Superheroes are a funny lot. Many of them represent the best of humanity, time periods and ideals in such a way that is almost incomparable to any person in real life. They’re in many ways as timeless in theme as any character from mythology or Shakespeare. If one were to fall another will take their place…or given time they’ll just pop back out of the ground to fight another day…or if sales are really slipping we’ll just press the reset button like its a Nintendo and pretend nothing ever happened.
I’m a jaded comic book fan. Unless your name is Gwen Stacy or Ben Parker, in comic books when you die you’re coming back like Jesus after a 3 day weekend. We’ve seen it many times over from Superman, Thor, Captain America, Batman, Spider-Man, Jean Grey, Flash, Green Lantern, Psylocke, Robin, Bucky, Aquaman, Donna Troy, Green Arrow, Cable, Hawkeye, Human Torch, and many, many more. What once was the ultimate sacrifice has now been turned into an injury that puts a player out for a season.
If a character doesn’t die and become resurrected like they’re best friends with a level 15 cleric, they’re subject to a reboot. Most recently seen in the DC universe, but also in Marvel, the reboot is where a loop hole in continuity is found or a decision is made to just start over to allow the character to be brand new and fresh again. DC’s 52 is a great example of that because almost all of their characters were started all over again or many key elements to them were changed to give them a bit of a face lift, or in the case of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, a whole new world to build and play around in with reimagined versions of the characters.
The third option for many of these characters to live on after death is the passing of the torch. The concept of a legacy character is that someone else becomes the symbol. Bucky became Captain America, Wally West became Flash, Kyle Rayner became Green Lantern, Dick Grayson became Batman and Tim Drake became Robin. The spirit of the character lives on through another person making them not just a person, but a legend. So while a character is dead they live on through someone else who will honor their memory and pave way for a new take on the character.
The reason I’m bringing this all up is because over the last few years we’ve seen probably more deaths, returns, reboots and legacy characters popping up than almost ever before, all grasping at some kind of magic. Whether it’s to increase sales or further the character, one things is for certain, a large portion of fans have become more jaded or ostracised as their favorite characters get replaced, resurrected or reinvented. I for one have been both pleased and pissed over the years when these “events” happen. So, is it a good thing to mess with the status quo? Is it okay to rattle the cages? Is it okay to turn your back on fans? Like every argument there’s two sides and they’re both right.
I know personally that I love legacy characters, hate it when they brings characters back from the dead and think that reboots are lazy. There are people that love the classic example of the character and left comics when they were no longer around. There are people that see reboots as someone opening a door to their new mansion with a plate of fresh cookies cooling on a table in the foyer. To each their own, but this is my article so I’m going to break it down for you.
When it comes to reboots you have to ask yourself a questions, “Why are we doing it?” Did we run out of all the stories we can tell? Are people no longer able to connect to these characters? Are we losing readers? Are we just that unoriginal? Is it about money? There’s been a handful of reboots in the comics industry and all of them in some way have been a disaster. Most recently was DC’s New 52 reboot which has proven to be a financial success, but when it comes to content it’s sadly fallen short. Having personally read over half the books from the line I find only 12 readable and out of that only 3 or 4 that I would consider something note worthy. The idea of a fresh start is good, especially when sales are slipping, but the balance of commerce and art are strained pretty wildly when you discontinue 70+ years of continuity, push stories into an obviously editorialized direction, and revamp characters so dramatically that they no longer seem like the actual character (Catwoman, Starfire). Marvel did it as well with the Heroes Reborn line (brought to you by some of the same creative team as DC’s 52) and it ended up being a complete disaster in the long run, but it initially seemed like the next big thing.
Reboots have basically become the Band-aid after open heart surgery. Sure, the surgery was necessary, but afterwards the outpatient care is usually done in a Tijuana back alley ice filled bathtub. It’s like when you were a kid playing Mario; when you screw up your game so bad you just reset and try again. But what’s the point in trying it again if you’re going to make the same mistakes all over again? Just starting over is not enough unless you’re going to do something to actually revitalize some of these characters and make them relevant again. Starting at #1 or making the characters more sexy is doing nothing for your story (unless your story is slash fiction), and at the end of the day these companies need to remember they’re printing stories and not money.
