What causes these great stories?
The easiest way to guarantee these things is to set stories in
real time. Because real time ensures:
But let's look at those arguments anyway.
Apparently, Nobody likes old heroes. Nobody likes Wolverine (born in the 1880s), nobody likes Thor (over a thousand years old), nobody likes Magneto (a survivor of the WWII Holocaust), nobody likes Hercules (around three thousand years old), nobody likes Nick Fury (active in WWII), nobody likes the Punisher (active in the Vietnam war)... hey, wait a minute...
Whenever you discuss older heroes, somebody mentions Spider-Man.
They say Spider-Man is all about youth. Really? I thought it was
about the opposite of youth: responsibility.
I am not a Spider-Man expert, but I know a man who is. Much of
this section is based on articles by J.R.
Fettinger, of spideykicksbutt.com.
When Spidey is about youth, sales decline
Spider-Man was about youth in the 1970s and onwards, when sales declined and stories were forgettable. Youth became the obsession in the 1990s:
Editors "killed" Peter Parker's infant daughter before she had the chance to draw her first breath. But that wasn't enough. He wasn't miserable enough, alone enough, young enough. So then, they "murdered" his wife as well. Blew her up in a plane. Then they got him fired from his job. After that, they evicted him from his apartment and put him out on the streets. Now, what they have wanted for so many years seems to be within their grasp. They want to break Peter Parker, crush his spirit, destroy his will, and turn him into a morose and bitter young man, full of anguish and sorrow. (source)
They also tried to replace him with a new, baggage-free version.
Remember the clone saga? The result was the 1990s, the worst
Spider-Man stories ever
The original Spider-Man is about responsibility
The theme for Spider-Man is explicit, well known and was stated right at the start: "With great power comes great responsibility." Spider-Man rose to this challenge and quickly became an adult in his actions and attitudes;
"After the death of Uncle Ben, Peter
becomes the head of the household because Aunt May becomes too
frail and senile to do much of anything (the way she was written
at that time). Although Aunt May cooks him wheat cakes and worries
about him being sick, Peter is the one with the primary source of
income, and he is also her primary caregiver, a very atypical
situation for a 15 or 16 year old. Speaking of Peter's employment,
I probably really don't need to talk about the inherent absurdity
of a high schooler becoming one of the premier photographers of
that great metropolitan newspaper, the Daily Bugle. Peter's (and
Spidey's) quick, razor-sharp witticisms tend to be the product of
a more mature, experienced, well-read individual given the topical
references, like maybe a middle-aged writer.
"But seriously, an expert in complex polymers by age 15 (as Roger Stern once illustrated - in order to demonstrate that Peter was already on the road to the web fluid thing)? And then there's that anti-magnetic inverter he uses in Amazing #2 to take out the Vulture. And don't forget how he whipped up an antidote to temporarily cure the Lizard all in the space of a couple of panels in Amazing #6. I have a feeling that any kid this smart would not be in the New York City public school system, or any public school system. So, ultimately, Peter Parker was never a real kid, not in the sense that real kids are, but he was really an adult in a teenager's body. He had the weight of the world on his shoulders like an adult, and he had true adult responsibilities.
"Also, when I was a teenager, my heroes didn't have to be my own age. Frankly, I felt so disenfranchised in my high school years that I was inclined not to empathize with people my own age, whether real or imagined. And I do think that is why a lot of young people related to Spidey, because of that sense of alienation." (source)
But what of merchandising and movies? The same applies. The public does NOT want youth.
Remember how Spider-man's sales increased after Ditko left and
Romita took over? His Spider-man looked beefier, bigger, he had
matured. Fans loved it. Then he stopped changing and sales began
their long decline. Marvel has tried a young Spider-man many
times. Nova was supposed to be a new Spider-Man, and the book was
canceled. Busiek's Untold Tales had a young Spider-man and was
canceled. Ultimate Spider-Man does OK, but doesn't sell as many as
the older, original Spider-man, and most issues are probably
bought by people who buy both. Spider-Man is not about youth.
Interviewer: "Since Peter Parker was originally a high school student, why is he called 'Spider-Man' and not 'Spider-Boy'”?
