Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Plot Threads of Damocles

Okay, it's been years now, but thanks to Mike at Progressive Ruin, I can't hold back any longer.

Mike points out that there's a dangling plot thread in Superman and one in Swamp Thing that drive him crazy. My personal plot thread of Damocles is the one where Lois's mother has a fatal disease for which -- duhn duhn DAH!-- only Lex Luthor has the cure. Once idea that was established, it was completely forgotten. Did Lois's mother die? Did Superman pull an all nighter with Kelex at the Fortress, whipping up an miracle drug? Did Lois put on a French maid's costume and table dance for Lex just to save her mom? I will never know.

Abruptly abandoned subplots, unsolved mysteries, and disappearing characters are the annoying manifestations of one of my big gripes with today's comics: writers are changed too frequently and editors do t0o little to ensure continuity when the shift is made.

In fact, sometimes change becomes the point. i understand that this may lead to a short-term spike in sales, but it damages the long-term mythmaking of the character. Much of the Batman and Superman mythoi were developed during long periods with the same writer/editor. Nowadays, a writer is brought on to tell "his arc" and then shuffles along.

This may work for more established characters like Batman and Superman, but this phenomenon keeps undercutting the long-term development of characters like Wonder Woman, Flash, Hawkman, and Aquaman. Wonder Woman and Flash change their entire supporting cast every time they get a new writer, for goodness sake.

"Aquaman" is now the common name of what is essentially four of five different characters (Topo's Pal, the King of Atlantis, Hookhand, Waterhand, and Sword Guy), putting "his" fans at odds with one another. Now, that kind of thing can happen with a Batman, too ("I like happy Batman"; "I like psycho Batman"), but I feel that those difference are more ones of degree than of kind.

In the Green Lantern realm, instead of letting a character grow, editors just replace him with someone else. 1940s Entrepeneur/Action Hero Alan Scott is replaced by 1950s/60s Company Man Hal Jordan is replaced by 1970s Liberal Rebel John Stewart is replaced by 1980s Bad-Ass Guy Gardner is replaced by 1990s Party Boy Kyle Rayner.

When a good writer is tasked to revitalize a character (like GA, GL, Hawkman, et al.), what do they do: they go back and start at the last point when the character was the result of long-term consistent mythmaking. Hal Jordan has to be brought back to the Top Gun shtick, Ollie Queen returns to millionaire philanthropist and civic figure, and Hawkman becomes Carter Hall, tough guy archeologist.

Is it so hard to learn a lesson from all this? Do not change the myth; the long term problems it causes for the character outweigh the short term gains.

Instead, expand the myth so that it contains more elements that more people can identify with. Batman remains a popular figure because he can credibly be Detective Batman, Streetfighter Batman, Superhero Batman, Spooky Batman, and Head of the Batman Family from one moment to the next without it seeming too jarring; Batman is all those things.

Anyway, back to what this post was originally supposed to be about (which is basically stolen from Mike...):

what are the dangling plot threads for your favorite characters that have been driving you crazy all these years?


Chris Fung said...

No real comments on the posting but just wanted to say that it's nice to see a different blog layout. The light blue background was hurting my eyes.

Jeff R. said...

Hm...Let's see. Not as obscene a dangler as many, but at the end of Suicide Squad Ostrander had set up Cliff Carmichael (former Firestorm foil turned murderous successor to the Thinker) as a perfect archvillian for Oracle...and then, about a decade of Birds of Prey later, he never shows up again. (until a minor re-use in the new Firestorm, though.)

To me, the dangler of all danglers will always be the "so just why the heck is the Emerald Eye vulnerable to Kryptonite, anyhow" mystery.

There were tons of 'em at the end of the Zero Hour Legion reboot, of course.

Over in Swamp Thing, Gaiman left a couple in the Annual he wrote back when he thought he'd be half of the writing team taking over the book; I don't think we yet know what a "Forest Lord" is...

Then there's the Lord Malvolo power ring business.

A lot of the "Armageddon 2001" annuals laid hints of future events that never remotely came to pass. (I'd have liked to see Paradox, the villian from Waid's flash annual, make a debut in actual continuity, for example...)

[And I still want to know who Sally Quassa is and what happens when Halo Jones meets her, for that matter...]

Steven said...

Spoiler's BABY!

True, the character purposefully tried to forget the child, going so far as to give him or her up for adoption without even looking at him, or her...

and it would have been too much if it was mentioned in EVERY issue...

but that fact that Stephanie Brown had given birth to another human being was never, ever mentioned again.

Also, I prefered the blue background and color scheme. A white background looks a little, I don't know, blah?

