A Comic Book Entry – Passing the Torch

Before the rant, I’d just like to say Weird Al continues to be awesome, and has  rescued a very catchy melody from a very creepy/gross song with “Word Crimes.”  Go  see his videos.  It’s Mandatory Fun!

Okay, on with the rant.

A famous general once said, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”  This  is true of comic book characters as well (generally speaking).  For the  long-established big two companies, one of the biggest problems with continuity is  that popular characters don’t really die (at least not for long).  This leads to  rather crowded universes with a whole lot of main characters vying for top billing  (hence, why Wolverine started appearing on the covers of comics he wasn’t,  technically speaking, actually in).  Attempting to change this status quo is very  hard.  After all, there is money to be made in marketing the biggest/most popular  characters as much as possible.  And as soon as anything changes, there is a huge  backlash of, “It changed, now it sucks,” from the fanbase.  Such is the burden of  legacy.

DC Comics has been slightly more successful, I feel, at retiring older characters  to make way for newer characters.  In particular, the Flash and Green Lantern, and  to a lesser extent, Batman and Green Arrow.  While there are a lot of problems  with teen sidekicks, in theory the idea of Batman and Green Arrow training their  replacements makes a lot of sense (even if Ollie never actually did it).   Pre-Nu52, the mantle of the Flash had gone through three separate characters (Jay  Garrick, Barry Allen, and Wally West) and Impulse (Bart Allen) was probably going  to be the Flash of the future.  Green Lantern rings had gone to Alan Scott, Hal  Jordan, Kyle Rayner, Guy Gardener (who thought that was a good idea again), and  John Stewart.  Granted, while the most popular of those two mantles did not  actually stay dead, the way was cleared for newer characters (and in the case of  the Blue Beetle, Ted Kord stayed dead).  I will also grant that Wally West and  Kyle Rayner had a hard, uphill battle for the hearts of the fans, but they did  eventually win.  So, before the universe was rebooted, notable heroes such as the  Flash, Green Lantern, Blue Beetle, Atom, and Batman, who all started out straight  white guys, passed the torch to, well, more white guys, but also a black Green  Lantern, a Hispanic Blue Beetle, and an Asian Atom.  The universe was inching its  way towards greater diversity and had a decent mechanism to do so.

Marvel Comics to me always had more problems passing the torch of the flagship  characters to new characters.  It’s odd too because the X-men in particular seems  like a great vehicle for introducing new characters and passing on the legacy.   But this seems to have been thwarted back in the ’70s when Chris Claremont made a  sincere and almost successful attempt at writing the first class of X-men out of  the book in favor of his own team.  It’s not as though Marvel necessarily has more  immortal characters.  Sure, Thor is and Captain America virtually is so, but Iron  Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Henry Pym certainly are not.  Nick Fury wasn’t supposed  to be.  Marvel did make an effort to shake things up a bit when they launched the  Ultimate UniverseA lot of changes were generally confusing to me, but a couple  worked out well.  Nick Fury was introduced as a person of color (specifically  Samuel L. Jackson) and eventually Spider-man, that flagship of flagships, passed  from Peter Parker to Miles Morales, who was also a PoC.  And yes, there was a lot  of uproar over that.  But Marvel has been trying to market some new characters a  bit more than before (Ms. Marvel is a good example, Avengers Academy which  culminated in “Avengers Arena” is a bad example).  Marvel is also making an effort  to place Carol Danvers (currently Captain Marvel) as their foremost female solo  superhero but it has not been an easy road at all (poor Carol…).

