Monday, February 23, 2009

Sidekicks, Replacements, etc. part two

Picking up from where we left off...

Wonder Women
As anybody who has spoken with me about comics to a reasonable extent knows, I don't find Wonder Woman to be a very interesting character. I wrote a lengthy article on her history for Wizard back around 2006 or so and after immersing myself in Wonder Woman history and lore, came to the conclusion that, for the most part, she was a character who peaked as a gimmick in the 1940's and has been coasting on name/brand recognition ever since. Now this doesn't mean I haven't read Wonder Woman stories that I've thought were killer, because I adore George Perez's run and really liked Phil Jimenez and Greg Rucka's respective work on the character as well, but none of that convinced me that at her core Diana has much I want to get invested in. It's not like Hal Jordan, where I can pretty much pinpoint why I actively dislike the character but think Geoff Johns (and a few others) are so good at writing stories featuring him that I don't care and love them all the same; with Wonder Woman, I just find her dull, and for no particular good reason.

So obviously then I'd have no problem with a new Wonder Woman because I figure anything to shake the character up couldn't be a bad thing. But who?

I've got a soft spot for my man Bill Messner-Loebs' 90's yarn in which Diana was briefly replaced as Wonder Woman by the more aggressive Artemis. However, like "Prodigal," "War Machine" and even the death and return of Superman, it was a very of the era piece in that it had a feeling of being temporary from the start and you never really got into Artemis in the role because you were just counting down the months until Diana's inevitable return. I give Bill and subsequent creators credit for taking Artemis, who could have been an extremely one-note character in the vein of early Azrael, and actually giving her a lot of depth to the point where I think she's quite underutilized these days and would be a nice addition to a DC team like the Outsiders or just as a more featured character. However, more Artemis as Wonder Woman would feel very "been there, done that," as that story served its purpose and we know decisively why she's not meant for that role.

The most obvious candidate for would-be Wonder Woman is, of course, Donna Troy. However, while I actually really dig Donna by virtue of her New Teen Titans years, the sad fact is that her continuity is so convoluted that no extended story or series starring her would not get bogged down by the inevitable "Who is Donna Troy?" tribute/torture, so her viability as a leading lady is limited. It's too bad, because Donna as the more clued in to the mortal world incarnation of WW is a story that once upon a time would have had real legs. I wonder what could have been had she taken up the mantel post-Crisis the same as Wally...

Cassie Sandsmark is the same deal as Tim Drake: still too young.

I actually very much enjoyed the issues of both Wonder Woman and JLA where Diana's mother, Hippolyta, took over for her as it was an interesting inversion of the usual "younger sidekick takes on the mentor's" role dynamic. It was definitely different. Hippolyta also has the added benefit for DC of keeping more or less the same look and demeanor to one of their most heavily-licensed characters so that casual fans likely wouldn't notice the difference. However, marketing somebody's mother as the star of her own comic for the long-term may not be an easy proposition, so while I think Hippolyta would be a great foreseeable future Wonder Woman, it will likely never happen.

Ditto on trying to market an entirely new character as Wonder Woman.

So like many creators over many decades, I know something needs to be done with Wonder Woman, but I'm not too sure what it is. I'm sure somebody smarter and more creative than me will figure it out eventually.

Ghost Rider
On paper, it seems like the original Ghost Rider should be fairly irreplaceable. Johnny Blaze is a stunt rider with a badass name with a flaming skull for a head, a rad motorcycle, and a girlfriend named Roxanne. On the surface, that has all the makings of an iconic characters in my book, but I guess partly because he launched in the 70's and was likely seen as a passig fad genre character not unlike Shang Chi or Luke Cage (who both rock, FYI). The ease with which Danny Ketch replaced Johnny Blaze in the 90's and then the success he had during the decade shows that when it comes to Ghost Rider, people are maybe not so concerned with whose head is on fire.

With Jason Aaron's run on the current series, I've come to really appreciate Ghost Rider for the first time ever, to the point where it actually may be one of my top ten favorite books out there right now (I read a lot of comics, so top ten is more impressive than it may sound). But as much as I love the voice and persona Aaron has grafted onto--or revitalized in--Johnny Blaze, if he kicked the bucket and was replaced by Danny Ketch, Michael Badalino or some new character next month, I don't think it would dampen my enthusiasm for the title or inspire any sort of visceral outcry for me.