In just the last decade of comics we’ve seen the return of many dead heroes. A complete list would take up the entire article, but the major ones such as Green Lantern, The Flash, Captain America, Thor, Batman, Green Arrow, Kid Flash and Superboy have all recently returned from the great beyond. Like the gods before them they proved to also possess a level of immortality. While this can make for a good story and provide interesting character arcs, ultimately it’s created cynical readers over the years who basically feel like death now means nothing anymore because after they rest up a bit they’ll be back kicking in the heads of which ever villain of the month waves it’s tyrannous fist.
One thing it does show though is the era in which comic creators really fell in love with those characters, especially with DC. Over the last few years we’ve seen a major resurgence of the classic silver age characters making a comeback from relative obscurity to further convolute continuity. Writer’s like Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid and many more are all self professed lovers of the classic heroes. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s lead to the resurgence of so many characters coming back from the dead that it doesn’t feel like anything special anymore and is now more cliche than characters wearing Spandex. Captain America being found in 1964 and unthawed is an original way to bring back a character. The character was also lost for 20 years. Now a character dies and within 2 years a movie deal will get laid down and the character comes back with some half-assed story that makes little to no sense, but damn it, it’ll be an event. It’s bad story telling, folks, and it takes everything away from my next category.
I’ll be honest, legacy characters tend to be my favorite of all characters. It could be because I grew up in the 90’s and many of the versions of characters that I saw weren’t the original. My Robin was Tim Drake. My Green Lantern was Kyle Rayner. My Flash was Wally West (and later Bart Allen). To this day I find these characters more compelling than their predecessors and it’s not just because I grew up with them. Yes, they’re a new version of the character for a new generation, but they’re so much more. They have to constantly live in the shadow of the character before them who will always be considered the greatest because they’re the ones that invented what it meant to be that person, not just in continuity, but in spirit.
Over the last 10 years DC and Marvel have brought back the original version of many characters and put the legacy character on the sideline, likely in hopes of increasing sales like it’s the legacy characters fault that the prices of comics have more than doubled since the 90’s or that people were sick of the meaningless rebooting and rebirths. If anything made the comic industry decline it was the companies fucking with everything like they were Catholic clergymen.
I know that comic books for the most part are soap operas for nerds. I spent my youth in denial about it, but recently I’ve come to full on accept it. It truly is Days of Our Lives on steroids and dressed in tights. There’s more manufactured drama over the decades long continuity in comics than anything you’ll find on day time television. It’s no surprise that the plot device of bringing people back from the dead or just deciding to start over like it’s storytelling bankruptcy becomes such a prominent cornerstone in the industry. That being said, it doesn’t make the overuse of that plot device good storytelling.
Legacy characters allow for evolution in storytelling. After 40+ years of stories it is inevitable that you’ll run out of ideas or head back to the well a few times. This is why we see so many villains constantly come back to torment the good guy. Passing the torch to a new character allows us to see the good fight through the eyes of someone new who’s going to have different challenges, a different way of looking at life as well as the pressures of living up to what they’re taking on and making it their own. It also opens up the stories to a new generation looking to find a character they can relate to.
It’s not that I don’t like Bruce Wayne, Steve Rogers, Barry Allen, Clark Kent or Hal Jordan. I love all those characters (well not Hal). They’ve saved so many lives, fought the good fight, brought many great adventures to the eyes of people everywhere and paid the ultimate price and died so that we all could live. It’s inspiring to see characters who want to step up and carry that tradition on. Why not instead of ruining those legacy characters by putting them back on the bench we just reprint those classic stories so people who were too young to enjoy them can go back and see what they were missing instead of doing what is now known as the most cliche move in comics, resurrection.
Comics are living in dangerous times and it’s yet to be told whether or not new and creative stories is going to beat out sticking to the tried and true. Like any medium of narrative entertainment, it should be all about the story. Rebooting may be a common word thrown around these days (especially in Hollywood), but I seem to remember a time when pushing the envelope and trying new things was what put the comic industry on the map. I know I sound like every nostalgic and jaded comic book fan out there, but after 28 years of seeing everyone come back over and over again, I’m finally over it. I’m sure that if comics die it’ll be by it’s own hand and it’ll be because they lost their storytelling balls.
Hopefully this pet cemetery bullshit stops soon.
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