Feb 19, 2018

How Many Times Before It’s In Character?

Characters that appear in serial fiction crafted by divers hands over years, accumulate characterization beyond their original creators’ intentions. Often, though, a purist-sentimentality in audiences means that we want to think of the characters in terms of their original characterization or that character which we first, personally, encountered. Even if something happened multiple times, even if they have behaved a way or expressed a belief repeatedly over, for example, seven seasons, or thirty years of monthly comics, we often are entirely ready to ignore what does not agree with our original encounter with the character, or our personal canon version. Maybe you erase John McClane’s superhuman resistance in the later Die Hard movies, or you ignore the unabashed dickishness of Weisinger-controlled Superman. The serious stories about the Wolf Man or Thanos count; Abbot and Costello meeting the Wolf Man, though, does not; Thanos in a helicopter bearing his name doesn’t count.

So, how many times does something come up, before you just go, Yeah, that’s valid?

How Many Times Before It’s In Character?
Travis Hedge Coke

How often does Captain America have to disregard law enforcement (usually with a woman in command), before it’s part of his character?

If Magneto keeps just murdering people or sending his cults to do so, is there a point where, even if you’re a fan of “heroic” Magneto, where you accept that characterizing Magneto as that kind of guy is at least a valid authorial choice? Or, do you hold firm, and even if something crops up consistently, it’s just wrong?

Wonder Woman

In Wonder Woman vol 1, #181, Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, finds herself attracted to a chauvinistic, gruff jerk because, “He’s crusty… but, he’s also strong, decisive… he’s a man!” In a Brave and the Bold issue by an entirely different team of talent, Diana exclaims attraction to Batman because he, basically, beats her up a bit. There’s a whole weird strain throughout her comics appearances, wherein she feels the blush of love whenever a man pushes her around, physically or verbally.

All this taken into account, I’m not a giant fan of it, and even the playful version seen in Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again sits poorly with me. I could do without.


On the flipside, we often hear of Wolverine’s berserker rages, of how dangerous he is, uncontrollable, will murder anyone when he’s in a mood. But, do we see it? Is it ever really in evidence? In the first X-Men movie, Wolverine stabs Rogue when she sneaks into his bedroom and he wakes up scared. He stops there. In the comics, he occasionally shouts or cuts someone’s necktie to prove how dangerous he is. But, is he murdering the guy who cut him off on turn at Fourth Street? Is he disemboweling friends or children at the playground?

Even when entirely enraged, he still targets people who are actively doing him violence, or lashes out briefly and then pulls back when it is someone more innocent. If you see Wolverine really injuring innocent people, presenting him no threat, he’s being mind-controlled. Every time.

The “berserker rage,” is a good sell. It sounds good. It feels right. But, we aren’t going to see it in stories, and especially never in stories that are set after his “redemption” and time with the X-Men. The sell is necessary. The actualization is necessary to avoid.

Clark Kent

I posted a humorous thing about how appealing Clark Kent is, as a human being, compared to the kind of guy likely to go, “Girls want a Superman, but they walk past a Clark Kent every day.” Clark is, in the gag, contextualized as a fit farm boy who is unfailingly civil and polite, and who does not expect sex in exchange for being polite. There were, naturally, counter-positions that drew upon specific portrayals and in-story responses to Clark, including those from his very first appearance in comics.

Lois Lane does criticize Clark from moment one, and he does feign cowardice and clumsiness throughout most of his portrayals, from comics to film. During the era where Superman comics were controlled by Mort Weisinger, he’s not unfrequently, just kind of a jerk in terms of his sense of humor and his sense of personal privacy. I would argue, though, that outside of a few truly egregious examples, the worst Clark Kent has ever been, officially, portrayed as, is still a pretty admirable, civil, socially-minded professional, and he looks, physically, pretty dang good.

Spider Jerusalem

Fellow fictional journalist published by DC Comics, Spider Jerusalem stops being like Superman or Clark, pretty much there. Spider, himself, declares, “I’m not your fucking cartoon,” but the comics in which he appears often seem to make just that of him, and his fans, by and large, have embraced in his cartoon nature, a harmlessness to his detrimental qualities and a lionization of his better bits.

Unlike the previous examples, Spider only appears in a relative handful of comics. About five years worth of monthly Transmetropolitan issues, a couple oneshots, the rare tie-in product. I think there was a web animation that has since disappeared off the face of the easily accessible internet. But, in that span, a lot is packed. Unlike Clark Kent, if you agree with Spider Jerusalem on something, it is hopefully in spite of him - him as a whole - than because of how he is. Spider is an asshole. Spider is a jerk. He, too often, gets the wrong people hurt, even when he is trying to do right.

Almost every story, arc, and angle in Transmetropolitan, gives us a new example of Spider, the bad person, Spider the wrong. People have pretty good reasons to hate him. But, he’s charming as a caricature we don’t have to actually share real space and life experiences with. He is tenacious, witty, and wily. Ultimately, he wins. So, he is remembered for his victories, for his high points, and if the lows are covered, they are without real world parallel.

Little Orphan Annie

And, now, a serious cartoon.

Annie is an orphan who needs no introduction, but her comic has certainly been overshadowed by film adaptations and stage musicals by this point in time. The bulk of her adventures continues, though, to be in comic strips. And, she’s not really aging. Even, before the end of regular publication, in 2010, you had eighty-six years of regular strips, since Harold Gray created her, and she was still ten years old for all that time. Even being born on a leap year, and so only aging one year for each new leap year - if you want to take the gag as literal - she still did not actually age at all.

But, she remembered her experiences, even going back decades. So, either you accept that this fundamentally won’t work out in a real world believable fashion, or you stretch for weird, mystical explanations (not that unlikely, since the strip has its own active godlike figure in Mr Am). Or, as many Annie fans seem to, you just ignore that most of her past has happened unless it is being directly addressed. Time rolls up being Annie. She’s not growing and maturing. She isn’t suspended in time perfectly and strictly. She just has about a nine month window of active life and then time rolls up again, and she’s roughly where she started and going forward again. Less than a year later, she’ll mostly-reset.

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