Casting Call: Justice League

Oct-27-08

I know we just did our Dream Team for the Justice League last week, but it got me to thinking about how there aren’t a lot of DC movies being made and the ones that have been made are a mix of ups and downs…the reinvigorated Batman franchise has made huge gains both financially and credibly, but the latest Superman relaunch was a bit of a disappointment. And that supposed younger Justice League film never got off the ground in light of last winter’s writers’ strike. So, I thought it would be fun for John and I to fill out our version of the Justice League cast…

Wonder Woman: This is probably the toughest decision to make. The right actress has to have a certain age and wisdom to them, yet still be young and look good in the costume. She also can’t be one of those lithesome types so popular these days…WW is big and strong. That’s a tough description to fill. My first reaction would be to go with Kate Beckinsale, but that just seems so obvious. Plus, she might actually be too pretty for the job. If I knew she could act (aside from her role on the new incarnation of American Gladiators), I’d pick the tough and beautiful Gina Carano. Instead, I’m going to have to go with one of the early rumors: Charisma Carpenter.

Green Lantern: I know I’m going to have a hard time coming up with some young, dark-haired guys to fill some of these roles…guys that aren’t generic and one-dimensional (*cough*BrandonRouth*cough*). However, Kyle Rayner has a certain earnestness to him that I think one particular person can conjure up. As a matter of fact, he was also rumored to be up for this role recently: Friday Night LightsScott Porter.

Flash: In my mind, Wally West could only be played by one person, and that’s the person who has long been attached to the role in a supposed solo movie that may or may not ever get made: Ryan Reynolds.

Plastic Man: Wow. This is a tough one. He has to have a good sense of humor and even have a sort of goofy looking face. Yet he has to be a believable actor in order to pull it all off. Whoever plays Plastic Man should be a bit taller and on the thin side. I thought I had this thought wrapped up, but then I got hit with a weird epiphany and now I can’t decide between two good actors. One is a bit younger and definitely embodies the actual “look” of Plastic Man. The other is a couple years older and would need to dye his hair, but I think has a stronger personality for the character. The two choices are: Jesse Bradford or Neil Patrick Harris.

Animal Man: Buddy Baker is just a normal guy. There’s nothing special about him. He’s a family man who just happened upon something wonderful. This position is ripe for an established character actor, one of those types that you’ve seen in a bunch of movies and has pulled off his acting so well that you can never remember his real name. I have the perfect name: Alan Tudyk.

Mister Miracle: This one was probably the toughest for me solely because you see Scott Free out of costume maybe once every fourteen years. What does he look like? What sort of person is he out of his superhero role? I dunno. I found one panel with his actual face and I just thought he looked a bit like Casey Affleck.

Black Lightning: Jefferson Pierce is obviously a bit older than some of the heroes. He’s been around the block a few times, has a certain roughness to him, but could also come across as a quiet leader if need be. He has a teaching background, has two daughters and is definitely an established professional. My first impulse was to pick LL Cool J, but then I thought he looked too nice and easygoing. Black Lightning has more of a burning intensity to him. To that end, I selected someone who has seen a lot of screen time lately and someone who was actually cast to play John Stewart in the now-stalled Justice League film: Common.

That’s my cast of seven. I’m sure John has his own opinions. Hopefully we can come to a jovial consensus.

I’m a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. I think the casts are good and don’t often get enough credit. That being said, I simply can not see Charisma Carpenter as Wonder Woman. I’m not saying that she’s a bad actress, as much as I’m saying that she simply doesn’t have the gravity and weight (and I’m not talking pounds) that she would need to portray the Amazon princess. That may not be a fair assessment from me, but that’s how I see it.

Unfortunately, finding someone to fill the role is difficult, since so many women in Hollywood are reed-like stick figures. I’d be tempted to throw out the name of Lucy Lawless, another early rumor for this role, but I already secured her a role as Black Widow, so I won’t push my luck. Instead, I’m going to look to Sci-Fi Channel’s late, lamented Farscape, and nominate Claudia Black, who has the look, the strength and the gravity to portray Princess Diana.

I don’t have a problem with Scott Porter, and certainly some poor actor from that underrated show should get a break in the big time. I say, let’s use him!

Love Ryan Reynolds! Perfect!

As for Plastic Man, I don’t think there’s any choice here. I like Jesse Bradford, but there’s no one better than Neil Patrick Harris for this role. The problem with Plastic Man is that, if you take his humor out of context, he can come across as simply obnoxious. You need someone who can be in your face and over the top, yet still likable and come across as real. That’s what Neil Patrick Harris does every week on How I Met Your Mother. He’s the clear choice.

I really hate to agree with you so much, but I think Alan Tudyk would make a great Animal Man. I need to find someone here I can argue, besides Wonder Woman.

Well, I can argue with you about Scott Free! Actually, I think Casey Affleck is a great actor; his recent turns in The Assassination of Jesse James…I’m Not Typing the Rest and Gone Baby Gone were amazing, and I’ve enjoyed him in other roles as well. However…..ugh. No, I can’t really argue with you on this one either. He wouldn’t be my first choice, but there’s absolutely no reason why he couldn’t do a fantastic job in the role.

I can’t really argue about Common either; he’d be great in the role.

Well, I could try and pick a false argument with some of your choices, but that seems pointless. You made some really great picks. I just need you to agree on Neil Patrick Harris, and then we can fight about Wonder Woman, although I don’t know how you could possibly disagree on Claudia Black.

