Monday, June 11, 2012

Don't Go Changin', To Try and Please Me...

Karen: We know you were expecting the middle part of our Avengers/Chthon review here, but alas, the Dreaded Deadline Doom has caught up with poor Doug! We'll run the Avengers review tomorrow. Thanks for your patience!

Doug: A couple of weeks ago when we ran the review of The Brave and the Bold #105, which featured the de-powered version of Wonder Woman, I got to thinking about characters who had some history behind them when they were suddenly changed. Diana Prince underwent a pretty drastic shift, losing not only her superpowers but the iconic costume as well. How about other characters? There was Clint Barton's big change from Hawkeye to Goliath, filling the role that Henry Pym had vacated when he took on the Yellowjacket identity. And speaking of ol' Hank, one of our favorite short-lived series in the Bronze Age was Black Goliath, when Dr. Pym's former lab assistant, Bill Foster, assumed the mantle of Goliath.

I'm sure I'm missing other examples... that's your job today, to fill in some gaps. Which of these examples of "character development" did you like, and which did you disdain? Were there some where changing the character back to the original persona was for the best, or were there cases where you developed a fondness for the change? I'm looking forward to your offerings on this subject!


david_b said...

To me a Bronze opus would have been Captain America to Nomad.. The build-up was great, but apparently, per Steve E's interviews, the longevity of the Nomad stint was cut shorter than originally planned. I liked Steve Rogers as either, loved how it was Hawkeye convincing him to switch.

There's SO many I could bring up, the Dr. Strange blue hero stint comes to mind, but the one that I've changed opinions on last year was ol' Dr. Pym as Yellowjacket. It used to be my favorite identity switch, and while I still love him from his glory years serving as Avengers chair (with Vision and Clint's Goliath as members), I've gotten to enjoy him more as the previous Goliath as I read more stories. He was really a central character on the team from ish 28 through 50 (just look at the covers..). As for YJ, I still enjoy his brief Defenders stint the best.

humanbelly said...

OMG, Karen, this could be a HUGE can o' worms you're opening here. You've sort of introduced two different takes on the question, though: 1) The main character who changes his/her "hero" personna (like Clint and Hank Pym both did), and the mantle of the hero personna being passed-on, so to speak, to another individual (as with Black Goliath-- and I think there are many, many more of these). The battlefield of MU history alone is littered with the bodies of both, and I feel like the ultimately-rejected ones far outnumber the favorables. Off the top of my head:

Character changing his heroic persona:

Steve Rogers becoming Nomad at one point and "The Captain" (wasn't it?) at another. Since neither ever had the feel whatsoever of being a permanent change (much more a manifestation of deep, deep internal conflict for the character), I bought into each of them, even as I disliked what Steve was going through.

The Hulk may be the king of this category: Grey Hulk; thuggish Hulk; Savage Hulk; Childlike Hulk; "Professor" Hulk; Completely Mindless Animal Hulk. . . all "Big New Directions" at one point or another. Varying levels of success.

Remember when Peter Parker stopped being Spiderman for awhile, and took on those four SLINGERS identities? Really, that was kind of a hoot, and again, clearly not permanent.

Lorna Dane (Polaris), if I recall, morphed during her time in X-Factor from being a magnetic-powered mutant to being a physically large, powerhouse character. Wha-?

Betsy Braddock- probably the STUPIDEST re-inventing ever: Prim British Telepath transforms into Asian Mutant Ninja Psychic Knife Wielder, because. . . hot ninja chicks were obviously the big ticket right around then. (Remember, Kitty Pryde had a similar experience a few years prior? But didn't physically transform?)

Superman as Red & Blue Energy Creatures (or something)?

Ben Grimm as: 1) Exoskeleton 2) Human/adventurer/boyfriend of another tragic monster. 3) Visually over-complicated hyperstone-armoured sculpture project.

Other folks take on the mantle (and one senses that, if fans had bought into any of them, Marvel would never have looked back):

Peter Parker out/Ben Reilly in (Marvel REALLY tried to make this one happen for good, I'm pretty darned sure).