And in this turbulent time of declining comic book sales (but for Marvel a very  profitable movie machine), what is to be done?  DC’s answer was to hit the reset  button (as they do) and make everything fresh and new by going back to the dark  and edgy ’90s.  Seriously.  Oh, sure all the Green Lanterns stayed around, but  it’s clear Hal’s the main man, but Bruce Wayne is Batman again, and Wally West and  Ryan Choi seemed to have disappeared into the ether.  And Jaime Reyes as the Blue  Beetle?  Cancelled after what, six issues?  Static Shock?  Same deal.  The  Wildstorm characters?  Never imported, gone, or unrecognizable (by and large).   Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown?  Joined Wally and Ryan in the abyss,  apparently.  Is DC allergic to money?  Do the people who run DC comics know that  women and people of color have money, and may be willing to spend it on comic  books?  Based on their numerous and ongoing poor decisions, I can’t help but  wonder if they are actively trying to repulse anyone who doesn’t fit their target  demographic.

So what is my point?  Well, in other news Marvel is planning major shake-ups in  the mainstream 616 universe that will result in more diversity of characters.  For  instance, the new Thor is going to be a woman and the new Captain America will be  Sam Wilson (formerly Falcon).  And I hear something’s going to happen to Tony  Stark and Iron Man will get a new squishy human center.  At first I thought, “What  a blatant and contrived attempt to market to a wider audience.”  And initially I  didn’t like it (I too fall victim to that kneejerk, “they changed it; now it  sucks,” mentality occasionally).  But then I thought, “well, why not?  If the  company had made an effort to diversify sooner, then this move wouldn’t come  across as so heavy-handed and cynical.”  And given how DC has whitewashed its  stable of characters, I can definitely see some marketing executive saying at a  meeting, “Women and PoCs have money too; maybe we can make some characters they  would relate to and buy the comics for.”  Clearly this is  revolutionary  thought…  Also, this may help expand some options in the movie-verse, so the  opportunity for profit is pretty high.

Upon further reflection, I am okay with this blatant and profit-driven  contrivance, assuming the stories are written well.  A bad example would be the  writer that decided Sam Wilson clearly had a secret past as a pimp because he’s  black so of course.  A good example would be the transition from Peter Parker to  Miles Morales.  I also hope the writers don’t fall back on laziness and make all  the old characters villains thus freeing the torch to be passed.  Basically, if  the writers actually bother to write a story, then this could work.  Is this an  ideal way to diversify the universe?  Hell, no.  But better late than never, even if  the reasons are almost surely purely profit-driven.  So I will proceed with  caution but I will hope for the best.


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

3 thoughts on “A Comic Book Entry – Passing the Torch”

  1. “A bad example would be the writer that decided Sam Wilson clearly had a secret past as a pimp because he’s black so of course.”

    Oh god, Steve Englehart. You should see the 1980s DC miniseries “Millennium”. They tried diversifying their universe by creating a new superhero team that included a gay man, an Aboriginal woman, and some white racist from Apartheid era South Africa, but hired that guy to do it. I really wish you’d read it so you could tell me if it’s as bizarre and awkward for you as it seems to me. -_-;

    I mean, seriously…what the hell was this supposed to be?


    “Extraño (Spanish for “strange” or “odd”) is a fictional gay Hispanic magician published by DC Comics. He first appeared in Millennium #2 (January 1988), and was created by Steve Englehart and Joe Staton.”

    I think that kind of says it all. o_O

    1. Oh, I saw these guys in Linkara’s review of “New Guardians #1” and “New Guardians #2.” This book, as I understood it, was an attempt to make comic books Very Serious Business, and discuss Very Mature Themes of sex and AIDS and drugs other such things. Starring Gloss, the Chinese woman who could use the power of the “dragon lines,” Ram, the Japanese man, was a cyborg, Extrano as you already saw (who is a cheap knock-off of Dr. Strange), a Jamaican woman who ran around in a bikini, and Harbinger, who seemed to have been stuck in the book at the last minute. And also the Floronic Man. And they were supposed to make lots and lots of babies (I’ll give you a moment to figure out how that was going to work with a gay man, a cyborg, and a plant). And the flamboyently gay, Hispanic magician eventually died from AIDS from a scratch by Hemogoblin. Very Serious Business indeed.

      I cannot recommend Linkara’s reviews highly enough. He reviewed #2 first, so watch them in the order he reviewed them.

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