As far as Wonder Woman goes, I was looking for someone who was slightly older and had some ethnicity to them, but wasn’t an everyday name that would have previous recognition attached to them. I mean, you look at Lynda Carter from back in the day and she was just the perfect embodiment for Diana Prince. I think Susan Sarandon would’ve had a similar resonance too. And I was toying with the idea of selecting Rhona Mitra, but I wasn’t sure she was “beefy” enough for the role. To that end, I don’t mind the selection of Claudia Black. I’ve certainly never heard of her before. She’s older and rather tall. Plus, she’s like a fanboy dream, with appearances in Hercules, Xena, Farscape, Stargate, Beastmaster, Moonlight and Pitch Black and videogame voiceover work with God of War, Conan, Lords of Everquest and Crysis. I say she’s in!

And, of course, I have no problems with NPH as Plastic Man. He’s hilarious AND a good actor.

Wow. That was much quicker and easier than I had anticipated. Here’s our heroic lineup for the “Meanwhile…Comics!” version of a Justice League movie:

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Dream Team: Justice League

Oct-20-08

I believe that Jason and I will both admit that we do more Marvel posts than DC posts. That being said, I do enjoy the DC Universe (even if it’s current direction leaves me cold) and so, along those lines, we want to explore those characters more often. So, we thought we’d start by using the most famous DC team of all time for one of our infamous Dream Team posts: the Justice League!

Many people might consider the Dream Team of the Justice League to be pretty self-explanatory; it’s the big seven, the founding (pre-Crisis) members, and the ones that Grant Morrison used during his run. That august assemblage included Superman, Batman, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Flash. I have to disagree, however. I think that there are a lot of really interesting characters that serve better on the league than many of the big names. However, I do want to steal the number of heroes, and cap our team off at seven members. For those familiar with the Justice League, let’s start a little wager: how many of my team members will be from the Detroit era of the JLA? Place your bets now folks!

First, I’d choose the one character who I feel is an indispensable member of the league: The Martian Manhunter. Yes, he’s currently dead in the DCU, but really, how long can that be expected to last? I think the Martian Manhunter is the heart of the JLA, much like Captain America is the heart of the Avengers, and I feel the team is always stronger when he’s a part of it. He’s in.

I also am going to keep one other member of the classic group, and that’s The Flash. Yes, Wally West does well as a member of the Teen Titans, but he’s been a member of both groups in the past, and can be again. He’s actually one of the few characters in comics who, I think, works equally well in more than one supergroup, and can actually be considered a vital part of both.

Next up is a personal favorite of mine, Mr. Miracle. He was a member during the Giffen/DeMatteis days, and I thought that he managed to make it through their run with his dignity intact, which was not always an easy task. He is far and away my favorite of Kirby’s Fourth World characters, and I think he brings a hefty dose of skill into the League, a group that normally subsists more on raw power. If you’re not including Batman in the League (and I’m not), then you truly need someone who understands subtlety and finesse. Mr. Miracle fits the bill.

My fourth choice is a character who, for years, I had no respect for. I considered him largely useless and somewhat silly. However, over the past few years The Atom has begun to really grow on me. I think some of that may be his strong showing in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, or perhaps I’m growing up, and I’m beginning to realize that, as with Mr. Miracle, raw power isn’t everything. The Atom also supplies the League with a scientist, which is rare in the League. Every third Avenger seems to be a scientist of some sort, but not so with the JLA, and that makes the Atom that much more unique.

Fifth I choose The Red Tornado. I’ve always liked his look, I think his powers are neat and different, and I enjoy the element of the synthetic man trying to fit into a team of flesh and blood heroes. Hey, I’m a fan of the Vision too; what can I say? Someone who is on the outside looking in resonates with me.

I’m going to throw in a young rookie; when we discussed the Avengers, Jason suggested that every team needs a young hero for the other heroes to mentor. I’m not sure if I agree with that (I pooh-poohed the idea at the time), but there certainly can be an interesting dynamic between an inexperienced hero and those who have been saving people their entire lives. I choose The Ray for that honor. I’ve always enjoyed the character, I think he has an amazing look, and he’s certainly powerful enough for the JLA. He worked with the Martian Manhunter quite a bit as a member of the Justice League Task Force, but he still has a lot to learn.

Finally, for my last choice, I’m going to pick someone from near obscurity: Animal Man. He was a member of the Justice League Europe team, but only lasted about ten issues, since Grant Morrison was turning his life upside down in his own comic at the time. I’ve always enjoyed the character, and I’d like to see what he could do on the team if he was actually given the chance.

So, I have Martian Manhunter, Mr. Miracle, Flash, the Atom, Red Tornado, the Ray and Animal Man. I’d love to have Atom as the leader; I think he’d do a good job, and it would make for a more interesting team dynamic then using Martian Manhunter, the next logical choice.

How many member did I choose from the Detroit era? Just one: the Martian Manhunter. I really tried to fit Vibe into the group, but sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.

It’s tough for me to rationalize throwing a dead guy into the mix, but to each their own I guess. Did Vibe have any superpowers beyond being stereotypical and annoying?

And what’s with shunning all the females?

Look, as much as I praise Marvel for pretty much shaping my childhood imagination, I have to give some of the credit to the Justice League as well. With the exception of a few issues, I have a run of Justice League of America comics that starts around issue #40 and goes straight through to the end of the Detroit years. Add to that a hefty run of Giffen’s Justice League revamp (later renamed Justice League International and then Justice League America), a complete collection of Justice League Europe (which, correct me if I’m wrong, was also then renamed Justice League International? That’s confusing) and a substantial portion of the later JLA series and you could easily conclude that I’m a HUGE JL fan.

I agree that the original seven members of the JL were probably considered the Dream Team at the time, since they consisted of all of DC’s major characters, including several well-received Silver Age revamps (Flash and Green Lantern, specifically). However, I also agree that just because they were big names didn’t necessarily mean that they should play together on a team. I find the iconic status of the “Big Three” to be rather daunting when it comes to building an effective network of heroes. Really, why do you need anyone else, aside from the sheer numbers perspective? A team like that doesn’t lend itself to creative storytelling.

