Monday, March 3, 2014

The worst thing that can happen to a comic book character is to star in their own comic

"What the hell does that mean?" you say. "How the hell does that make any sense?"
To which I reply: "Stop swearing and let me explain. Potty mouth."

Lets start by talking about team books, like say the X-Men. Now I picked the X-Men over some other groups because, in both the comics and the movies, they were a team first then individual characters went solo later, which is the kind of situation that I'm referring to in the title. Many characters start this way; either in a "team book" or as a supporting cast member in another character's comic. Of course in the world of comics it's not always so clear-cut; Wolverine, for example, generally has his own series as well as being in at least one X-Men title at any given time - after the Civil War he was a main cast member of Secret Avengers as well.

But let's get back to the X-Men. Now, in a team dynamic, most of the character development, story and drama (at least of the sort that doesn't involve alien invasions) comes from the interaction between the different characters. Personality clashes, alpha-male struggles, relationship issues, etc.

Now put a character in his own comic. Yes, there's other people around, but they're just supporting cast, they don't really matter - at least they're often portrayed that way. At the very least they are generally viewed in terms of their relationships with the main character, the focus ultimately isn't on them.

So where does the emotional content and personal drama come from now? Well, from what I've seen, what generally happens is that it now comes from the titular character's inner conflict. Their doubts and fears, their struggles with ever-increasing burdens they must bear.

In other words, when a character gets their own comic they are all too often transformed from a strong and entertaining superhero into a whiny and annoying emo loser.

Sorry! That was probably very offensive. I don't wish to say that having personal problems means you deserve scorn, far from it, I have more than enough bad days myself, days when I cannot think of a single thing that feels worth getting out bed for, days when I just want the world to go away and leave me alone.

But the thing is I don't want to read comics about that. Or at least, I don't want to read any more comics about that. Or at least, I don't want to read any more fantasy comics about people who wear skin-tight clown suits and can juggle SUVs while cooking eggs with their minds whine about hard everything is, while their whole world entirely revolves around ruining their lives. I want to see them fight evil and do super stuff.

And another thing: it seems that while most team comics seem to heavily feature the team responding to external problems, like bank robberies and demonic invasions, in solo books the threats are all too often from super-villains targeting the main character, from problems that come to their doorstep and punch them in the face, forcing them to deal with them, rather than independent crisis that they chose to try to solve. Overall they stop making the world a better place and end up just putting out fires that were fallout from people trying to hurt them specifically, meaning their existence is a net negative for the rest of the world.

I'm not saying it's wrong to portray these characters as human, or to try to make them more relate-able or sympathetic, or to admit that when the whole world really is resting on your shoulders it can be a little difficult sometimes. I'm just saying that not every character has to be like that. In every comic they every star in. For all eternity. I mean, change the tune a little, you know? It's just not fun. Any why shouldn't comics be fun? I mean, if I'm reading a comic about the adventures of a guy who travels through space saving entire planets of strange aliens from bizarre cosmic forces, I'm probably not reading it because I want to hear the guy harping on and on about how much he regrets not being a good husband.

OK, X-Men probably isn't the best example since they've always been kinda whiny emos (sorry!). When I used to read the x-men twenty years ago every single issue talked about how the world hated and feared them. OK, it was in the introduction blurb, but it was still kind of a running theme. Now, on the rare occasion when I see an issue in the news agent and pick it up to take a quick a look, the first thing that I always see is the same old whining about how everybody hates them. I haven't been able to read X-Men in years because DAMMIT STOP WHINING ALREADY!

Ah-hem. Back to the point. Um, well, I guess what I'm saying is, what I enjoy is seeing the good guys grit their teeth with determination, not bow their heads with self-pity. Shallow? Probably. Immature? I don't know. But I do know when a comic book character gets their own series, they're probably going to go from being a strong and willful hero, to a weak and whiny mess who's more victim than saviour.

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