David C said...

"Wonder Woman and Flash change their entire supporting cast every time they get a new writer, for goodness sake."

This is a huge thing that really needs to be avoided, I think. On the one hand, you don't want to stifle a new writer, but on the other hand, the character's bigger than the writer. To this day, people will say "Wonder Woman (or the Flash) doesn't have much of a supporting cast." They've actually got *too many* if anything - and some darn good ones, too - it's just that 90% of them vanished by the wayside at some point.

My own dangling plot thread? A character who should be a nearly iconic character, with his own subtitle in bold print:

Superman's Girlfriend's Cat, Elroy!

Anyone else remember him? He was there around the time Clark and Lois got engaged. One "dangling subplot" was that he was shredding Clark's shirts, apparently out of jealousy....

Cap'n Neurotic said...

I'm sure there are tons and tons that will come to me later, but the one that always comes to mind is: Why the heck in the pre-ZH Legion did Glorith hate Celeste Rockfish so much? This subplot was introduced in LSH #53, but with the whole "Legion as outlaws" storyline having to be rushed through to make way for the Zero Hour reboot, that thread disapeared forever, along with both Celeste and Glorith.

Another dangling Legion plot thread lost to a one-two combo of creative team juggling/reboot is what exactly DnA had planned for Tinya and Jo's kid in thir Legion books; this one is especially bothersome because DnA got pulled off of the title to make way for Waid, and then when his version was taking longer to come forth, a Gail Simone story was used to fill the gap. Now, love Gail as I do, I still would have preferred to see DnA have a chance to finish off their story.

Anonymous said...

I always thought that the Emerald Eye was succeptible to Krptonite because "it" was from Krypton, somehow.

I tend to obsess over the adult legion story, even though Paul Levitz made it clear it is just a possible future.

Who was/will be Reflecto? (I know there was some crappy issue many years ago where Superboy was for some reason dressed as Reflecto, but I have blocked out the details and don't really believe them anyway.)

Oh -- and I miss the blue background too.

Anonymous said...

Oh -- and i know Scipio is not a fan of Kirby's Fourth World, but --
I liked, in the Hunger Dogs graphic novel, how Esak somehow turned evil, but I would like to have known exactly what happened to him to cause this?

Anonymous said...

I disagree that you shouldn't change, and I think Green Lantern is a perfect example of where change worked. Now we've got all these different characters, and they can all evolve over time, because the identity of "Green Lantern" isn't tied to any one of them.

I definitely agree on the supporting cast thing, though. I think the thing is that change shouldn't be dumping everything and setting up a new status quo - it should flow organically from what was there before.

Scotus said...

I'm still waiting for Firestorm's first meeting with the Flying Dutchman of Time.

Also, the supporting cast in Hawk and Dove was one of the things I loved most about that book, so I wonder if Dawn Granger ever dropped by Georgetown to let everyone know that she's not really dead.

Scipio said...

Certainly given my complaints in this post, I should explain that the new blog template was NOT "change for change's sake". The old template was "broken" this morning, making the Absorbascon inacessible. I decided it was more important to fix it right away than to wait for Blogger to repair the affected template, so I switched to another.

It is cleaner, and although it make lack visual character, I think the Absorbascon has more than enough characters already...!

J'onn J'onzz, Martian Manhunter said...

Meh, I liked the old one better. I thought this might be some sort of joke like [adult swim]'s website did yesterday with their new layouts. And the day before that my blog changed layouts. Too many new layouts!

Tom Foss said...

I've been reading Superman so long that I've lost track of all the crazy dropped subplots. Most of them bothered me at one point or another. Some are also dangling characters who were part of plots, but never actually fulfilled their apparent purpose.
-Jerome Odetts' Farm
-For that matter, all of Hypersector. My only printed letter in a comic book came after Y2K and asked if Hypersector--the futuristic district in Metropolis--had become the "city of the day after tomorrow" with the B13 virus.
-Scorn and Misa, and the issues in Kandor
-Lena Luthor
-Jimmy's world tour with Misa
-When Superman was electric, there were all these comments, both in and out of story, about him getting out of shape while human, that he was putting on weight and all. It never went anywhere.
-Speaking of which, I don't think they ever explained conclusively why Superman went electric in the first place.
-Luthor Knew/Knows
-Perry knows
-For that matter, Keith White, the Whites' adopted son
-Steel's fried nervous system
-Ron Troupe's sister dating the Daily Planet's publisher
-Ron Troupe not working for the Planet anymore
-Alpha Centurion
-New Toyman
And so, so many more.

Jeff R. said...

