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Cronin Theory of Comics – At Least Explain Characterization Changes

I’m totally cool with the idea of Writer X coming on to a book and deciding that she/he wants to change the characterization of a character. I mean, if I think the change is a poor one it’ll irritate me, but at least it’ll be a case where I get it – the writer has to have the freedom to change things up, whether I like their decision is a whole other story.

Now here’s my issue, though – I think that if you DO do that, you should at least “have” to explain the change, and here’s why…

The main argument in favor of allowing characterization changes, and it is an argument I’m basically in favor of, is that you have to give writers the freedom to write the story they want to, and they can’t be expected to be beholden to continuity.

However, when you take an established character and make a major change to said character, what you’re doing IS intentionally EVOKING continuity. You are using Character X because you WANT the continuity behind that character. You could just create a new character for the story, but you WANT to use an established character instead because of that very same continuity.

So when you opt to USE the continuity of the character, THEN I think you should be expected to at least address the changes you’re making with the characterization of the character.

66 Comments

I disagree with the idea of changing the character. Not that I’m the same as I was years ago, but since becoming an adult I’m essentially the same person. So an event can happen to cause a character to cross a line they may not have before and then add some other element to the character, but essential change is rare and should be with characters.

This is one reason I have always advocated changing who is under the mask. Ollie Queen reacts one way, Connor reacts a different way. Instead of making the character fit your story, your job is to tell stories about those characters, but if you change who is under the mask you have more of a blank slate to work with. Also you don’t end up with years of convoluted continuity that has evolved into writers picking and choosing what was part of continuity or not.

I completely agree with the rule.

I’d say that the changes that sting the most are the minor ones, little things.

I think it was on this blog that someone mentioned the different ways that the Batman/Green Lantern was made out to be in books that came out the same week: on Blackest Night it was claimed that Bruce and Hal got along fine, but in Cry for Justice we get the idea that they never got along.

Just an example, but it’s this small stuff that nags you

As an FF fan, I note that sudden changes mean a “what if” arc. Like “what if Johnny Storm got younger,” “what if Sue Storm was a porn star,” “what if Reed became a jerk,” “what if the Thing changed from monster to couch-potato teddy bear?” “What if the sales declined for 40 years?”

What if Sue Storm was a porn star? i would totally by that ongoing series!
DFTBA

When a new writer takes on a character or team, change is inevitable. Every writer is going to bring his or her own take to a character when he or she comes on board.

It’s the editor’s job to smooth the transition. They’re the one allowing these jarring characterization changes to happen, or to arbitrarily drop a supporting cast for a “bold new direction.”

I don’t know if these changes are mandated from the publisher or E-i-C level, if the title’s editor comes up with them and then finds an editor to fulfill their desires, or if the writer pitches an idea and the editor lets him run with it, but I don’t think there’s a super-hero comic book editor who’s done a satisfactory job of maintaining the continuity within one title between two writers.

C’mon, Brian. No fair to write this and not give examples.

You’re wrong Cronin! Kirby’s Captain America was awesome!

Pick just about any title that’s had more than one writer in the past ten years, and you’ll see it. Morrison went out of his way to say that he was trying to go back to a characterization of Batman that hadn’t been seen since the 70s. Wonder Woman Cassandra Cain and Black Canary have all gone through some pretty drastic changes in the past several years. Not all of them are bad, necessarily, but they’ve all been altered.

I generally don’t like major changes to characterization because there are so many characters to work with in comics. The whole point of having so many characters that act so differently is to work within the characters. I’m fine with ignoring continuity events that may restrict a story, but if you are writing a Batman story make it a Batman story. There’s no reason to write a Flash story using Batman.

I’ve just finished reading the Showcase editions of Brave and the Bold and I haven’t enjoyed reading comic book stories as much in a long time. The writer, Bob Haney, thought nothing of inventing an entirely new personality for a character if it served his plot: – so Sgt. Rock could be bitter and resentful, Plastic Man could be a spurned lover with murderous intentions or Green Arrow could be obsessed with money.