Thor out/Eric Masterson in.

Tony Stark out/ James Rhodes in.

Steve Rogers out/John Walker in (sort of).


Ant-Man: Hank Pym to Scott Lang (which was terrific) to this newer, lamer yahoo whose name escapes me.

There was a very brief, bad stretch where they attempted to make Rick Jones a younger, cooler, more youth-friendly Hulk (with great hair, I must admit).

Ohhhh, I'm sure there are many, many more.


Chuck Wells said...

I regret that Black Goliath never took his act over to the Avengers roster, as I believe that Hank Pym's BEST role was as Yellowjacket. That heroic name suited his partnership with the Wasp to a far better degree than anything prior and it addressed his identity issues for the most part. Bill Foster should have stayed as "Goliath" and Scott Lang later took up the original "Ant-Man" identity, in fact I would have enjoyed seeing a short-term Avengers roster built around Hank & Jan as Yellowjacket and the Wasp as lead founding members, alongside Foster as Goliath and Lang as Ant-Man; with Clint Barton back as Hawkeye and perhaps Vision, Scarlet Witch and Black Panther to flesh out the group.

Anonymous said...

all I know is Monica Rambeau is Narvel's best Captain Marvel


Edo Bosnar said...

I always liked the Yellowjacket identity, so I kind of liked that change. I also remember how odd I thought it was when, while reading those Marvel Super Action reprints, Hawkeye assumed the Goliath identity for a while.

Anyway, perhaps the earliest example of a major switch is Red Tornado, who went from being a parody character in the Golden Age to a super-powered android in the Silver Age and beyond - I have to say, I rather prefer the original, Ma Hunkel version.
Xrayman, I agree with you about Monica Rambeau, but I never actually liked that she was called Captain Marvel - it seemed like a bland name for such a cool character. Also, I love that version of her in Nextwave.

Otherwise, Green Arrow went through some interesting changes: first, there was the famous personality switch, from a basically dull rich guy to hippyesque social crusader. Then Mike Grell turned him into this dark urban vigilante and completely de-emphasized the gimmick arrows and super-hero aspects of the character. I guess I prefer his cantankerous social crusader persona, but maybe that's just because I never read enough of those Grell stories...

Matthew Bradley said...

Just wanted to second the Black Goliath love!

david_b said...

Adding Black Goliath love, seemed like a logical choice with Type-C heroes like Hellcat and Moondragon added to the proud ranks.

Another 'mercifully brief' change I hated was the entire Dr. Pym in red coveralls phase. Sure the '90s gave us many uncomfortable changes, this ranked up there.

Now changing to my YJ avatar, in the grand Pym spirit.

William said...

Batman has changed identities at least a couple of times. The most famous being Azrael Batman. Dick Grayson has also taken up the mantel of the Bat on more than one occasion. And while we're on the subject there have been more versions of Robin than you can shake a stick at. From Dick Grayson to Jason Todd to Tim Drake to Damian Wayne. There have even been a couple of female Robins like Stephane Brown and Carrie Kelley (but I don't know if the latter counts since DKR was supposedly an Elseworlds story).

Recently Spider-Man (The Ultimate Version) has changed identities from Peter Parker to Miles Morales.

Not a big fan of iconic characters changing identities, because I see no good reason for it. Bruce Wayne is Batman, Peter Parker is Spider-Man, Steve Rogers is Captain American, Clark Kent is Superman, etc. Changing their civilian identities is just another example of the old adage that "there are no bad characters, just bad writers". For example, a good writer should be able to make Bruce Wayne interesting enough that readers will want to continue following his adventures indefinitely as Batman. If a writer feels they have to "shake things up" in order to hold the reader's interest, then they just aren't doing a very good job, IMO.

Matthew Bradley said...