I would guess that my biggest influences, when it comes to who I believe deserves to be in the ultimate JL lineup, are the “satellite years” and the team that launched out of the Legends miniseries. These were some of my favorite 70s and 80s characters and, to this day, some of them are still woefully underused.

That said, let me follow protocol and trash your lineup while also revealing why mine is so much better thought-out and worthwhile…

John said Martian Manhunter: Really? THAT’S your marquee selection? Blah. Aside from the running joke of him being obsessed with Oreos, I just never really related to J’onn. I’ve always felt that he was a good teammate, but whenever the focus is on him I can’t grasp a connection to him. I know that he’s been repeatedly set up as team leader, but the subordinate relationships away from him were always more interesting. He’s also become one of those characters whose powers continue to evolve and change to the point of being ridiculous. Thankfully, he’s dead (for now) and I think that really takes him off the table. My pick for the “legacy” position would be Green Lantern (Hal Jordan). He has the military/tactical background to be a true leader for the team, his fearlessness has been tested, and the visual potential for his powers really lends itself to a good creative team.

John said Flash: Agreed 100%. Wally West has consistently been one of my favorite DC characters. I think his powers are essential to a strong team. Plus, Flash lends a mix of youth and experience that few other DC heroes possess.

John said Mister Miracle: Also agreed, as long as it’s Scott Free in the costume and not the recently relaunched urban Shilo Norman version from Grant Morrison. Mister Miracle always struck me as one of those reluctant types who was a hero out of necessity instead of virtue. I like that dynamic.

John said The Atom: I’m sorry, I just never got a good feel for Ray Palmer and the new guy in the costume hasn’t done much for me either. I like the unique powers of Atom, but he has no resonance for a major hero team…kind of like how Ant-Man doesn’t really fit well in an ultimate Avengers lineup. If we want some unique powers with a personality, I think we could do worse than to look at Plastic Man. Eel O’Brien is an old school member who has sort of come and gone under the radar. He has a dark past but a lighthearted persona, and I feel that that dichotomy is worth exploring.

John said Red Tornado: Again, I have no real feeling for this character. He looks cool and the concept of a synthezoid hero is intriguing, but the “woe is me” emotion-based, Pinocchio-like storyline that Brad Meltzer recently rolled out left me cold. I would rather replace this choice with a female, just for contrast. I was leaning towards Wonder Woman, partially for the iconic feel but also for leadership reasons. However, I think the softer Zatanna would be more appropriate. The self-doubt she has recently demonstrated adds a certain vulnerability to a character who was never completely strong to begin with. And she has pretty nebulous powers that could be exploited nicely.

John said Animal Man: Curious. He was on a short list I scribbled down and, by process of elimination, ended up being in my top seven too. With Captain Atom and Doctor Fate both being out of commission right now and Firestorm not the same character he used to be, Animal Man is my default choice for this position. I think by assembling the widest range of powers possible, we show a true cross-section of the “global reach” of the team.

(As an aside, I really liked the idea of the Justice League setting up embassies or charters instead of being a global police force stationed in America.)

John said The Ray: Yeah, I could see this pick working out nicely. He’s got a bit of the legacy going on and he’s a pretty powerful hero when he can stay focused. It’s a good selection for a young, mentor-able character. However, I would like to throw out a more controversial name: Resurrection Man. Very interesting powers and an underdeveloped history lead to broader interactions and plot possibilities. I could almost see the team sort of “finding” him somewhere and bringing him along as a pet project, like cleaning up a homeless guy on one of those makeover shows. There’s a lot of potential in the character.

So, to sum up, my Justice League Dream Team would have Green Lantern leading a group comprised of Flash, Mister Miracle, Plastic Man, Zatanna, Animal Man and Resurrection Man. I worked a woman into the team. There’s one character that can definitely fly, one that can hover on special gizmos and one who can fly if the appropriate animal is nearby. I’ve got magic powers, speed powers and stretchy powers (two if you count GL’s shape-making ability). About the only thing not covered is a true strength-based character, but I’m okay with it…and Resurrection Man could cover that area depending on the circumstances.

The biggest problem I can find is that I have three heroes with the word “Man” in their names…someone feeling insecure with their sexuality?

I anxiously await your almost certain rebuttal.

I can not believe that I neglected to include any women in the group. Huge oversight.

Wait. Hal Jordan? Hal freakin’ Jordan? The most boring character in the DC Universe, in any time period? I’m one of those people who agreed 100% with DC removing Hal from his position as Green Lantern, although I disagreed 100% with the way they did it. Making him a mass murderer and psycho did not make him interesting; it made him an ugly plot device. I have no problem with there being a Green Lantern on the team, and can even partially agree that a Green Lantern on the team is necessary and iconic, but Hal Jordan? Please God no. Pick another GL. Goodness knows there are tons of them. John Stewart or Guy Gardner would be fine, although my choice would be Kyle Rayner. I won’t bother to argue the Martian Manhunter point, except to note that he’s been involved with every incarnation of the JLA except for the current one, and Green Lantern has not.

Yay to Wally West! Might I point out that he has a very good relationship with Kyle Rayner?

Yay to Mr. Miracle. While I don’t hate Shilo Norman, I agree that Scott Free is the one, true Mr. Miracle, and my choice for the costume.

I like Plastic Man. I think that, in losing Atom, we lose our most intelligent and scientific member, but I can deal with that, since that’s never been integral to the JLA anyway. If you get a good artist, Plastic Man can be one of the most visually fascinating characters on the page (as a side note, another visually fascinating character for a good artist? Kyle Rayner).

