As I write this, Justice League: The Rise Of Arsenal has just hit comic shops. Folks, you would not believe the mush gushing forth about this title. Side note: I have not read this issue yet. In fact, I wasn't even aware of the series until now. Just saying I'm only going to be talking about it in general terms. Besides, my musings have nothing to do with whatever plot points are in the book.
So, one of the big scenes is how the character of Arsenal goes from being angry with a woman named Jade to trying to have sex with her, thinking how she compares to other sex partners (remember, kids, there's a difference between "having sex" and "making love") before being unable to close the deal. And when Jade tells him it's understandable because he has so much on his mind, he tells her to shut up.
Strictly speaking, I've seen far more callow treatment of characters, so this is not all that shocking to me. Of course, it also might have something to do with me not really knowing enough about Arsenal to understand why this is shitting on a beloved character. And the notion of him "ranking" Jade? You know, it's been done before. Typically, though, in movies like What Women Want, it's the woman judging the man's performance and gets played for laughs, although I'm not sure if it's because of gender politics or if it's because it is ostensibly a comedy. Personally, I find the idea that everybody having sex is just happy to be there kind of tough to accept.
That, however, just papers over the real reason for all the bitching. And it is, how did this book get written and approved by editorial (or, maybe, the other way around?) and produced? This is sullying the history of a great character. Curious how characters are never "great" until something negative happens. No one buys a comic or talks about a character or whatever. Then something happens, and you'd think it was the greatest character since Superman.
Comic books are an odd hybrid of two storytelling media. There is the short story and the long form. Short stories are special in that their brevity is used to their advantage. You don't really have time to dwell on the unlikelihood or mechanics of the plot, just buy the ticket and take the ride. Case in point: Stephen King's short story Trucks was a marvelous commentary on how our own advances enslave us, and ended with a frightening question about just how far humanity had fallen to its creations. By way of contrast, Maximum Overdrive was just fucking stupid. A cord strangling a person? Really? During King's cameo, "Honey, the machine just called me an asshole," I was like, "Yeah! You tell 'im!" Because the long form eliminated the distractions and viewers could consider, "Wait...how exactly is that supposed to work?", and the point of the story is lost in a wave of stupidity. Well, the pacing didn't help, either, but you know what I mean.
The short story part of comics is obvious -- 22 pages to come up with a story, conflict, action, everything, and somehow come to an ending if not a resolution. The long form comes because, ostensibly, Spider-Man stories from when it first started somehow tie into the character now. It is the Schrodinger's cat of storytelling. It's short story, and long form, and when what is a strength to one and a detriment to the other collide, it isn't pretty.
Comic books have this elastic continuity. I mean, how many years has Kitty Pryde been a teenager (to say nothing of Archie and the gang)? Time moves forward, given how technology and settings keep pace with current times, or even just events like Christmas happen. But Peter Parker is still in his teens/twenties. Some things advance. Some things do not. So when you have people talking about the history of the character, it just seems logistically flawed. I mean, I know New York life is hectic, but all these events?
It has been suggested that overall continuity in comics get chucked in favor of, say, two year story arcs and, when those finish, reboot the series. But that's not going to work. People want to see the continuing adventures of a character. It also disrespects people who can make things work in the long haul (Sandman, Claremont on X-Men, etc.). And people will find ways to make those arcs intersect. They want to play in that sandbox. Consider how Smallville was supposed to be a different take on Superman, but has incorporated so much of the DC characters in its mythos, the differences are only superficial now. Another was the mini Supergirl -- Cosmic Adventures In The 8th Grade. When it started, I was totally on board with it. Supergirl was sympathetic, the cartoony look and feel was great. But with #3, the focus started shifting from this little reality the series existed in to making it more like the regular Supergirl universe, including references to the Legion, Streaky The Super Cat, Comet The Super Horse...why bother making something different when the first thing you do is try to make it the same? And sometimes radical change does get heralded (Marvelman/Miracleman. I'm sorry, I'm not thrilled with the series, I think it's bullshit. But people think it is one of the seminal British comic series. I don't get it, but they clearly do, so whatever). Ralph Bakshi's New Adventures Of Mighty Mouse redefined things radically and became a modern animation classic.
Creators try to make characters relatable or sympathetic or deep or something so people can understand why someone is throwing themselves into what is ostensibly an outlaw career (superheroes are technically vigilantes, but you can't call just anyone that. Superman? He's not a vigilante, he's a Boy Scout! Batman? Oh, hell yeah) or that being a hero is not all glory (Peter "the loser" Parker) or whatever. But when this is done, it sets people howling that it is disrespectful.
And there's nothing that can be done about it. Comics are ostensibly a flawed medium when it comes to the big picture. Sometimes things work (the death of Barry Allen), sometimes they don't (the return of Barry Allen and the revised mythos about the Speed Force). I've said things are bullshit and just moved on. But I don't think (I could be wrong and leave it for others to judge) that I viewed a flawed approach to a flawed storytelling system is some kind of personal affront. Or acting like my memories have been ruined. One of my favorite video game series is the Valis series. The company that owns it licensed it for a series of hentai games. Shocking? Sure. But then again, I hadn't played a Valis game in over a decade, so it's not like this is some legacy I revere. I saw the games, shrugged, and thought, Let's just pretend that doesn't exist, m'kay?
It's something I wonder about. After all, I want to run with the big dogs on this track, so sooner or later, I'm going to run afoul. I'm just wondering at what point is it the readers' unrealistic expectations and at what point is it that I fucked up?