Thursday, July 08, 2010

Breeding Contempt

Over at Mighty God King, MGK just posited that Deathstroke the Terminator was a much better character back when "[h]e showed up every once in a while, was incomparably badass, and then disappeared for a bit."

I submit that, with a few rare exceptions, this is true of every supervillain out there.

This kind of overexposure doesn't just diminish the villains, it diminishes their heroic counterparts, as well.

It's a subset of Follow The Leader that I call the The Show Biz Bugs Syndrome: "It'th a great trick, but you can only do it wunth!"

When Frank Miller made the Kingpin a fixture in Daredevil, it gave Matt Murdock a focus and a direction that previous writers had failed to instill.

When John Byrne reinvented Lex Luthor as the Corrupt Corporate Executive, it just made Superman look ineffectual. By the definition of Luthor's new persona, Superman was not allowed to beat him. Ever.

By far, the hero who's suffered the worst of this has been the Batman. In the last decade or two, adversaries who once appeared every few years have become members of the supporting cast, crime bosses in Gotham who get more monthly panel time than Jim Gordon or Alfred.

And, as a result, as Batman's wealth and technology and planning ability has increased to ridiculous levels, he's become pretty much useless. except when he's fighting other heroes. The argument that "Batman should just kill the Joker" didn't have as much impact when the Joker got tossed into Arkham (or jail) and we didn't see him again for a couple of years.

For all the silliness of the "Sci Fi Batman" of the late '50s and early '60s, he was far, far more effective than the Grim And Gritty Vigilante of the post-Miller days. When he put someone away, they stayed away, and often even served their full sentence (as I mentioned in passing in Fine Feathered Felony the other day). Late Golden Age Gotham was often touted as a model city for law enforcement, and civilian characters would, on occasion, mention that they'd moved there because it was so safe, thanks to The Batman.

The writers of the Golden Age and Silver Age knew that there were only so many good stories you could tell with a given antagonist, and used them sparingly. There were also much more willing to whip up a new adversary and, well, "throw it against the wall to see what sticks." There's more reluctance to devise new foes in this day and age (Grant Morrison being a notable exception), and I think that, too, is a detriment to both characters and creators.


SallyP said...

That's a very valid point. It seems as though all we have lately is recycled villains, instead of NEW threats. Granted, not all of them are going to be winners, but what the heck, at least it is something fresh.

Fresh however, is not something that is particularly associated with comic books. What ever happened to just plain thugs? I LIKE thugs!

Your Obedient Serpent said...

It's not just villains, either. DC's killing off new heroes to bring back old ones, and what is Rise of Arsenal but running poor Roy through well-worn paces?

That's why I call this "The Aluminum Age": everything is recycled.

(Some of the recycled stuff is great, mind you. But it still holds.)

Batman used to be all ABOUT the thugs and fedora'd gangsters. And he'd actually beat them. Now, instead of Fedora Mook of the Month, we get Yet Another Rupert Thorne story.

SallyP said...

Thugs and Gangsters are certainly a more realistic sort of threat...something that can actually be encountered by someone in the REAL world, as opposed to Alien invasions every other Thursday. Maybe that's why they've fallen out of the need to find something with more "oomph".

But still...when you overuse ANY character, he or she becomes too familiar, be it Slade or Wolverine or the Joker. I like the Joker, but I have to admit I'm a little tired of him.

You know what villain I loved? Carface, from Birds of Prey. He had these adorable little windshield wipers for his eyebrows. Granted, he was pretty pathetic, and Huntress bagged him with EASE...but he was nevertheless a lot of fun.

Your Obedient Serpent said...

Still, in Batman's corner of the 'verse, the transition hasn't really been away from "gangsters" and toward "supervillains".

It's been a two-fold transition:
* The once-disposable "thugs" and "gangsters" who were thwarted, defeated soundly, and imprisoned have given way to Crime Lords like Rupert Thorne, who are never brought to justice.
* Many former "supervillains" become gangsters, and thereby gained the same Untouchable status. As I mentioned last week, that kinda works with Oswald "The Penguin" Cobblepott, whose gimmick has traditionally been Batman's Smart, Sane Adversary, but not so much with a Two-Face.

spring said...

Personally, I still fail to see an inherent issue with recurring villains. If they cannot be used to tell fresh stories, that's on the writer, not on the character.

Honest to god, I've got about a dozen ideas for the likes of Joker, Two-Face, Riddler, and Penguin that haven't been used in a single comic I've read. Writers just want to keep going for the low-hanging fruit, and that's not going to change even if they do bring in new villains. It'll just be the same old stuff wrapped in a new skin.