I can lose Red Tornado. However, I hesitate to replace him with Zatanna. I normally love magic based heroes, and the group does need a female, but I have never liked Zatanna. First of all, considering your feelings about magic evinced in our Dr. Strange entry, I can’t believe you’d be ok with her powers, which are even less defined than Dr. Strange’s. She seriously has no structure or limits to what she can do. Second, as a character I find her rather dull and difficult to relate to. Her recent self-doubt stems from her making that absolutely atrocious decision in Identity Crisis, a decision which makes her one of the more loathsome characters in the DC Universe, and with the current competition for that title, that’s saying a lot. No, there must be a better female character for the series.

I would be tempted to nominate Wonder Woman, as I truly like the character, and think that she’s more interesting when she’s not around Superman and Batman. Free to interact with the other members of the team without the two main guns of the DCU horning in and trying to dominate her time on-screen, I think she could add an interesting element to the mix of characters in any team. However, she’s still one of the trinity of holy characters at DC and you’ll never be free to do as much with her in a team setting, since the constraints of her own book tie her down. Plus, we have two members of the Big Seven already, so I’m not sure how necessary she is.

As I work through the female options for the team, I’d like to point out how few females have been members of the JLA. Seriously, compared to the Avengers or the X-Men, there aren’t a whole heck of a lot of them; I don’t think any incarnation of the team has had more than one or two on the team at a time. I have a few that I’m thinking of for membership, but I’m going to start by suggesting Dr. Light. I always liked her, although I preferred her as the somewhat short tempered and angry Dr. Light that she started as, rather than the rather weak milksop she was by the time Justice League International ended. Still, she has a great power, and I think she could work.

Yay Animal Man!

Hmmm. I expected the Ray to be shunted, and he actually did better with you than expected. Resurrection Man comes out of left field, for sure. I loved the character and his series. My biggest problem with him is whether or not you’re breaking the rules of Dream Team entries by introducing a character who’s never been a member. Aren’t there enough Leaguers around to choose from without dragging in a new character to add to the roster? I’m going to wait to see what your thoughts are, and we can go from there.

So, as Round Two comes to an end, we have some confirmed team members: Flash, Mr. Miracle, Animal Man and Plastic Man. We’re over halfway there! Now we need you to pick a Green Lantern who doesn’t make me fall into a coma everytime I read his adventures, decide whether you like Dr. Light and give me a ruling on whether Resurrection Man is a fair pick.

Wow. We don’t usually agree this easily, huh? You must be coming around to my superior way of thinking. I am an enlightened human being. Please, keep your praise to a minimum. I’ll wait.

All done clapping and fawning? Okay then, let’s get this wrapped up.

I’m going to make a group of decisions all related to one another right here and right now. I think this will make sense in the end. First of all, I concede the GL pick to you. Kyle Rayner is in. He has a great relationship with Flash and gives us that extra firepower. My only problem with him is that he’s all wrapped up in the GL Corps as their version of Neo from The Matrix. That’s both annoying and troubling when it comes to his availability. But I can live with it and he makes the most sense.

If we remove Hal Jordan, then we’ve lost the senior leadership of the team. To that end, and to bring in a female character (because I don’t feel that Dr. Light plays nice here considering the implications of her villainous male counterpart), I suggest we do add Wonder Woman to the team. She’s a strong leader and, quite honestly, her solo series always seems to be written in a different universe anyway. I have a feeling that any team we would end up assembling would focus more on the relationships of the younger characters and Wonder Woman will be there as more of an advisor and extra hand in battle.

Now, to your final point, I could make an argument to include Resurrection Man. A little more than two-thirds of the way through his eponymous series, he was offered probationary status in the JL. It’s also been said that he and Vandal Savage have been fighting each other for generations…which would make for a pretty cool storyline involving the Justice League. However, the more I think about it, I’m not sure he’s up for teamwork. Sure, his power would be fascinating to investigate and develop in the heat of battle, and he could probably tell some great stories, but he’s not really grounded in the mythology.

So here’s where I argue with myself over the necessity of including a “rookie” character. We all know that the Marvel and DC Universes are inherently different. Marvel is all about “real” characters with flaws and weaknesses. DC has always portrayed an iconic status in its heroes. You could get away with putting a young turk on the Avengers…making them prove themselves, showing the team helping to develop the next era of hero. But the Justice League is about being the best immediately. People rely on them. It’s no place to toss a greenhorn.

That’s why I’m going to voluntarily withdraw Resurrection Man. However, I don’t want to automatically bring back in your suggestion either. The Ray is, technically, part of the Freedom Fighters and they probably need him more. No, I’m going to nominate someone who has been around for a long time, has a somewhat similar power to The Ray, is a current member of the JLA and definitely ups the diversity factor of the team: Black Lightning.

I think that explanation came together nicely. So, my round two decisions: Wonder Woman leads a team composed of Green Lantern, Flash, Mister Miracle, Animal Man, Plastic Man and Black Lightning. Strange. Just looking at the names, it has the feel of two different teams being stitched together, but not in a bad way.

I argued with myself about whether or not to bring in Wonder Woman, and while I decided no at the time, I’m fine with her being included now.  I also love the idea of her being the team leader.  Theoritically, she led the team one other time, but it was a rather lame team, and she didn’t do much actual leading (until the awful crossover where Ice died, and then she acted like a moron, just like almost everyone in the League at the time).  She’s definitely in.

