Friday, May 15, 2009

Comics: Isn't That Special?

One more, and I will be done with kicking about Blackest Night. As I said, it wasn't a bad comic book by any means, but it shows a lot of the stresses that affect serial storytelling. We talked about Statics versus Change (or Issue versus Serial) and Backstory versus Nostalgia (noted here as the Return of the Zombie Heroes). There's one more dualism that I have that is shown in the back end of this comic.

The Unique versus the Popular.

Here's the challenge. You create a hero/protagonist. He's popular. And one of the cool things about your super-powered protagonist is that he or she is unique. At least at the start. Last survivor of a dead planet, or only individual to receive the Super-Soldier Serum. Hit by a lightning bolt spilling chemicals on him.

But then they might get a sidekick with similar powers. Or an opponent with a similar origin, and before you know it, you are hip-deep in characters with similar powers to your once-unique hero. And in attempting to deal with that strange dualism, a new cycle is created, of cutting back the kudzu of similarity, only to see it regrown over time.

Take Flash. For many years, he was pretty stable, with a super-powered sidekick (Kid Flash) and an opposite number (Professor Zoom). Yet in Barry's passing, there was a sudden uptick in speedsters. Kid Flash became the new Flash, and in turn picked up his own sidekick (Impulse) and speed-powered foes (A new Zoom). Oh, and a cult of super-speedsters worshiping a bad guy named Savitar. And the return of the original Golden Age Flash (the golden agers were confined to another earth for a while, then were moved off-stage for a few years, then brought back). And a super-powered opponent for Impulse. And couple OTHER golden-age speedsters (Johny Quick and Max Mercury (originally Quicksilver)) and a future version (XS). And a bunch of russians with super-speed. So suddenly our unique hero has bunches of competition.

Such that Flash, newly returned to his own book, now seems to be (not-so-slowly) reducing the power levels of the other speedsters, in what would be a return to uniqueness. Of course, this may be lethal to the others with those powers.

Green Lantern has it worse. For a while, he was a guy with a magical ring given to him by an alien. But soon we found he was just ONE guy with a magic ring among a bunch of OTHER aliens, all with magic rings. This was the Green Lantern Corps. And a lot of the dynamic of the series swung between Green Lantern as a member of the corps in space, and Green Lantern as a hero on Earth. Sometimes the GLC went away. Sometimes Hal as Green Lantern went away (creating MORE Green Lanterns as replacements on Earth). But the dynamic of a specially-powered individual among other specially-powered individuals was pretty established.

But now things have gone off the rails entirely. Now we have a host of lantern corps, one for every color of the spectrum. Some are logical pickups - Green Lanterns hate yellow, so Green Lantern's arch enemy, Sinestro, has a yellow ring (remember what I said before about even-matched enemies). But that was a unique item. Now he has his own yellow lantern corps, which acts on fear like the GLs work on willpower. OK, that's a logical expansion. But now Star Sapphire, another GL villain, gets HER own corps. And we add the Red Lanterns (Anger), Orange Lanterns (Greed), Blue Lanterns (Hope), and Indigo Lanterns (Beats the heck outa me). And of course the Black Lanterns (Death, not really an emotion, but neither is willpower, really).

So now we have a large percentage of the universe with color-based ring-powers. And now not only the Hal have to compete with three other human GLs and the horde of fellow corpsmen, but now a huge collection of OTHER aliens with OTHER rings. And then the challenge is how to make YOUR hero special in a universe filled with others with similar abilities.

I would put a fiver down on a massacre, with just enough survivors that will pop up over the years to keep the stories coming.

More later,