Thursday, July 19, 2012

TimeTravelTues...Thursday: The JSA and Magneto, Continuity and Legacy

So yeah, I skipped out this Tuesday, sorry about that. But hey, what can you expect of a time traveler? At the very least, I'm here now, and man, do I got something to tell you today.

So, what do the JSA and Magneto have in common? Before you answer that, I want you to sit back and think about something. Next year, in 2013, Superman will be 75 years old. It's hard to imagine, isn't it? And what's even more staggering is thinking that I'll probably live to see Superman hit 150 in another 75 years. The year after that, in 2014, Marvel will become 75 years old itself. And in 2019, Zoro, who many call the first masked hero, will mark a full century. This year marks both John Carter of Mars' and Tarzan's 100th years, both well known pulp heroes who are called the prototypes of superheroes. Even the most recognizable modern heroes are starting to age. Wolverine is gonna hit 40 soon, Spider-man's 50, and Spawn is 20, not only that, but he's even a little dated with him being in the Gulf War. So, to ask my first question, what do the JSA and Magneto have in common? Well, they've both been around for awhile. 50 years for Magneto, and 70 years for the JSA, but the other thing they have in common is World War II.

So, Magneto, born Erik Lensherr, was born in the late 1920s, and put through the Nazi concentration camps when he was approximately 13 through 16. This makes him roughly 85 years old currently in the comic books. And this age didn't come out of nowhere either. All those memories of that Magneto from the comics and cartoons of your youth(which I am assuming to be the 90s. But if you're older than that, then just take the compliment that I think you look young) was around 65 years old. Ian McKellen played a character who had to be at least 10 years older than him in the films, and he still looked pretty old and frail. And to give you an idea of how old he is, Stan Lee is 89. So please, now imagine Stan Lee as Magneto. You have that image in your head? Perfect. The JSA, on the other hand, weren't kids at the age of 13-16 in WWII, they were adults. Alan Scott before becoming the Green Lantern in 1940, was a railway engineer. Even if he got the job straight out of high school, he'd be about 90 right now, but the way he's drawn in those early days makes him look like he's 30. The original Flash, Jay Garrick, is a college kid in 1938, which means he's about 90 years old too. Ted Grant before becoming the Wild Cat was a heavyweight champion boxer. Joe Louis, who was the champ around that time was pretty damn young to be one and was 26 in 1940, which would have to make Ted almost 100 years old. The JSA members keep going on like that, but the big thing about them is that they all fought in WWII.

I don't know if you've realized these things yourself already, but I'm starting to realize exactly how big these kind of things are right now, so bare with me through this. Here's a bit of information you may or may not know, but Ben Grimm, better known as The Thing, was originally a World War II vet, but this was dropped out of continuity after they could no longer pass off someone in their late 30s as a World War II vet. Things like that happen a lot. It's what's commonly referred as the "slide scale of comics continuity", or some variation on that. Point is, things get slid out of continuity when things get too old. Superman used to be older than the JSA. Then they were old than him by a few decades. In the 2000s, it was by half a century. See, when characters get to a certain age in comics, they either are forced to continue to age and keep their orgin tied to their history, or abandon their history and keep their age. Ben Grimm can be a vet of any war. In the 80s he could be a vet from Korea. In the 90s he could have been from Vietnam. In the 00s, it could be from the Gulf War. But certain characters don't have that luxury. The Punisher might be able to be twisted by the Gulf War, or even by the current War on Terrorism, but Magneto can't change from the concentration camps to some kind of POW camp in Vietnam. The JSA can't go from being righteously fighting during WWII and punching Nazi's in the gut, to righteously fighting during the Gulf War and punching a Persian soldier in the gut. And right now, we're hitting that limit in comics. No matter what we do, a Superhero who is 100 years old is just ridiculous, and just as ridiculous as Stan Lee in Magneto's helmet.

The sliding scale is the first solution to this problem, and the way I see it, there are four others. The second is ignore the problem altogether and keep going onward. The 2006 film The Inside man does this. I won't want to spoil it for people who don't know, but let's say that one of it's characters is also linked to WWII, and that this link requires him to be about 100 years old, but the film doesn't adress this issue, and unless you sit back and really think about it, it doesn't really affect the film. Of course, while they can do this, the film the Inside Man gets away with it because it's 129 minutes. Comics are seemingly infinite. Mention Magneto was in the concentration camps too often, and even the most forgiving fan starts to raise a brow. 85 doesn't look too old right now, but when the last survivor of WWII dies, and Magneto is still kicking, you can't ignore it. The fact that I'm bringing this up right now proves that this can't work all the time and just becomes the elephant in the room. The third is to stop time in place. We make 2012 or the 2010's altogether the time where all comics take place from now on, or we make them period pieces. X-Men takes place entirely in the 1960s, and the JSA entirely in the 1940s. Plenty of comics do something like this: X-Men first class, DC: New Frontier, 1602, Astro City. The only problem this causes is that you can't keep doing that forever. 50 years from now it'll seem odd that we'd still have our ongoing comics taking place in 1962 instead of 2062.

Thing is, those three are just running from the issue, and trying to cover it up. Personally, I think while those might work, they won't always work, what we need is something that fixes the problem rather than cover it up, which is what the last two hope to do. The first of these two is what's happened to the JSA. Reboot. We take these characters and we throw out what we knew, and we make something new. The JSA no longer are tied to WWII but instead to a fictional 'Apocalypse War', which also helps when they eventually start getting older and they need to constantly keep these characters 20-30-ish and they can just keep sliding that war up as they need to. But that's the problem, rebooting just resets the issue, and then means that they have to either reboot again in another 70 years, or in another 50, or in another 30, or 10, or 5, or whatever, or they're just going to keep sliding the continuity up and it'll keep on going like this ignoring the biggest, most glaring problem of all of these, the main reason why I think all of those options just won't work for our continuing comics and characters: They're not growing.

