I love the look on GL’s face.
Seeing the launch of this new Green Lantern arc has got me thinking of epic scale–what I like to call “epicosity”–and consequences in superhero worlds. Because, let’s face it, if we’re talking about flocks of ringbearers and not one but two worlds ruled by Clark’s Law (Apokolypse and New Genesis), we are talking about world-shattering epicosity.
Epicosity is a must for superhero comics. After all, if you give someone superhuman powers then you need to confront him with problems commensurate with his new ability to “handle it.” Green Lanterns, people given Ultimate Tool/Weapons that make a single ringbearer an obstacle to any invading alien fleet, can’t be expected to fight street crime. Well, they could, but it would be boring.
But here’s the problem and the reason I don’t avidly collect every superhero comic title any more, even for the heroes I really like–and especially the reason I don’t pay much attention to Big Event crossovers (unless they look really interesting). For true epicosity to matter, events must have consequences and even for the winners. The bigger the events, the bigger the consequences. To use a real-world example, let’s look at World War Two.
World War Two literally Changed The World for Everybody, in ways that range from huge to trivial. Looking at the winners, war-exhaustion accelerated the decline of the British Empire, catapulted the US into global superpower status, and gave Russia hegemony over Eastern Europe. In the US social changes wrought by the war included the groundwork for advances in equal rights (and the virtual burial of institutionalized antisemitism), and the end of eugenics as social policy. And then there are the big technological changes: nuclear bombs/nuclear power, computers, rockets, etc.
Looking at the losers, Japan and Germany went determinedly pacifist, transforming in ways that nobody looking at them before WWII would have imagined. All this is what happens in Real Life (TM). But on a true societal scale–or even a personal scale–this cannot happen in comics. Never. Well, almost never.
The problem is simply this; unlike great universes of fantasy or science fiction where the stories take place Elsewhere, distant from us in time or space, superhero fiction takes place in the Here and Now (mostly). As such, it is a cousin to the urban fantasy genre with its own set of memes/tropes/themes. One of the unstated themes of superhero fiction, outside of storylines (and possibly whole comics) dedicated to Breaking the World, is Minimal Impact. Alien invasions on a scale of War of The Worlds may take place, and afterwards the world goes back to normal.
On that note, the Tom Cruise WOTW movie made me seriously yearn for a sequel showing What Happened Next as the movie’s characters survive in a country as shell-shocked as the fought-over territories of Europe after WWII. Part Two would have been the immediate aftermath (martial law, shortages and food-riots, rebuilding), Part Three a new economy and society beginning to incorporate alien tech while ramping up military development, Part Four the UN military expedition to Mars as back home trans-human technology really begins to take hold…you get the idea.
Essentially, before things can change too much there is a Big Reset. Or worse, the epic event simply gets ignored in later comics. Either way, things return to normal.
There are two reasons for this, one genre-related, the other an artifact of the publishing environment. On the genre side, the superhero genre is by definition modern fantasy; with some notable exceptions most superheroes live in something closely approximating the Real Word (if not Real New York). It’s a world of cars and cellphones, mortgages and media. It’s Reality Plus Superheroes, no matter what the strangeness of their personal origins; if you let the strangeness created by capes themselves have a real impact, let alone the strangeness brought in by the frequent world-shaking threats, you very quickly have a brave new world which isn’t our own.
This Minimum Impact Rule isn’t a bad thing; it preserves the default normality of the superhero setting and thus helps us to project ourselves into it. But after a while the lack of change from all the alien and extradimensional invasions is hard to ignore.
The second reason, the publisher’s reason, is that popular superheroes are moneymakers. Readers love them as they are, and if you change them too much then you lose your market. And forget about the biggest change: death. Arthur Conan Doyle got so tired of Sherlock Holmes that he killed him off, fans revolted, and publishers threw money at him until he brought the Great Detective back. Nobody ever believed that Superman would stay dead.
Is Superman with Wonder Woman now? Don’t worry, they won’t last and eventually Clark and Lois will be together as is Meant To Be. Is Bruce Wayne actually happy? Wait a few issues and someone close to him will die.
This is not cynicism; this is simple recognition that, no matter how much you might love some characters and want to see them get Happy Endings, that’s just not going to happen. There is no near parallel in other fiction for comic’s eternal reset. It would be like imagining the Lord of The Rings being published episodically over the space of ten years, then reset and reimagined to be told again. It could be fun, especially if you like the style and cleverness of the retelling, but you won’t morn for Borimer; he’ll be back.
So, what does all this mean for the Wearing the Cape series?
Well, nothing yet. Astra is still growing, both as a character, and in her impact on the Post-Event World. I made a commitment to myself when I started writing the stories that Hope Corrigan would grow and her world would change around her (and not just because of her). So far I think I’ve stayed true to that commitment, but as the series progresses I’m going to have to make choices. Will Hope develop a new and stable love-interest? How fast will she mature? How much impact will her adventures have on her world? After all, I implied in the very first book that she becomes rather pivotal.
All these choices will mean changes to the series’ formula, and may mean a change in the demographics of its fan-base; after all, readers who love Astra love her for who she is, but who she is will change over time. This may make her “more,” or “less,” but it will definitely make her different. Certainly I dread eventually seeing reader comments like “I liked her better before ‘X’,” but I cannot and do not wish to freeze her in a series of episodic adventures which end with her pretty much the same as she started.
It will be an interesting adventure.