Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What's More Important -- the Man or the Mask?

Doug: DC Comics has long had a habit of changing the secret identities of their stable of heroes. From the very beginning of the Silver Age, when Barry Allen took the mantle of the Flash and followed shortly by Hal Jordan, Ray Palmer, et al., the DC heroes have often had differing personalities beneath the masks. Wally West, Kyle Rayner, Jason Todd and then Tim Drake... But Marvel doesn't often seem to do this. Sure, there have been some short-term changes, like James Rhodes, Eric Masterson, Ben Reilly, and now Bucky Barnes; and of course now all of their male characters good and bad have become women -- but I don't think any of those changes were ever perceived as being permanent.

What's your take on it? Which is more important -- the costume or the person wearing the costume?


Anonymous said...

If the book is interesting, then chances are the person behind the mask is just as important, maybe more.

I think this is one of the things that set Marvel apart from DC in the early Silver Age. In DC, the secret identity was a plot device and an occasional source of laughs, while over in Marvel the character's identities became critical parts of the stories (at least most of the time.) The difference is especially apparent if you compare Justice League to the book that was supposedly released to cash in on its success, Fantastic Four. In JL the characters really are, just about interchangeable. It's kind of tough to believe that one book was a response to the other.

Doug or Karen: I want to ask you something, but there's no way to do so. Could you drop me an e-mail at eric [at] dogspelledforward.com ?

Fred W. Hill said...

Good assesment, Eric. From the get-go, the civilian identities of the Marvel heroes were as important to the stories as the super-hero ID's. Of course, that was also true of DC's top duo, Superman & Batman -- no one would seriously attempt to permanently replace either Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne. Yet most of the remainder of their stable have rather bland personalites, in or out of the mask.
It does seem to me that Marvel did play with replacing many of their significant adventurers in the late '80s & '90s, with substitute Iron Man, Captain America, Thor (heck, they could've had the Fill-In Avengers), and even Spider-Man. I've wondered if they were seriously considering making those switches permanent but backed off after negative feedback from fans who missed the sagas of Tony, Steve, the real Thor and Peter! The only one of those storylines I read all the way through was Iron Man, up to the point where he sobered up and trounced the Iron Monger.

Doug said...

Ben Reilly... truly one of the lowest points in my comic-reading existence. What a convoluted mess. That, along with the explosion of the X-universe really set me on the path to getting out of new comics. Thank goodness Busiek/Perez gave us a brief reprieve.

Good comments, Eric and Fred -- thanks for the input!


Karen said...

I don't know if it's ever been verified but I recall reading an interview with Doug Moench where he claimed that Jim Shooter wanted to kill off all the original Marvel characters and replace them. I have wondered if the proliferation of "substitute" heroes at Marvel in the 80s was a part of this, or just a natural development, with writers wanting to shake up the status quo.


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