Sunday, July 03, 2005

Characters and Problems

Take any (male) member of the Justice League as of the early 1960s and switch his costume and powers (if any) with and other member. Could you tel the difference? Was there anything different in the way that any of the DC characters talked or acted?

Now do the same with any two Marvel heroes. Can you imagine Daredevil talking like the Thing? Mr. Fantastic talking like Spider-Man? Or anyone talking like Thor? Or the Hulk?

Stan managed to give each of his characters at least a couple of dimensions. They had different manerisms and speech patterns. They fought crime for different reasons - for the Torch it was an adventure, for Spider-Man it was a duty. Iron Man was mainly defending his munitions plant. The Hulk just wanted to be left alone.

They also had problems. No one at DC had problems (minor exceptions - the Flash was always late for dates and Lois Lane was always trying to prove that Clark Kent was really Superman).

That's something else - who was the hero really? At DC, Superman pretended that he was Clark Kent. Even in Batman Begins, it is clear that Batman plays Bruce Wayne. If you asked who they *really* were they would answer the hero.

At Marvel the heroes were regular people who put on costumes. Sometimes they even tried to give up being a hero.

This was not universal. The Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and Giant-Man had no real outside lives. Hulk and Thor took over their human counterparts. The Sub-Mariner just was.

All of this added variety to the comics.

But back to problems. Marvel heroes had them. The Thing was ugly. Iron Man had heart problems and a hostile congressman trying to shut him down. Spider-Man was constantly broke and had a newspaper trying to get him arrested.

It wasn't long before Stan started building problems into the character. These often revolved around their lovelife. Don't think that being a superhero gets you women. It always seemed to keep the women away. Consider:

I love my secretary but I can't tell her because she deserves someone who isn't blind.
I love my secretary but I can't tell her because she deserves someone who doesn't have a bad heart.
I love my boss's secretary but I can't tell her because she's afraid of my other identity,
I love my fellow student but I can't tell her because I have power beams coming out of my eyes.
I love my boss's daughter but I can't tell her because she deserves someone who doesn't turn into a giant green monster.

and my favorite:
I love my nurse but I can't tell her because she's not part of the faith (she doesn't worship my father).

Good villains, great fights, continuity and character development, problems. Put it all together and DC never had a chance.

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