Thursday, December 18, 2008

Creationism vs. Re-Creationism


It just goes to show you can never know too much about continuity.



In reading the latest issue of Supergirl (which, under its new writer, Sterling Gates, I'm loving), it struck me that Superwoman's costume seemed... odd.

Not hideous, really. Certainly not what I'd picture for "Superwoman", but still not hideous. Maybe it was the gloves. Or the hood. Something just... didn't seem quite au courant.

Then, courtesy of Google, I stumbled on the reason why...I'd never seen this story from the Bronze Age, where this Kristen Wells became Superwoman. Once I saw this, I realized I'd heard it mentioned, but never seen it-- and therefore, never seen the costume, which is clearly the model for the one worn by the new Superwoman.

The Bronze Age of comics, frankly. was rather crappy... particularly for Superman stories. And the decade of the '90s during the Iron Age was no picnic either. These facts hit me in the face hard this last weekend as I was working on a video project: a digital slideshow of DC heroes in chronological order of creation. After the enormous flurry of creation around 1940, there's an average of one or two good, long-lasting characters who continue (or are continued through a legacy character or conceptual revamp). But there are these... gaps.

The most severe one is also the largest: 1986-2006. Between Booster Gold and the new Blue Beetle is a vast wasteland devoid of new characters (and, of course, Blue Beetle is just a revamp).

Now, that's not to say, nothing happened, or that stories were bad. That may or may not be true, but it's not my point.

In fact, one of the good things that happened was that DC stopped trying to throw new liver at the wall, hoping something would stick, and focused on re-branding, re-vitalizing, and re-vamping many previously created characters. Nothing exemplifies this better than the return of the Justice Society, which in the Iron Age was considered an irredeemable embarrassment to be locked away in an attic like a crazy aunt.

So, in one sense, the fact that there's not a lot of new character creation going on during the last twenty years is to DC's credit. I've repeatedly made the statement that if a DC writer can't tell a new story with all the existing characters at their disposal and has to make one up, then they either don't know enough continuity or lack creativity.

Superwoman makes this point. A few months ago, the idea of including "Superwoman" in such a slideshow would have been absurd; the idea was a one-shot throwaway. But through the reinvention magic of this, the Platinum Age, old abandoned concepts are refurbished and, lo, many characters that actually are new get to take advantage of having roots in a previous era, along with the pedigree that bestows.

What do you think of the balance between character creation and character re-creation, both currently and generally??


Labels:


Comments:
Re: 1986-2006

What about Steel? He's survived fairly well over the last decade and half, he's made the jump to animation and, admittedly a bad, feature film. IIRC he even had a legacy character when Natasha briefly became Steel II.
 
I was on the verge of including him, for all the reasons you mentioned (plus, I like him).

But then I thought,
"When's the last time I actually saw STEEL, not just John H. Irons?"

The idea of Natasha as Steel II went over like a lead balloon, no matter how hard DC pushed it. "STEEL", DC's answer to Iron Man, is pretty much off the table right now. And the advent of "Citizen Steel" doesn't augur well for a return of "Steel".
 
...
 
If we're just talking about DC, then I'd say the number of new characters (much less good new ones) of late is pretty small. They're doing a good job of "re-imagining" older characters, such as Blue Beetle and atom, but entirely new? Not so much.

On the other hand, the industry in general is seeing lots of spiffy new heroes and villains in startup series. Invincible is probably the best-known example, but there's also the gang from PS238 and the inspired lunacy of Empowered, to name just a few.

It's easier to do really new stuff in newer universes, of course. DC and Marvel both have so much history at this point that almost everything has been done at one time or another. That limitation is part of what drives the current trend toward nostalgia in both companies, don't you think?
 
"Azrael said...

..."

LMAO!!!!
 
Is it nostalgia, though, if new readers don't get the reference?

Heck, I'm certainly not what you'd call a "new reader" by any stretch, yet without an internet search I'd have never known that she wasn't entirely new.
 
Well if blue beetle is in than Michael Holt, Pieter Cross, Jakeem Thunder, Kyle Raynor, Sonarik Natu and the rest of the Green Lantern Corps title's cast,Jack Knight, Tim Drake, Cassie Sandmark, Cassie Cain, ect should be included.

