As comic characters grow older, it can be very challenging to keep their stories fresh. Especially with flagship characters like Spider-man, Superman and the like. I’m interested in looking at this this week. After all, SDCC looms around the corner and it’s a time of celebrating the work of creators to keep these stories alive.
Let’s get to the list and see how some of these characters manage to withstand the test of time.
Well, one way to liven Superman up is to get a near-legendary status writer to take over the character. Partner up with an artist whose talent knows no limits and you have yourself a new tack on an established story. I mean, they don’t get any more established than Superman.
Bendis is making this about challenges to Superman’s family. He’s dropped some hints in Man of Steel that I have to be honest and say I’m not comfortable with, like a potential love interest with an attractive redheaded associate fire-chief, for instance. We see that in this inaugural issue of Superman. What makes the temptation worse is the fact that Lois and Jonathan are off in the stars with Superman’s estranged father, Jor-El.
Can anyone say “Straw Widower”?
Sigh … I believe that Superman is one of those characters whose essential make-up should not be messed with. I don’t want to see Superman cheat on Lois Lane.
I also don’t like the fact that there was a huge hoop-lah (from Man of Steel) about Jonathan going off with his grandfather. It extends into this issue, sees the first half where Superman lamenting an empty nest and then the second half wandering some billion miles into space looking for his family.
Ivan Reis makes Superman look like the pinnacle of moral purity he’s supposed to be. While I’m not American, it seems to me that this is a time when America needs its heroes and ideals unspoiled. Superman is one of those characters who represents a standard that readers and look up to and believe in. Whereas Reis’s work glorifies this character, Bendis actually reduces him to being susceptible to common temptation and indecision. That’s not the changes I want to see in this character.
Sorry, Brian, but this one didn’t wow me. Maybe it’ll make sense once we’re more into the arc, but this first impression didn’t do much for me this time around.
However, Hawkman is an example of changing an established character the right way. Robert Venditti presents to us the original history of Hawkman in this re-vamped title, but he also adds on to it.
Hawkman was originally a space-cop form the planet Thanagar. However, in subsequent years, he and his wife, Shayera, were changed to be the reincarnations of various Hawkman and Hawkgirl characters throughout the years, beginning in Ancient Egypt. It was a bit diverse from the original concept, but readers seemed to like the idea and it became canon, despite the fact that an alien was somehow an ancient Egyptian prince.
There were further explanations.
However, what Venditti and Bryan Hitch have done is weave in the archeologist secret identity into all of this except that Carter Hall doesn’t just reincarnate on Earth but all across the universe, making this character more than just a strongman with a Nth Metal Mace and Wings, but somehow a consistent force of universal nature. Why does he exist? Good question – read more and discover.
That’s how you make a character created in the 1950’s viable for the 21st century: you add to the legend instead of taking something away from it.
Great book so far. I’ll be continuing to read it.
New Mutants: Dead Souls #5
I have an extremely soft spot in my heart for these characters I saw created in my early teen years, and I think a lot of other fans do. Of course, they’ve never really been able to find a solid home, appearing in guest capacities in various X-Men-esque titles here and there, but never in a book in their own right.
It’s a risky move to refresh characters by giving them a new title. I remember being some months back that hopefully it’ll graduate beyond the mini-series stage to see if it can generate enough numbers to survive being its own book.
For that, you need both writer and artist who understand the characters and their history.
I get the sense that Matthew Rosenberg is just one of those guys who, 30 years ago, I’d have probably been racing to the local comic book store with and with whom I’d be happily debating the repercussions of “The Phoenix Saga”. This guy knows X-Men history, but more importantly, he knows how the characters would behave. I’ve seen this in his other X-Men writing and I get him, completely.
Adam Gorham is an artist who has brought a degree of modernity to these established characters. He’s their “fresh air”, if you like. He has a sense of dynamism and a clear affection for these characters that shows in his work.
Originally, the team was supposed to be an ostensible group of paranormal investigators. Now they’ve graduated to full secret operatives of Xi’an Coy Manh’s company. The story continues with Illyana’s team acting on a hunch to Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum where Shan’s evil twin might penetrate and use the Sorceror Supreme’s powers to boost his own.
Inside the Sanctum, the team comes to terms with some of their shared history while encountering Shan’s brother, Tran. I won’t spoil how the encounter goes, but I will say it’s a bit traumatic. Still, it’s the shared history that caught my attention. Sometimes the best way to refresh characters is to bring back some of the rich history that fans might have forgotten or would love to be reminded about again. We see this with Illyana, Rahne, Guido and a wonderful reminder of exactly how vapid Boom-Boom is supposed to be.
There’s good stuff in this book and I hope it has now progressed past the mini-series stage.
Another offering from Matthew Rosenberg and I like how he’s managed to upgrade the Punisher for this day and age: by giving him one of Tony Stark’s old War Machine suits of armour!