See, the average person doesn't care about comics, and the reason they give for their lack of caring is this massive continuity that they just can't be bothered with. Now, I've always been baffled by this because movies aren't just James Bond and Star Wars and Harry Potter, and comics aren't just Marvel and DC, there are plenty of comics that aren't in either of those that you can check out, and it's really not that hard to find these. You already watch the Walking Dead, why not go to Borders and pick up one of the vols? (Well... okay, maybe not Borders... Barns and Nobel..? You know what, who am I kidding, just download the app!) The main reason people don't care about it is because of the same reason I'm not reading the current iterations of some of my favourite Superheroes. Green Lantern bores me, Wonder Woman just isn't thrilling, Captain America is stale, Iron Man is stiff like iron. They just aren't doing much of anything by way of their characters. The movies are action packed, but even more than just that, they're making the characters learn lessons that they remember into the next film. The reason there's so much backlash against Amazing Spider-man is that the film is almost exactly the same as the 2001 Sam Rami Spider-man film. The reason the Avengers was so well liked was because Tony Stark wasn't the same prick-douche-bag he was in Iron Man. The reason we're expecting so much from the Dark Knight Rises tomorrow is because we've seen how far those characters have grown and we can't wait to see them grow to that final degree. When a character goes through an arc it's satisfying. The problem with out comics right now is that instead of making these arcs, we're rebooting and restarting the chain, which might last us another 75 years, or will have us go through the problems we've always had and we'll rush through what could be 75 years of stories in maybe 40, or maybe even less than that.

So, the last solution to this problem is the one I'm happy to say is being given a shot by some books out there: growth and legacy. See, the ultimate problem to growth, is that it means accepting that the characters grow. When a sitcom hits that 8th season, you start to look and realize that these characters have been learning the same lessons and going through the same arcs for 8 years now. That's because people don't stay the same person at the same job for 8 years and stay interesting. It's not about changing things up to make things new, Spider-man can have a new costume and still be boring. It's about having the characters become and do better for themselves, but those kind of arcs, they need endings, which is something comics seems almost stuck in an eternal struggle against. Barry Allen, the second Flash, took the mantle after Jay Garrick in the 60s, and then died in the 80s. After him was Wally West, who had the mantle until the mid 00s when he gave it to Bart Allen. For only a year.  And then within 5 years of Bart getting the mantle and becoming the 4th Flash, we had Barry Allen back in the costume. To me, that's always been one of the most disappointing things to see in comics. Barry Allen might be a great character, but his greatness is only so great because he had his arc. He died fighting for his cause, and left his side-kick to continue running for him. That's what we need to see more of. Legacy. And right now, that's something we're seeing with Magneto. He might be around in comics still, but his presence as the great rival to the X-Men is certainly shifting. All of X-Men is currently shifting in it's power. Logan is now the Headmaster of the new Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, along with Headmistress Kitty Pryde, and Vice-Principal Hank McCoy. In a few years, I could see an X-Men team lead by Idie Okonkwo, Hope Summers, and Quentin Quire, and I could see them fighting against the radical almost extremist Scott Summers and his Extermination Team. And I cannot tell you how much I love that. The whole idea of why I love the Young Avengers and Young Justice is that they're more than just side-kicks or teen heroes like the Teen Titans and the Runaways, it's that they seem like one day they're going to succeed the current generation of heroes. I want to see a Justice League made up of Dick Grayson, Wally West, Kyle Rayner, Cassandra Sandsmark, and Kaldur'Ahm and I want to see an Avengers made up of Elijah Bradley, Teddy Altman, Billy Kaplan, Thomas Shepard, Kate Bishop, and hey, why not even a Miles Morales from the ol' 616?

We can't keep doing the same things that have put off comics for so long. We can't just push Dick Grayson back to being Nightwing because Bruce Wayne is better known as Batman. The story should come first before we try to market it, because otherwise it's just not sincere. People know when they're being force fed, and they don't like it. People much prefer a story that creates and continues and even ends characters. Well, we've already burned off the ability to kill characters in comics, so if we can't get an end that way, why not try sending them off, letting them retire. Letting them get some rest and sit down. Most of these guys have been doing it for nearly a century, they deserve it.

1 comment:

  1. This is why I strongly urge everyone to create their own continuum. Choose the comics you like and construct your own story. For me, the JSA and JLA of the late 90s to late 2000s will always be the definitive stories. Other things may come later but in my DC universe those stories are the core. Anything new will get molded around them. You have to create your own ending. I always use DareDevil as my greatest example for this. After Brubaker's Devil in Cell Block D storyline I felt fulfilled. For me, DareDevil had ended. I know Waid's current run is amazing but the story of DareDevil (at least in my own eyes) has ended. The world of superhero comics is really just a R&D lab for movies and TV shows these days. A minor league for story telling where the best ideas and characterizations can be mined and honed. I hate to say it that way but its kind of true. It hasn't always been that way but it is that way now. I would love to say that every story matters and every thing is right but that would be disingenuous. Caleb, I would love to continue this conversation later if you'd like. I think the topic of comics continuum and if it matters or not is a interesting and deserves more of a conversational debate approach.


    Sherlock or Mycroft, which ever you decided I am today.