Did it really matter that these characters had never behaved like that before or since? I didn’t think so, I just enjoyed the stories, and I think that is true for all of us. When we enjoy the story we can overlook all sorts of inconsistencies. For over twenty years, Magneto was just a generic Marvel villain, who created death-traps and “bwa-ha-ha”, Chris Claremont completely re-wrote his character, but there wasn’t a murmur of complaint because it resulted in some great stories.

I can only help but think this post was made due to Loeb’s “contributions” to the comic world. Almost every time he writes a character he reduces it to a caricature of themselves. In the case of the Ultimate Universe, he would instread revamp the whole character to basically match their 616 self, or just what he thought would be “cool” with absolutely no (or very little credible) reason why they were changed.

This is why I no longer buy Loeb books.

Look, character changes are easy, right? Use the DC Comics model:

If the character is female, arrange for a male character to rape her. Then her personality can change into anything you like.

If the character is male, arrange for a male character to kill his girlfriend and stick her in a fridge. Then his personality can change into anything you like.

See? It’s easy to write and guaranteed to be believable and EDGY!!! And I’m sure nobody would ever accuse you of being a clueless misogynist bastard for doing it that way, so what are you waiting for?

(Oy, vey… I so wish I were joking…)

How are we defining “explain?” Because if it’s Gail Simone’s “Catman was tired of being a loser, so he junked everything and went to live with lions on the savannah,” I’m with you. On the other hand, if it’s John Byrne’s “Wizard stuck Sandman in an evilifying machine and now he’s a crook again,” I will fight you on this until my dying day, sir.

And I think this brings up a corollary: Changes that make a character totally awesome require no explanation.

I’ve only read the aforementioned GL/Batman related exchanges via online previews, and I have no great love for either character, but here was my take: People get along, people have respect for each other, but sometimes these same people get under each others skin and said people may talk ill about each other behind each others backs. I can think of a number of past co-workers who I got along with and respected their work, but if I were that type of person, there were a lot of not-so-nice things I could say about them and a lot of irksome things that I could point out. Doesn’t change the fact that we got along or respected each others work. GL and Batman may have respected each others abilities, but they could still manage to irritate each other to no end. That’s how I read it, at least.

This isn’t really about continuity: it’s about good writing. Regardless of whether you are using a regular character or a borrowed one, the changes that happen to them MUST make sense within the context of the series. In a superhero universe, it is entirely acceptable that a character could change his or her personality due to magic, brainwashings, amnesia or any such absurd gimmick; it’s part of the genre. However, having them change because of reasons most people are familiar with, and in the appropriate amount of time, is MUCH preferable. There ARE situations that CAN change a person overnight… accidentally killing somebody, losing a loved one in a horrible way, things like that. Most changes however take a longer amount of time- a villain could realize that crime simply doesn’t pay and that he has other options in life after several defeats and falling in love with someone, for example. A hero might lose faith in the government after verifying that they have been lying to the public. And so on. THIS is the stuff good characterization is made of.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

September 29, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Bob Haney could do this and make it work precisely because you knew it wasn’t some new and ongoing personality; even his Batman was different story to story if needed. He also had a deft, light touch — hardly what we get from the oft-pretentious writers who do this sort of thing in recent years.

But writers now will give an ongoing character a new, ongoing personality without real explanation, and that does rankle a regular reader.

I migth quote a random internet comment from somewhere that’s always stuck with me: “[T]he problem is that everyone always thinks the word ‘auteur’ has some fundamentally positive connotation. It doesn’t. Ed Wood was an auteur.”

I’m doing a thing that touches on this.

Anyway, as a reader, I don’t care at all. I look at every writer and artist as an auteur, and I figure that they’re going to have a different approach to the material than the people who came before it.