As well as Tommy Monaghan and Stephanie Brown. In addition there are all of the Vertigo character like Yorik Brown, Jessie Custer and the reimagined Vertigo Character like Morphius and the Endless, and the Cast of Fables
 
"I've repeatedly made the statement that if a DC writer can't tell a new story with all the existing characters at their disposal and has to make one up, then they either don't know enough continuity or lack creativity."

I've seen similar sentiments posted elsewhere, and it always seems like such a curious thing to say. Inventing something new is somehow less creative than using existing characters? I don't mean to be rude, I just don't understand that line of thought. Doesn't churning through the same old characters and situations without ever adding anything new indicate stagnation?
 
Tommy/Hitman (to name just one) is a great character, but is he "new" at this point? The 90's is pretty far back these days. Or are we using "new" just to mean "not derived from an earlier version of the same character archetype" here? In which case, he certainly qualifies, but (for ex) Kyle as a Green Lantern doesn't.

Re: nostalgia, it's not neccessary for *us* to always get the references for it be nostalgia on the part of the creators. And that kind of "in-joke" seems to me to be driving a lot of editorial decisions at both big companies these days.
 
If the question is: "What new characters were created between 1986 and 2006?" then yeah, I'd say Hitman qualifies.
 
The Bronze Age of comics, frankly. was rather crappy...

Isn't it rather telling of us all, that this comment has stirred up more controversy than the one comparing Jesus Christ to Vibe?
 
You almost certainly had seen Superwoman's costume at least once, as she cameos in What Ever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?

Yeah, a lot of the originally-DCU new character creation energy ended up at Vertigo: Morpheus & co., Tim Hunter, all the new characters in Morrison's Doom Patrol. And some of the other favorite creations of those years (The Kid, Knockout, XS, Gates, Jack Knight, Impulse) have been killed, retconned, or sidelined. I think that the Matrix Supergirl was a pretty good character, but she's long-gone too. But some of that is because the post-2006 DC has deliberately gotten rid of them in order to create the All As It Was In The Bronze Age, But With More Rapes and Dismemberments aesthetic.

But really: the post-Crisis DCU (the one that was first-subtly and then not-subtly Superboy-punched away around the time of Identity Crisis and Birthright) had a lot of creative energy in it. DC wasn't as aesthetically blighted by the 90s as Marvel was (and of course also didn't sell as many comic books).

The Suicide Squad as a concept/team, and Amanda Waller as a character count as important and enduring creations, I think.
 
"Well if blue beetle is in.."

Yes, that's very true. BB is clearly and consciously a legacy character, but his schtick is so very different than his predecessors, it seems different enough to be *ahem* 'new'.

As for Hitman, his brief popularity notwithstanding, he was pretty much as flash in the pan. He died at the end of his own series, and (at the moment) has no prospects of revival or being a long-term part of the DCU.

I did include the Endless, by the way.

I guess it's not just NEW characters I'm seeking, but new on-going staples of the DCU. Characters like the Phantom Stranger, Blue Devil, and Plastic Man may not make monthly appearances, but they are inarguably part of the on-going DCU...
 
"Inventing something new is somehow less creative than using existing characters? I don't mean to be rude, I just don't understand that line of thought."

I hear you, Josh; and I don't mean to overstate my feelings about that. But when the DCU has as many characters as it does, it seems, well, lazy to make up new ones. It seems to say, "I can't come up with anything else to do with any of the thousands of existing characters; I'll have to invent a new one."

There are exceptions, of course; I don't want to paint too broadly. For example, Harley Quin. A girlfriend/sidekick for the Joker was pretty new conceptual ground. But for every Harley Quin, there's a hundred New Wave/Halo/Grace type characters.
 
"
The Suicide Squad as a concept/team"

I love Amanda Waller, too, Jacob. But the Suicide Squad is a redux of the original Suicide Squad (created by the Madman Manbaber Bob Kanigher in 1959)...
 
PLUS, by its very definition, all the characters in Suicide Squad were pre-existing characters in the DCU. Suicide Squad was 'stone soup', a way of cobbling together old, underused characters in a new and interesting way....
 
