The history of the replacement superhero

Superior_spider_man_by_ryanstegman

Once again we find ourselves in a place where a classic superhero has been replaced. In this case if you haven’t been following the comic book news, Peter Parker is no longer Spider-Man.  A new Spider-Man has taken his place. According to Marvel this is a permanent change and will be the status quo going forward.

The general consensus amongst fans is that this status quo will last about a year before Parker is returned to his role as the Wall Crawler.

But why do we just assume that this is a temporary situation. Let’s take a look at the history of major characters being replaced in superhero comics.

First I suppose we need to establish that we are talking about characters from the silver age. There was of course the update of most of DC Comic’s characters in the 60s. That was treated as a new launch and not meant to be old characters being replaced.

The first question is why replace the character at all. The answer is naturally to open up new story possibilities. When a character has been in place for so long several of their characteristics are set in stone. If a writer wants to go beyond those a good way is to have someone new in the role.  There is also the idea of character growth.

One of the most successful replacements of a character ever was the Flash. In 1986 during Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry Allen gave his life to save the universe. At the end of the series his nephew and sidekick Wally West, Kid Flash adopted the Flash identity. Over the next 25 years Wally West was the Flash. The series often examined Wally attempting to live up to the legacy of Barry, and how other heroes and villains who knew Barry reacted to him in the role. Wally went from overcompensating, to insecure, to finally stepping up to the role of one of the leading heroes in the DC universe.  Wally ultimately stood as a member of the Justice League alongside many of other major heroes. Most media projects of the time used the Wally West version of the Flash; most notably the Justice League animated series.  There is an entire generation of comic fans for whom Wally is and has always been the Flash. But the tale of Wally West does ultimately lend itself to why we fans are cynical about the permanency of a replacement hero.

In the 2008 series Final Crisis Barry Allen returned from the dead. The following year saw the release of the Flash Reborn where Barry officially stepped into the role of the Flash again. Wally was still around at this time, but he no longer had his own book, and after a while just faded from the title. With the New 52 relaunch Wally is now not only missing from any title, but is one of the characters that writers are forbidden to use. Again he is the Flash that a lot of fans are familiar with, but since the powers that be at DC want Barry to be unique Wally has been wiped from the universe.

Another example was one we touched on last year when we talked about the old speculation boom and how it went bust, the Death of Superman storyline and specifically the Reign of the Supermen. Here you had the very publicly touted death of comics’ most iconic character.  It was certainly a headline grabber. For all the grief it gets as a sales ploy and the storyline that started the implosion of the speculator market and subsequent shrinking of the industry, it was a well written story. It was broken into four acts, the death, the aftermath, the rise of the replacement supermen, and the return of Superman. Clearly the whole story was planned from the beginning, and savoy comic fans knew this. At shops and comic shows everyone speculated how each stage would be handled. No one expected any of the replacements to permanently take over. Well no one who actually followed the books. As discussed before, speculators assumed this was a permanent change. Just look at the previous article for more on that. The replacements did of course continue on as characters in their own right and Steel and Superboy went on to be important parts of the DCU.

Around the same time you had the Batman books doing a similar idea with Knightfall. Again a new character was brought in as the replacement Batman. This one had less impact on the DCU, with only the new villain Bane having any impact going forward.

In both those cases the fact that new characters were introduced as the replacements was a big clue that it these were only storylines and not lasting changes.

More recently Marvel and DC did some very similar stories that went another route on the replacement angle. Like the Flash these were stories where the former sidekick took over for their fallen mentor.

At Marvel it was Captain America’s sidekick Bucky taking over the role went Cap was killed at the end of the Civil War Story. At DC it was Dick Grayson taking on the role of Batman following Bruce Wayne’s death at the end of Final Crisis.

In both cases some very good writing came out of these stories. Ed Brubaker wrote Captain America at this time and you had a slightly darker Cap with Bucky under the mask and espionage was a bigger part of the story. At DC you had Grant Morrison writing Batman and Robin and knocking it out of the park with a more light-hearted Batman and a darker Robin, who was Bruce’s son Damian.

