Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Should Spider-Man Age and Die?



I recently got involved in a conversation on the Bleeding Cool forums regarding Spider-Man: One More Day. Being the only bugger on the internet who actually likes that story I occasionally feel obliged to stick up for it (I've even written a post doing just that) but as usual I was soon crushed by the weight of popular opinion. My puny arguments were no match for the legions of comic fans out there who believe that Joe Quesada is motivated by a personal dislike for each and every one of them and that producing a comic that they don't like is the moral equivalent of drowning kittens in acid.

Actually I'm being more than a little unfair. My own arguments actually were quite puny and didn't amount to much more than "but I like it" (imagine that said in a Droopy voice). Quite a few of the posters on the thread had many valid criticisms of the story and many compelling arguments as to why Spidey should have remained married. The thread itself is in response to a passionate and very well written essay by a fan who's dismayed with the current direction of Peter Parker's adventures. True, the thread now seems to have descended into nerdy number-crunching of the sales figures and personal criticisms of Mark Millar and Chuck Austen (for some reason), but for a while there it was intriguing stuff.

There was one particular point that was made by several posters that really got me thinking. They argued that Spider-Man should have been allowed to age and mature throughout his adventures and eventually the series should have come to a natural conclusion. The absence of the character would then create a vacuum that would have to be filled by new heroes for each new generation of fans. The specific examples that were given of this practice in action were Dragonball and Judge Dredd although I'm sure there are more.

This really got me thinking. Obviously it's very unlikely that the adventures of characters such as Spider-Man, Superman or Batman will ever be allowed to come to a finish. Spidey will forever be in his early twenties and Batman and Superman will always be in their thirties simply because they're not just characters, they're brands. The characters in the comics have to have at least a passing resemblance to the characters in the cartoons and movies, or on the lunchboxes. This is perfectly understandable, but is it right?

Financial concerns aside, can a character's story truly be of any worth if it's never allowed to finish? Robin Hood was killed by a treacherous prioress and King Arthur was clobbered over the head by Mordred. Aren't their adventures made all the richer because of these inevitable endings? It's very telling that Alan Moore's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow and Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns provide non-canonical endings to the adventures of Superman and Batman respectively and are two of the most critically acclaimed comic book stories of all time. You could also argue that allowing a character to age and mature makes him easier to identify with than a character who's perpetually going through the trials of a twenty year old. There's also a larger scope for telling different kinds of stories. A forty year old Spider-Man could have adventures that a twenty year old Spidey couldn't. Creatively speaking there's certainly an argument to be made for this approach to the characters.

But I'm very much playing devil's advocate in the above paragraph. I don't want to see Spider-Man, Superman or Batman age. I don't want their adventures to end. I'd go as far as to say that I enjoy the cyclical nature of the character's adventures. There's something very comforting in the familiarity. That's not to say that mainstream superhero comics are completely repetitive. Grant Morrison is a good example of a writer who will always find an interesting and unfamiliar twist to an old formula. But when all is said and done Clark Kent will inevitably return to the Daily Planet, Bruce Wayne will come home to Wayne Manor and Peter Parker will probably never celebrate his thirtieth birthday. And I quite like that.

So what does all this mean? Is allowing their most popular characters the chance to finish their stories really the answer to all of DC and Marvel's problems? Am I part of the problem? Have the demands of fanboys like me sent mainstream comics up a creative cul-de-sac? Will this creative bankruptcy inevitably lead to the comics' industry's demise?

I don't know.

Probably.

Sorry.

I feel a bit guilty now.

What do you think?