As far as DC comics goes, I can't argue with you about the Bronze Age. The best thing I remember about DC Comics in the 70s was all the Golden and Silver Age reprints.
Marvel, IMHO, is another animal altogether. I think Marvel hit its stride in the 70s, mostly due to the efforts of gentlemen like Englehart, Thomas, and Mantlo. (And that British guy, Fairmont or whatever; a lot of people seemed to enjoy his stuff too.) Started going downhill right around Secret Wars and hasn't stopped since.
 
What about Cyborg...my lord he has been a Teen Titan...well since his teens...he never leaves...but yet he seems to be in many cross over stuff that involve a huge cast.

Not sure if that has anything to do with what you posted but Cyborg has been around for a very long time...through titans, Flash, JLA...even in cartoons.

Just a thought
 
I've repeatedly made the statement that if a DC writer can't tell a new story with all the existing characters at their disposal and has to make one up, then they either don't know enough continuity or lack creativity.

I have a friend who lacks my enthusiasm for legacy characters, and frequently grumbles, "why don't they just make up new characters?"

This will now replace "Isn't Alan Moore your favorite writer?" as my response of choice.

That said... the Bronze Age may have been crappy overall, but it's my FAVORITE Batman period. The '70s and '80s Batman was a Dark Avenger of the Night and the World's Greatest Detective, and did it all without being schizoid, obsessive, and the complete asshole that the Post-Crisis Batman keeps lapsing into.

Of course, I define the "Bronze Age" as starting around 1970, with stuff like the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams work on Superman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, and Batman, and, of course, Kirby's Fourth World. The middle Bronze Age gave us stuff like Kamandi and The Warlord, and the late Bronze Age, of course, gave us Wolfman and Perez on The New Teen Titans.

For that matter, was the Iron Age really such a dump, though? Clone Superboy and Impulse were both characters as distinct as Jaime Reyes. Simply because the current regime decided to kill them both off doesn't make them less significant.
 
To clarify:

Steel just faded out. Super-Conner and Impulse were still going strong until bad editorial decisions killed them off.
 
The Bronze Age is actually my absolute favorite era for Superman stories. I absolutely loved the characterization and cosmic action of the Maggin/Bates era. The version of Lex Luthor from this time is really the pinnacle of the character to me, a version who actually wasn't just EEEVIL, but actually had many admirable qualities. The Superwoman character was also used in Maggin's second Superman novel Miracle Monday, which I'd recommend to any fan of Superman as an example of the right way to do Superman.
 
While I'm deeply tired of the DC Bronze Age retreads, I do understand *why* people from Alex Ross to Brad Meltzer treat the 70s as definitive. It really was a high point for Batman; the Maggin/Bates era on Superman was, to use the overused word, iconic; and Englehart and Dillin's Satellite-Era JLA was often *great* (and the Happy Harbor Silver Age days typically weren't). Flash was routinely very strong (it didn't go to hell until the 80s). And LSH had some of its most memorable stretches, along with some pre-Levitz doldrums.

There were a lot of properties that were not in such good shape-- Wonder Woman and Supergirl prominent among them. But if you offer me a DC comic to read from the 60s, the 70s, or the pre-Crisis 80s, without telling me which comic, I'll take the 70s every time.
 
The '70s and '80s Batman was a Dark Avenger of the Night and the World's Greatest Detective, and did it all without being schizoid, obsessive, and the complete asshole that the Post-Crisis Batman keeps lapsing into.

I really can add nothing to that. I have to agree about that version of Batman; particularly Doug Moench's first run on his adventures, 1983-86.
 
I actually like a lot of the late bronze age superman stories (the Starlin DC Comics Presents three-parter that introduced Mongul, the undercover in the Superman Revenge Squad story, and the "Superman split into two" ~10-part epic that prefigured the modern continuity-heavy universe being standouts.) Now, the extremely late, 'lame duck' bronze age was a dark abysm lit only by the occasional Ambush Bug story, but that's another issue.