In both cases about two years later both Steve and Bruce were proven to be alive, their deaths faked by means of time travel. Upon their return both Steve and Bruce left their successors in their roles and the pursued other goals. Eventually both heroes returned to their roles and the sidekicks resumed their previous identities.

When these storylines started fans were already cynical enough about main heroes being replaced that there were betting pools on how soon the originals would return.

These are hardly the only cases I could site on this subject, but the trajectory is basically the same. Eventually the old superhero resumes his role.

As of this writing I can only think of one exception to this, Marvel comics’ cosmic hero Captain Marvel. Marvel’s death occurred in the first ever Marvel graphic novel. Over the years his death has stuck. The problem has been keeping a consistent successor.

Originally the new Captain Marvel was an unrelated heroine with unrelated powers who took up the name. Next up was Marvel’s son taking up his father’s role. Most recently we have the heroine Ms. Marvel, who was connected to the original, taking on the title of Captain. This last is being well received so we will see how it goes.

Which brings us back to Spider-man.

This is actually the second time that Peter has been replaced. In the 90s you had the first attempt to have an unmarried Spider-man thanks to the clone saga, where it was revealed that Peter was just a clone of the original Spidey and the person we thought was the clone, Ben Reilly, was really the original. Peter decided to retire, and Ben took over as Spider-Man.

Fans hated this twist and it was quickly dropped and revealed to all be a plot by the Green Goblin and Peter was the original after all.

Now thanks to a body swap we have Doctor Octopus inhabiting Peter’s body. Doc’s body with
Peter in it has died, so Doc as Peter is the new Spider-Man.

I won’t get into the details, but the first issue of the new Superior Spider-Man on the last page already has the seed of how the original Peter will return. So the question is, how long will it take.

Anyone want to set up a pool.

 

 

 

The Justice League Movie: Potential treat, or impending train wreak.

This week DC entertainment announced that they have hired Will Beall to write a script for a Justice League movie. There are also rumblings of trying to get a new Wonder Woman movie going again, as well as Lobo and Suicide Squad movies. This really isn’t surprising. I imagine that with the Avengers currently sitting as the third highest grossing movie of all time that there is a lot of pressure to get the DC properties steaming along.

I can only imagine what DC entertainment president Diane Nelson has to deal with right now. The success of not just the Avengers, but the entire Marvel Cinema Universe highlights how much the DC properties not about Batman have struggled. The DC characters are very powerful and prominent intellectual properties, yet they have not be able to gain any traction.
I think the problem isn’t a hard one to figure out. It’s DC entertainment’s parent company, Warner Brothers.
Last August I looked at the Green Lantern movie in comparison to Captain America. Captain America was a movie that reveled in its comic book roots and yet remembered that it had to be an enthralling action movie for the general audience. Rather than dumb down the character for mass consumption Marvel made sure to build up Steve Rogers so that the movie going public would love him as much as the longtime fans.
Green Lantern by comparison was a stock summer block buster that had a generic action movie plot and Ryan Reynolds playing a character much like he has in most movies he has been in. In other words Warner Brothers was playing it safe. I have a feeling that the production of the movie was very influenced by focus groups.
The end result was a hit of Marvel and an underperformer for DC.
The point I am getting at is that Warner Brothers isn’t playing to the strengths of the DC properties. Marvel has made six movies that know full well they are action hero fantasies and instead of trying to bring their heroes into the real world they are trying to create a believable version of their superhero universe. Disney bought Marvel part way through this and made the wise decision to leave them alone as the plan is working.
Warner Brothers on the other hand does not seem to trust that the audience will embrace a theatric version of the DC universe. The words that keep getting thrown around are “Dark”, “Gritty”, and “Mature”. That works great for Batman as Christopher Nolan has shown, but not so much for Superman, or Wonder Woman.
If you don’t believe me on that point I suggest track down a copy of the recent Wonder Woman pilot. Instead of the strong but compassionate hero she was created to be, Wonder Woman was portrayed as a grim badass who would torture a bed ridden mook for information and straight up kill a security guard who got in her way. Basically she was unsympathetic and the show was terrible.
Not to say that this approach won’t work for all heroes, for example Green Arrow. There is a new Green Arrow series coming this fall that looks pretty good. It is going the darker route, but Green Arrow being a non-powered hero like Batman can make that work. But even this one seems to be victim to focus group shenanigans. The show and the hero in it are just being called Arrow. Apparently due to the failure of Green Lantern the word green is now taboo in a superhero name.
I have an idea that I would like to suggest to Warner Brothers. Bring on Bruce Timm for your film efforts. Timm was the driving force behind the DC animated universe that gave us Batman the animated series, Superman the animated series and Justice League unlimited. These were great and comic and non-comic fans alike loved them. Let Bruce write up some script treatments and whatever you do WB, do not let a focus group anywhere near them.

Superhero Movies. What works, what doesn’t

After a week delay my wife and I finally got around to seeing Captain America: The First Avenger. The movie sits in an interesting position. While it can certainly be looked at and enjoyed as a stand-alone movie, it is the fifth movie in the Marvel Universe franchise (Preceded in order by Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Thor). 

Like all superhero movies it has a balancing act to perform. It has to appease the long term comic fans well versed in the history and mythology of the characters, like me. At the same time it has to appeal to the general movie going audience who are not even sure which characters belong to which company, like my wife.
Thankfully Captain America pulls this off.
Sadly Green Lantern earlier in the summer did not.
But why? How do you make an engaging movie out of decades old characters that brings in both these audiences?
Looking at these two movies there are some points that may hold the clues.
Both movies hold true to the comic book origins of the characters. Their powers and supporting cast are basically translated straight across from 4 color to film.
So let’s look at two areas where they differ.
First off is story.
Green Lantern was basically a paint by numbers Hero’s Journey.
1.       The hero is called.
2.       He refuses the call.
3.       He picks up the call again.  
4.       He faces evil and is defeated.
5.       He goes through a time of doubt.
6.       He makes a leap of faith.
7.       He faces evil again and is triumphant.
 It’s a plot structure everyone knows and many early superheroes used. This unfortunately makes the story predictable and thus not as engaging.
Captain America, while a heroic tale, was not the standard hero’s journey. Steve did not have to be called. He wanted to serve and had to struggle for the chance, not once, but several times. Not once did he refuse to face the challenge, even during a time of doubt and pain. The story was not as predictable and thus was able to better engage.
Next we have our leads, Ryan Reynolds and Chris Evans. Both actors are known for playing cocky characters that spout one-liners. The characters they are playing are traditionally serious men who have a job to do and don’t rarely make wise ass remarks
Green Lantern Hal Jordan is a stock Ryan Reynolds character. Cracking wise, sleeping around, and taking nothing seriously.
Captain America Steve Rodgers is a sincere soldier who wants to do the right thing, a major departure from the characters Evans usually plays.
So what do we take from this.
With Green Lantern it looks like Warner Brothers wanted to formulaic summer block buster that happened to be based on one of the comic book characters they own.
With Captain America it appears that Marvel Studios wanted to make a movie that was worthy of the characters history and bring new fans into the fold.
Marvel does have one other advantage that I have brought up before. They are creating a common continuity for their movies, just like the comics. This allows them to build up momentum over several films in a relatively short amount of time. Right now Warner Brothers and DC do not appear to be going in that direction so every film has to build its own momentum.
Time will tell if both stay there courses.

San Diego Comic-con; It has begun

Day one of San Diego comic-con and here is what we know.
First off I can admit it when I am wrong. When I was first going over the changes coming to Superman in September I speculated that they were moving away from the Siegel owned portions. Turns out I was wrong, they are in fact moving closer to them. Just before the convention DC announced that in Action #1they would present Superman at the beginning of his career “Five years ago” when his powers were still developing. In other words he will be powered down to the original power levels from the original Action #1. Additionally his costume will be a t-shirt jeans and a small cape.  In Superman #1 it will be “present day” and he will have his full powers. The armor costume I mentioned previously will be homage to his Kryptonian heritage.
They also unveiled Lois Lane’s new boyfriend. They really want to drive home the idea that Clark and Lois are not a couple.
The stated goal with the Superman reboot is to make him more relatable. They are going to do this by emphasizing his alien nature and his sense of isolation.
Let me repeat that.
They are going to make Superman more relatable being emphasizing his alien nature and his sense of isolation.
Moving on.
Wally West; The Flash through most of the 80’s and 90’s will be nowhere to be seen despite many fans being more familiar with him then his predecessor and current Flash Barry Allen. This is stated as being needed to preserve Barry’s uniqueness.
At one point they were going to have Wonder Woman in long pants. They have changed their mind and the new costume is closer to the classic one.
A big question surrounds the character of Booster Gold. The explanation for the reboot is rooted in the time travel related story Flashpoint. In Flashpoint Booster, a time traveling superhero, is aware that reality has been changed and is trying to fix it. This has lead fans to ask if he will be aware of the differences in reality port reboot. No answer has been given.
As expected, Twilight fans camped out overnight to get seats for the Twilight panel. Some fans tried to start their camp out on Sunday and were told to come back Monday instead. They did. As a reward, several supporting actors from the series brought muffins to pass out to the lineup.
The convention wised up this year and had Twilight be the first panel on the first day so that the twi-hards wouldn’t clog up the hall waiting.
And as I said yesterday, tonight Comic-con will have the Premier of Captain America: The First Avenger. Apparently the reason they didn’t release over the 4th of July was to be able to premier at Comic-Con.
I’m looking forward to what we learn tomorrow.

San Diego Comic-con; Let the games begin

Back on July 1st I set out to make Seattle the Geek Capital of the World 51 weeks of the year. Today marks the start of the other week. That’s right today is the beginning of Comic-Con International, better known as the San Diego Comic-Con.
Found in 1970 the San Diego Comic-con is the premier pop culture event of the year. The unofficial motto of presenters and exhibitors is “go big or go home.” As a former exhibitor I can tell you that unless you have attended it is almost impossible to grasp the scope of this event, and it has grown in the years since my last attendance in 2004.
Starting tonight a lot of fanboy news is going to be coming out. I am going to do my best to comment on the highlights. Even now, with show not even open yet we have a lot of information.
  • Tomorrow night will see Captain America: The First Avenger premier a day early. Star Chris Evens will be there to kick off the event.
  • The official World Premier of Cowboys and Aliens will take place at the convention.
  • IDW will have a special offer called Sparkles for Blood. Attendees will be able to trade in a copy of any of the Twilight books for a new 30 days of night graphic novel. There stated goal is to return vampires to what they were always meant to be: bloody and terrifying monsters.
  • A group of fans have vowed to stage a protest of DC Comics upcoming relaunch. It will be interesting to see if that actually happens.
And trends from years past will be repeated.
  • DC comics will be a focus as they prepare for the relaunch in September.
  • Marvel will be pushing their movies and valiantly trying to steal the comic news press away from DC.
  • Several TV shows will have panels. Half of which have nothing to do with comics, Sci-fi, or fantasy, but want to be at Comic-con anyway.
  • Twilight fans will swamp the con again in hopes of seeing the stars.
  • Cos-players will hit the floor looking to be noticed. There will be far too many Batmen, Harley Quinns and Slave girl Leias.
  • And the convention hall will once again reach maximum capacity, leading people to beg the convention to move to a bigger site like Anaheim or Las Vegas.
So let the good times roll and let’s see what this year brings.