Monday, September 21, 2009

Dick Grayson versus Bruce Wayne and Bucky Barnes versus Steve Rogers

I know I pound this discussion to death, but DC and Marvel have given me new reasons to push this topic again and new reasons to hope that maybe after almost fifty years of stagnation we will see some light at the end of the tunnel.

My premise is very simple. For the last fifty years Marvel and DC have given us stories about the same characters forever. I know there are a lot of changes that have occurred with second tier characters, but almost every headliner is still essentially the same character. At Marvel the FF, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Iron Man, Thor, X-Men (for the most part) are still the same characters introduced in the early sixties. At DC Superman, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Aquaman are still the same characters that we have had since the silver age started. I know DC did try new people under the mask for many of those mentioned, but they ran away from it.

What I have always said and always maintained that putting new people under the mask and allowing the characters to get a little older (not year for year as the publishing schedule goes) makes for better stories. When you don’t do that you get Batman fighting the Joker for the thousandth time and while some subtle twist or new point maybe made Bruce will win, the Joker goes to Arkham and he escapes. At Marvel you end up with Scott Summers going from an orphan to having a larger family then Jon & Kate plus 8. Civil War ended up trying to tell a story and the characters were cast into roles to make the story work. This didn’t work for me because as a long time reader the characters did not remain true to who they are. In fact with retro-cons and star writers doing what ever they want with characters, continuity gets blurred and the characters sometimes no longer ring true to what they have been established to be. That is partially an editorial problem and partially a writer problem, but what else can you do if you are stuck handling a character that has 500 plus stories already done about him. How else can you make something have a different ring to it unless you add a new “dimension” to the character? The problem is that is not who the character is, but the writers are left with very few tools to give us something new if it is always the same person under the mask.

The current replacement of Batman and Captain America by DC and Marvel is showing what replacing those characters with new faces can do for a book. Both series are more alive and vibrant they have been in decades. In the case of Batman and Robin I no longer consider it to be Dick Grayson, Batman, Dick is Batman. Bucky still seems like Bucky Cap to me, but I don’t think he was being written to replace Cap quite as well and he did take a different costume.
Another reason it is better to have new people under the mask is it creates a new dynamic, a tabula rasa if you will. You can have Batman fight the Joker and Cap fight the Red Skull again, but with a different take on it as the good guy is not the same person. What Morrison has done for his first arc is even better as he has started to develop a new rogues gallery for a new Batman. I want to know who the heck is Professor Pyg and way is he so nuts. Will Dick be able to keep Damian from falling back into being the killer he was raised to be? Will this new Robin remain true to his Batman and act as his partner? Will Bucky be able to be the leader the Steve Rogers was? Will Bucky’s past be laid to rest? Will Bucky kill as Captain America? Each adventure becomes something different. We knew what Steve Rogers and Bruce Wayne would do in any given situation. We enjoyed those adventures and had tons of thrills, but after awhile they can still be good stories but the only unanswered questions are what may happen to the supporting characters or the villains. Now nothing is certain. Heck the new Captain America could be shot and killed or since he carries a gun, maybe he kills someone and is caught on camera and he has to work to renew the image of Captain America. Each replacement hs different dynamics that also impact the stories as Batman dying is unknown, but it was very public burying Cap. Bottom line (which seems to be a favorite phrase of mine, must be the ex-CPA in me) it makes for better stories.

When you think of it changing the person who is under the mask it only makes sense. Marvel has generated some buzz with change, but they changed the landscape the heroes play in, not who the heroes are. So we have had a Civil War, registration act and now a Dark Reign, but it is still Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Peter Parker, Matt Murdock, Clint Barton and the rest. I mean Clint Barton has gone from semi-bad guy, to good guy, to Giant-Man, to Hawkeye, to dead to Ronin. He was in love with the Black Widow at the beginning of the silver age and in my counting I think Natasha has now slept with half the male population of the MU. This is all because we never have change.

DC has now changed a major player. Changing who is under the mask is a real change as opposed to changing the landscape as Marvel has done. Changing the landscape is a good idea and helps to keep things a little fresher, but changing who is under the mask is a more substantial change then changing the landscape. Getting a new wife is real change, buying a new t-shirt feels good, but ultimately is the same thing, a t-shirt. The story lines instead of being restrictive open up into areas that haven’t been touched before and the old story lines even become new as we can tell the same story, but now have an unexpected outcome.

No one every thought these characters would be around for so long and the companies are scared to let them go, so you end up with Tony Stark getting his armor during the Viet Nam war to now it happened in the Gulf War, soon it will be Iraq or the latest debacle in Afghan. Regardless it makes for strange continuity because who knows when he first fought the Mandarin and how long has Pepper Potts been around anyway. The anachronisms in these characters histories become leaden weights reducing their effectiveness and making the stories become stale. Julie Schwartz knew enough to update the characters when he brought them back in the Silver Age, almost fifty years later they are need to be updated again. I’d bet Julie would understand the need to make it new again. Look at the examples of the new Blue Beetle, Jamie is the hero now and while I enjoyed Ted Kord, his time was done and it is better that we have moved on. This Blue Beetle is a 21st Century hero and rocks like Ted could not anymore.

There is no reason Steve and Bruce can’t be back and serve as mentors or whatever. You want to tell a great Bruce or Steve story, fine set in the past or what ever (see Matt Wagner’s Monster Men), but the next generation needs to take the torch. I’d rather have Connor, Kyle, Wally, Bucky and Dick as the heroes instead of the originals. Give me stories where I’m not sure what will happen or how a hero will react. We know Bruce will never kill the Joker, Damian might and maybe Dick would let him. We know Steve will capture the bad guy; Bucky may have a different plan. Steve is a super soldier; Bucky is human with a prosthetic arm.

Batman and Captain America are showing the way. Let’s do the same with the rest of the heroes. Movies go back and reset the characters because they are forced to as the actor’s age or the story lines are stale. Comics need to do the same thing. The difference is since we have some semblance of continuity make it someone else taking over for the hero and then let’s move forward. New heroes for a new age, just as super heroes were born out of the Great Depression, maybe this New Depression is a time for the kids to step up to the plate. JSA has done it for the most part and Marvel has been developing some younger heroes, take the next step and have them take center stage.

Keep the past, but pass the torch.


  1. You know the Afghanistan War is older than the Iraq War? Afghanistan isn't the latest, debacle or no. Watch out for that American nanosecond attention span.

  2. does this mean we can lose Barry Allen to the Speed Force again please? lol

    I agree with everything you said Jim.

    Mark this day down on your calender. It might be awhile before it happens again. :P


  3. Shawn - Barry goes and he can take Hal and Ollie with him!