Black Lightning.  It is something of a slam dunk, isn’t it?  He’s smart, he’s got great powers, he’s adds some diversity and he has an interesting personality.  I think he’d make an excellent addition.  In the real universe, I’d want to ask his creator, Tony Isabella, for his blessing, since I understand there has been some….let’s call them disagreements between Isabella and DC Comics on who actually owns the character (DC claims Black Lightning was created under a work for hire agreement, which Isabella stridently claims was not the case) and while I don’t have facts on which side is correct, we certainly can look at historical precedent to see what sort of track record DC has with playing fair with creators.  That being said, this is a dream team, and hopefully Tony Isabella would give the okay, so let’s include him.

Wonder Woman.  Green Lantern.  Flash.  Mr. Miracle.  Animal Man.  Black Lightning.  Plastic Man.  I really like that group.  You have skilled superheroes who’ve been doing this for years and legacy heroes who have come into their own; you have heroes with tremendous power, and some who trade more in skill; you have heroes who come from a regal background and some from an urban environment and one from another planet.  It works for me.


Sidekicks: Interns to the stars!

Jul-25-08

Batman and Robin. Captain America and Bucky. Flash and Kid Flash. Aquaman and Aqualad. Sidekicks have been a staple of the comic form almost since it’s very inception, although the concept is quite a bit older than that. After all, what is Dr. Watson if not the sidekick of Sherlock Holmes? However, while you can find examples of sidekicks in other places, it was in comics where sidekicks became known by their current popular meaning, which is a younger hero who basically apprentices him or herself to an older, more established hero.

Sidekicks are probably most prominent in those super-hero titles published by DC Comics, which really popularized the sidekick phenomenon with the most popular sidekick ever, Robin. After he proved a success, DC introduced a veritable plethora of sidekicks and for a time it seemed that everyone of their superheroes had one (except, interestingly enough, for Superman and Wonder Woman. While there was a Superboy and Wonder Girl, both of these characters, originally, were simply younger versions of the title character. It wouldn’t be until the 1960s that Wonder Girl was made a separate hero and sidekick, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that the same thing was done for the Boy of Steel). Marvel also used sidekicks during it’s Golden Age, and introduced one for it’s other popular hero of the 1940s, the Human Torch, in the person of Toro. However, while DC would retain the use of sidekicks in the 1960s and 1970s, Marvel disavowed the concept after the years of World War II, and never again would sidekicks play a large role in any Marvel comics. Younger heroes at Marvel might be inspired by a hero, but rarely would they work with them and train with them.

It is said that sidekicks were often added to a book because they provided a younger person to which the children (the perceived audience of comics) reading the tales could relate. Of course, we now know that very few children read comics; is this why sidekicks seem to be disappearing out of our favorite comics? DC found sidekicks so popular that they introduced a title in which these younger heroes could gather, The Teen Titans. When this title was first published, all of these heroes could also be found in the monthly titles of their mentors, and truly the book was something of a mini-Justice League. While the title is still being published by DC Comics, and it still showcases younger heroes, how many of them have actually worked with their mentors? Has the current Wonder Girl ever really spent time with Wonder Woman? Certainly the Kid Flash who previously starred in the book, Bart Allen, never really trained with Wally West. Although many of these characters may be considered sidekicks by the general public, do they really fit that mold?

Times are certainly changing, and the reading public of today has different needs and wants then their predecessors half a century ago. Have sidekicks gone out of fashion? Is there any need for them any longer? Was there ever a need for them? Which sidekicks work and which don’t? And if I could get a sidekick, would they do some of my work for me? Would that have enabled me to post earlier this week? Good questions, and as always, I’m sure Jason has good answers.

I don’t know about GOOD answers, but I have a ragtag assemblage of comments that I’m going to throw out there and we’ll see what sticks. I have to get back into the groove of doing this whole blog thing again after the two-week Batman whirlwind and subsequent week-long dearth of posting. But I guess transitioning from Batman to a discussion on sidekicks is a semi-natural progression. After we saw The Dark Knight, my wife and I were on our way home and she asked me if I thought they would introduce Robin in the next Batman flick. I starting laughing so hard I almost ran off the road.

Sidekicks are all kinds of ridiculous, in a traditional sense, from both a moral and practical view. No one is going to seriously consider bringing a child along to help them in a combat situation. I used to watch episodes of the live-action Batman show and wonder how Robin was able to knock these thugs out with the same force that Batman used. I mean, if you’re getting your ass kicked on a regular basis by a teenage boy in his underwear, you may want to consider a new line of work. Not to mention how pissed off some of these “family groups” would be…hell, they’d be calling for Batman’s head just for putting Robin in the line of fire. It’s dangerous, irresponsible and nonsensical.

I don’t, however, have a problem with the Teen Titans forming a group on their own. It makes sense from a social standpoint, that these kids would want to surround themselves with like-minded peers. That’s not to say that I think they should be going on missions to fight the same villains as their grown-up counterparts either. It would almost be kind of sweet to see the Titans taking on someone like Li’l Riddler or Kid Brainiac or Gorilla Grodd’s son Monkey Mikey.

I can understand the relationship that Green Arrow has with his son Connor. And, while Connor isn’t technically a sidekick, I think he works better as one than Roy ever did as Speedy. I think the idea of the sidekick has been trivialized to always indicate someone who is usually younger and of lesser value. It has taken on a negative connotation (most likely because of Robin and the weird associations made with the character) that pervades all of pop culture these days. However, I can also see a view where “sidekick” has the same meaning as “wingman” or someone who assists you to reach a goal. The sidekick isn’t lesser than the main character, it’s just that the main character is the catalyst for whatever the adventure is about and whoever he brings along with him is his sidekick.

Does that make any sense at all?

