still the most prominently featured city, but it's still used much more sparingly compared to the comics. I guess they knew on some level that they couldn't not feature NYC in Marvel, but they also knew to rein in it. The Avengers movie having most of it set in NYC makes perfect sense thematically, as does Spider-Man: Homecoming. In fact, as cool as Endgame's final battle was, I think they should've had the Battle of Earth take place in Manhattan like you'd see in the comics. But I guess they didn't want to worry about things like civilians getting in the way.

  11. #11
    Astonishing Member Revolutionary_Jack's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2018
    Posts
    3,968

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Hybrid View Post
    I believe the MCU diversified the locations because they didn't want the movies to feel too "samey" if it were like the comics, where it's essentially "New York City and the surrounding universe".
    Exactly. It also helped that Tony Stark and Ant-Man as characters aren't really tied to the city a great deal. Tony Stark is defined by being rich and he can be rich anywhere.

    I guess they knew on some level that they couldn't not feature NYC in Marvel, but they also knew to rein in it. The Avengers movie having most of it set in NYC makes perfect sense thematically, as does Spider-Man: Homecoming. In fact, as cool as Endgame's final battle was, I think they should've had the Battle of Earth take place in Manhattan like you'd see in the comics. But I guess they didn't want to worry about things like civilians getting in the way.
    The problem is also 9/11. Making a disaster movie or attack in Manhattan after 9/11 is no longer quite as harmless or fantastic as it was in the 90s when disaster movies like Independence Day, the 90s Godzilla, Armageddon and others all had scenes of devastation in the city. That was fantastic then, but then "things got real" with 9/11. Like having an Avengers building in the middle of a populated area as a military target feels quite irresponsible now because audiences would wonder "why does a building with a such a big obvious target exist in a populated city", so that meant the Avengers HQ had to be moved out of the city to a compound in New York State without any people nearby.

    The Avengers 2012 movie had an alien invasion attack Manhattan and that was framed with a lot of allusions to 9/11 and indeed the subtext of that is "9/11 happened again but this time the Avengers stopped it". Likewise, the 2012 movie had to establish the Avengers as a super-team in public and in the eyes of the world so having them unambiguously defeat an alien invasion and defend earth in the center of one of the biggest cities in the planet certainly sells that.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •