One Fan's Opinion: Issue #21

Thu, January 5th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

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In all likelihood, we've never met. There's a possibility that we have, of course, I've met thousands of people over the years at various comic book shows but despite that, thousands of you - I've never met.

But I know one thing about you - unless I miss my guess your personality remains pretty consistent from one day to the next. Crazy, I know, but most folks have a tendency to be pretty much the same person from one day to the next. You don't go from being an introvert or Monday to being an extrovert on Tuesday to a kleptomaniac on Wednesday to a rocket scientist on Thursday and as dumb as a bag of hammers on Friday.

Unlike a number of comic book characters.

In comics a character's personality can get a complete overhaul depending on which happy cog is strumming the keyboards. A character can be making snappy pop culture references one month and be as solemn as a statue the next with no explanation.

In the real world, your past is your past and it stays the same. Sure, your past is added to on a daily basis as all things present become part of your past, but those things that happened to you in 6th grade will always be the same things that happened to you in 6th grade no matter how many years go by.

In comics - not so much. Years after the fact, relatives will insert themselves into characters' pasts and previously unheard of girlfriends will materialize and all sorts of unmentioned events will get shoehorned into characters' lives. And, sure, some of it makes some sense and sure, it's only natural that there would be some events that took place prior to our introduction to these guys, but in many cases these new events contradict established events. If we saw Peter Parker get introduced to Gwen Stacy in college (and we did - see "Amazing Spider-Man" #31) it makes no sense to reveal an event involving the duo which "took place" in high school.

And yeah, I get it - there are characters whose backgrounds are extremely vague, who have had next to no information given about their past - we didn't start off with Bruce Wayne the child, after all, when "Detective Comics" #27 came about Bruce was already dressing like a flying rodent when the sun went down - there's plenty of room to shove in all kinds of nonsense.

It just all seems so lazy and so convenient. Rather than introduce a new character and establish a new relationship and build on that to instead simply say, "Here's Iron Man's old girlfriend - sorry we never mentioned her for the last 40 years, but we swear she meant the world to Tony and he's been carrying a torch for her forever and let's just see if they rekindle some of that - oh, look - there they go…!"

That's a little weak, don't you think? "Here's my childhood friend that's never been mentioned before." "Here's my sister that I've never talked about. Did I mention she was the black sheep of the family and - get this - evil?" "Here's my old girlfriend, brother, uncle, aunt"…you should care about this new/old character - after all, you're old favorite character seems to care about this new/old character.

Lazy. That's what it is.

But that's where Elektra came from - some backstory shoehorned into Daredevil's past - and that worked out great and nobody objected to that, right? I mean, hell, that was cool, right?

Well, sure - and it was. But not everybody's Frank Miller, okay? And it's one thing to do that once or twice, but it's getting to the point where it's fucking ridiculous!

The first time Bruce Banner ever mentioned his parents was in the "Incredible Hulk" #245. It was in a single panel. A flashback. Bruce was standing over their graves saying, "Goodbye, Father, mother, I'll miss you both." And I thought - that's enough. That's plenty. That says it all. They're both dead - and he misses them - 'nuff said. Years later the whole abusive Dad calling his brainy son a "monster" (?) was inserted into Banner's past and it all seemed so forced, so pat, so trite and to this reader, it was not an addition that added, but rather, one which subtracted from a book I'd enjoyed.

As time went on other events in other comics were similarly tweaked.

Has Wolverine ever met anybody for the first time? Why is it that every meeting he's had with anybody is told in a flashback? Why is it that he's met everybody already? Why can't he meet Wolverine for the first time now? Why is it that all of his villains - even new villains - are seeking revenge for something Wolverine did to them in their past? (And did anybody buy that Patch disguise? What was that all about? That was an even flimsier disguise than Clark Kent's glasses - at least Superman had the sense to comb his hair differently - and his hair was pretty normal. Wolverine has chronic hat hair and still nobody could figure it out).

I dunno.

I guess I'm just getting tired and bored of having these surprises sprung on me - especially the ones that clearly make no sense at all. That whole Gwen Stacy thing was horrible and it made no sense whatsoever. Can somebody please get on a book and not feel inclined to fuck with the origin of the characters involved? Yeah, yeah, Alan Moore made it cool when he wrote "The Anatomy Lesson" for Swamp Thing (back in #21 of volume 2 of that book) but not everybody is Alan Moore, y'know? Not everybody can pull that shit off.

Continuity doesn't need to be a noose. It doesn't need to be so oppressive and cumbersome and unwieldy, but Christ, man, do your goddamned homework. If you're going to write a scene where Aunt May rattles on about not being there when Uncle Ben died, at least open up a couple of comic books to make sure Aunt May wasn't there when Uncle Ben died!

When every scene can be tossed out or invalidated by the next creative team, it gets that much more difficult for me to make any kind of emotional investment in these fictional characters. If one creative team can kill a character and the next creative team can say, "No, that character's really alive" and the one following that can say, "Just kidding, the previous guy's run was a dream" then I can't help but saying, "deal me out."

I don't want to walk away from my favorite characters, but after a while it seems that these guys are my favorite characters in name only as the next creative team gives them a new look and a new life which includes a new past to go along with it.

I want to care, damn it - why are you making it so damned hard for me to care?

But, I don't.

And "earth shaking events which will forever alter the company-owned universe" occur and I no longer notice or care.

And I seek out work by creators that own their own characters and are the sole people to chronicle their lives - there are tons of terrific comics out there. And I enjoy the hell out of them. And I get caught up in their lives. And I drift away from the companies I grew up with and the characters I once loved.

I'll still pick up comics from these companies because I like the art and I'll check in from time to time on books I used to enjoy, but it doesn't feel the same. I don't get caught up in these characters' lives anymore and maybe it's because their lives make no sense and maybe it's because they don't look the same from one issue to the next and maybe it's because they change personalities whenever there's a change of creative teams and maybe I'm just jaded and it's all my fault and I should enjoy the stories for what they are - not for what I'd like them to be. But whatever the reason - I don't care.

You can put a bullet through all of their brains and make all of them rape victims or abusive spouses or alcoholics or rapists - see if I care. They stopped being the characters I fell in love with a long, long time ago. It's not really them. It's somebody that looks a bit like them wearing clothes that look a bit like their clothes but it isn't them - not really.

And what the heck - if I really want to read the adventures of an old favorite - there are always back issues.

But that's just one fan's opinion. You may feel otherwise.

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