In other words:

I like Englehart’s Captain America, too. And DeMatteis Captain America. And Gruenwald’s Captain America. And the Lee/Kirby/Steranko Silver Age Captain America, who was 180 degrees removed from his last appearance – Whichever one counts. And… eh… around half of the various Wonder Women. (But not the Donna Troy’s. Ptoooie! Yech!) And Grant Morrison’s X-men. And John Romita (Senior)’s Spider-man. And Gene Colan’s Daredevil. And Frank Miller’s Batman. And Denny ‘O Neil’s Schwartz edited Superman. And the Wolfman Perez Teen Titans, even Kid Flash.. And the post-Crisis Flash. (Mostly. Sorta.) And John Byrne’s Invisible Woman and Wolverine. Mark Millar’s Ultimate Hulk. George Pratt’s Enemy Ace. David Michelinine’s Mary Jane Watson (I think this one was Michelinie. I’m not 100% up on ’80s Spider-man.) Bendis’ Luke Cage. Neal Adam’s Batman. Alan Moore’s Demon. Lee and Kirby’s Thor after they figured out what the hell they were doing with the character. (And Kirby became the full-time artist.)

And several dozen more besides. Seriously. I could be here all night.

And, sure, it can always backfire and we end up with a Bendis J. Jonah Jameson or somethin’. But I can think of far more positive examples than negative.

If you have a good explanation and it makes a good story? Fine. Knock yourself up.

If you can improve the characterization (and hence the character) and don’t feel like trying to spin the dross your left with into gold? Fine. Ignore it.

Just make it good.

I agree with the general premise, with a few exceptions. Most Golden Age heroes, for example, had little personality beyond “good guy.” Making Alan Scott and Steve Rogers better characters requires rewriting them almost from scratch. They’re still good guys, but with a few personality traits unseen in their first few years (or even decades) of existence.

Magneto is a good illustration of the rule. He went from generic bad guy to more complex figure because: his backgraound was revealed, giving him previously unssen motives; he had a revelation when he almost killed Kitty Pryde; he regained Xavier’s trust, and mentored the New Mutants; he became an iconic figure within the Marvel Universe, his terrorist ways inspiring the Acolytes and others. For years, Claremont & Co. played fair with the audience, and changed the character in a logical fashion. Post-Claremont, he became eeevil again, then comatose, then inconsistent, with weak explanations.

it’s worth nothing that the changes that are most reviled– not subject to mere fan outcry, but qualifying under TVTropes’ ” Dork Age ” article– are reviled because they were awfully written regardless of how in or out of character they were. That Chuck Austen made Juggernaut into Grumpy Bear or Polaris into My Super Ex-Girlfriend was only the tip of the badly-researched, badly-dialogued, incoherently plotted, sexually icky, and religiously bigoted iceberg that was his X-Men run.

Character changes fail on the wide scale when what the character becomes is awful, moreso than the connection to how the changes relate to who the character was before.

I’m with you, Brian. For the first couple of years after I got back into comics, it seemed like the popular thing to do (especially at Marvel) was radically change the way an existing character acted. And it seemed like most people were fine with it because at that point “continuity” was a bad word, and you were a loser fanboy if you cared about it. But as Brian noted, if the writer truly doesn’t care about continuity, then why tell their story with a character that has a ton of continuity behind them? I’m not saying there needs to be a 6 issue, Geoff johns style, “Secret Origin” storyline to explain any characterization changes. But acknowledge it in someway. Personally, the idea behind the Superboy-Prime punches never bothered me because I figured if it let them tell the story they wanted to tell, that’s great. I’m not sure if any good stories actually came out of it, but that’s beside the point.

Wow–good little article.
How many times could a writer have just created a new character instead of ruining a good existing one–for no real reason.

I think I agree in principle, but this seems like the sort of thing that would be hard to implement in actual fact.