It was Ultra Boy, dressed as Superboy, dressed as Reflecto.

And, even though he never used the codename, I'm sure that the SW6ers would eventually have gotten around to pinning it onto Devlin.

Do "intentional" danglers count? Because we still don't know why Morpheus was so weak as to be captured by the order, or what caused Delight to become Delirium, or any of the story with the first Despair...

Anonymous said...

Back in the mid-80s "Moench" era of the Bat-books, there was a renaissance of villainy, and many of the infrequent C-listers (Cat-Man, Calendar Man, Mr. Freeze) were getting attention.

I distinctly remember a letter column where a fan asked when Killer Moth would make an appearance, and the editor (Len Wein?) swore that major plans were afoot for ol' Killer.

Sadly, those ideas bore fruit, and KM didn't make an appearance until he got jobbed out in Batman #400.

Anonymous said...

The one that really bugs me is the non-Carol Ferris Star Sapphire from the 1970s Secret Society of Super-Villains.

Who the hell was she?

Anonymous said...

It was Ultra Boy, dressed as Superboy, dressed as Reflecto.

Actually, it was Superboy, possessed by the spirit of Ultra Boy, dressed as Reflecto.

Well, I didn't say it was a good story. But it did bring Superboy back to the Legion....

Tegan O'Neil said...

Yeah, anyone who thinks Roy Thomas doesn't huff paint needs to look at his brief Legion run for proof of the huffery.

Anonymous said...

Where the heck is James Gordon, Jr.? I've seen maybe one line of dialogue about him (in a non-flashback tale)since Year One.

As mentioned above, Ollie's other son and Shado: where are they now?

Anonymous said...

Being one of the (apparently) few fans of the Adian Chase Vigilante, one thing that has bothered me for years is the mystery behind the group that actually brought him back to life and trained him as the Vigilante.
I asked Marv Wolfman a few years back about this, and he said "I really don't remember."
Now that's frustrating.

Another thing that bugs me... Cameron Chase. Love the character, but pretty much the entire CHASE series was a dangling plot thread that DC never allowed to be resolved.

Anonymous said...

I was hung up for a long time on who Thrust's father was, from the old Timber Wolf limited series, like two reboots ago. But I've been a long term X-men fan, so I'm used to subplots being resolved the first of never...
There's lots of questions I'm sure I could find the answers to eventually, I just don't have the energy anymore. Like the Gordon family: is the aforementioned James Jr. retconned into Barbara? Is Bruce Gordon from Eclipso related? Jennifer Morgan appeared in Day of Vengence, is Warlord still in continuity? Why would Alex Luthor know, or care, that Joe Chill was brought to justice? (Sorry, that last one just slipped out.)

Nacho said...

There was this villain in a Batman Secret Files book, who would dress like other criminals and commit crimes. His face was like a skull, IIRC.
It was an introduction, but I think he never appeared again.

Marionette said...

Supergirl (Cir-El): vanished into a portal and was immediately forgotten. Assumed dead on no evidence at all.

Supergirl (Linda Lee): Retired, posted her costume to Clark Kent (why?). Still super powered but also immediately forgotten.

Neither even got a throwaway Earth 12 panel in Un-funite Crisis.

Steven said...

But both show up in Team Supergirl in last month's Superman/Batman, and presumably in the next one too, if it ever publishes.

Tony said...

Myth and character development are often contradictory forces.

For example, I recently tried to re-read my Batman comics from the mid-1990s. Couldn't do it. I just don't care as much about Batman's day-to-day life anymore. I want to see him have the big iconic adventures. A rotating cast of writers tends to keep him closer to the freshness and myth.

That being said ... Bruce Wayne "adopted" a class of inner-city school children somewhere in Detective Comics. I've often wondered what happened to them.

Tom Foss said...

Seeing Empress in 52 reminded me that her parents are still de-aged to infants. Furthermore, her, Secret, and Arrowette are all sharing a room at Cassie Sandsmark's school.

I'd thought of another one earlier today, but like the editors, I can't seem to recall it.

Cole Moore Odell said...

Flash is on of the worst offenders when it comes to dropped supporting cast syndrome. This is bad enough when limited just to the Flash's friends and acquaintances, but when Bill Loebs left the book, Wally's mother went with him, and as far as I can remember she was basically never seen or heard from after that. Maybe in the background at a wedding or something. Not only did Wally never interact with her again, he never really thought about her either. That's just weird.

Jon said...

I could swear Johns had Flash saying something about how he doesn't really get along with his parents roundabouts when he and Linda were about to announce their pregnancy. I'd be kinda pissed if my kid told something like that to Impulse before me, but to each his own, I guess.