William, I couldn't agree more. This is why the ever-increasing parade of reboots and reimaginings in both comics and movies annoys me so. A talented writer should be able to come up with a new story in the existing continuity without hitting the reset button every five minutes. Marvel's writers did it for at least a quarter of a century (my frame of reference) with notable success. Not that they hit one out of the park every time, but if you have a bad issue, or even a string of them, then regroup and move on.

humanbelly said...

Say, we're missing a pretty obvious example of where "Same-person-new-identity" for an entire group of well-established (well, been around awhile, at least) characters worked wonderfully-- because it was an intrinsic aspect of their concept: THE THUNDERBOLTS.

Screaming Mimi? Who the flip was she?? But I LOVE Songbird. The Fixer? The Beetle? Decades of being forgetable. Techno and Mach-(roman numeral)? Complex and interesting and sympathetic characters. Same with LONGtime bad seed, low-life, underachieving thug Erik Josten-- a very, very entrenched third-rater whose struggles to be a hero quite late in his career are quietly inspiring and heartbreaking-- as the shlub can't seem to catch a break once he's turned over that new leaf. Heck, is he still alive-ish these days?


Karen said...

I'm still annoyed that seemed to bring back Black Goliath in Civil War just so they could kill him...come on!

Anonymous said...

Hey hey !

Yeah it seems to me that comic book creators try to shake up their characters for various reasons - 1) as a sales gimmick 2) for variety 3)trying to put a different spin on a well established character.

Off the top of my head : the switch from the savage Hulk persona to the intelligent/surly/mindless ones. Personally, I always preferred the savage persona.

Luke Cage's physical transformation from Afro/tiara/yellow shirt to bald/goateed guy. Although I'm a child of the 70s and always viewed Cage in that era, I understand this switch. Can't imagine an Afro/tiara in this day and age!

Peter Parker and the whole Ben Reilly clone saga. Really? That whole storyline was an exercise in confusion IMHO. One Peter Parker is enough.

Now that the Avengers movie is a success, I wonder if they'll portray Stark as some wisecracking smarty-pants in the comics as well. I hope they don't. I think Karen alluded to this in another blog, but for me and other Iron Man purists, that persona doesn't fit him at all.


- Mike from Trinidad & Tobago.

El Lass said...

I enjoed the Reign of the Supermen arc.

One of the big Marvel switches I liked was the Human Torch / Vision connection. I'm sure it was re-retconned, but I liked it.

William said...

Karen, that annoyed me too about Black Goliath (Bill Foster). I always liked him a lot. In fact, I have every issue of his original solo series, and all of his appearances in Marvel Two-In-One, etc.

However, I don't really count anything that has happened in the last ten years or more at Marvel to be "real" anyway. I mean J. Jonah Jameson is the freaking Mayor of New York, and the U.S. Government put Norman Osborn (a known psychopath and felon) in charge of National Security. The New York City that currently appears in Marvel Comics might as well be Gotham City or Metropolis as far as I'm concerned. I pretty much consider the entire modern Marvel Universe as one giant "What-If" story.

"What if a bunch indie comic creators took over Marvel and proceeded to destroy everything that the fans loved about it?"

So, as far as we know, Bill Foster is still alive and well in the actual Marvel U, that ceased publication sometime around the turn of the century.

Edo Bosnar said...

Hopefully not digressing too much, but it's nice to see so much love for Bill Foster - I like the character as well, and had the entire run (all whopping five issues!) of the Black Goliath series. Which leads me to once more pine for some kind of Essentials volume that would collect the appearances of Marvel's various third-stringers from the 1970s who for whatever reason headlined their own series, like Black Goliath, Cat/Tigra, Red Wolf...

Rip Jagger said...

Probably the most successful of these switches that I can think of was when Hank McCoy was transformed into the blue furry Beast. He dropped the big words and became a really visually interesting character with a powerhouse personality. He really livened up the proceedings in the Avengers for many many years.

Rip Off

Anonymous said...

NOBODY said Marvel Girl into Phoenix? Excuse me while I feed the elephant.