There are a fair number of lasting supporting characters who debuted in this timeframe. (Some already mentioned, like Harley Quinn and Amanda Waller. Doomsday and Hank Henshaw appear by this point to have a fair amount of staying power, too, as does Major Force. On the more-or-less good guys side, I'd add Vril Dox)

There's also the entire Milestone line, especially Static...
 
Excellent topic and I want to see that slideshow when it is complete.

I don't have a definitive opinion on the issue, but I have some ideas:

From the 1960's through the 1990's there always seemed to be corners of the DC publishing list for sleeper concepts starring new characters (Creeper, Booster Gold, Black Lightning, Ambush Bug). But the risk tolerance for publishing new characters (along with what I perceive as a reluctance of writers to use new character ideas and lose the ownership rights) seems to have faded. Best as I can tell, there are no current titles that feature new characters - plenty of new heroes using an old concept, but no entirely new characters with a solo title. Even great new villains seem absent - it is hard to fathom why at least some brand new villains wouldn't pop up and be keepers.

Is Vertigo a factor? Are all the quirky books that might feature characters who could grow into DCU mainstays being exiled to the Vertigo-verse?

Is the base of comic book readers too small to support a new break-out character? I don't think so. It may be harder but a great concept by great talent will be able to beat that.
 
Are you sure her costume isn't taken from the girl on G-Force?
 
That Superwoman also appeared in "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow", which I thought everyone had read. Could it have lodged itself in your subconscious from that source, making you do the search?

As far as the Bronze Age thing goes, the only issue I have is that I don't fully agree that it's one era, or when the Silver/Bronze transition point lies.
Also, it's a bit different as far as the Marvel Vs. DC thing goes; the Bronze Age was something of a peak for Marvel, with the period immediately after its end being a slide into crapitude, while things were somewhat the opposite at DC. As a result, I pretty much jumped ship, gave up being a Marvel zombie and started buying more and more DC books. I've just done a little looking-things-up, and the fact that some people cite the first "Crisis" at DC and "Secret Wars" at Marvel as milestones indicating the transition from Bronze to whatever's next just confirms this for me.
 
The point of demarcation between the Silver and Bronze Ages in the DCU is the betrayal of the JLA by Snapper Carr, resulting in their abandonment of their planetside HQ for the JLA satellite.
Justice League of America No. 77, Dec 1969.
 
H: I think "a reluctance of writers to use new character ideas and lose the ownership rights" is right on. If you came up with the Creature Commandos today, why *wouldn't* you make sure you owned the rights? I'd bet anything if there had been a viable, mainstream third publisher like Image back in the Bronze Age, Jack Kirby wouldn't have kept giving his stuff to Marvel and DC.

Creator's rights are devoutly to be wished from an ethical standpoint, but I think there's no question shared superhero universes suffer. I'm not sure there's a way to reconsile the two.
 
Iconic or not, Maggin's stories were a little to silly for me even as a 10-year-old. I mean, Luthor's big plan to defeat Superman in one issue (guest starring the Atom!) was to zap him with a ray that made him grow bigger - all of him, that is, except his brain, which then became so overloaded just running his body that Supes became dimwitted. ?!
And the tricks he pulled to keep his secret identity - changing clothes at super-speed hundreds of times a second like frames in a movie, without those inconvenient sonic booms or anything. My willing suspension of disbelief only extends so far, and Maggin is way on the other side of that line.
I also never really bought into the whole Superman-as-cosmic-savior thing, where he's known across the galaxy. Hard enough leading a double life when both were on the same planet.. and given his general lack of permanent success cleaning up his adopted home, how did he have time to save the cosmos?
Nevertheless, I did like the Superwoman stories (all two of the comics, DCCP annuals both) - her origin story was my first encounter with the "time traveller goes back to discover true identity of historic mystery person and turns out to be that person" trope. But I always wondered what the heck happened in the century between Kristen Wells and the Legion ... the tech level seemed to drop quite a bit.
 
When I was a kid my favourite comic was Who's Who in the DC Universe because each page offered up another character to inhabit my imagination. In that context every character seemed cool and interesting, no matter how overtly ridiculous, because they existed as purely conceptional beings offered up with the slimmest of possible biographies with which to excite your fantasies.