I believe the problem stems from everybody having a different sense of who a given character really is. For example, is Batman open and supportive or a vaguely psychotic loner? Or is he pretty goofy? Or an amiable detective? All of these would seem to be supportable with ample historical evidence, and so a writer could easily come aboard and write about him in any of those ways without, understandably, feeling like he’s making any major changes to the character. Fans, on the other hand, will freak out about totally different things. One person’s essential component of the character will be another guy’s trifling detail. The same goes for creators, and the truth is that every new writer will bring something new to the character, intended or not. I don’t necessarily want them to waste story pages explaining why that is.

Creators rarely say, “I’m going to totally alter this character. He will be a fundamentally different guy.” ‘Bold new directions’ often seem to about tone or style, not about changing the character’s personality. In the instances where the creator actively understands that he’s obviously changing a character’s nature, I totally agree with the rule, but those instances are probably much rarer than the internet would tend to imply. And that’s just as indicative, if not moreso, of fan prickliness as it is of creator ignorance or “disrespect.”

"O" the Humanatee!

September 29, 2009 at 9:51 pm

I’ve got a lot of thoughts on this matter, but for the moment I’ll limit myself to this: One reason a writer might want to write an existing character rather than create a new one is that nowadays writers get royalties. “Let’s see, I can create Pineapple-Upside-Down Cake Man, who’s really awesome in my opinion, or I can write Batman, who’s less awesome but actually sells many comics.”

Denny O’Neil on The Question:

“Making the character my own: sigh. I knew, and told everyone, that I couldn’t do Steve’s version. I have great respect for Steve and I admire the tenacity with which he holds to his convictions, but our ideas about what constitutes a hero, while not entirely in opposition, are often at odds. I see a very different world than Steve’s. We agree about little beyond what constitutes good visual narrative. So I symbolically killed the old Question in issue #1–he’s shot, shoved in a freezing river and stops breathing–and resurrected a changed Vic Sage in issue #2. (I am not entirely happy about this. I took huge liberties with someone else’s creation, though at the time it seemed a natural, harmless thing to do. But I’ve been asked why I simply didn’t start fresh with my own character and the only answer I have is that the idea simply didn’t occur to me. Sometimes the lame replies are the true ones…) Then I was given an unprecedented amount of freedom to write the stories I wanted to write, for which I’ll always be grateful.”

Wise words from O’Neil.

Reader tolerance of sudden characterization changes seems to go hand in hand with the creators telegraphing these changes in other media such as interviews. IMO the changes should at least be explained within the context of the story, you shouldn’t have to be digging outside of the comic to ‘get’ it.

Subtley also plays a role. Sometimes a creator doesn’t blatantly explain drastic changes because they’ve hidden them in plain sight. A glob of heavy handed expository text or dialogue can be just as jarring as a character acting out of character sometimes. Other creators use sudden changes as a narrative device. There might not be an immediate explanation but sometimes the explanation trickles out over months or years.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

September 29, 2009 at 10:27 pm

One reason a writer might want to write an existing character rather than create a new one is that nowadays writers get royalties. “Let’s see, I can create Pineapple-Upside-Down Cake Man, who’s really awesome in my opinion, or I can write Batman, who’s less awesome but actually sells many comics.”

Well if that’s the case, they probably shouldn’t write the character too dramatically different than it already is if it’s already selling.

"O" the Humanatee!

September 29, 2009 at 11:29 pm

@Funky Green Jerusalem:

Batman on his worst day will automatically sell a lot more copies than Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Man. Perhaps you’ve heard of “completist collectors”? Besides, I was disagreeing with Brian’s aesthetic claim that “You are using Character X because you WANT the continuity behind that character. You could just create a new character for the story, but you WANT to use an established character instead because of that very same continuity” by offering a practical counterargument. And who’s to say that a writer’s “dramatically different” version won’t sell better? Brian wasn’t talking about whether or not you should make the character dramatically different, he was talking – again, aesthetically, not in terms of dollars and cents – about how you should go about doing so if you want to. I think Civil War sold pretty well, despite the aggravating character changes.

But hey, if you want engage in sophistry….