Steve Ditko's Spider-Man had a
beginning, middle and end
Steve Ditko's Spider-Man constantly moved forward. "hz1963" noted that Ditko's Peter ended his "young" stage in issue 33.
we all know, #33 was the culmination of Pete's heroic
progression, as he pushes himself beyond his limits and ends up
saving Aunt May. Beyond just bringing her the needed serum, it
looks like Ditko wanted to show that Peter, in Peter's own mind,
finally "settled accounts" and would no longer have the
compulsion to make up for his irresponsibility in letting the
burglar run past the guard."
Ditko considered that the 'childish' phase only made sense for a 16 year old or younger.
"He told Marv Wolfman and others that Peter, if he was going to screw up all the time, shouldn't progress beyond 16 years of age, since (in Ditko's opinion) one is still learning at that age and, as the idealized hero that Ditko preferred, would become quite different once reaching maturity." (source)
LOVED the scene, after [saving Aunt May], when Pete STANDS UP to
Jameson and you can see he no longer intends to put up with his
S*** anymore. Even Jameson realizes something changed."
Why Ditko was so good
Steve Ditko's Spider-Man was not the first young superhero (remember Superboy?) but it stood out because it felt real. Why was it so real? Because Peter Parker was Steve Ditko. Doc Dynamo observes:
planned to write a book on Ditko and did a lot of research on his
background. She said that several characters in Spider-man look
like people Ditko grew up with. For example, there's a dead ringer
for Flash Thompson in Ditko's high school year book. There's
supposed to be a lot of resemblance in dress, appearance and
behavior between Aunt May and Ditko's own mother as well. [...]
Lee IMO came up with the idea of the teenager/loser as superhero.
It seems like the idea he is proudest of. But while Lee thought of
the idea of Peter Parker, he had never been a Peter Parker
himself. He was always an outgoing, charming, popular guy. He was
an editor at what, 19? Ditko on the other hand was Peter Parker.
He had grown up poor, and not very popular. He had to scratch out
a living at Charlton, the poverty row of comics. Finally for the
first 35 years of his life he had bad bouts of tuberculosis and
everybody expected him to die young. He was an underdog. So Lee
comes up with his great idea and his creative partner has a
passionate identification with the idea and the character that
exceeds his own. I don't think this has ever happened before or
Ditko left because he could not move forward:
Doc Dynamo suggested three reasons why Ditko left Marvel:
conceived of Spider-man as being realistic...for a comic book.
Ditko wanted Spider-man to be realistic period. I think this was
the root of their clashes over the identity of the Green Goblin.
Ditko wanted the Goblin to be an unknown because that's how it
would work in the real world. Lee (correctly IMO) thought this
wouldn't work in a comic book. Less famously Ditko wanted to
kill a supporting character in a car accident, Lee thought this
wasn't dramatic enough for comics. I think Ditko might have been
right about this. Spider-man is a comic in which someone dying
in a random accident instead of at the hands of a super villain
feels right. I think if they had done this, we'd still be
talking about it. Both of these Ditko ideas were I think his
tests of Lee. He saw Lee's commercial sense as selling out the
Spider-man concept. It wasn't ever going to be as real as it
should have been.
"Second, Ditko stopped being a Peter Parker. His TB cleared up. He was getting recognized (finally) as a great artist. He wasn't a loser anymore. Ditko had changed. He wanted Peter Parker to change too. I think he wanted Parker to overcome his problems, to become self confident. He couldn't actually realize this vision, but in Spider-man 33 he realizes it symbolically. When Spider-man throws off the rubble that's pinning him down, he's throwing off Peter Parker's doubts and problems. That scene completes Ditko's Spider-man. After that Ditko had nowhere to go... but out the door.
"Finally there's the Rand factor. I think Rand gave Ditko a structure and vocabulary for understanding his predicament at Marvel. Specifically, Rand says a creative person has a right to compensation, either monetary or in terms of creative satisfaction from their work. Rand's heroes refuse to compromise on this. Ditko wasn't being paid what he thought he was worth. I think this was a matter of principle to him, not money. If you care about money, do you leave Marvel for Charlton? Ditko was never going to be able to make Spider-man go where he wanted it to. Lee wanted to keep the formula intact. So Ditko did Roark/Galt thing and quit rather than compromise."
As noted, Spider-Man's sales then went up for a while. Why?
Because Romita's art showed a beefier, more confident hero. He
moved on, he left High School, he grew older, he moved on. But
gradually the story stopped developing. Then the sales figures
began their long decline.