It was only decades later that I realized that many of the stories that featured these characters were--to be generous--terrible. Either that or I found out that a character I found particularly intriguing only actually appeared in a handful of stories before never being seen again.

That's why I don't think its an accident that my favourite writers tend to dip into that deep well of obscure characters in order to populate their worlds, rather than create new ones out of whole cloth. I suspect most of them share my childhood love for the simple idea of these characters, no matter how absurd or lame their actual execution.

Truthfully, though, the best writers are the ones who can do both--completely reinvent and reinvigorate a forgotten old character AND come up with exciting new characters as well.

Right now I'm thinking of Gail Simone's Secret Six, which features both my second favourite reinvention of recent time in Catman (my favourite has to be Booster Gold's transformation from self-interested capitalist to genuinely self-sacrificing hero) and my favourite new character as well, the twisted, god-fearing Junior, who serves as the most darkly comic example of what would happen to the world if certain kinds of people no longer knew the fear of eternal damnation.

On the one hand an author should have the freedom to explore where their imaginations can take them, but anyone with a truly fertile imagination is likely going to look at a shared universe like the DCU and start salivating, rather than be put off by its potential limits.
 
"my favourite new character as well, the twisted, god-fearing Junior,"

Hm. Then perhaps I shouldn't reveal my deduction that Junior wasn't exactly created out of whole cloth ...
 
If he wasn't, then I'll probably just like him more....
 
Really?

Well... then the reveal will blow your mind.
 
I think that Junior wasn't created out of whole cloth for the present series-- but *was* created out of whole cloth by Simone, not terribly long ago. Scipio, are we on the same page?
 
The mindset of "all those other characters are lame-os, lemme show you my awesome new hero" was given ample opportunity to prove itself, and the results were conclusively terrible: a bargain bin of comics with guys named DarkHawkStrykeNightWulf, most of whom have claws.

The Amish have the correct attitude: new technology is not to be eschewed on principle, but to be embraced only after careful consideration.
 
My sentiments exactly!
 
Mystery villain reveals are *always* better when it's an established character. Otherwise you're left thinking "who?"

Unless of course the villain is revealed to be a suddenly smart Solomon Grundy. Then you're left *wishing* for a new character...
 
Justin, I'd propose a slight rephrasing: the lack of creator's rights is what causes shared universes to suffer...or at any rate not keep filling up with new characters. To the extent that creators can own their new characters, the universe need not suffer.

But on the other hand...maybe the latest crop of creators just isn't as good at that as the old pros were. Or maybe they agree with Scipio!
 
The '70s and '80s Batman was a Dark Avenger of the Night and the World's Greatest Detective, and did it all without being schizoid, obsessive, and the complete asshole that the Post-Crisis Batman keeps lapsing into.

That was my Batman. Doug Moench, Steve Englehart, Len Wein, Don Newton, Marshal Rogers... *sigh*

"Kristen Wells" was also the name that Karsta Wor-Ul was using when she was hiding on earth during the "Third Kryptonian" storyline.
 
plok: I don't know much about the business/legal end of Marvel and DC, so perhaps there already is a "partial ownership" deal in place, but I'm not so sure the Big Two would want many new characters if they couldn't retain total control over them. Would DC have approved Morrison's Final Crisis if it meant they had to send some of that crossover cash to the Kirby estate?

Also, one of the things that makes superhero universes so *magical* is the ability to unearth sagging characters and ideas and expand/improve upon them. This is where the (I thought) highly enjoyable Seven Soldiers comes from. But if Len Wein and Berni Wrightson had owned Swamp Thing and had the authority, might they have shot down the Alan Moore revamp, thinking there was more money/artistic potential in their original "monster trying to regain lost humanity" angle?

I realize this sounds like I'm anti-creator's rights, which I'm not. If the options are "writers and artists are compensated fairly for what they create" and "long-running corporate superhero universes run smoothly," my own personal set of ethics sides with the first one. But the things that make superhero universes *work* seem founded on a work-for-hire principle. It suggests (to me, at least) an evolutionary dead end for the superhero universe model (as we know it today).

