Let’s Not See This In 2010: Comics Trends That Need To Go Away This Year
As we head towards the end of the year -- and the end of a decade, if you're not a stickler for how dates actually work -- it's time to say goodbye to all the things that made 2009 what it was.
Of course, not all of those things were good, and there's plenty of stuff in the world of comics that we're willing to say goodbye to as a new beginning approaches. Whether it's tropes that have been run into the ground, convenient plot tricks that won't stay out of otherwise good stories, or just the stuff we're plain sick of, we've gotten ComicsAlliance contributor and noted haterologist Chris Sims to offer up his five picks for the trends in comics from the past decade we're hoping we don't see in 2010! But before we go on, a quick Spoiler Warning! Some of what we talk about references recent events, so read at your own risk!
Even more than their powers, every super-hero needs to have something in their character that defines them. Superman's not just a guy who can fly and shoot death rays out of his eyes, he's a guy who wants nothing other than to use those powers to help his fellow man, and Spider-Man's wall-crawling, web-swinging action wouldn't draw as many readers as it has without the sense of responsibility that comes along with them. And that's as it should be, characters need... well, character if they're going to succeed.
The problem comes when creators decide it's a good idea to hammer completely unnecessary elements onto their characters that come out of nowhere. Specifically, we're thinking of recent events like the Blackest Night tie-ins of "Green Lantern Corps," where Kyle Rayner and Soranik Natu love each other so hard that it literally brings Kyle back to life.
On the surface, that's not much weirder than the idea of a team of aliens with magic green wishing rings battling zombies in outer spaaaaaaaace, and if it was just a matter of Soranik (who is already a gifted surgeon) using the famous willpower of the Green Lanterns to do it, it'd be a great moment, but when the power of the rings is mixed in with the power of love and the Care Bear Stare or whatever else is going on in "Blackest Night," it rings a little false.
Is the love of Kyle Rayner and Soranik Natu really the love that can conquer death itself? Of all the people in the universe, they've got the strongest love of all time? And by the same token, what was it about Spider-Man's marriage that Mephisto wanted so badly? Was the goodness and purity of the union between a model/actress who spent most of her time wondering if she should break it off and a hard-luck hero who kept wishing his college girlfriend hadn't taken a header off a bridge really that much of an affront to the Devil? Heck, you'd think he'd want Peter and MJ to be miserable.
Look at it this way: Every member of the G.I. Joe team has the same basic skills, but Snow Job doesn't need to be an expert scuba diver, and Torpedo doesn't need to strap on the skis for Arctic adventure. Everyone fills a role, and while it's good to branch out, it's a lot better when it happens as an organic development of the character rather than the fickle whim of a plothammer.
Everything Must Be Explained
And yet, the same thing's coming back around and happening again: Power Girl can't just wear her costume because either she likes it (or because Wally Wood liked it, if you want to get all meta about it), she has to have lengthy, often tear-filled explanations of why that serves the same function as a fifty foot-tall neon sign reading "IGNORE THIS." Barry Allen can't just be a nerd who wears a bow-tie, he's got to have some sort of character-defining sentimental reason to wear the bow-tie, as though there are aspects of his character that can only be explained by what he wears when he's not doing the things that actually do reveal his character. And Hal Jordan, of course, had gray hair because of a giant yellow space bug made of scary thoughts.
There's nothing wrong with detail, and in fact, making sure characters have reasons for the things they do is a step that can lead to some pretty awful comics if it's overlooked, but when you're attaching false significance to things that were never meant to have them, then it's just another example of overcompensating for the inherent strangeness of super-heroes with an overbearing, ham-handed seriousness. Did Spider-Man really need to have totemic spider-powers? Was the idea of a radioactive spider giving someone the power to stick to walls really too silly for the Core Marvel Universe? No, and thankfully, that was done away with. Now if only we could get the rest of that stuff out of the way.
And for the record, Superman's wristwatch contains a chunk of Kryptonite that he can expose himself to if anyone ever asks him if he has super-powers, so that he can tell them he doesn't without lying, as the Kryptonite will have temporarily removed them. Saying "no" would've been too dishonest, unless it was to Lois Lane.
Whose Comic Is It, Anyway?
Admittedly, it's possible to do a good comics where the title character doesn't appear--though we're having an awful lot of difficulty trying to think of one that was focused on secondary characters for months at a time -- and we're not saying that changing up an established cast is itself a bad thing. Two of our favorite comics of the year, "Detective Comics" and "Incredible Hercules," started out by replacing the books' previous headliners, swapping out Batman for Batwoman in 'Tec and switching out the otherwise-occupied Hulk for Marvel's other strong-man. The key difference with those, however, is that when you pick them up in the store, the person whose name is on the cover is still actually who the book's about.
"Superman," however... Well, there's no other way to say it: Superman isn't in "Superman." Instead, "Superman" currently stars Mon-El, who looks kind of like Superman and has most of Superman's powers and just got a new costume that has Superman's logo on it but, despite what appears to be an amazing effort to convince us of the contrary, is not Superman. And we're pretty sure that's way more complicated than it needs to be.
All right, look: We know you're just as tired of us writing about it as we are of having to write about it, so we'll just let Gail Simone's twitter feed say it for us:
If I could have any present from comics this year, it'd be the end of the idea that a female character has to be damaged to be "strong."
It isn't that no female characters can be damaged,it's the idea that that's the only way to make them interesting that is goofy and cliche.
So seriously, knock that off, if for no other reason than Gail deserves a present.
Originally, this was going to be a plea to stop giving ongoing series to characters that nobody likes in hopes that they'll catch on, but the more we think about it, the more we realize that going out on a limb to give characters a shot is better than the alternative of just doing the same things over and over. Sure, a lot of 'em are bad, but for every Gunfire, there's a Hitman, for every Vigilante there's an Aztek, and for every Red Tornado (a character that would have all the appeal of a seasick crocodile even if William Shakespeare and Michelangelo were working on his comic), there's a Nomad: Girl Without a World (this year's surprisingly fun mini-series that did the impossible and took Bucky from "Heroes Reborn" and did a good story).
Seriously though, Magog, the character created by Mark Waid Alex Ross to be "everything we hate in modern superhero design," who is now the grandson of FDR (making him a legacy character for an actual person) and managed to get in both a team book and an ongoing series while books like "Catwoman" and "Blue Beetle" got the axe?
Yeah, that guy is terrible.