Saturday, June 04, 2005

Generation Gap

[Geez, maybe next time I should just read Newarama BEFORE I post...]

Comics ate his brain? I don't think so! Wise Tom at CAMB tackles the pink elephant in the DCU's living room. As the DCU moves forward in time, some of its characters are stuck with one foot in the past. Let's join Tom in looking at the problem.

DC's principle on-going characters roll up their pasts behind them. Take Two-Face. When Harvey Dent was first scarred by acid, there was a plastic surgeon who could have helped. Why didn't he? Because he was trapped behind Nazi lines. Don't hear that one any more! Luckily, with most characters, their histories are broad enough that they have no trouble with a floating "ten years ago" as the beginning of their careers.

But the DCU is starting to show "generational strain". The original JSAers have one foot nailed in World World II and so, unlike their colleagues, can't "roll up" their pasts behind them. "Rabbit tricks" help: magical energies, Ragnarok, blah blah blah. But think about how old Ma Hunkle must be, or Molly Scott or Joan Garrick; 80, 90 years old, gang.

Thanks to some creative writers, the history of the JSA's original run neatly parallels the real-world history of comics. Their world, our world. In the '30s, mystery men emerge and form the JSA; superhero comics, including the JSA begin. In the '40s, the JSA helped in WWII and was in its prime; the JSA and similar characters were at the peak of their popularity. In the '50s, a post-war society lost tolerance for 'mystery men'; a post-war society lost tolerance for comic books. It's so tidy, so nicely symbolic, no one wants to let it go. But pretty soon, we (and DC editorial) need to.

Even if sufficient excuses abound for the JSAers continued vitality, the gap between them and the current generation widens with each passing year, making it impossible for their progeny and inheritors to "roll up the past" behind them. Case in point: how can Black Canary continue to be as young as she is when her mother was a crimefighter in WWII? Yeah, I know her Lazarus incident might help, but you get the point. If you continue to do that sort of '"rabbit trick", you suddenly have to admit that people like Black Canary, Green Lantern, and Green Arrow are all much older than Bruce, Clark, and Diana. Ollie's got a grown son, for pity's sake!

The original Teen Titans create a complementary problem. Batman's accumulating Robins awfully fast for guy his age. As long as there's a Nightwing, the current Robin must not be allowed to get older (and so on, for all the other characters). This is what happens when you allow not just stories but "events" like the original Robin going to college or the death of Jason Todd. You insert indelible time-markers into continuity and, as Shazam himself once said, "that way lies madness".

What's the way out? Keep your eye on the World Egg (formerly Krona, the Big Fat Blue Plumber Guy of Doom) that originated in the JLA/Avengers cross-over and was featured in the recent Crime Syndicate storyline. I have a feeling we'll be getting a whole new DC Universe.

Perhaps several...

One thing DC does need to let go of: the idea that Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman came first. The efforts made to force this idea have been heroic enough to change the course of mighty rivers, but it simply cannot work long-term. Instead of insisting that they were the first among the modern generation of heroes, DC should consider doing the opposite: make them the last. The Big Three aren't the start, they are the end, not the base of the modern generation but its pinnacle, not the seeds from which other heroes grew but the ultimate evolution of the current heroic wave.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Bring back the Earth1/2/3 designations! (call it alpha/beta/whatever if you prefer) Let Bats, Supes, WW age on this Earth, maybe even let them die (only if they take the time to plan classic stories).

Start a new Earth, with the big 3 as the sole heroes. Slowly add some new versions of the others and some brand new heroes (over years). Meanwhile, there are a lot of good stories they can write in the current Earth as they let their characters age (and some die). Put a symbol on the cover of the comics to indicate which Earth is the locale for the story (alpha, beta, whatever). Some of the younger characters may become surprisingly strong once they become the 'adults' of the new Earth. I could handle multiple Earths when I was 10, and I think comic book buyers today can handle it.

One of the thing long term readers enjoy about comics is continutity. The old multiple Earths allowed for a diversity of stories without sacrificing continuity. What DC has had for the last 20 years constantly destroys continuity, without increasing the possible stories you can tell. As a bonus, it's even more confusing for readers to figure out what the background is for current stories, as you're not always sure what's 'cannon' and what's not.

Scipio said...

Riddle me this...

do people who are too dumb to understand the concept of multiple earths

actually read comics?

And if so,
how can they understand them?

Vaklam said...

I'm not sure what the fix is but I like your "make the Big 3 the End" idea.

I don't envy the DC editorial staff's task:

"OK, guys, you've cleaned out those stables and killed the Hydra. Just one more thing: Make this continuity work."

Shon Richards said...

As far as multiple earths go, the first comic I read when I was seven was a JLA/JSA/New Gods Story. I understood it not because I was a genuis but because I could suspend beleif on anything as a kid. Multiple worlds and Krpytonians? Easy as pie.

I just wish characters would grow old and die. Instead of changing Batman into ten different incarnations from goofy to serial paranoid, I wish we had ten different Batmans and we could sit around and go "man, Batman 9, Jeffery Wayne, was a nutjob!"

Remember when Grant Morrison did JLA One Million? The joke was we would see the Batman of issue One Million. He had some futuristic warden of Pluto. The sad truth is that 700 years from now, the star of Batman will be a 30 year old Bruce Wayne.

Dorian said...

I shared my thoughts on the time-line issue back in this post.

Anonymous said...

I love the Dynastic Centerpiece model as part of an ex post facto roadmap for improving the iconography of certain characters, but I’m unconvinced that DC purposely used some loose variation of this to “build the mythos” around all - or any - of its characters. So much of what arose out of the Silver Age, at least in this regard, was a byproduct of crippled creativity rather than conscious decisions to build up a character’s mythos. It seems pretty obvious that for any character to rise above the noise level they need a strong supporting cast and within that certain archetypes are unavoidable, but DC’s modus operandi seemed to be that anything met with mild acceptance (or no risible objection) was fodder for duplication ad nauseum. I would think the Dynastic Centerpiece model would be perfect for not only identifying what’s needed but also avoiding the rampant copycat silliness of DC in the 60’s.

I’d add two more thoughts to this: 1) The Centerpiece needs to have an identifiable profession (even if it’s simple “millionaire playboy”) to serve as an anchor for their alter ego (and the alter ego itself would seem a necessity). 2) I wonder if a more expansive application of the Dynastic Centerpiece wouldn’t lead to more continuity issues over a long period of time. Particularly the “Generation Gap” type of problems you discuss in your post below.

Anonymous said...

Okay - I put the above comment in the wrong place - meant for it to go in the post above. Sorry. I've added it there too. Just to increase Scipio's comment numbers.