Saturday, January 8, 2011

Which Character Has the Whole Enchilada?

Doug: Today's question asks you to consider which single character in all of comicdom is perfect execution-wise: from the origin story to the costume to the basic characterization, which character is fully capable of the suspension of disbelief? Which character might have been a product of his/her time, yet remains relevant years later?

Doug: My vote goes to Captain America. Introduced in a comic book cover-dated months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States' entry into World War II,
Steve Rogers epitomized the patriotic fervor that was welling in this country as President Roosevelt sought to circumvent the isolationists. Was it ironic that Rogers represented the blond Aryan look that Hitler so coveted for his people, and that he was to become the first of what would become an Allied Master Race? The strong young Anglo-Saxon, Rogers came to embody freedom, spirit, tact, perseverance, integrity, and every other antithesis to the Third Reich.

Doug: Captain America then becomes a timeless character with one of the better revival stories told of Marvel's "Big Three" from the War years. The "man out of time" angle gave Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, among others, enough fodder to bring the Captain through the Silver Age. Constantly finding how society had changed and attempting to find a way to stay relevant in the Vietnam era, and then being ushered through the Watergate travesty by Steve Englehart, Steve Rogers' patriotic mettle was tested.
Always tied to both the Avengers and SHIELD, the Captain became the moral voice and conscience of the Marvel Universe.

Doug: And what of the costume? I'd argue that it's the best costume in comics. Yes, I've heard that Spider-Man's or Green Lantern's have often been mentioned in that vein, and I'd not argue that they are visually stunning. But is there a costume that more readily identifies a character and what he stands for? Couple that with the fact that's it's gone unchanged for almost 70 years, and I think we have a winner.


Doug: But who do you think is the most solid character ever designed? Is it Batman? The aforementioned Green Lantern (Hal Jordan version)? What about some villains?

10 comments:

joe bloke said...

Batman.

Best origin? check.
Best costume? check.
Best gadgets? check.
Best hq? check.
Best supporting cast? check.
Best rogues gallery? so very check.

and don't even get me started on the car. . .oh, that car. . .

Edo Bosnar said...

Spider-man. Just because - I could write a lengthy, tiresome explanation, but I don't think it's necessary.

Eric Goebelbecker said...

And now for your contrarian reading pleasure: Superman.

While he has had some cosmetic changes over the years, and a few basic changes like leaping into flying and the addition, (and briefly, subtraction) of kryptonite, he is still the same character he always was. He's always been the Nietzschean uebermensch that championed the underdog and in so doing captured everyone's imagination.

The very fact that few "hardcore" comics fan find him interesting unless he's just been killed or Elseworlded (remember Speeding Bullets? Awesome yarn!) makes my point. *Everyone* loves him.

And his logo often serves as an avatar for comics in general.

Batman has had to mutate to stay relevant. I love the O'Neill/Adams and Miller Batmans, but there's been a few eras that were just unbearable, including much of the 40's, all of the 50's (where he was a bargain-basement Superman), and much of the 60's - until O'Neil and Adams.

But then he stagnated and Miller had to breath life into him again. But let's face it: the dark and gritty Batman can get old and is easy to overdo too. His most identifying feature can become a liability.

I think much of Spider-Man's main appeal is the soap opera: he's really romance comics with tights. Don't get me wrong, I like it! He does come close to timeless though, and Ditko's character designs (for Spidey, JJJ, and Aunt May) really are very iconic. I think he is the hero that most typifies NYC, and that's worth something.

I think Cap is another character that had to change. Lee/Kirby's Cap is not Simon/Kirby's Cap. The Golden Age Cap was an icon and propaganda (not that there's anything wrong with that). The Silver Age Cap was almost a counter-culture what-happened-to-America character, and the best modern stories hit that note, including his best Bronze Age tales.

Superhero Legacy said...

I have to agree with the Captain America vote.

Anonymous said...

Spider-Man. No revisions have been necessary. His origin story is perfect inasmuch as it establishes the motivation that has kept him fighting crime to this day. Batman's origin story is good, but seldom really comes to bear on his stories. Plus Batman keeps having to get updated to stay "relevant." Now he's a horrible ninja who relies on his iPhone to get things done. Spider-Man still has the same ol' web-shooters and spider-powers.

Spider-Man also ties with Superman as the most recognized superhero with the general public worldwide. He's huge in India and Japan--they have their own Spider-Men in addition to ours.

Batman has sucked eggs ever since they made Dick Grayson age and retire as Robin.

Rip Jagger said...

I have to agree with Joe. Batman is the most complete comic book superhero there is. The character can apparently withstand any alteration and remain recognizable.

All the elements are there and while they keep fastening new details onto the core origin story, the core story remains untouched.

I say this, and I'm not even particularly a Bats fan.

Rip Off

david_b said...

I'd go with either Captain America or Spidey, basically timeless.., but if you're looking at the look representing his/her spirit or 'story', I'd prefer Cap or perhaps even Superman.

Bats and Spidey, can you actually summize their entire backstory, their entire rationale for why they're a superhero solely by their costumes and fighting style?

Very subjective. Great topic.

Karen said...

I could go for any of the heroes mentioned here. All have solid origins, costumes, purposes. It's interesting that both Spider-man and Batman are motivated by the deaths of parent figures.Yet the reaction by each is very different!

Karen

Dandy Forsdyke said...

I agree with Karen, that there is a strong case for anyone of the ones already mentioned - Superman, Batman, Captain America and Spider-Man.

Anonymous said...

I know you’re going to say he’s not really a conventional super hero, but I’d go for the Surfer.

Excellent origin, interesting links to other characters, ‘costume’ superb, OK, he doesn’t have the Batmobile, but are you going to tell me that flying through space on a silver surfboard is not cool? Great powers. Excellent stories, esp the Lee/Buscema stuff.

If you’d read FF48-50 and then been asked what do you think will happen with this character, you’d never have guessed at plotlines like Mephisto, the Flying Dutchman and witches summoning the Abomination. Maybe that Stranger one was a bit of a Galactus re-tread, but the ending had genuine pathos.

I think he also has something that a lot of other characters don’t have in that he bridges the gap between ‘real life’ and the cosmic storylines. In his original, Stan Lee incarnation, he was quite Christ-like, sacrificing his life to save others and then wandering the Earth generally being out-raged at man’s inhumanity to man, then in the 70’s he was more of a conventional super hero, cropping up in other people’s mags, esp the Defenders, and then when Englehart finally got permission from Stan to bring him back, he hooked up with Warlock, Thanos, Galactus and the cosmic posse.

I think the fact that Stan prevented anyone from using him, apart from occasional guest shots, made him more iconic than many heroes and he didn’t get involved in ridiculous stories where people had clearly run out of ideas.
I also think, given that for the first 20 years of his life there were only 18 issues of his comic extant, it’s amazing how many people had heard of him and knew that he’s cool.

Last point: if you don’t mind me saying, Doug, I think you missed an important criterion. Given that the last 10 years have been all about relentless movie adaptations & games, I think ‘does/he transfer to other media’ is key. Whatever your overall opinion of FF2, the Surfer got about 8.5 on the whoa-ometer ! I haven’t seen Cap yet, but neither tights nor chain mail are going to play well.

Richard

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