Basically, I believe the only practical way to create new characters in an existing universe is to do "legacy" characters like the All-New Atom that you wouldn't own anyway (butt which risk being too insular and dependent on continuity) or just be perfectly willing to sign away whatever you create. You'd have to value the survival of the comics universe over your own compensation and be well aware that you could be screwed over at any time.

It's a bleak opinion, I know. I'm a guy who's loved superhero universes all his life and continues to love them. But fortunately, it is only an opinion and could be totally wrong.
 
The point of demarcation between the Silver and Bronze Ages in the DCU is the betrayal of the JLA by Snapper Carr, resulting in their abandonment of their planetside HQ for the JLA satellite.
Justice League of America No. 77, Dec 1969.


As good a point as any. Actually a lot of DC Silver-Age mainstays underwent big changes in 1969. Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter left the JLA; Wonder Woman and Green Arrow had complete costume makeovers; Dick Grayson went to college and Batman became a solo act for the first time since 1940; etc.

It's interesting that the last issue of the JLA's mountain headquarters was the last issue of the 1960s, and the first issue of the satellite HQ was the first issue of the 1970s.
 
I would say John Henry Irons should be placed in as a character. Even though he rarely shows up as Steel anymore (I wish he would). He has seemed to take the place of that Prof. Hamilton use to have.

I'd also have to disagree with the Steel being DC's answer to Iron Man. I think the only thing the two men have in common is they built armor for themselves. Their personalities are completely different.

Steel has the brain/ingenuity of Batman and the heart of Superman. Best of both worlds. Iron Man has the brains of a republican scientist and the heart of an old capitalist on life support. Steel has the brain of a cancer research doctor and the heart of a community activist.

As far as I see they might have similar outsides but their insides are completely different. And well, that is where I heard it counts.
 
Dude. Kristen Wells is the s#!t and Superwoman was awesome. I may even buy Supergirl to see how they remake this concept.
 
"Steel has the brain of a cancer research doctor and the heart of a community activist. "

Although his entire career has been in building weapons, like the Toastmaster? Hm.
 
Iron Man has the brains of a republican scientist and the heart of an old capitalist on life support.

*sigh* Which explains why I don't read Marvel anymore. For decades Iron Man was my favorite character; and in the last few years Marvel has ignored forty years of characterization and recast Tony Stark as Dave describes, and now some people actually think he's always been that way.
 
I know we're talking primarily 1986-2006 but there weren't a great deal of new characters with sticking power before that. I'd offer Firestorm (I think we'd still have Ronnie in the role if not for DC's 'gotta try a new person and diversify' mindset) and Vixen, who overcame her false start to become a DCU stalwart from her JLA days through Suicide Squad and JLA again, with the odd BoP thrown in.

Resurrection Man, there was a great character and concept.

And yes indeedy, the Moench/Conway+Newton/Colan Batman run was just terrific, month in, month out. Detective 526, the real Jason's debut as Robin, is one of my fave comics ever (how I miss those mega anniversary books DC did for a while, such as Flash 300 and Legion 300 and JLA 200).

Oh, and I don't accept Chris Claremont as a Brit - you guys keep him.

I would say John Henry Irons should be placed in as a character. Even though he rarely shows up as Steel anymore (I wish he would). He has seemed to take the place of that Prof. Hamilton use to have.
Which is the role Professor Potter had in the Sixties. And did I imagine a Professor Pepperwinkle?
 
Firestorm and Vixen did make the slideshow...
 
Good lad!

Is there a way to see the show online (apols if you have provided a link and I missed it)?
 
And did I imagine a Professor Pepperwinkle?

Jeepers, Mr. Mart, he was just on the '50s TV show.
 
How ironic (choke) . . . OK, it's not ironic but it never was in Uncle Morty's comics either! But that's interesting, I've only seen about the first five eps of that show so far, a couple of years back. He must be in one of those. Thanks!
 
Hm. The slideshow is actually a video CD. It's not something I can post on line. And providing you the file won't help, either, unless you have Nero 9. There may be a way of converting somehow into an MPEG, but that's far beyond my technical abilities. ...
 
OK, we'll all pop round for tea! I'll bring the boeuf thingie.
 
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