Thursday, September 23, 2010

Plot Devices that Need to Go Away #11

Plot Devices that Need to Go Away #11


Also known as: The ______ Family, the ____ Corps, League, etc.

What is it?

It's a group of of a characters based around a primary "Classic" character, with multiple versions of the same powerset/personality/narrative arcs with only moderate tweaks.

Why Do Comic Companies Do It?

Multiple reasons:

1) Nothing succeeds like success and excess.
2) It's easier to come up with a variation of an old character than to create a new character or to modify/retcon the old one to fit the new variation.
3) Because creators increasingly keep their most original ideas for their own projects.
Recent Offenders Include but are not limited to:
Superman - Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, Powergirl (yes she counts), Steel, The Eradicator.
Flash - Barry, Wally, Jay, NuImpulse, Jesse Quick, Max Mercury, Bart/Kid Flash
Green Lantern - Hal, Kyle, Guy, John, Alan (I don't count the non-Earth ones here).
Batman - Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Azrael, Red Robin, Robin, Batwoman, Batgirl, Spoiler, and I'm sure there's a couple more I'm missing.
Green Arrow: Oliver Queen, Connor Hawke, Arsenal, Speedy, Arrowette (sorta counts?)
Oh, and if you think this is just a DC're wrong, because Marvel is jumping on this bandwagon like it's going on out of style.
Captain America - Steve Rogers, Bucky, Patriot, Nomad, USAgent (sorta counts if you ask me) and I could make a case for Jack Flag
Iron Man - Iron Man, Rescue, War Machine
Hulk - Red Hulk, Green Hulk, the three She-Hulks, A-bomb, the other two Hulk kids...
Wolverine - Logan, Daken, X-23

Spider-Man - Peter Parker, Venom, Anti-Venom, Spider-Girl/Arana, Spider-Woman, Arachne/Julia Carpenter

Patient Zero

While the SHAZAM Marvel Family are certainly the first "family" of supercharacters, I don't count them as part of this particular phase.

No, I think Patient Zero is the 90s "Batfamily" and "Superfamily" of comics where most of these guys (Superboy, Azrael, Nightwing) really started spawning their own separate titles.
Why does it have to go away?

Redundancy, pure and simple - guys like Superman and Batman aren't unique if there are 9 other people in the same universe who can do almost the same thing.

Angles for Redemption of the Device:

OK, I admit that the Kon-El/Conner Kent clone Superboy is a guilty pleasure of mine, but that said? The best thing to do is to phase out a lot of these unnecessary variants or at least start making larger distinctions and differences - and keeping them apart from each other wouldn't hurt either.


Rebekah said...

I disagree, but only partly. I'll admit that Dick Grayson and Tim Drake are guilty pleasures of MINE ... but I don't actually read Batman. I read Nightwing's and Robin's titles for years, but not Batman, because I enjoyed the spectacle of these sunnier, slightly cockeyed characters being immersed in Batman's world. It worked for me somehow. Similarly, I am a big fan of Jay Garrick and Alan Scott, but I don't read the mainline Green Lantern title and I didn't read The Flash until they brought Barry back and the writing caught my attention.

So perhaps there's a use for these superhero franchises--they provide different "flavors" of popular heroes for readers who don't necessarily want to buy the main titles (where there's always a mega-crossover and very little happens long-term because nobody wants to give away the store). I'll admit I currently enjoy Bucky Barnes' and Eli Bradley's adventures more than Steve Rogers', for about the same reason--the writers can take more risks, and the characters can actually change from arc to arc because they don't have decades of brand investment behind them. It also, of course, allows the writers to explore themes related to family, which you can't really do if all of your characters are orphans and loners, and it's an awfully big part of the human experience to leave out of your storytelling long-term.

But I agree otherwise. If the characters aren't being used for risk-taking or exploring new themes and areas of the basic concept, then I'm bored out of my mind.

mrjl said...

No, sorry, you're wrong on this one. I love superhero families, and the fact is they offer chances to do stories that don't quite fit for one character. For example Nightwing as a better adjusted Batman.

Or how people expect Superman and Wonder Woman to get together. They never will, but Superboy and Wondergirl can.

And units like GL Corps just make sense. If you've got abilities tha can be duplicated you'd be dumb not to duplicate them.

And Superman and Batman don't have to be unique to be special

MrCynical said...


Nightwing's alright, but even you have to admit there's now an excess of redundant bat-characters - you've got well-adjusted Dick Grayson, and psychoes Jason Todd (and Azrael). You've got mostly well-adjusted Batgirl and sort-of-adjusting-but-really-screwed-up-by-editorial-fiat Cassandra Cain, and the Huntress. And then you've got Tim Drake, who really doesn't fit too well in the picture...

It's not the act itself - it's the excesses of it.

And while Superboy and Wondergirl can be together - well, that's nice, but there's the arguement that if you really want to see Wonder Woman and Superman together, you have to get it in an Elseworlds, because Conner and Cass aren't Clark and Diana, by your very own arguement.

And as to your last line - isn't "special" another work for unique?


Not every superhero franchise need be about family. I would argue that some franchise can make it work, and others can't.

(in my opinion, the Hulk? Not a good choice- but there he is with a family of similar characters).

And yes, I get the "different flavors" - that is the reasoning for it - but now we're in Baskin Robins territory of having 19 different flavors of chocolate with very little distinction between them.

If you want a different flavor, try bubblegum instead of choco-flavor#28.

mrjl said...

Mr Cynical: special does not necessarily mean unique. Look at professional atheletes. They are considered special, but all have an at least somewhat overlapping skill set.

In fact you could say that anyone that does something exceptionally well is special but if its a field that draws multiple people to it then they're definately not unique.

MrCynical said...


I'll buy your analogy. The point of this post being that there are a lot of extra goalies and centers that make them redundant, while there seems to be a shortage of defensemen

(trying to find a universal sports analogy here is difficult- so I hope this is close enough to follow)