To posit another theory, maybe the lack of emphasis on Ghost Rider's civilian identity comes from the material and genre he springs out of. Ghost Rider probably owes more to the grindhouse horror movies of yore or classic frightfests like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween than it does to Spider-Man or X-Men. In movies and other works from that creative neighborhood, the bad guys/monsters are the stars, and the "heroes" are more or less there to get slaughtered with one pulling the temporary kill switch at the end. Even guys like the doctor/priest (help me out here, Rickey) who is always on Michael Myers' case in the Halloween movies was nowhere near as crucial to the story and the mythology as Michael himself and really could have been anybody. In that sense, Ghost Rider is Freddy/Jason/Michael Myers/Leatherface, and whether it's Johnny, Danny or whoever bringing him out to play is inconsequential.

Kudos to the folks who have worked to flesh out Johnny Blaze, but I think stories like Garth Ennis' Trail of Tears have made it clear that it's the Rider we want to see, and flesh is the last thing on a Ghost Rider fan's mind.

Green Arrow
Given who Oliver Queen is and his personality, I can't imagine anybody raised by him being content to merely fill his role rather than strike out on their own. Also, I can't see any way Ollie would ever surrender being Green Arrow so long as he's alive. Thus the fact that Roy Harper carved out his own adult niche as Arsenal/Red Arrow, honoring Ollie but not duplicating him, and that Connor Hawke, who was not actually raised by Ollie, became Green Arrow for a spell, but only while his dad was dead.

All that said, can there and should there be a Green Arrow other than Oliver Queen? I think there can be, but given what a rich and entertaining character Ollie is, I don't think there's an overwhelming desire among readers for there to be.

As I just said, Roy has carved out his own world and becoming Green Arrow at this point would be a step back. Connor now having spent years in close proximity to his old man and having had Ollie's teachings imparted on him likely now possesses that same independent streak and at least some ego. He may use the Green Arrow name again in the future, but he'll make it his own rather than standing in his dad's shadow (my favorite Connor Hawke story ever, the Key two-parter from early on in JLA, definitely had him in Ollie's shadow--he used a boxing glove arrow!). A female Green Arrow could be interesting someday down the line for a one-shot story, but the ladies in GA's life, from Black Canary to Shado to Speedy, all have their own rich identities as well.

Oliver Queen may not have the iconic value of a Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker (his biggest exposure to the mainstream world on "Smallville" is in a form that bears little resemblance to his comic book self), but he is a much-beloved character I don't think comic fans want to say goodbye to any time soon.

Nobody but Peter Parker should ever be Spider-Man (for more than a few issues). I know I said it already, but it bears repeating and is a statement I feel fairly confident making despite knowing that the winds of comic book change can blow in some unexpected directions.

It's more than just his iconic origin or the fact that a gajillion people have seen the Spider-Man movies and know Peter Parker as Spidey. It's that even though he's an Avenger and has helped saved the world from Skrull invaders, Spider-Man's story remains a very personal one and his world should always remain appropriately confined in conjunction with that.

Everybody in the universe feels Superman's presence and thus when he seemed to be dead, it made sense that people would rise up to fill the tremendous void he left. Same deal with Captain America, Iron Man, Batman, Flash, and any number of other heroes. But with Spider-Man, I feel like the appropriate ending to his story (if there ever were to be one) is him dying in anonymity, either in some battle that very few take notice of or of natural causes with his loved ones by his side. It doesn't seem natural that there would be other folks lining around the block to replace him because "the world needs a Spider-Man."

Peter Parker's mission of redemption and responsibility is one that began with a mistake he made and will end when he's not around to keep making up for it. There's no need for anybody else to take up his cause because it's not one they could possibly share. I don't know whether or to use the Clone Saga as evidence that even the closest approximation of Peter can't fill his role, but I feel like I kinda could.

So yeah, only Peter Parker should ever be Spider-Man.

Until the year 2099.

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