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?”
My favorite examples of this come from the DC Comics universe—Green Lantern, The Flash, and the Justice Society of America. (We’ll ignore Superman and Batman for the moment.)
It was about 20 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.
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.
Of course, we should include the JSA. Not too many years ago an editor at DC said that there would never be another comic with the Justice Society. The group was too old, and younger readers wouldn’t like them.
Check the sales figures now—Green Lantern and The Flash are riding high. The JSA is ready to make a comeback. 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.
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.
Now as part of Marvel’s “Heroic Age,” the original triad of the Avengers are going to be back in the group, and they will even get along! If you give me a minute, I’m sure I’ll remember where I read that happening before … .
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. 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 came back in a few months. Steve Rogers will no longer be a Hydra member/leader.
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 run out of gas.
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 Dick Grayson wasn’t Batman for very long, as predicted. And I didn’t need three guesses who would be wearing the cape and cowl again. Just one guess would do.