I think that it makes sense, and I think you highlight a problem, and that’s with our traditional definition of a sidekick. It makes perfect sense for a hero to have a partner of some sort. Being a hero is a tough job, and there’s a lot to it for most of them, and that sort of work could best be accomplished with some help. I also think that it behooves the current generation of heroes to help and train the next generation. After all, there isn’t any college where you can learn super-heroing (although, considering how many heroes populate the Marvel and DC universes, I can’t believe some college hasn’t created that curriculum) and super-heroing isn’t a profession that is kind to amateurs. The best way for someone to learn to be a hero would be to apprentice themselves to an established hero.

The trick here is that these amateur heroes need to be at least 18 years old. It’s pure lunacy to take a younger person into any sort of situation when they’re younger than the age of consent; if they can’t be drafted into the military, they have no business being a hero. There’s been a lot of talk about Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s All Star Batman and Robin comic, and critics are saying the book is bad because Batman is insane and a child abuser. While I can’t say I’m a fan of the book, is this a bad portrayal of Batman? Isn’t taking a 10 year old boy into combat child abuse and the act of a crazy man? I have to say yes. So, the first thing we’ve done is redefined sidekicks as no longer being children. These are men and women of legal age.

Next we make these sidekicks less plot devices for villains to capture, and more actual characters. Give them a chance to shine from time to time, and instead of being considered expendable losers, they may start to become junior partners. Sure, they’ll make mistakes, and more often than the hero they’re working with, but they should be growing in the job, and constantly improving. This is also a win for the company publishing the comics, as you can use a sidekick in a book for a few years, growing them as a character and growing them in popularity, and then, when the character is ready to go out on their own, they can graduate to their own series. It’s a perfect training ground for new characters.

I think that’s how you save sidekicks; make them older and follow their training. Do that, and I think they have potential.

There’s something horrifically humorous in the assertion that being a superhero is not something for amateurs. Perhaps it’s been done and I’m just not remembering it (maybe ground covered in Rick Veitch’s Bratpack?), but I can see a scenario where an established hero keeps recruiting “sidekicks” to use as human shields…or where they keep getting killed purely by accident, but the accidents get more and more bizarre in a Spinal Tap-ish vein. There’s also something in the idea that someone could just decide they want to be a superhero and then fail miserably, or that they garner some new powers but are completely inept at using them.

You never really see that process, do you? I mean, some of Marvel’s X-titles allude to training new mutants in harnessing their abilities, but you never really witness the fallout from these attempts. How many young heroes have been secretly shuffled out the back door and tossed carelessly into the dumpster? C’mon, there have to have been a few “accidents.”

One thing you didn’t touch on in your intro wrap-up of the sidekick phenomenon is the fact that, not only were they introduced to appeal to children, but they were used as a way for the hero to recap the plotline within the confines of the story itself. The sidekick would ask some inane question and then the hero would give a page-long exposition on the villain, his motives and the general direction the adventure was heading. I tihnk one of the reasons marvel was able to move away form sidekicks is that they started to internalize these recaps in their characters’ inner monologues. How many issues of Amazing Spider-Man DIDN’T feature Peter Parker swinging through the city moaning to himself about how his battle with so-and-so had made him late for school or caused him to skip out on a date. The angst that Marvel was able to drum up this way easily replaced the need for a goofy mini-me version of the character to tag alongside.

I’d like to see a good parody of the sidekick world that takes all of these tropes and expands them to a completely ludicrous level. There’s fun stuff to be mined here.


Can’t See the Forest For the Continuity.

Apr-25-08

Science! While never one of my favorite subjects in school, I do remember a few precious scientific facts about our world and the things in it. Trees, for instance. I recall learning that there are basically two types of trees: those that seasonally lose their leaves and those that do not. The seasonal types are called deciduous. The others are called evergreen, because, well, they’re always green. Educational lesson aside, here is where I’m headed with this thing. Comics have more in common with tress than merely the paper they’re printed on. If you think about it, the continuity behind comics falls into the same two categories as the types of trees. And the same can be said about many other forms of mass entertainment. The pros and cons of both types are something I want to examine further.

Let’s start with the easier explanation. Evergreen continuity is the basic history of any superhero comic. Each plotline is held as canon for the next. Characters branch off and develop their own roots in the comic universe soil. In the long run, nothing ever changes. But upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the changes are ongoing. It’s just that they’re ultimately absorbed into the evergreen landscape. You could also refer to this type of continuity as the “Big Picture” view. Everything that has happened affects everything else that will happen. The past shapes the future. Even the event of someone dying is merely a catalyst for their ultimate rebirth.

Broadly speaking, this is an attempt to mirror real-life. For example, Spider-Man meets Dr. Octopus. Years later, Dr. Octopus crosses paths with Spidey again and both remind each other (and the audience) that they met previously. Each instance builds upon the last to give depth to the characters and their backstories. And all of this is fine until you get so weighed down with facts and recollections that the characters are more tied to history than they are to any single plot. Even worse is when a supporting character or particular villain appears in another title and gets strange twists added to their history. This affects not only the villain, but everyone else that they have dealt with in the past or will deal with in the future.

Evergreen continuity is very linear. Unfortunately, comic books don’t follow a linear path. While most companies establish an overarching universe for their characters, each title operates within its own structured sub-universe. Crossover is encouraged (and inevitable), which further muddles the timeline. The closest thing you could compare this phenomenon to is a soap opera where individual sets of characters have their own storylines. When those storylines reach their natural end, the characters are remixed with each other to provide new lines of interest. That’s how you end up with evil twins and convoluted situations where someone ends up being their own mother.

The flip side of this is deciduous continuity. For some reason, this type of history always shows up in humorous situations. I’m thinking of things like South Park, Family Guy and, to a lesser extent, The Simpsons. On these shows, we have a group of main characters that work their way through a half-hour story. Ultimately, the end of the episode has no ill effect on the next episode. Kenny is killed every show and yet somehow magically returns the next week. The supporting characters add color and nuance to the show, but their own backstories are relatively meaningless to the grand scheme of the show.