Ditko almost came back. What stopped him:
In the 1990s Marvel almost persuaded Ditko to return to Spider-Man. But then he saw "untold Tales of Spider-Man," a series that showed a complete disregard for the continuity of the originals (shoe-horning in extra villains and modern sensibilities between the original stories).
I recently read a post from Kurt Busiek stating that Marvel had almost convinced Ditko to do another Spider-Man story until someone from Marvel sent him copies of UNTOLD TALES and that torpedoed the whole deal. - Michael Roberts
Well, as long as Kurt's admitting to it, yes. That's what I heard from Ralph Macchio. He'd come within inches of convincing Ditko to do a new Spider-Man story, then Steve saw UNTOLD, took offense, and backed away. - John Byrne
Supporters of forever-young superheroes openly admit that this requires readers to stop reading after five years or so. Just as they did in 1950s DC. As John Byrne put it:
them truly timeless -- which means no life-altering events -- is
exactly what kept characters like Superman and Batman appealing
to a steadily shifting audience for decades.
"Steadily shifting" is the key phrase. The problem lies not in the timeless characters, but in the readers who stick around long enough to NOTICE that the characters are timeless. The first time you think to yourself Hey! I'm five years older than when I started reading, why isn't Captain Fonebone? is exactly the time you should be thinking about finding another hobby."
Stan Lee's genius, in the real-time 1960s, was to realize that readers do not need to leave every five years. Stories can move forwards, keeping old fans, and new fans join to see what the fuss is about. The new fans then catch up with the old comics. Repeat sales! This is how it worked in Britain in the 1970s, where we almost never saw a new comic, just reprints. That British generation inspired some of the greatest new artists and writers: Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and all the rest.
But Spider-man's sales declined as he got older?When Spider-Man's aged rapidly (in the 1960s), sales went up.
When his rate of aging slowed, sales went down.
When his age was reversed (e.g. the 1990s, or Brand New Day) sales still went down.
When meaningful change is promised (a birth, marriage, death, or "Spidey will never be the same") sales go up.
The X-Men provide a scientific control group. Unlike Spider-Man, the X-Men were conceived as young: they were a school story, with an adult in charge. They were specifically tied to puberty (that is when their powers appear). It was created by the top talent (Lee and Kirby) at the same time as Spider-Man. And sales were mediocre. X-Men sales only took off once most of the original team retired, those who remained grew older, and new, even older characters appeared. Wolverine looked old (and was later revealed to be VERY old). Banshee was old, and when he grew too old and died it made the book more exciting.
Critics fear aging because it means heroes must age, and either die or retire. These are precisely the features that made the X-Men so dynamic and such a success.
Critics counter that Wolverine does not look his full age, but neither would any other heroes (unless they wanted to). Half of them change form regularly so regenerate each time, and the rest have advanced technology at their disposal, at least every ten years or so:
Heroes never need to look old. Like Nick Fury, all heroes would find a Methuselah treatment... if they survived that long.
For example, this is from Alan Davis's "Fantastic Four: The End:"
Real Time heroes are more in touch with the real world, so they seem more alive, more relevant. Just compare Marvel and DC in the 1960s, or the X-Men and other comics in the 1970s, or manga with western comics.
Older, married heroes would never settle down
Older, married heroes would be faced with the dilemma: save your child or save the world? This creates more tension, more drama, more real world problems.
Retiring can be a very smart move
Remember when the original, older X-Men were replaced by new, younger heroes in the 1970s? Sure, you can't guarantee that every new team will be a hit, but if you constantly create dynamic, changing stories you will find at least one popular new team or character every ten years.
The best way to attract new young readers is to keep the old readers:
For legendary characters, time is important.
Read the legends of Heracles or Odysseus or Thor, the archetypal heroes. They grow, they change, they get old and they die. The gods will die at Ragnarok. Odysseus died at the hands of Telegonus, his son with Circe. Heracles dies from the hydra's blood on Nessa's tunic. Also, the Greek legends are tied to specific dates and places (in particular the sacking of Troy in 1184 BC).
It is selfish to deny readers a choice. New readers should be offered BOTH Marvel Time and real time.
merchandising requires an unchanging brand, but it still allows the Ultimate universe, the Zombie universe, the 2099 universe, the 1602 universe, the various "last X story" and "the end" stories, etc., etc.
