By Philip Schweier
Jan 9, 2013 - 18:18
I was asked what my most memorable comic book “moment” was for 2012. Granted,
my scope was somewhat narrow, and I can’t say my answer was an altogether
pleasant one. It also led me to pondering (yet again) the efforts of
storytellers to generate diversity for the sake of diversity.
My belief is that a storyteller should focus on that which serves the story,
and that which does not should be largely ignored. For instance, there was a
lot of criticism a year or two back when it was announced that Laurence
Fishburn would be playing Perry White in the upcoming Man of Steel film.
Apparently some people took issue with the traditionally white role being
played by an African-American actor. But since race is not germane to the
character, why should anyone care? Nobody complained when Samuel L. Jackson
took on the role of Nick Fury.
But as society has progressed, there has been in increased interest among
audiences in racial diversity. Perhaps this was most true in the wake of one of
DC Comics’ many crises, when the mantle of the Atom was adopted by an Asian, a
Hispanic youth became the new Blue Beetle, and an African-American was turned
into the new Firestorm.
But this article isn’t about racial diversity, it’s about legacy characters –
those who take over the mantle of a prior hero (or villain), and whether or not
it’s necessary for comic book publishers to create an entirely new character
out of whole cloth.
Clearly, in the case of some characters, it is not. Dick Grayson
took over for Bruce Wayne as Batman, Wally West filled Barry Allen’s boots as
the Flash, and Reneé Montoya inherited the role of the Question from Vic Sage.
DC has often had a problem of multiple characters, leading to entire families
of archers, bat-people, ring-wielders and Kryptonians. I can’t help but wonder
why such characters exist in the first place. Dick Grayson had forged his own
role within the DCU as Nightwing, paving the way for many former partners to
come into their own.
Meanwhile, over at Marvel Comics, Tony Stark’s long-time buddy James Rhodes
adopted the Iron Man identity during Stark’s excessive drinking days. But his
character was established, and seemed the logical choice, moreso than Happy
In most cases, the heir apparent is an obvious choice, but not always. Still,
is it necessary to create an entirely new character? When Hal Jordan gave in to
the influence of Parallax, his role of Green Lantern was up for grabs. Did it
go to John Stewart or Guy Gardner, or even Katma Tui, all of whom were already
established? No. Instead, the ring was given to Kyle Rayner, an entirely
In 1995 when Green Arrow was seemingly blown to bits in the pages
of his own title, he was replaced not by his former archer sidekick Roy Harper,
but by Oliver Queen’s unknown son, Connor Hawke. It seemed to send a message to
an entire generation of former sidekicks that despite all their sacrifices,
they would never inherit the mantle of their mentors.
Perhaps the creative powers that be at the time felt Speedy had a bit of
baggage, in the form of being a recovering drug addict. I’ll agree his
decision-making skills as a teenager were a bit lacking, but is Oliver Queen
much better? He’s long had a reputation for being a bit of a hot-head.
Therein would lie the true legacy hero: the adopted son taking on the role his
mentor no longer could fill. Cluttering up the comic world with Kyle Rayners
and Connor Hawke’s seems pointless when there is already a replacement waiting
off stage, as in the case of Wally West, only to pass the Flash identity on
(temporarily) to another legacy character, Bart Allen.
At least in the case of Captain America, his former sidekick Bucky took over as
Cap prior to the resurrection of Steve Rogers. But for as many years as the boy
was “dead” (however significant that may be in the comic book world), Bucky had
little opportunity to come into his prior to inheriting the red, white and
I realize all this may have been an attempt to rejuvenate some of the heroes
who perhaps had grown a bit stale. But the new costumes, new looks (Superman’s
mullet?) and new supporting players were little more than window dressing that
failed to deal with the root of the problem – telling better stories.
Granted, the introduction of completely new characters allow for a
greater degree of creative freedom, with fresh grass on the field. But what of
those left behind? What becomes of the former sidekicks, now grown and expected
to live up to their mentor’s name? Admittedly, some can, some can’t.
I would suggest that those than are unable to develop into stronger characters
capable of living up their mentor’s name – and this would include such
supporting players as Rick Jones, Thomas Kalmaku and incoming students at Xavier’s
School for Gifted Youngsters – be written off-stage in some final means.
Not killed, necessarily. Not everyone can go out in blaze of heroic glory. But
perhaps they can be recruited by SHIELD, or maybe they simply grow fat and bald
and retire to the suburbs like the rest of us.
But no more mullets, please.
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