Steven said...

Waid also made it VERY clear that Wally didn't want any of his relatives at his wedding, and invited them only because Linda insisted.

Tom Foss said...

Anyone remember Lena Luthor?

No, not Lex's daughter. The other Lena Luthor. The one which was the physical embodiment of the intelligence that ran the B13 technology and had a fling with Jimmy Olsen. In Superman: Metropolis, or the Chuck Austen Superman story that didn't suck.

I think she appeared like, once after that issue, which is too bad, because she was actually interesting.

Anonymous said...

Let's see, how about: What was the deal with the winged alien Azrael from the New Teen Titans back in the 80s--he just sort of came out of nowhere, and then went back. Or an even bigger dangler from the New Titans: we were assured that Marv Wolfman knew who the seven (supposedly pre-existing) Evil Scientists that made up the ruling council of the HIVE were, but he never seemed to get around to identifying any of them--when the HIVE story wrapped up, we got the bimbo widow of an unnamed leader instead (between her and the Citadel, Marv sure seemed to enjoy putting the "idiot" in "idiot savant"). There must be a dozen X-Men ones, including one about a supporting character who seemed to keep getting killed off everytime he appeared, but never mentioned it when he returned, but I've managed to successful repress most of my memories of those...


Tegan O'Neil said...

Bruce Wayne "adopted" a class of inner-city school children somewhere in Detective Comics. I've often wondered what happened to them.

He ate them.

Yeah, he went a bit crazier than we thought.

Scipio said...

"There must be a dozen X-Men ones, including one about a supporting character who seemed to keep getting killed off everytime he appeared, but never mentioned it when he returned"

Kenny was an X-Man?

Bryan-Mitchell said...

That Swamp Thing one mentioned over at progresiveruin always bothered me. I was a huge Swamp Thing fan (even pre-Moore) and always wanted that story to come out. Also around that time there was a Swamp THing story where Swampy found this town surrounded in fog that of course disappeared once the fog was gone. There was a girl there and the implication was that she was Swamp THing's wife still alive in that town somehow.
The entire run of Green Lantern from Action Comics Weekly had some stuff that never got resolved like the afore mentioned Lord Malvolo as well as the Priest character who was an ex-GL that the gaurdians had exiled or soemthing and was trying to tell Jordan that he didn't need his ring to be Green Lantern. If I recall, Priest got unceremoniously killed and that was that.

There was always gobs of stuff with the 5 years later LEgion that never got explained like who really was honest and for true the clones, the adult legion or the SW6? Bounty, Black Dawn, Ivy, the vampire-type dude on the planet with the king whose dauther(s?) wanted to be sueprheroes and Polar Boy ended up staying there.

Then there are other kinds of dangling plots where series got canceled or creator's kicked off like Rick Vietch's infamous Swamp THing storyline or the Shadow storyline where the Shadow is dead.

Then there are all those superheroes and teams who are out there in limbo. Power COmpany, the New gardians, the Wanderers. Sure their books may not have been all that great, the New Gardians were horible, but they weren't ALL killed off, were they?

Will Pickering said...

Yeah, I too am still waiting for the titanic showdown between The Shadow's-Head-on-a-Robot-Body and Shiwan-Khan's-Head-on-a-Robot-Body. I also wouldn't mind finding out exactly what Marvelman was about to say to Avril...

...but those are questions left unresolved by the harsh realities of periodical publishing, rather than subplots that have just been forgotten about. To be honest, I'm too fickle to keep proper track of such things: if I don't like the new creative team on a comic, I tend to drop it fairly quickly, so I very often miss it when dangling threads are tied up...

...and then, too often, you get the converse problem of "Too Much Information", where a bad writer feels the need to go back and fill in the blanks of something the previous good writer intentionally left vague.

Jeff R. said...

Late hit: Just finished off Crisis on Multiple Earths 4, which contained one of the biggest long-term Legion danglers; the lost tale of one of their battles with Mordru referenced in a footnote there.

(Same issue where the 'Brok' panel of Hal using one of those giant green fists to punch himself in the head came from, BTW.)

Anonymous said...

Somewhere in the Marvel Universe there is a little man in a purple spacesuit walking from Earth to another star called Starron on steps made of light. That's right, WALKING. How far do you think he's got in 31 years?

Barghest said...

Here in the Future, I still find myself wondering where the second Puzzler (Valerie Van Haaften), the one who was actually made out of levitating puzzle pieces, came from, whether she was an android or a metahuman, and what her beef with Superman was really all about. Geoff Johns never got around to telling us.