Thursday, March 22, 2012

Comics Nepotism: Quicksilver & Hector Hall

Nepotism is an ingrained part of just about every facet of society, but it’s not always a bad thing. It’s the bedrock of great family businesses and parents being able to pass something down to their children beyond male pattern baldness or color blindness. Sure you’ll get some slackers getting promoted ahead of you despite your hard work just because of their last name, but nepotism also creates a healthy class of folks especially dedicated to their craft out of appreciation for what they’ve been given who end up being the best they can be.

Looking at pro wrestling (and it’s a blog post by me, so we’re going to), there are all the horror stories about promoters’ kids getting pushed too hard and too fast, but stretching back to the Von Erichs, Curt Hennig, etc. and through today to Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes and the eight billion other legacy competitors throughout WWE and beyond, you find some of the most talented and hardworking guys and girls in the business.

In short, the word “nepotism” seems to always have negative connotations, but it shouldn’t; we get some of our best and brightest because one generation instills in the next their tutelage as well as their sense of respect for what they’ve been born into. Comics has gotten some of our greatest talents because they followed in footsteps, from John Romita Jr., to the Kuberts, to Stephanie Buscema and so on.

It is also highly possible I’ve misused the word “nepotism” thus far, so long story short I think kids getting a shot because of their parents can be a good thing, and now with three at least semi-serious paragraphs out of the way explaining my feelings, I’m ready to talk about fictional characters.

I got on this train of thought yesterday because I was editing some stories about The Scarlet Witch and Avengers Vs. X-Men for Marvel.com, tagging related characters, placing Quicksilver in there because he’s her brother and getting a real “one of these things is not like the other” vibe.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Quicksilver. He’s both a jerk and a super speedster, so to say he’s in my wheelhouse would be an understatement. Loved him as an Avenger, loved him in X-Factor, love him in Avengers Academy. Peter David’s use of him to exposit why people with super speed are often obnoxious in the classic X-Factor issue drawn by Joe Quesada where they have the session with Doc Samson (oh you know the one) is one of the great character pieces of all-time; his squabbles with Magneto, his overprotective stance toward Wanda and his ability to spice up any team dynamic make him an invaluable denizen of the Marvel Universe. Also, I feel for the dude since he got mixed up with that harpy, Crystal.

However, at the end of the day, Pietro Maximoff is a guy whose dad controls one of the primal forces of natures and whose sister manipulates reality itself while he runs really fast. He is by far the underachiever of his family; he makes up for it in bluster, but it’s always interesting to me how Quicksilver ends up at the center of stuff that seems a bit above his pay grade powers-wise because of who he’s related to. If there is an example of nepotism on the fictional side of comic books, I think Quicksilver would be it.

House of M would of course be the major example, as Quicksilver gets The Scarlet Witch to restructure the entire world and becomes the force behind Magneto’s power in order to protect his family as best he can. It’s an interesting bit, actually, because the nature of comics generally dictate that the most powerful characters are at the center of stories like that simply because they’re the only ones who can hang in the big world-shaking rumbles (Superman is the only one physically capable of punching the Anti-Monitor to death, only Thor can survive an up close battle with an out-of-control Sentry, etc.), but Pietro bucks that hierarchy and pushes his way to where he needs to be motivated purely by character stuff; the fact that he can crack the sound barrier barely plays a role in House of M.

In this case, it’s another argument for nepotism (after a fashion, and I may still be using the word wrong, so this post is basically a flimsy house of cards), as it allows a character who wouldn’t be a prime time player from a power perspective crack the tired A-list and forces creators to drive their stories on why and how deeply some players care as opposed to how hard they hit.

My counterpoint—who may prove to actually be more supplementary or complimentary or something—over at DC would be Hector Hall, aka The Silver Scarab, aka The Sandman, aka Doctor Fate, aka probably the new Americommando or something someday. Hector gets into the hero business because his parents were Hawkman and Hawkgirl; initially, they don’t let him in the Justice Society, so it’s kind of anti-nepotism (ok, I’m definitely using this word wrong, but I don’t feel like using a dictionary and/or thesaurus right now), but he gathers up all the other JSA sons and daughter and forms Infinity, Inc., the ultimate “we’re super heroes because our folks are” group, so there you go.

Hector is actually pretty awful at being a super hero, but every time he fails horribly, keeps coming back, basically because he’s got nothing else; despite being some sort of scientific genius, wanting to follow in his mom and dad’s footsteps totally consumes him. He turned evil as Silver Scarab and his teammates had to kill him. He got played by the Dreaming as The Sandman and eventually got booted from the realm back to death by Morpheus. He came back again and had a pretty respectable run as Doctor Fate, but ultimately got beaten near to death and ditched his physical body to live back in the Dreaming with his wife and son.

Once again, the fact that a major facet of Hector Hall was his desire to prove himself to his family and that he continued getting shots to do so beyond the point of your average also-ran added layers to him and made him more interesting. Once again, the advantages he got by being linked to existing heroes were a benefit and not an annoyance, at least to me as a fan.

The silly point I guess I can wrap by making is that in real life we sometimes get aggravated at seeing nepotism in action even if it the beneficiary is best-qualified for their job because we’re human and we feel jealousy. In fiction, nepotism is actually a plus because it can build a character instantly and help them stand out by making their personal ties more important than their power set.

Did I seriously just spend all that time to make the assertion that we view fake people differently than real people? And how many times did I botch the use of the word nepotism?

Both Quicksilver and Hector Hall have white hair; hopefully that revelation makes up for any of your time you feel I may have wasted.

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