The problem with Pineapple-upside-down-Man argument is Image Comics and other publishers that give writers more complete control over their characters and a bigger share of the pie. If you believe Kirkman and Ellis and the like, you can make comparable money by creating and publishing new characters on your on as you can by writing franchises.

So the only real reason for writing a franchise character is because you want to put your stamp on that franchise character.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

September 30, 2009 at 6:52 am

I’m with FunkyGreenJerusalem here: if your original story or character needed the Batman brand to sell, I’d question the quality of the original story/character.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

September 30, 2009 at 6:54 am

Oh, and to whoever mentioned it above: the Sandman being brainwashed back into crime wasn’t Byrne’s idea. Byrne’s idea was that he’d apparenty been evil all along and faking his reform for..uh…some reason or other. Even in his thought balloons, evidently.

Eric quoted Denny O’Neil RE: The Question
Denny DID something to The Question, though. The changes were explained – near death experience comes with an epiphany and a changed direction stemming from that. So that’s nice.

A great example of this is Fabian Nicieza’s New Warriors, especially Speedball. Speedball just appeared as a radically different character, no explanation. The book was good so I didn’t care, but it still annoyed me. Richard Rider was slightly different as well.

A lot of the examples cited in this comments section don’t work because although they are major changes in portrayal, they are explained rather than random. Although I don’t like that Denny O’Neil fundamentally change the Question so drastically rather than use a different character to tell those stories, I must admit he explained the change thoroughly. Someone used Claremont’s Magneto as an example, but that wasn’t just a purely random characterization change. Magneto had absolutely no backstory and Claremont just filled it in a way that didn’t contradict previous appearances. When he changed his personality as time went on he explained it thoroughly. 80s Mary Jane was also explained as well.

I do agree this post would be better if Cronin gave some more examples.

>>What if Sue Storm was a porn star? i would totally by that ongoing series!

I definitely remember Greg Land “drawing” several issues of ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR a few years ago …

Most notable offenders (in my mind, and in no particular order):

1. John Byrne’s Hawkeye on West Coast Avengers – After coming into his own and kicking ass as leader for some 3 or 4 years, Clint all of a sudden takes a back seat to Hank Pym for all major decision-making. He then whines about it until he decides to leave the team. No explanation offered at all.

2. Cyclops in X-Force. Whatever happened to “X-Men don’t kill, Logan”? I know, I know. “Darker, different world.” Whatever. X-Men history is littered with various “dark” ages and horrible threats. Now is when Scott decides he’s willing to kill? Really?

3. Hawkeye/Ronin in New Avengers. “I have to kill Norman Osborn.” Uh, yeah – this is the guy who left his wife because she didn’t save her rapist from a deadly fall. Who, to my knowledge, has never willingly taken a human life in his entire history. Now Clint is a raving lunatic.

4. Hulk by Loeb. Let’s take the Hulk, who has just run rampant over the world in his most powerful, cunning form ever, and make him retarded again.

5. Black Knight Dane Whitman by Simonson. “Have at thee! For Good King Richard!” Uh, Dane, weren’t you just awkwardly dating the Wasp last issue? Why are you talking like that now?

"O" the Humanatee!

September 30, 2009 at 10:50 am

@ Wesley: That’s a good point (well, except for the “only reason” part), which I’d wondered about while writing my post. It’s still possible that your Image-published creation will barely move copies, of course, but that risk might be worth it to you if the initial deal offers more favorable business terms (not to mention greater creative control, etc.) if it does succeed. Depends on the details of the deals, the degree to which sales are “guaranteed” on the existing character, how much the writer values creative freedom over making money, etc.