Destroying the status quo
The status quo of successful comics is realism and the unexpected.
"TV series (etc.) succeed by giving only the illusion of change"
Soap opera characters age. Other shows only last a few years at most.
“I don’t want realism, I want escapism.”
The most successful escapist fiction has a strong connection with the real world. That makes the escapist parts even more exciting.
“The fans want nostalgia”
Most fans grew bored with comics long ago and left. The only ones left are those who don't like change.
"Timeless superheroes outsell other kinds of comics."
No, manga outsells superheroes, and superheroes have been in terminal decline for thirty years, despite huge brand recognition and high profile movies.
"Apart from manga, superheroes outsell real time stuff."
Real Time superheroes sold even better. But I agree that there will always be a market for timeless hero comics. We need both kinds.
Real Time creates problems?
"The characters would become unrecognizable"
As we saw in the 1998 Fantastic Four annual, or "Fantastic Four: The End", the characters do not become unrecognizable, even after many decades.
"The real time stories would be too serious"
The opposite is true: compare the 1960s Real Time comics with their present versions.
"We cannot generate good new characters at this rate"
Comics have no trouble generating great new characters when they inject real time.
"A real time universe would still repeat stories"
All media repeat story ideas, but individual characters develop. That's a big difference.
It would create a mess of continuity?
Nobody ever gets confused by real time. Do you get the real 1960s confused with the real 1990s?
"Real time can be too constricting"
The opposite is true: Marvel Time prevents any stories that involve real change. Real Time has no such restrictions.
"Real time forces one month per month"
Not true. Real time simply means events can be dated, but the stories can be told at any pace. See Sherlock Holmes for example.
"We don't need real time, we just need better writing"
Better writing generally means more real-time elements
"Poor sales have little to do with the stories, it's the fault of video and the Internet"
Manga thrives in the same environment. The typical manga is far closer to Real Time than the typical western comic. This is from 'An Introduction to Manga:'
"Manga stay fresh and vibrant because they have to keep on finding new authors and winning over readers. Unlike in America, where Spider-Man or Superman are still wearing their underpants outside their trousers after forty, or sixty, years, in Japan not every successful series has to last forever. Manga engage you because they chart the lives and growth of characters and do actually come to a conclusion. It may take thousands of pages, but you can see genuine change going on, not just the 'illusion of change' found in most superhero soap operas."
"James Bond doesn't need real time"
Bond does not try to be a continuing story. Marvel does.
"Tarzan doesn't need real time"
Tarzan is tied to real dates: look up his biography in Wikipedia. He simply has an immortality drug, as explained in "Tarzan and the Foreign Legion."
"The Simpsons don't need real time."
The Simpsons is a comedy, not a drama. Drama has serious consequences, comedy does not. That's the whole point.
"If you want change then keep changing comics."
That destroys the reader's relationship with the characters.
Comics already have references to current events
Not as many. Just compare this panel from Hulk 159: can you imagine this in a modern comic?
Real Time does not have to replace Marvel Time: they can run side by side, just as She-Hulk and Deadpool break the fourth wall while exisiting in a universe where others do not. Each side sometimes thinks the other is a little weird, that's all.
"How could 9/11 fit into a comic world where cities are destroyed every week?" ... "How could human governments operate when superheroes can defeat their armies?"
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby showed how comics and reality can mix.
"Superheroes use violence as entertainment. It is very bad taste to mix real news of real violence."
Is it bad taste to ever make a World War II movie? Is it bad taste to ever write a western? Violence exists, and it can be presented without it being in bad taste.
"Comics turn real people into two dimensional parodies"
Yes, comics simplify matters. So do books. So do news reports. Simplification does not have to be a bad thing. We can have good comics as well as bad comics. Should we ban all books because most books are shallow?
“Superheroes were never supposed to make sense”
Then why did those early Marvels publish pages on how powers work? And cutaway diagrams of the Baxter Building? Why did the heroes have weaknesses? Because it added to the realism. Realism matters.
