In with the New Heroes

by Jinryu

I went to the Glebe Public Library a couple of days ago. I’ve had a membership since I arrived in Australia almost, but ever since the last semester started, I haven’t had the chance to really borrow, much less read very much. Now that I’m on vacation though and have no homework to speak of, I’ve got a lot more idle time to myself.

The whole experience was nostalgic of when I was a kid. The GPL reminds me a lot of the LaSalle Public Library (Octagone) that I grew up with, and eventually worked at. It’s got that small time feel to it. Not as many kids in this one, but the bathroom acoustics to the main reception area, contrasting with the dull shuffle sound of my shoes on carpets amid the rows… everything about it, even the smell of sundried paper near the window rows is nostalgic.

One of the books I happened to pick up was “Wild Thing,” which is a comic book character that I’d never heard of until recently. It’s an older comic– it’s got a distinct 80s – 90s feel to it, which is a feel that many comics nowadays are lacking. It was a short run series, so I guess a large part of that feel is that the series ended before it really got too established.

I guess what is lacking nowadays in comics is the whole bildungsroman feel to it. That is to say… a coming of age, or some sort of character development and catharsis. The problem with most of the modern comics that I pick up is that all the character development is already done– that leaves people way past the honeymoon stage of heroism. I mean, what was the whole great thing about Peter Parker (Spider-Man) when he was new? It was that he was a total loser before he got his powers. He used to get bullied, he was nearsighted, wasn’t all that popular with the girls, and he had a shit job working for a nazi boss. These were all real problems that a reader could relate to. The hero-to-be (Peter Parker) was thus important because his transformation represented something that the reader waneted– a world where he/she could be the hero.

To be fair, I’m a little out of the loop with comics that have come out post 2010. I’ve read maybe a couple of dozen issues since 2010, but I think this is generally a problem that nowadays, comic book heroes have been around too long– their stories have been told. Characters like Superman especially (can you smell Smallville?) just need to take a vacation, because there is nothing left to these kinds of characters. Justice Leage of America comics are even worse– as one dimensional as characters like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have become in their individual serieses, their characters are even further flattened so that they simply come to represent some archetype of the Boy Scout, the troubled Dark Knight, and the Femminist Bitch. Spider-Man? Well, now that Aunt May is dead (probably his only grounding ‘weakness’), he’s got a university teaching job that he loves (science is cool nowadays compared to when Pete was a kid), and he’s married (no worries about getting the girl now!) what’s left to do? Oh, and pretty much the whole world knows his secret identity after Civil War, depending on which stream you’re into. I’m sure he’s still got a life to live, but really– is it good drama? Arguably, that’s why any of the comics movies that did well are doing well– because from start to finish, the characters’ grow.

Marvel has done the whole Ultimate series thing, which in the case of Spider-Man and Ironman was pretty interesting, but less successful in other serieses, like Avengers and such. I heard that DC had a “universal reboot” of their world planned as well. These reboots are in a sense the publishers’ recognition of what I’m talking about– that the drama lies in the toils of characters growing up. Nobody cares once they’re all middle-aged, masters of 100 different types of kung fu, and have saved the world already 1billion times. If they’re so good at their jobs, there’s no danger of ever losing anything– and if there’s no danger, no matter how far fetched, why are we even picking up comics?

The same problem plagues anime/manga as well. Usually, the first season or two is amazing because we’re building characters up. Usually by the time of season 3, things start taking the route of JLA– that is to say, there are a hundred characters who start becoming cardboard cutouts of their former selves, trying to just be demonstrative of one or two main personality traits, and there is some huge intercontinental/interworld/intergalactic war that needs to be fought by combining all of those individuals to make a team. Yawn.

A good idea is partly a good idea because you have to tell us what it is– but once it’s been told, it becomes part of us. A good storyteller needs to find the next thing to talk about– Arabian Nights style. If you don’t keep us interested… well…

Tell your story– and once you’re done, stop. Tell us another story after that. For example, here is a series that had a strong start to finish: Puella Magi Madoka Magica (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puella_Magi_Madoka_Magica).

Otherwise, it reminds me a bit though of the old literature maxim, that every story to be told has already been told…

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