@Omar: You might be entirely right on the quality issue in most cases, but my comment wasn’t about quality; it was about potential for financial reward. I was responding to Brian’s statement that writers use existing characters because of their continuity by pointing out that writers may want to use existing characters to make more money. FGJ said, essentially, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, because you’ll risk losing sales.” But to assume “it ain’t broke” is problematic. An aesthetic creation isn’t a tool, where you can point to its utilitarian purpose and ask, Is it working or not? A drastic change can successfully break the mold by, for example, revealing aspects of a character never seen before or adding something dramatically different to the character’s world – and suddenly, our idea of what it means for that book to “work” changes.

And if “it ain’t broke” refers to sales, as I pointed out, sometimes a drastic change can increase sales. And even if it doesn’t – even if sales go down somewhat (not too far, of course) – the writer may still be benefiting financially relative to some other choice. By the way, I, at least, never said anything about the idea “needing” Batman to sell, just that if you can use Batman to sell it, you might want to for financial reasons. We all know that sales are subject to many forces besides aesthetic merit, and that writers have to earn a living. (I realize I’m stacking the deck somewhat by constantly referring to Batman. A writer who wants to use, say, Jack of Hearts, is not guaranteed good sales. On the other hand, the same writer is usually freer to make big changes in such characters precisely because fewer people are invested in them and their continuity.) Not all writers will prioritize money vs. creativity in the same way, of course.

Speaking of which: Imagine if someone had said, “Hey, Alan Moore! It’s always been part of Swamp Thing continuity that he legitimately hopes to change back to Alec Holland! In fact, he did so in the godawful last issue of his first series! It ain’t broke; who are you to fix it, you long-haired, bearded wacko? So sorry, into the circular file goes this (feh) “Anatomy Lesson”!

Yes, yes, Moore made his change smoothly, and yes, the last issue of the first Swamp Thing series had already been disregarded by Marty Pasko, and yes, the Saga of Swamp Thing was not a great seller. My point is that you can’t say, Don’t risk changing things up because you might alienate some readers.

I agree with Brian that generally it’s aesthetically better to change things smoothly. But I’d add “all other things being equal,” which they often aren’t. Sometimes, for example, a writer comes on following a crappy run. Why make them do all the work of undoing past crappiness? And there’s far more to continuity than characterization. A writer might want to use a character because of their setting, their rogue’s gallery, their abilities, and so on. (“I bet I could tell a whole lot of good detective stories using Batman, but I’m not really interested in focusing on his brooding, dark side.”)

Finally, I think there are, very roughly, two extreme types of comics readers (I’m referring to “superhero universe” comics here): Some prioritize the illusion that in reading comics, they’re spying on a real world. They’re more interested in strong continuity, how the parts fit together, etc. Others are more interested in seeing how creators use the characters and the medium. They’re more willing to accept that these are “just stories” and are less resistant to big changes. The best stories will satisfy both types, and of course, many readers lie somewhere in the middle: They’ll accept big changes if they make for a good enough story and they’ll derive pleasure from of a good use of continuity. Or as Casey Stengel said, “Good pitching will always stop good hitting, and vice versa.”

"O" the Humanatee!

September 30, 2009 at 11:04 am

By the way, I agree with all those who say this would be easier to talk about with examples. What did you have in mind, Brian?

Here’s another example, Robert Zimmerman’s strange reinvention of Kraven the Hunter’s son Kraven Jr as some weird metrosexual power shmoozer.

"O" the Humanatee!

September 30, 2009 at 12:02 pm

@T.: To be fair, Bob Dylan was known for his artistic experimentation….

Argh! I meant Ron Zimmerman. Good catch O.

Okay, lets take Batman: – in the ‘Forties, he was a pulp hero ,who sometimes carried a gun. In the ‘Fifties he was a far more traditional two-fisted superhero with a sidekick and gimmicky villains. In the ‘Sixties, he started to get down with the kids, his vocabulary became more slangy and his stories started to mimic the TV show. In the ‘Seventies, he became the Dark Knight Detective – the sidekick was jettisoned and the villains became less outlandish. In the ‘Eighties, Batman was teetering on the edge of insanity, he seemed to sever all personal ties to other superheroes and became obsessed with his parent’s death. In the ‘Nineties, Bruce ceased to be a personality at all and just became another mask Batman wore. More recently, Grant Morrison has attempted to lighten Batman up – he’s had adventures outside of Gotham City, he started dating and he tried to form a relationship with his son.