Inkstained Wretch said...

I am surprised nobody mentioned Hal Jordan quitting and John Stewart taking over as Green Lantern. That was an solid storyline that - unfortunately in my opinion - took a dreadful turn when the series became Green Lantern Corps. What a novel concept: A superhero team where everybody has the exact same powers! Ughh...

Still, that whole arc did put John Stewart front and center, which eventually gave us the best character of the Justice League animated series.

Right around the same time, Jim Rhodes took over for Tony Stark as Iron Man. Clearly, the comics industry was feeling a need to make over some established heroes to more their universes more diverse.

humanbelly said...

Boy, a lot of good big ones popping up after a bit of pondering. Nice job, folks-! And of course, Wally West taking on the primary Flash identity (or did someone mention that already?). I have about the first 4 or 5 years of that run, and Barry was an ever-looming shadow within the context of the book itself, which was not handled too badly, all in all. Boy, here's a further twist on that very storyline, though, that may have been forgotten: right before the original book was cancelled (and Barry was subsequently killed during Crisis on Infinite Earths, right?), Barry had his features cosmetically altered by the super-gorillas, for some plot-device reason, so that while the uniform was the same, and the person was the same, the face UNDER the mask was different. I recall it had unfortunate consequences. . .


vancouver mark said...

Uh, speaking of feeding the elephant... only bigger...

Without a doubt the most tragic and misguided revision of an important character came in 1968, when Stan Lee and John Buscema fundamentally changed the nature and history of the Silver Surfer.
The Buscema look was fine, I like both his vision of the Surfer's look and Kirby's.
But the whole Norrin Radd/Zenn-La/Shalla Bal soap opera was so tedious, and limited the character to basically an alien Peter Parker. Having the Surfer mope around the planet for seventeen issues wasn't a good use of such boundless potential. I have all the original run and can barely get into them now, while the earlier FF appearances still krackle with cosmic power.

In some alternate reality Jack Kirby got to do the Silver Surfer book, and through it introduced his Fourth World characters, and a hundred wierd and wondrous worlds. Young new artists coming into Marvel like Steranko and Starlin could have worked with him, collaborating on the spin-off titles, and we would have lived happily ever after.
Probably the Beatles wouldn't even have broken up, who knows...

humanbelly said...

Say, VC Mark--

I just read a bit about this in Mark Evanier's Jack Kirby biography (I was skipping ahead). That 18th issue was actually pencilled by Jack Kirby (Herb Trimpe inks), and represented yet another towering indignity heaped upon the stalwart King. According to Evanier's recounting, Kirby was entirely responsible for the creation of the Surfer in the FF-- Stan had no idea who the character was upon receiving the finished pages of artwork in order to provide script. When they decided to give the SS a solo book, Jack clearly expected to do the pencils. . . and never received any call or contact whatsoever. Then when the book was flailing and about to be cancelled, he's given that final issue to draw, but the mandate was that the character become the antithesis of what Jack's initial vision had been. Jack perpetually needed the money, though-- so he just churned out the expected pages, and soldiered on. . .

Geeze. . .

(I have to say that neither Stan nor Martin Goodman come off looking good at all in this particular biography)


Anonymous said...

Hi Vancouver Mark – you make a superb and well argued point and take on a sacred cow. I utterly disagree with you, but I completely see your perspective and you make a good case.

Hi HB – Stan’s a weird one, isn’t he? On the one hand, he never gives enough credit to his artists for their very high level of input into the plot/story/characterisation, but he endlessly trumpets his Marvel method and freely admits that sometimes his input into the story was as little as a couple of sentences over the phone, the implications of which are that the artist largely created the plot, and thereby more or less the direction of the dialogue as well. Though the Surfer was his favourite character and has become so associated with Stan, he has often stated that the Surfer was a 100% Kirby creation. Likewise, he takes credit as the ‘creator’ of Spider Man but freely admits that Ditko designed him and created most of his powers, particularly his spider sense, of which Lee knew nothing.


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