DC One Million and Batman Beyond along with many other examples suggest that the concept of legacy characters and superhero parenthood can work. Yes, this ages the characters, but we have been stuck in the Modern Age (of comics) too long. If we want to truly get to and define a new age of comics than we need to forget Larry Niven’s essay ‘Man Of Steel, Woman Of Kleenex,’ reboots, and the idea of static intellectual properties (hereafter known as IPs). Before discussing the Niven article, and how it still limits comics and legacy characters: such as the Super Sons (Damian Wayne/Al Ghul and Jonathan Samuel Kent), I need to quickly explain the latter two.
First off reboots, not retcons, have been too prevalent at DC and its competitors. Now while many will and can blame various stories, as well as creative and corporate decisions, the real problem is fear. Said fear is usually centered around profits falling and this leads to reboots and relaunches. These attempts have been shown to bring profits back up for a short time. However, this also means that several stories, such as Superman’s origin, have often been retold. While I will not disagree that origin stories can be fleshed out and/or have elements of them updated, there are problems with doing so. In the case of Superman (and certain others) the origin narratives worked best before social media/smartphones were everywhere. Case in point the Midwest of the United States of America is not what it used to be, and keeping an alien baby secret decreases with technological advances.
Therefore while characters can (and most likely will) have retcons and repeats of adventures, we need to have aging for those like Superman. Yes, people pay for the brands they know, and static IPs presumably allow for steadier sales than building new or spin-off brands, but metaphorical stones hold only so much metaphorical blood. Translated this means that the cash cows of the past need to be allowed to have either literal or figurative “offspring.” Thus, we need to have characters like the Super Sons.
“But wait!” You say “What does aging, money, fear, and fictional children have to do with forgetting the essay ‘Man Of Steel, Woman Of Kleenex?’” Well my answer in its simplest form is something I call the Anti-Far-Sight Formula (Think Grant Morrison’s version of the Anti-Life Equation from Final Crisis, or Yoda’s dark side speech about anger from Phantom Menace). It goes Complacency (Static IP) = Corporate Greed (Money/Profit) + Short Term Gains (Reboots/Relaunches) – Willingness to Be Original/Create Fresh Stories + Fear Of Failure (Fear of Loss of Profits/Customers/Jobs) < Long Term Goals/Gains. In plain English I am saying that fans want stories that matter and/or are fresh while the companies desire better profits. Yet new storylines based on untested IPs are potentially more expensive from the corporate perspective. Therefore fear usually wins out.
As for Larry Niven’s essay it was written with a sarcastic bent in a time where comics, and most of pop culture, was seen as disposable. For example in the 1960s, when the essay in question was written, the word “rainbow” was used as a basis for a few plots. Though much like the absurd idea of the original Batman (Bruce Wayne) and Robin (Dick Grayson) being gay this essay was taken seriously by many. Even those fans of Superman and/or comic books who have not read it have at least heard about it. Yet after carefully reading it I have found several reasons it can easily be debunked. They are as follows:
- Barry Allen and Wally West (original one) both have super-speed and yet they have been shown to have healthy children via the normal method of procreation.
- Skaar’s mere existence in the main Marvel universe points out the absurdity of applying logic to Superman having kids when by the same kind of logic the Hulk should be sterile. Also both Skaar and Mon-El’s ancestor from Superman Annual #14 disprove the bit in the essay about aliens not being able to reproduce with humans. Of course the existence of Ligers in our world also proves cross-breeding between species is possible.
- The essay does mention Gold Kryptonite being used to help Superman reproduce and how doing so would cost him his powers permanently. However, a writer could have easily solved this with a line like “The magic spell changes the Gold Kryptonite’s effectiveness to only be for 5 hours.” Also the effect of Gold Kryptonite was changed to a temporary loss of power in the 2000s which has rendered the point moot. Though speaking of magic some ally could just do a spell that could help during a pregnancy or just the process of conceiving (Nevin’s essay talks about super-speed ejaculations and various dangerous consequences.)
- As for super strength at various times Superman has been de-powered, such as 52 & Superman: The Wedding Album. There is also the fact that if Superman can walk on the ground without causing tremors, and not break door knobs without intent, then he can hold back with Lois. Not to mention that Superman #679 shows the beginning of a sexual encounter.
- Lastly, Superman, and practically, all comic characters are fictional! Meaning it doesn’t really matter what logic one applies to their reproductive systems.
Now you may be agreeing with me at this point yet wondering “Okay but where do the legacy characters fit in, and how do you keep profits up?” Well I propose each franchise first comes up with a multi-year plan for where the respective franchise is going. After those amount of years you say that so much time has passed in-universe, and then you continue to do this until you have a reasonable story for the former hero to die off/or retire. The mantle/title/power set is then passed on to the legacy character. (And yes a duplicate universe/timeline where the characters are essentially reboots of the icons can always be introduced.) While there are other possible methods this one ensures keeping current readers while developing fresh takes for any possible incoming or returning readers.
Some examples of how this can be done have been shown via Superman/Batman #80 and the event DC One Million (specifically Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow #1000000). The former suggesting a less dark future for Damian Wayne that Jonathan Kent/Superboy could easily be a part of. These and other future tales can be built to, or with, in order to provide fresh storylines.
In conclusion I feel we need hope versus bleakness from our escapism. So if life as we live it is going to end due to current long standing problems (ex. climate change), or by political idiocy, then shouldn’t we get more hopeful imagery in our entertainment? Thus, though fictional, the Super Sons, and other legacy characters, represent the classic hope of children being the future.
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