The problem with comic books…

In Comics on January 21, 2014 by thebetweenthoughts Tagged: ,

(So, I’m just going to skip my normal prattling about not blogging consistently…that’s a rant for another time.)

FANFOUR2012001_FF2012001VARIANTLet me start out by saying that I love comic books.  They’ve been a part of my literary life since the beginning and they serve as a constant source of entertainment and insight.  That being said, a central problem with the medium recently came to light after reading the most recent incarnation of the Fantastic Four (by Matt Fraction)…comics don’t change.  I was a big fan of Jonathan Hickman’s work on the Fantastic Four and thought that his version of Marvel’s founding family was faithful to the past, while at the same time an evolution of the concept.  I was disappointed to read Fraction’s version and see the same old FF tropes tossed onto the team.  (Sidenote: I did enjoy his version of FF – where he’s able to work with minor characters and put his own spin on their personalities.)

For the classic and foundational characters in a comic book universe (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in DC; the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Spider-Man in Marvel), the characterizations never really change.  The situations these characters are tossed in become more complex and dire, yet their reactions never deviate from the boundaries placed on them since their creation.  Batman will always be Batman…he’ll never use a gun…he’ll never kill.  And if a writer decides to add some nuance to his character by violating these tenets, he’ll be destroyed by the fans and be criticized for not understanding and honoring the character.  I never realized how difficult it was for a comic book writer to write a “classic character”.   You constantly have to balance honoring the legacy of your character, while at the same time creating something new and interesting.  It’s safer (and easier) to err on the side of “legacy”.  Instead of forcing the character to question their decisions and morals, we’d much rather see a writer create another deathtrap or space villain.  (Maybe that’s why my comic book tastes have veered away from the “mainstream” comics and towards stories that feature bit players and one-shot wonders.  These comics are able to take the medium to the next level and to explore the evolution of character without fear of fan backlash.)

Some of these characters have existed for nearly 80 years…will they be the same 80 years from now?  Is it possible to use our modern myths to create something new and interesting?  Or does a medium that relies so much on legacy forever forced to restrict their characters within the outlines from which they were created?

I love comic books…but I love a good story and good characters even more.  I’m not sure how much this realization will affect my enjoyment of the medium…but it’s something that will forever be in the back of my mind as I read the “new” adventures of a “revamped” Human Torch or Hulk or Green Lantern.  It’s a medium that’s frozen in time…just like Captain America was.



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