I don’t think any of these drastic changes of tone and characterisation were ever really explained. Does it really matter? The good stories are still good and the bad stories wouldn’t have been improved by a Superboy punch.

I don’t think any of these drastic changes of tone and characterisation were ever really explained. Does it really matter?

The difference is that back then the books never even bothered with the pretense of a shared, consistent and somewhat semi-plausible and semi-logical continuity. It’s like South park and Kenny dying. It’s not meant to be consistent or logical so it doesn’t matter. If the same thing happened in an episode of House though it would bother me. I personally wouldn’t mind Marvel or DC openly playing fast and loose with continuity instead of being slaves to it, in such a case random personality overhauls would be fine by me, but if they ARE going to insist on linewide consistent continuity I expect them to do it right.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

September 30, 2009 at 4:36 pm

Bernard: Batman never carried a gun after late 1941, and his cheery 1950s image was pretty well set in stone by 1944 or so. By 1946, the Joker wasn’t eve killing people anymore.

I’m not saying Batman didn’t change, but that he changed a lot earlier than a lot of people seem to think. It was only the two years and some change that had killer-vigilante Batman. (His villains suffered, too; I imagine the Penguin would be better regarded today had his initial characterization as a thoroughly nonchalant murderer who knew that he was putting on a foppish pose been retained.)

FunkyGreenJerusalem

September 30, 2009 at 4:55 pm

And who’s to say that a writer’s “dramatically different” version won’t sell better?

When was the last time that flied?

1986?

I think Civil War sold pretty well, despite the aggravating character changes.

Sad, isn’t it?

The Question doesn’t really count–as Ditko’s Questionn, and O’Neil’s was DC–and he did the symbolic thing–that’s reason enough.

“For over twenty years, Magneto was just a generic Marvel villain, who created death-traps and “bwa-ha-ha”, Chris Claremont completely re-wrote his character, but there wasn’t a murmur of complaint because it resulted in some great stories.”

There wasn’t any complaints also because it didn’t happen over-night, it was a lengthy character arc that went on for 50 issues.

@snakeman99: bear in mind that Hawkeye/Ronin has “died” in the intervening period, which seems a fair excuse for a personality shift, and also the surrounding characters are reacting to his recent outbursts.

And the Hulk has regularly shifted personalities as he shifted physical form. That can be seen as an element of the character.

There have been quite a few writers and comics I have bailed on because they chose to tell a “continuity” or history based story while at the same time destroying whole chunks of the continuity and characterization in the process. If something of the character’s past irks you, just don’t tell a story that invokes it instead of a story that shows that a whole run by this writer was a lie or just wrong, this character who has been dead for decades was not the person you thought, etc.

wwk5d: “There wasn’t any complaints also because it didn’t happen over-night, it was a lengthy character arc that went on for 50 issues.”

Not quite. Magneto’s redemption arc was a quite lengthy one, as you say, but the character that COULD be redeemed was made up by Claremont on the spot. The Magneto of Uncanny #150 (when this conversion began) – an idealistic terrorist with a Holocaust background who tried to avoid collateral damage and mourned his enemies – bore virtually no resemblance whatsoever to the hysterical sadist that had previously been called Magneto.

But that shows how to change a character the right way. He didn’t just have Magneto show up in # 150 and suddenly have him become a good guy, trying to fight for Charle’s dream. Giving him the backstory, if anything, made the transition during that character arc all the more interesting, believable, and poignant. Had it been done today, they would’ve just had Magneto just show up, having reformed between issues, and everyone would have just gone with the flow.

Reiteration: Magneto in Uncanny X-Man #150 is an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT CHARACTER than he was before that issue. I thought that was what we were talking about?