"Superheroes would risk changing history - e.g. defeating Hitler early"
Comics include parallel worlds and "what if" stories, so there is plenty of room for a quickly defeated Hitler, a never defeated Hitler, a reformed Hitler, and many other interesting stories. "What if" stories can make us think. Imagine a story printed at the start of the 1991 Gulf War, where a modestly powered hero killed Saddam Hussein. The story might go on to show Iraq as a flowering democracy. Or it might show Iraq descending into chaos. Those could be very interesting stories.
Stan Lee invented Marvel Time?
Yes, and sales immediately started to slide. He didn't realize what he had.
The following were not real time comics, or not for very long.
Real time means events can be tied to real dates in the real world.
X-Men Forever, etcQ: "What stories naturally progress over time, except Spider-Girl?"
A: "Maybe the assorted FOREVER titles? But in general, alternate reality books don't sell well over any long period of time--which is why we do so few of them."
X-Men forever was promoted as an alternate reality book. It was not our world. it was not even the 616 universe.
The 'New Universe' 1986
The New Universe was originally intended to be based in the real world, "the world outside your window," but it never happened. As "Fenris" recalls, "the world outside your window was ignored in more than half the books starting with their first issue. DP7 and STARBRAND followed the rules. But...there's no working Iron Man suits right now, even in prototype form (like SPITFIRE). There's no time traveling mercenaries (like in JVSTICE**) etc. The New Universe wasn't the "world outside my door", it was a slightly less comic-booky comic book universe. And I'd seen that before."
The New Universe separated from the real world at the beginning, with the white event. It continued to remind readers that it was not their world, by blowing up Pittsburgh, etc.
"It was the first company to attempt to follow a real-world time line, where events in the comics occurred at the pace similar to their publication schedule. The company writers adhered to real-world science as much as they possibly could." (Wikipedia,"Valiant")
Sounds perfect! yet the brilliant concept is fatally undermined in almost the next sentence:
"The Valiant Universe was created by Solar as the result of his attempt to recreate his universe after he accidentally destroyed it. As a result, a universe similar to his own emerged." (Wikipedia,"Valiant")
All that effort to create realism, then they destroy it by saying "it's not your world."
After being forced from Valiant, Shooter tried two more attempts at real time comics companies, Defiant and Broadway, both "taking place in real time and the characters were most likely not to wear a superhero uniform" (source). Both companies were quickly destroyed by circumstances beyond their control. Defiant collapsed because it was sued by Marvel. They won, but could not afford the legal fees. Broadway was sold to Golden Books which then went bankrupt, taking Broadway down with it in 1996, the worst possible year to launch a new comic imprint.
The Wildstorm universe was set in real time from 2000, thanks to Jenny Quantum, whose age was firmly tied to the century. However, this was undermined in 2004-2006 when her aging was accelerated. Then in 2008 the world was destroyed. So the Wildstorm universe is not the reader's universe.
Spider-Girl is not a real time comic. As TVTropes pointed out, "Of course, after the book started, Comic Book Time kicked in; it's been about ten years, and she's moved from a sophomore to a junior in that time."
DC had a supposedly real time world, Earth 2, but it was a mass of contradictions with no attempt at realism. It was such a mess that the only solution was to destroy all continuity in 1985 and start again: the famous "Crisis on Infinite Earths." Things did not get any better, as Wikipedia notes:
Almost once per decade since the 1980s, the DC Universe experiences a major crisis that allows any number of changes from new versions of characters to appear as a whole reboot of the universe, restarting nominally all the characters into a new and modernized version of their lives.
Green Arrow and Green lantern died in the 1990s, when DC did not pretend any kind of real time continuity. The Flash died in 1985, during Crisis. That was not a real time comic. How could it be? The whole point was that multiple elastic timelines were in chaos.
Real Time would have solved this problem, TI anchors all the
characters to real dates. No confusion is possible. That is the
whole reason that time exists (forgive me being metaphysical for a
moment), to stop all the realities colliding in a big mess. DC
shows what happens when you play fast and loose with continuity.
Marvel in the 1960s showed what happens when you do it right.
How can the Fantastic Four can operate in real time while other
comics do not.
It's all a point of view. This already happens: She-Hulk and Deadpool already break the fourth wall, yet interact with others who do not. They can have conversations like this:
or Deadpool: "It's 2013! Ten years have passed and I
Tony Stark: "You're talking nonsense."
Richards: "It's 2013! Ten years have passed and I haven't
Tony Stark: "Sounds like you've been visiting some other dimension."