Sorry, no pictures in this post. Just many, many words.
In a previous post, I mentioned that Batman’s agelessness (as well as other American heroes) creates a limitation on how far Nightwing could “age”. It’s actually something that bothers me as a reader of comics. Why does this industry spend so much time adhering to a character. Why must Bruce Wayne always don the cowl, Clark Kent the cape, Steve Rogers the shield? As a fairly consistent comic book reader, I have seen my fair share of changes to title characters from costumes to clones, power sets to proteges, time travelers to time paradoxes. Nothing tends to stick. I distinctly remember going to a comic book shop, where someone new to comic book culture asked me if I was excited to see Spider Man’s new costume. I told her I was, but that it would be back to normal soon enough.
At the time of me beginning this entry, Steve Rogers has been announced as returning as Captain America. This is no surprise to me, as Captain America: Civil War is right around the corner. But it does some what disappoint me because of a few implications it makes about comics in general. The industry often perpetuates its own need to prolong the lives of their heroes, and not allowing them to truly grow. There seems to some movement, such as Spider Man who has worked in a variety of positions from photographer, teacher and engineer/inventor. But Peter Parker will continue to be the man behind the webs because we can’t let go of him. I think Miles Morales is one of the greatest things Marvel did, but not just because of his race; embracing him is a willingness to accept a fluidity in our fiction.
Graphic novels function in a strange paradox as a reading. If you pick up a trade, theoretically, just one per character, you could get a nice static sense of a reading; there is a beginning, middle and end and a sense of general satisfaction from the reading, and an attachment to the character and what they seem to represent. The traditional literary novel is just like that. One of my favorite novels is Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and much of that comes from the meaning I can derive from re-reading the work and finding new parts to analyze. Even for longer series of fictional works, such as Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series or Rowlings’ Harry Potter series the longevity of the work does not change that the work eventually becomes very static; once the series is complete, its history is locked in. Out of theory, these characters often have multiple decades of backstory and redefining, so that we need to read and engage in all the stories that have built this character up. Even worse is when companies dramatically change the course of the character, or the nature of the reality itself. Each trade collection covers the nature of the character at a given time, but of course, times change and we must continue to read to stay current.
On the flip side, manga, at least to my limited knowledge, tends to explore characters with a slightly better focus. I’m a huge fan of Shonen type manga, and while the protagonists always come out on top, there are a number of things I like about their structure that I think could find their way into the superhero genre. The permanence of death and growth is one in particular. Death is a very real component in manga, even when the possibility of resurrection is available. One thing I love about Naruto is the way Kishimoto represents death. A number of the older characters, and a couple of the younger ones, have died. When they do, it isn’t paultry or met with skepticism; it is sad and emotional, and we see the characters grieve and honor the dead. My favorite characters are teachers in that book, and coincidentally, also the dead ones. While I would want them to come back in some sort of way, I think it would damage the story. Even the resurrection of characters is not something that is permanent, as we know that they will eventually return to the grave. Those deaths end up progressing the characters, part of their rite of passage, something they need to face and be at peace with and become stronger as a result. We also often see touch backs to those teachers, and a consistent sense of heritage and lineage as being important.
I am often very curious as to what it would be like if we had characters grow older, retire, or die and have their proteges actually take over for them. There is an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold that features an Alfred fan-fiction that explores the continuation of Batman’s legacy through Dick Grayson to Damian Wayne. I really liked the episode because it envisions a Batman without Bruce Wayne. Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy begins and ends with the idea of passing on the mantle. As Ra’s Al Ghul teaches Bruce that he must become an immortal ideal, Bruce realizes that idea as he passes on his mantle to a successor.
While I have no expectations of changing the minds of a well established industry and fidelous fans, I did want to express my love for change in the books I love. I know there are plenty of people who love the fact that they get to stick with their heroes for a lifetime, and I can see a great merit in that. No two fans need be alike, and while I straddle a line between hardcore and casual, I want more people to keep my love of this culture mainstream. They are fictional characters, and one of the best things about it is that you get to be lost in a world of fantasy with little to no worries. Fiction fulfills fantasy, and death and transition are certainly real concerns. Fiction is definitely about an escape, just as much as it can be about edification. I’m personally at a point where I view change as great, and seeing Sam Wilson, Amadeus Cho, Dr. Jane Foster, Laura Kinney, and Jim Gordon behind their respective shield, gamma irradiated skin, hammer, claws and cowl, makes me love the heroes more. It also makes me feel like I don’t need to be Peter Parker to be Spider-Man, I can be me.
I’d love to hear about your feelings, if you’ve got them.