The title is a little misleading. My theory about amalgams concerns any serialized media, which can include television (soap operas, for example), movies (especially franchises such as James Bond), books (especially books that are written in a shared universe or a long-running series with different writers), and adaptive media (i.e., books that are turned into movies). When I use the word “amalgam,” most people either think of dental fillings or the Marvel/DC comic amalgam universe (think “Darkclaw” and “Dr. Strangefate”).
My thought is this – all characters in serialized media are amalgams in our own minds. Actually, I could argue all real people are amalgams too. We live in our own minds, and everything we experience is filtered. Therefore, the conclusions we draw about a person, or a character in a story, is really the result of filtered information, or a mixture of elements – an amalgam. Amalgams are most pronounced in serialized media because different writers bring their own experiences to what they write. That’s how a character like Batman runs the gamut from campy 1960s Adam West to gritty 2000s Chris Nolan.
And this is where the arguments start. Person A can love Batman: the Brave and the Bold for its light-hearted, campy approach. Person B can love Batman: the Animated Series for its serious and more realistic approach. Person A and B both love Batman, but do Person A and B love the same character? Yes, and no. They each have access to different information about Batman, and they drew their own conclusions about which was a more faithful representation. Does this mean Person A never read Frank Miller? Possibly, but since everyone picks and choices what they deem to be “faithful to the character,” Person A may have decided Miller’s take on Batman did not meet their criteria for faithfulness. Likewise, Person B may think silly, campy Batman was a ridiculous period in Batman’s history best forgotten.
So who’s right? They’re both right. The larger a universe, and the larger the pool of writers, the more likely there will be differing interpretations on a character, and in fact the larger the pool, the more likely those interpretations may be wildly different. Person A looks on the sunny side of life, so they see campy Batman as the definitive Batman. Person B prefers Dark and Edgy and sees Frank Miller’s “Killing Joke” Batman as definitive.
I think it’s sort of interesting how two people can read the same material and come to very different conclusions. I also think it’s important for different people (from different backgrounds) to read the same material, especially in the editing stage. Maybe some people do end up with a really off-kilter amalgam, but different interpretations are useful to determine if a take on a character might be offensive or alienating or just waaaay too off-kilter. I also understand why people want to just write out whole sections of a character. Not everything can be incorporated easily, especially for characters with long histories, so it’s easier for a writer (or readers) to hand-wave large sections of the character’s history.
I don’t mind the amalgam process since I think it’s inevitable with serial media. Amalgams generally only result from characters/stories with long histories. In that way, amalgams should be celebrated, not argued about, because it means these characters/stories were popular enough to have such long histories.