Take on the Risks:

Why a Risk-taking Attitude is Necessary to the Future of Comics

Is it worth the risk?

Industry professionals ask themselves this question whenever they are about to embark on a new project. Most of the time it is answered in a variety of ways, with creators either differentiating or agreeing with a current course of action or selecting an entirely different one that, how shall we say it, does not quite stir certain levels of controversy? However, when such a question is answered and both creators and readers have decided to live up to the challenges the results are not only rewarding but also incredibly impactful on the entire comic book industry. Yet, before one can evaluate the level of risks that writers and artists take one must first ask what does it mean to take a “risk” and what it is a good risk truly capable of?

Risks in comics are becoming more and more prevalent and while it is difficult to pinpoint precisely where this challenge first began, it is easy to point out of some of the notable risks that occurred within the last decade. Take for example when Greg Rucka and J.H Williams decided to introduce the first openly gay character into the Batman universe. Kate Kane, a woman who took up the mantle as The Batwoman, acquired a sexual orientation that sparked controversy amongst the industry, and by seeking to make this change both Rucka and Williams were no longer discussing a mere fictional character but were instead making a crucial statement about equality and about justice. Another controversial decision occurred when Miles Morales, a half Black-half Latino boy created by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli, was proposed to be the next Spider-Man, thus replacing the Caucasian Peter Parker. Immediately after this occurred uproar was ignited with some believing that the change was something too risky and inappropriate for the character’s traditional mythology. Nevertheless, the reason for this decision came as a result of the simple yet elegant philosophy that one must take progressive steps in order to ensure that the future of their characters is preserved not only on the basis of their abilities but also on the basis of what they stand for. In other words taking risks is what drives these characters to do what they do and keeps them relevant and interesting. Greg Rucka and J. H Williams’ Batwoman was not created for the mere sake of including a gay superhero but was a well-thought, well-articulated choice based on what was occurring in the military as well as in America (for anyone who is not familiar with Kate Kane she was an ex-military officer who refused to apologize for her sexual orientation and was discharged because of it), and this attitude was something intricate not just to the world of superheroes, but to the world of real heroes who never apologize for who they are. The choice to make Miles Morales the next Spider-Man was also done with the same intentions as the Stan Lee-Steve Ditko Spider-Man, which featured a boy from a working class neighborhood and who stood for multicultural principles, was appropriately suited a boy who was from a different ethnic background. Thus, these were not mere mindless choices made for the sake of a liberal agenda but were done to create a contemporary fictional world facing the same problems as those occurring in the world today. And if writers and artists were to abandon this simply because of the affect it may or may not have on readers then they would be doing a tremendous disservice to those they are writing about.

They would be surrendering.

Part of being a successful artist is taking risks that other people might be slightly hesitant to take, and this does not just apply to the world of comics but to any industry that is considered an art form. And, such risks to do have to be those that relate to race, sexual orientation, or gender, but sometimes those risks can be about placing certain characters in situations they might not have been placed in before, places that even the most well-versed reader may have not predicted, and when these risks are made, regardless of whether a person agrees with them or not, it makes the characters more than men and women in costumes.

It makes them leaders.

When Dan Slott announced Doctor Otto Octavius aka Doctor Octopus would be taking over duties as the new Spider-Man in The Superior Spider-Man the change was met with a tirade of angry fans. People were enraged that a legendary creator like Slott would make a decision that was so blatant and so ludicrous, but even after enduring such criticism Dan Slott and the artists the creative team behind him stood by this change and moved forward in spite of everyone’s anger towards their decision. Now it is indeed understandable that people would respond to such a risk with vehemence and disapproval but at the same time it is wrong to rage against those who are attempting to accomplish something that has not been accomplished before. And after much resistance and rebellion, the decision paid off as critics and fans who initially did not believe in the change began to appreciate the writing and the art; the very things that Dan Slott was thinking of well before he decided to make Doctor Octopus the new Spider-Man.

He was thinking big.

He was thinking like an artist.

Risks like this are happening everyday in the world of television, film, and novels, but why it is so important to the world of comics is because it proves that there is a progressive attitude taking place within the realm of superheroes, and although it is challenging to know which risks are worth taking and which ones are not, the act of wanting to make broad strokes towards different stories must be met with certain levels of admiration and respect. And while there are a number of plots and story elements associated with characters that must NEVER change, the risk-taking attitude is becoming a crucial step in every creative industry that exists today. So, when assessing the level of risk artists and writers take, it is evident that there are innumerable examples whereby someone has dome something that will stir controversy, yet when understanding these levels it is also necessary to examine the nature by which real controversy occurs, and, if history has told us anything, it is that controversy always comes before the principle that all artists stand for: change.

Change causes controversy.

It always has and it always will.

But like controversy being linked with the concept of change superheroes must also share a connection with the notion of preserving the principles by which change is built upon. Fellow creators must never apologize for attempting to include such ideas that might incite certain feelings in the readers but at the same time readers must never feel obliged to simply approve of them just because they are seated in the audience, because in the end what fuels the world comics is passion and love, and those are the principles that come closest to being risk-free.

They are the principles that bind us all.

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Jarrett Mazza is a writer and teacher living in Canada. He attended Wilfrid Laurier University and received an Honours Bachelor’s Degree in English and Contemporary Studies as well as a Bachelor of Education from the prestigious Schulich School of Education. He is now in the process of earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Vermont. He has been fascinated by superheroes and stories for as long as he can remember and studied comic book writing and sequential storytelling from industry professionals Ty Templeton and Andy Schmidt. When he is not self-publishing his own comic books, he is working on his thesis novel, submitting short stories to publishers, obsessing about geek fandom, and looking for new things to read and write.

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