There are no bad characters. Only bad writers. Or at least, writers who don’t know what to do with the characters.
How many times have we seen comics characters go down in flames, even die, only to see them rise up again “because you demanded it?”
THE FLASH AND GREEN LANTERN
My favorite examples of this come from the DC Comics universe—Green Lantern and The Flash. (We’ll ignore Superman and Batman for the moment.)
It was about 30 or so years ago that the good folks at DC decided that nobody could write The Flash. After all, he’s so incredibly fast that he could solve any problem as soon as it happened. It was impossible to challenge him. Or so we were told. Now his comic is one of my favorites!
And then there is the story of Green Lantern. Reduced from being a test pilot to a toy salesman, Hal Jordan eventually became a villain, then the Spectre. When that last idea crumbled, fans of the fearless character thought he was gone for good.
Green Lantern and The Flash are both doing well now. And I think it is because they found at least one writer who understood them so well that he could tell stories that everyone could enjoy.
By the way, anyone else remember Catman as written by Gail Simone? She took a fourth- or fifth-tier baddie and turned him into an interesting person to read about!
Marvel is not guiltless in this whole affair either. There was a customer who used to come into a comics store I have frequented, and he’d always say, “At least I know Colossus is still dead.” He was crestfallen when those of us shopping there had to tell him that was not true any longer.
In my opinion, there are certain characters and groups that are simply classic. The Avengers. The Justice League. Captain America. Batman. Superman. And the list goes on and on.
I guess it makes for good sales to shake things up every once in a while. You add She Hulk to the Fantastic Four. You insert several of the Teen Titans into the Justice League. You apparently kill Captain America and Batman. As I’ve said before, It is called show business for a good reason, after all.
But we all know what will eventually happen. Sales will start to fall, and those significant teams and heroes will come back to reclaim their places in the comics kingdom. Bruce Wayne returned in a few months. Steve Rogers never really was killed, we learned.
I heard a story that Peter David, when he was writing The Incredible Hulk for Marvel, had access to the sales numbers for his book. When the figures started to dip, he would make a major change in the status quo. And the sales would go up again. That worked for a while, but even loyal fans get tired of having their chains yanked. Or writers eventually run out of ways to make things different without ruining the character. I enjoyed David’s run on the book, don’t get me wrong—but after a while, even the best writers can run out of gas.
STOP FIDDLING AROUND WITH GREAT CHARACTERS!
If you’re a writer and you start mucking around with the character so much that he or she is nearly unrecognizable, you might want to think about switching to another title.
I don’t mind temporary diversions if the stories are good. But there are good reasons why characters get to be popular, and one of them is that they work. When you put another person in the costume, he or she may raise sales for a while, but eventually that original person will be back.
After all, it didn’t take long before Peter Parker was back in the Spidey suit! (Having an old man in a young man’s body putting moves on younger women STILL creeps me out, by the way.) Hey, they gave him his own title, too, didn’t they?