Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Hero With a Thousand Issues

Since we're talking about comics this week, I figure I'll share an epiphany I recently had concerning What Is Wrong With Comics Today:

They don't end.

You may think I'm being flippant here, but I'm not calling for the immediate cessation of all comics. What I am calling for is for comic series and/or characters to have definite beginnings, middles, and, most importantly, endings.

Think of the coolest story you know, regardless of whether it is a comic, a novel, a film, a TV series. They all have 3 things in common:
  1. A beginning, where we meet our heroes, and the crisis they must face.
  2. A middle, where the heroes struggle against incredible forces.
  3. An end, where the plot is resolved, villains are defeated, and sacrifices are made.
Joseph Campbell called this the Monomyth. The Lord of the Rings. Babylon 5. Star Wars. Transmetropolitan. They all end. And that is what makes them special, because without an ending, stories lose their narrative "punch".

Look at the Dark Phoenix saga. Note how wrenching it is to see a beloved character fall to evil and then redeem herself through death. Note how this sacrifice becomes utterly pointless as Jean is brought back from the dead, gains the Phoenix Force yet again, dies again. Note how something utterly cool has been reduced to yet another plot element to be recycled every 5-7 years because it sells.

Characters who don't stay dead, plot elements that recur until you're sick of them, storylines that threaten to change everything yet, within a few years, have been forgotten as the status quo is reset: what else does this remind you of?

That's right: soap operas. Soaps don't have endings. They have a beginning, and a middle, and then nothing but middles for decades. And the reason for that is because when the series ends, so end the profits. Artistic integrity is defeated by the sultry crinkle of the almighty dollar.

I don't think it's unreasonable to have a middle ground, a continuous money-making series that neither cheats nor recycles plot elements. Here are my suggestions:
  1. Have the characters age at a reasonable rate for their species.
  2. When they are too old, or injured, let them pass the mantle on to a successor.
  3. Have character death be meaningful.
  4. If it is essential to the plot that a dead character return, make it come with a heavy price.
  5. Above all, actions MUST have consequences that are not conveniently forgotten or return to the status quo.
Essentially, I am proposing that comic book characters have a beginning, middle, and end. Let us chart their rise and mourn their passing.

Because without death, immortality is meaningless.

1 comment:

  1. Might I recommend the comic, Atomic Robo? The artist is a friend of mine and he has a similar point of view about comics.



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