Yeah, that’s just what a character with an undying vendetta needs: more firepower. Of course, he’s also saddled him with the guilt of being under HYDRA’s influence and he now has the distinction of being hunted down for war crimes, but that won’t stop Frank Castle from doing the wrong thing – for the right reasons. Well, in his mind, at least.
The Punisher, Black Widow and the Winter Soldier all together on the same team. It’s like a great hero-crossover story except Frank really doesn’t like working with a team. Breaking into a prison with super-powered inmates makes him glad for the extra firepower though. It’s a combat-heavy story and is well-depicted by Stefano Landini.
Star Wars: Thrawn #6
Jody Houser and Luke Ross continue this saga of Admiral Thrawn’s rise to power. Introducing a new character really adds to the gloss of this eternal franchise. Even though novelist, Timothy Zahn created Thrawn, it’s great to see Marvel recognize the value of this character who was once removed from canon. Adding him to the comic universe means for greater stories in the future, once his origin story (which is what this series is: one big extended origin story) is established, we may see Thrawn pop up every now and then.
But it’s the final scene in this book that not only shows us how utterly intimidating Thrawn can be, but also what a respectful adversary he is.
While this story doesn’t really refresh a character, it makes an entire franchise new again.
Star Wars: Darth Vader #18
As with the above Star Wars title, the only difference is that we ARE looking at one of the greatest villains of all time. In fact, I remember reading a book that described Darth Vader as the number one top villain of the 20th century. While the book is clearly dated, it does give you a sense of just how utterly evil this character is recognized to be.
What a wonderful character to play with.
I envy Charles Soule. He has one of the best characters to improve. In this issue, he shows us that despite Vader’s awesome power, he still needs to test his abilities and push death. Soule shows us how he does this by enlisting and embellishing another fan-favourite evil character, Grand Moff Tarkin, to hunt him down and kill him, if he can.
Illustrated by the incomparable Giuseppe Camuncoli, this story gives us hidden aspects of two well-loved characters to re-discover. Soule shows us hidden aspects of their abilities, backgrounds and even their fears as Vader is hunted by the scheming Tarkin, who at this point in his career, has yet to obtain the title of “Grand Moff”.
I would never presume to give away the details of the hunt but suffice it to say that now we understand why Tarkin is able to address Vader as “friend” in Episode IV. It’s a shared historical moment between the two of them that adds to the fabric of this amazing story.
Old Man Logan #43
We see a similar phenomenon with Ed Brisson’s extrapolation of what Wolverine would be like in the final years of his life. Granted, he is from an alternate timeline, but 43 issues later, fans are clearly interested in seeing this version of Logan and writer Ed Brisson doesn’t let them down on this projection of a hero in his twilight years who’s got nothing left to lose.
There’s nothing that fights harder than an animal who’s backed into a corner. That’s Old Man Logan and Brisson clearly understands this in his descriptions of Logan’s fights but also in his life decisions.
In this issue, Bullseye returns. In their last encounter, Logan barely managed to fend off the assassin, but this time, it’s about revenge. Logan’s healing factor hasn’t been serving him well. Half-blind and missing one of his adamantium set of claws, not only does Logan have to decide if he can face Bullseye again and what choices he’ll be making to give him a fighting chance this time.
From what I understand, this is Juan Ferreyra’s first foray into Marvel, and he acquits himself admirably. I quite enjoyed his portrayal of Bullseye as not only twisted in mind, but also in form. There’s a near-Joker quality to his physiognomy that’s manic, psychotic and just plain insane and Ferreyra captures it extremely well.
Ferreyra and Brisson also introduce a new character in this issue. I’ll let you meet her and discover her identity.
But Brisson knows the Wolverine’s identity. He also manages to establish the concept of the constant struggle in a story. Old Man Logan doesn’t have the same capability as his younger self so he’s constantly outmatched in all his encounters. Plus, when he needs to make a heroic choice, he does so at the further detriment to his own declining self. But he’s got nothing to lose and a heroic goal to gain, right? That’s what makes a compelling story and refreshes a historical character.
That’s the Pick of the Week for this week’s list. It takes a great deal of imagination to sustain an existing character but it takes more to project what it may be like in a future condition. That’s the appeal for me with this book. We’re not talking time travel or anything typically comic-ish, but we’re talking about the human heart and how age affects the choices we all make.
I’m not at the end of my life and neither is Ed Brisson, yet he is able to predict what Wolverine – even with his abnormally-long lifespan – would say in his age and condition.
Logan is tired of living. His body cannot sustain itself yet he is still forced to be a hero. He wants to die but there are things he has to do first. Not only is he on borrowed time, but on borrowed spirit.
When you have so little to give, yet you want to give more than you have – that’s a hero.
It’s that reminder that keeps us wanting to read about this character, and that’s how you make something old, new again.
Have a great week of reading comics!