Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday's Rant

So, Girl Friday K (I think that's her rap name)(mine being "Mo JF Master Cube a.k.a. Funky Rage") ranted a bit last week about returning characters from the dead, specifically Stephanie Brown aka Spoiler (rap name: "Slim Stephie").

While I'm not particularly knowledgeable about this specific character, I think the matter of resurrecting dead characters is a good topic of discussion. On one hand, yes, it is cheesier to recycle a deceased character than create a new one out of whole cloth, however, there are benefits as well.

1) Bowing to fan pressure. Bringing back the dead is usually a fan pleaser, and can get you a small sales spike. Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle now appearing in Booster Gold is a good example of this. Warlock, now appearing in Guardians of the Galaxy, may not be a good example.

2) Dead characters come with baggage. A benefit of bringing back an established character who seemingly passed away are that these characters already have their characteristics set. Fans already know who they are, what their motivations are. New characters are a blank slate that have to be filled in over time. It takes a real master to fully bring out the characteristics of a character in a 30 page comic. A recent good example of masterful character building from a blank slate can be seen in Avengers Initiative #13, with the introduction of "Butterball". However, this character building takes a lot of room, leading to...

2a) Resurrecting secondary characters keeps the attention on the main character. In the case of the above example, Butterball takes over the entire comic. It takes a lot of room and time to establish a new character. You aren't just informing the reader about how they think and react to the environment, you are showing how the environment reacts to them. Introducing a resurrected character reduces that need for space, allowing the writer to concentrate on the character the reader bought the comic for, whose reactions to the newly undead lead to...

2b) Following 2a, resurrecting a secondary character can show the emotional depth of the primary character. A good recent example of this is bringing Mockingbird back from the dead to show the emotional depth of Ronin aka Hawkeye in Secret Invasion #2. Bringing in a new character to do this (she was my wife...once) always falls flat.

In any case, this is a good topic for discussion. Superhero comics are basically soap operas for adolescent boys, and use the tropes of that genre extensively, so we should never be surprised by the bringing back of a dead character (though it is interesting that bringing back a hero involves much more controversy than bringing back a villain). What we should be concerned about, as Friday says, is the use of this trick out of laziness or bad storytelling.


Girl Friday K said...

The title for this post had me laughing contentedly for a while, so thank you. And it's totally my rap name. Er . . . yo.

Your point 2, where you discuss the benefits of baggage is completely on. I agree that familiar characters are easier for readers to identify with than new ones. It takes a while to form attachments and comic book fans are one of the best examples of this.

I also think that readers need to be pushed from their comfort zones and into new territories.

Excellent Butterball reference--he is an prime example of what you're talking about here. And awesome.

And God, Stephanie Brown is an excellent example of all of these. Her return is a fan pleaser (sort of?) and definitely a Didio pleaser, if the rumors of his adoration for her are to be believed (I'm not certain if I do) and she's someone that is instantly relatable/identifiable for readers as well as a solid foil for Tim Drake.

It's all so terribly easy and when looking at the big picture, not the worst decision in the world. Especially considering the great controversy surrounding her death (see Girl Wonder site for this) and while I wish I could have gotten on the bus and been pleased about it, this entire thing has been so shoddy in execution.

Higher standards, dammit.

Excellent post and points, John.

Oracle_Batgirl said...

I have no rap name (as yet, suggestions welcome) but my luchador name is Le Explosion De Hayseed!


I want to say, bringing MOST characters back from the dead makes the 'death' completely meaningless to most intelligent comic readers, unless of course it is executed with panache,history, sound reasoning and care for the way in which it is done. Ted Kord coming back could be temporary with all that Booster Gold/going back in time/dragging Blue Beetle with him stuff going on right now in which case it would be a very cool (imho)way to showcase BB and still let him r.i.p.

I'd say that what you both wrote about this is well said. Some secondary resurrections, if well written add intelligent foils to the main character and highlight their story arc. IF WELL WRITTEN of course being the operative words. The only thing worse than a badly written death is an even more badly written resurrection.

And you're right John, Villain res doesn't get the kind of flack a hero would.