Deciduous continuity is mostly non-linear. Anything can happen to anyone at anytime. Nothing really sticks. The leaves grow, they’re shed and then new leaves grow in their place. Time moves forward, but the isolation of the main characters helps keep the history streamlined to a degree. This type of continuity is based on episodic stories rather than continuous arcs that lead into each other. Most television shows run on a form of deciduous continuity. Shows ranging from MASH to Law & Order to Friends all deal with this type of history. It’s a type of timeline that runs more on characterization than it does action.

For instance, think of Richie Rich comic books. Richie Rich is the nice guy. He’s loaded, he’s young and he has a funny dog and a helpful butler. Every issue of every title keeps these facts as a constant. The adventures that Richie Rich goes on add color to these facts, but none of them greatly change the main characters. Once you close the book, everything goes back to the way it was and you wait for the next adventure to be entertained again.

So which form of continuity is better? I guess it depends on the type of story you want to tell. But my ultimate argument is that while the name implies that deciduous continuity is always changing, it’s actually not. By shedding whatever history is acquired during a specific story, deciduous continuity brings an air of timelessness to its use. I think it would be more functional to the superhero genre to adopt some of these functions. Look at Iron Man. His origin deals with being a POW in Vietnam. What kind of resonance does that have with kids who were born fifteen years after that conflict? So many villains and heroes sprouted out of World War II or even the tensions of the Cold War. Using a realistic timeline, none of these characters would be functioning at the same level today as they did in their prime. By clinging to an evergreen continuity, superhero comics force themselves to grow up alongside their readers.

Marvel and DC both attempt to do this at a ridiculously slowed pace. And, while I’m a bigger fan of Marvel in the long run, I have to say that this type of history stunts the growth of their characters. The DC universe isn’t specific to any reality. It builds its own history and doesn’t recognize real world events. It can offer broad changes at any time, ebbs and flows. Marvel’s strength, in its heyday, was the emotional power it could imbue in its stories by placing its characters in the real world and having them deal with a form of current events. It was radical in its time, but seems rather dated nowadays. When you try to saddle your heroes to the real world, you’re forced to age them. And everyday occasions…weddings, careers, deaths…add further age to each and every character.

So is there a path to loosening this evergreen status? Is there a reason to do so? Does any of this make sense or am I just over-thinking the whole thing? What does everyone else think?

Whew. I suppose this is a subject we’d have to tackle sooner rather than later, but it’s a mighty complex one. I think that continuity is important, but like everything else in life, needs to be used in moderation. Allow me to clarify my position.

I think that deciduous continuity can rely on characterization, as you mention above, but it’s very static characterization. If the events of the past do not affect your character in the future, then your character’s personality doesn’t really ever change. This works well for children’s fare (check out any long running Saturday morning cartoon series, like Scooby-Doo or Bugs Bunny) and for some humor projects like South Park since you want the characters to be eminently recognizable to your viewers, or in the case of South Park you want to be able to do whatever you want to a character in one episode, and not have to worry about fixing it in subsequent episodes. There’s a lot to be said for that, and anything that makes it easy for a new viewer/reader/listener to pick up on the concept of the series on their first exposure to it can only be a good thing. That being said, there’s a limit to the amount that can be done with this sort of continuity and only so many stories that can be told (with the Simpsons trying to make that statement untrue by telling pretty good stories in this type of continuity for two decades now).

Evergreen continuity, on the other hand, gives you a lot more opportunity to actually allow your characters to grow as the stories continue. Almost every serialized fiction of any real length has used evergreen continuity to an extent. I think it would be next to impossible to find a pure example of deciduous continuity as even shows like The Simpsons will refer back to previous episodes on occasion. I think the difference between a show like Friends and a comic like Iron Man isn’t the type of continuity to which they adhere, but the degree to which they adhere. I believe you were going in this direction in your initial post, but I believe that, like everything else in life, continuity should be used in moderation.

I don’t believe that a writer should come in and ignore everything that has gone before on a title. Those stories happened, and a new writer needs to work with what they are given. Nothing frustrates me more than one a new writer jettisons a previous supporting cast with no explanation, inserts dear old friends that we’ve never seen before (but are now expected to care about) or ignores important events that happened mere weeks ago in the hero’s life. That being said, some stories are just plain bad and trying to explain them so that they fit into continuity is pointless. Let’s use an example…during the mid-90’s, Marvel Comics revealed that Tony Stark had been manipulated by Kang the Conquerer for the past several years. Kang forced Stark to murder people and to fight the Avengers. The Avengers decided that no one could beat Tony Stark except for Tony Stark, and the only possible way to defeat him would be to travel ten years into the past and grab Tony Stark as a teenager and bring the teenage Stark into the future. This they did, and during the battle, the older, Kang-controlled Stark was killed, and Teen Tony took his place as the Iron Man of the Marvel Universe. This met with widespread derision (as well it should) but was quickly undone when teen Tony sacrificed his life to stop Onslaught, was thrust into an alternate universe, and was aged to adulthood once again. When he returned to our universe, his time as teen Tony was not mentioned.

Some readers weren’t satisfied with this. “It makes no sense!”, cried they, eager for clarification. “If Teen Tony was aged to adulthood for the alternate universe, he still wouldn’t have the memories of the Tony Stark from the original continuity, so how does the current Stark possess those memories? Explain please!” Thankfully, to the best of my knowledge, Iron Man writers ignored those pleas and never really delved into his past as Teen Tony. This is good. Trying to explain this continuity gaffe would have taken up time and space and would have been helpful only to a small portion of fandom. The series re-aged Teen Tony, which was sufficient. Let your readers come up with their own solutions as to why he has memories that he perhaps should not have.