I admit, my memory of X-Men #150 is not that strong as it’s been decades since I’ve read it, but if I remember correctly isn’t the story typical Magneto at first with one of his outrageous plots to wreak havoc using some kind of Maguffin of the month, and the personality change comes about later in the issue when he accidentally almost kills Kitty Pryde in the issue? I remember the seeming death of Kitty Pryde at his hands that shocked him into an introspection never before seen in the character and forced him to reevaluate what he had become.

"O" the Humanatee!

October 1, 2009 at 4:21 pm

[Apologizing in advance for not knowing how to use the right HTML tags here]

Me: And who’s to say that a writer’s “dramatically different” version won’t sell better?

FGJ: When was the last time that flied?

1986?

Me again: Don’t know. Brian never gave any actual examples, so it’s hard to know just what kind of characterization changes we’re talking about, and therefore hard to say when they’ve hurt or improved sales.

Me: I think Civil War sold pretty well, despite the aggravating character changes.

FGJ: Sad, isn’t it?

Me again: Sure, but that’s entirely consistent with my point. Such changes may be aesthetically bad, but they can still rake in royalties for the writer.

Exactly, T. He starts out as the same Magneto we’ve seen before, but as the issue progresses, we see him undergoing a shift. And he wasn’t an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT CHARACTER – nothing Claremont offered or did in that issue really contradicted what we had seen before.

OtH, FYI, the tags for quotes are

, just without the spaces. Its for italics, I don’t know any others off the top of my head. And that’s my contribution to the discussion.

Well that didn’t work at all. I’ll try again. The tags for quotes are

and

Maybe that will work

Ugh. Ok its (blockquote) and (/blockquote) but with greater than and less than signs, not brackets.

In one of the first pages of Uncanny #150 Magneto describes his goals to a captive Cyclops as bringing peace and utopia to Earth by conquering it. Remarkably different from earlier Magneto appearances, where he only wanted to enslave humanity and rule by tyranny and fear. He expresses regret at the death of Jean Grey when he previously had been totally giddy at the thought of slaughtering X-Men.

He does express regret at the death of Jean Grey, but if I remember correctly Scott Summers doesn’t believe his sincerity because of his past behavior of never showing such an emotional side before. So basically, the hints of the change that show up in the first few pages of the book are explicitly called out by Scott Summers as not being typical of Magneto’s past behavior. It was openly acknowledged as Magneto starting to act differently, a foreshadowing of his big change by the end of the issue when he almost kills Kitty Pryde.

To me when reading it at the time, the impression I got was that he was getting weary of the futility of it all and the way he was going about things, and was becoming increasingly haunted by his past, both of which were making him act increasingly different. This culminated in the Kitty Pryde moment at the end of the book.

The phenomenon Brian describes is a character acting TOTALLY different from his last appearance and no one seeming to notice and the change being unexplained. This is not what happened with Magneto in #150. He only starts off slightly different in #150, that difference is noticed by other characters and commented on, he makes his total change by the end of the book due to a specific occurrence and his revelation of his backstory explains the rest.

Ugh. Ok its (blockquote) and (/blockquote) but with greater than and less than signs, not brackets.

Yep, Ted.

Morrison’s Batman changes WERE explained. In Infinite Crisis, he reached a point where he nearly came close to shooting Alex Luthor. He then chose to take a year off to retrace his original heroic path, only this time he didn’t go alone. 52 gave us insight into some of that trip, including a point where he metaphorically killed Batman.

So I’m guessing Brian’s not going to share with us the examples that inspired this post, huh?

With regards to Magneto, what T said. If he was an example of Brian was describing, he’d have probably walked up to Scott, apologized for his past behavior, decided his was wrong and the Xavier’s way was the correct was and always has been, and suddenly offered to join the X-men on their terms.

Well, in that case, such occurences are extremely rare. If Brian means that, I don’t know why he wrote the column.

character evolution : yes
spitting in the face of fans :no

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