Monday, May 03, 2010

Aunt May Forever or The Stagnation of Super Heroes

Being a super hero comic book fan is like being trapped in an endless time loop. I’m sure many of you have seen that idea in a Star Trek episode or more recently in a Fringe episode. The theory is, you are constantly stuck reliving a certain moment in time over and over and only have a vague notion that you have done this before. Super-hero comics are like that. As I often celebrate a good story, I recognize how much we, the readers, are trapped in amber forever preserving a moment in time.

What recently drove this point home for me was the new Marvel series with the Forever tag lines after them. Add to that the new GI Joe series where Larry Hama is picking up his story line from years ago and not only are we stuck with keeping the same characters forever, but now we want the same writers to be around forever telling whatever story we were hoping they were going to tell before. I’m often guilty of wanting this type of stuff as I’m pretty happy to see Paul Levitz come back to the Legion, but at least this is not just a straight picking up from his run in the 80's! He is building on what Johns has done to reboot the Legion.

I think it is bad enough that we can’t move past Cyclops and Ray (Atom) Palmer as characters as both are 50 years old and their stories have been told over and over and over and over again. Now we add to it that we want to jump back 15, 10, 20 or whatever number of years and grab a certain point in time and let the old creative team tell whatever story they had in mind before the powers to be moved them off the book (usually due to declining sales). I don’t care what writer “x” had planned for character “y”. I liked reading about stuff like Claremont and Byrne were not going to kill Jean Grey on the moon way back when and that they were going to lobotomize her powers. The storyline from there could have been interesting, but Shooter as Editor-in-Chief disagreed and so the x-history was changed. It is all good as stories were made up to bring her back in multiple ways that become the basis for some wonderful convoluted continuity.

Moving forward is always more important then moving backwards. What strikes me as so bad with the capes stuff is, as fans, we are stuck in a point in time so badly that we can’t even let go of supporting characters. Which is why Aunt May is even forever. I mean this doddering old woman was killed once and then we were told she was not the real Aunt May and now we have the 150 year old Aunt May still hanging out in comics. Franklin Richards was born in the sixties and is still about 7 years old over 40 years later. Jimmy Olsen is still hoping to become a photo journalist even though the photography industry and print industry has radically changed. Alfred should be pushing daisies, but was recently running a super hero group. Johnny Storm seems to be 25 forever and Iceman is still 20 and the list goes on and on.

How sad is it that, as a group, we can’t let go of yesterday? My Dad is ninety years old and I have heard him talk about yesterday all my life. I love history, but I want to make my own not relive what has already occurred.

Geoff Johns has stated that death will be forever going forward in the DCU. Given the power he welds at DC and his relatively young age, he has a chance to make this statement stick for a decade or so. I hope he does because, as much as I love his writing, Geoff is guilty of bringing back some of the older characters and having them supplant the heroes who had taken over. So if we went back to go forward then I can live with that.

Plus, being stuck in time has created the very confusing Marvel sliding scale of continuity where whatever happened to a character happened in the last ten years. This lead to Iron Man now just starting during the Iraq War of the first Bush and soon he will have started during the second Bush era. At the same time other characters still reach back to WWII and I guess Cap was unfrozen in 2000. It is a loose rule and is so messed up no one has a clue about who does what.

Even with DC and my much ballyhooed second and third generation heroes like Bart Allen, Connor Kent and even Cassie (Wonder Girl), they have been around for a decade of more. Still at least this cast is fresher and newer then Marvel’s New Warriors who first appeared in 1989 (21 years ago!).

Regardless, these characters are fresher and even Dick Grayson and Bucky Barnes being the new Bat and Cap is fresher and more exciting than the older heroes. Once you let go then anything can really happen again and the books are exciting.

Of course what this has done to me is forced me to fall in love with all the non-cape books, which is a good thing. Non-cape books can have endings and tell stories with a beginning, middle and an end. Some of the best non-capes books are: Scapled, Echo, American Vampire, The Sword, Sweet Tooth, Madame Xanadu, Rasl, Queen and Country, White Out, Stumptown, Northlanders and the list goes on. The forever aspect of capes has caused me to drop almost every super hero at one time or another. I get back into the character, but not always. Spider-Man and the X-Men have been off my list for awhile.

This is a point I make over and over again, almost as often as Deadpool appears in a Marvel book, but I think if comics are to regain a larger audience that may be coming with digital comics they need to be bold and make that jump into the future. Let Cyclops, Clark Kent, Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Hal Jordan, Barry Allen give way to the next generation and the next one after that. I love a lot of the old stuff but with trades and hard covers we can relive the past by re-reading the stories we love instead of trying to recreate it again. Otherwise I will one day be as old as Aunt May and still seeing her in comics, yet when I started reading comics I was in first grade and Spider-Man was in high school. Aunt May and I forever trapped in amber, sounds darn scary to me.


  1. Aren't you only 35?! You've de-aged to be younger than Lee and I!

    I think you're missing the boat entirely with the Forever books. By going back to a point in time and telling a totally new story -- the "cape" books CAN go ANYWHERE! You're not stuck with the continuity of the last 20 years. They killed off Wolverine in the first arc of X-men Forever. Mainstream Marvel is never going to do that.

    I never liked the sliding Marvel timeline, but it's been around a long time. I read a fantastic interview with John Byrne from 1985 and he explains it really well.

    At least Aunt May is still dead (from the first time) in the Spider-Girl universe.

  2. Matt- I'm actually 27 and could be a grandfather at 35, I'm now actually younger then Gwen! Of course the portrait of me is looking poorly. Of there is a smell of brimstone in the air.

  3. Matt - Hit the button too fast. The problem I have with forever is that if that writing team has more to say bring them back for the regular continuity. What If and Elseworlds book served the purpose for the other story lines. I want growth and change for the characters, forever will not cut it. And if Spider-Girl was not done in such an old school style I'd be loving the book right with you.

  4. There's an easy fix for that brimstone smell, if you know "The Way". :)

    I think you should change your avatar from Batman to the "Star-Child" from 2001!

    I'd put you as a Grandfather by age 30.

    If they had made a title called Spider-man Single Forever, then you never would have had to deal with OMD. Those types of changes should be organic, not magical.

  5. I can understand the "loop" in Marvel because they're characters NOT THE STORIES are their bread and butter. As long as this is "loose" I can be ok with it. But they have to tell interesting NEW stories. IRON FIST relaunch under Brubaker and Fraction was an example of doing something new with an old character.

    The problem with the Spider-Man books for instance (besides selling marriages off to the devil) is that they're effectively telling THE OLD STORIES over again in new clothes. That I cannot get behind. (See Menace/Hobgoblin, juggling women ala MJ and Gwen now Black Cat/Carlyse, etc. They even regressed the progressive and interesting Aunt May from JMS' run.

    I understand your point about moving on, and you have to be fair, Marvel has allowed Bucky to stay Cap. I may not be a fan of everything Marvel does but they don't screw everything.

    DC on the other hand is going with the "everything that is old is new again" trying to create franchises with multiple heroes wearing the same mantle. In some cases this works, trying to prove Hal and Barry are "fun" over and over again isn't helping.

    I'm rambling some but I'll take non-aging characters with progressive arcs (Iron Fist) over them telling the stories over again ala Spider-Man.