Again, we want to make the stories fun and accessible to new readers. Delving into the deep dark recesses of continuity to explain away obscure plot points is not a good use of a character’s series. Some writers don’t understand that. John Byrne, when he wrote Wonder Woman, spent entirely too much time trying to explain why there was a Wonder Woman in the original Justice Society, when Diana hadn’t been introduced into Man’s World at that time. Way too many writers have spent way too many comics trying to untangle the tortured continuity of Donna Troy. Kurt Busiek, a writer I very much enjoy, used a good portion of Avengers Forever, otherwise an excellent miniseries, untangling plot points from the Avengers. And this is not a new phenomenon. Steve Englehart, during his Celestial Madonna saga in the Avengers, back in the 1970s, did the exact same thing, going on for issue after issue in an attempt to explain discrepancies in character’s histories. I like his run on the Avengers, but those issues still put me to sleep, and I would imagine they would leave new readers scratching their heads in puzzlement.

Continuity should be a tool to allow a writer to tell deeper stories and to allow characters to grow and develop. Unfortunately, too many of today’s comics professionals use continuity as a blunt object, and want to craft stories around it, around fixing it or altering it to better serve their visions of what a character’s history should be. Too many of today’s comics professionals are stuck in the past. We need to move into the future, telling new stories. It doesn’t mean you don’t refer to the past. In our Defenders discussion below, you’d refer often to the relationships the team’s roster shared with one another in previous appearances. That deepens their characterizations and makes them more interesting. What you don’t want to do is spend a four issue storyarc explaining how Patsy Walker could have appeared in Avengers #138 with her Hellcat costume, when The Cat #7 clearly states that it was put in storage in Detroit, and none of the members of the Avengers at that time had ever been in Detroit.

Continuity. Writers: Take in moderation.

What’s the downfall of today’s superhero? Retconning. In the Assembled book I’ve been reading, one of the contributors made a comment about Kurt Busiek’s run on the Avengers, saying that “while he was indeed revisiting old-school characters, relationships and situations, he was doing so in the context of the many new developments on those fronts since the olden days, taking assorted old-school concepts in new directions.” Or, to sum it up, he used bits from the past to frame the future.

This is the expected use of evergreen continuity. And perhaps I should have written two posts on the subject, because here’s the true crux of the argument. The “retconning” or deliberate changing of established facts is what ruins evergreen continuity. If all writers would simply work with what’s already been shown, then these superhero comics would be much less confusing and convoluted.

I’m reminded of Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men and how the writers that followed him, whether through company mandate or their own failing to understand what to do next, systematically took apart everything that he had built up. Characters that already had bizarre, twisted histories were given another layer of muddle…even characters that Morrison himself had created from nothing.

I’m all for continuity. I love it. It gives me something to think about and study. And I wouldn’t mind if every writer used all of the continuity of any given character while they’re writing them. When you’re done with your run, the next guy should come in and just pick up from where you left off. The problem is when certain writers come in (yes, I’m looking at YOU John Byrne) with the belief that their talent supersedes the character itself. They feel that they can create their own version of the character’s history and pay absolutely no attention to what happened before. The creative team that follows them is then left scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to accommodate what just happened with what came before AND with what they want to accomplish themselves. This gives you things like Hawkman, Supergirl and Aquaman (is it just coincidence that this seems to happen more often with DC even though I just praised the company for their non-real world universe?).

Of course, then you also have cases where new characters are explained into past history. The first example that comes to mind is Marvel’s Sentry character. Beginning as a hoax on Marvel readers, the Sentry was then integrated into Marvel’s history rather well (though some would argue unnecessarily) by writer Paul Jenkins. Brian Bendis did the same thing with his Jessica Jones creation. This kind of retconning is interesting to me. Here’s a character that blatantly never existed before, yet creators are able to use bits of other characters’ pasts and small vagaries in overall continuity to place their new creation in the fabric of the established universe. It’s a neat kind of phenomenon that can work quite well in building a past for a new character. I think this is another beautiful use of evergreen continuity (and that’ll probably be the only praise you’ll ever hear me heap upon Bendis).

It’s of interest to me that deciduous continuity is used primarily in humorous situations. Not sure what’s behind that thinking except that the telling of jokes is more easily accommodated by simple set-ups. If you have too much history piled upon your characters, there are certain ways you expect them to perform and react to things. Plus, the superhero world already has a problem with bringing characters back from the dead…imagine how horrible it would be with South Park rules!

Wow. Well said. I think that sums things up nicely: deal with the continuity you have, and stop trying to make it the continuity you want. Perfect. You know, creatively, I’m surprised so many creators have problems with this concept. For example, I always loved the Vision and the Scarlet Witch as a married couple. But they’re not. Were I in a position to handle the characters, rather than trying to say that, I don’t know, the two characters had been replaced by Skrulls before their divorce, and then bringing the married couple back, I’d work with what is currently in continuity. It may not be what I consider ideal, but it’s a very good creative exercise to try and make what you have work in a way you find interesting.

Some creators, as you noted, are worse than others on this score. Some creators simply can’t let go of the way they want things to be, and to be fair, neither can some editors. Your example of the way the X-Books dismantled Morrison’s run as soon as he left the book is spot on; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a company back pedal so quickly from a former writer’s work on a book, especially a run that had been so universally praised by critics and fans.

Of course, now we have entire event miniseries (like Final Crisis and Secret Invasion) which seem to exist solely to muck with current continuity. I hope that neither of these series make sweeping changes to try and reset the universes to previous settings. I have no problem with surprises and exciting changes, as long as we’re moving things forward and building on what has been done, not knocking down previous structures and invalidating things that are considered inconvenient for the current and future creators.