Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Op/Ed: DC and the Legacy Concept need a divorce

You know, once upon a time, I actually used to think the legacy concept was pretty cool. A highlight of DC. New, younger characters take on the mantles of the old one and attempt to bring their legacy to new places. That a company seemingly based itself around it kind of pleased me. I'd be like some other fans; bringing it up whenever I list what I liked about the DC Universe.

Kind of funny how your opinion can change over the course of a year or two.

DC's seen quite a bit of restoration lately of the best known iterations of it's heroes. Hal Jordan seems to be the one that ramped it into high gear. Now we have Barry Allen back as well, once one of the untouchables in the dead pool. Ray Palmer's even back as the Atom; of course, DC stupidly killed off replacement Ryan Choi, which unsurprisingly set the internet off yet again. Legacy doesn't seem quite so important now, does it? Despite, of course, the fact that DC still uses the damn word left and right in just about any press release. They've even got a damn book out called "DC: Legacies".

It needs to stop.

The legacy concept is really nothing more than a smokescreen, but no one seems to realize it. When you strip it down to it's essence, it's a buzzword mostly used as a differentiater from Marvel and their more "grounded" approach. Does the legacy concept really mean that much to DC? It might, but the company needs to realize something we all should. The legacy concept is nothing more than a short term boon that causes grave complications down the road.

Let's look at it from the ground first. On paper, the idea sounds good. A universe of heroes where the mantles are passed down amongst a line of heroes who become a part of it's legacy. Sounds good right? In a finite story it would be. Like all things that sound good on paper, when you put it into practice, the problems start.

Replacing a hero is tricky business. Right from the start you're causing problems. When you replace a hero with a new, shinier version, you are going to piss someone off. I'm sorry. It's going to happen. Not an issue when you deal with lower tier heroes like Blue Beetle - hell, Jamie's probably better known and more popular than Ted Kord ever was - but doing it to the bigger heroes is nothing but trouble. Even if the character takes off - take Kyle Rayner, for example, who is a relatively popular hero in the Green Lantern mythos - you're still angering a great many others to do it. We'll stay out of the circumstances surrounding Kyle's introduction, since that's a whole 'nother powderkeg.

In truth, when you do that, you've placed a time limit on how long they can carry that title. Is it really a mystery why DC has gone back to the most recognizable versions of their heroes? I don't think so. I mean, who really gives a goddamn about Conner Hawke aside from a small group of people? What about the most recent Firestorm? The only complaint I ever hear about him being dropped back in the equation is that now it's no longer someone with ethnicity; and while I'm all for a more diverse DCU, if that's the main reason people don't want him shunted off, I find it kind of dumb.

DC doesn't seem to get that replacing the most recognizable version with a new guy just never really works out. The most recognizable and successful shift that they ever did was with Wally West becoming the Flash and it took a defining run by Mark Waid to really cement it. Surprise surprise, here comes Barry Allen back. The worst part? It just undermines the last bit of credibility the legacy concept had in the DCU. The only change that stuck? The switchover from Barry to Wally. The Flash was the only true legacy of the DC universe; now that it's reverted, it's hard not to see the concept as a joke.

On top of that, a lot of the replacements are inferior characters. Sure, you've got your Jamie Reyes, but for every one of him there's a Conner Hawke, a whoever-the-post-OYL-Aquaman-was and a Freddy Freeman as Captain Marvel/Shazam. Even if they're not, they've got the unfortunate distinction of riding on the coat-tails of the previous one. What's the number one story you can do with a new hero in an old mantle? Trying to live up to the legacy of the old one. After that, unless you've radically changed the concept and made a new world surrounding them, it's someone else playing with the previous guys toys and it's rarely ever as good. Then the old guy inevitably comes back and just what the hell do you do with the replacement? Kill him? Limbo? Both options will piss off the fans the replacement does have. See Wally West at the moment; DC seems to have no freaking clue what to do with him right now. Give him a new identity? Not going to please his fans. They see him as the Flash and think it's his rightful title. Give him the Flash title? Well, then what can you do to possibly please Barry Allen fans?

All this ends up causing strife in the fanbase. Sure, we all love Kyle Rayner. Hence why a lot of folks did not want Hal back. But then there are just as many, if not more, who did want Hal Jordan back. Don't they have as much right to want the old guy back? But then what about the new guy? Which leads to "which one is better", which leads to bitterness, fan entitlement, arguments and anguish all around. All to give somebody elses gimmick to someone new. You don't see things like wrestling pull this crap for good reason; could anyone really stand an argument about which is the better Rock or Stone Cold? Imagine trying to give a new guy the Hulk Hogan name and gimmick.

It's a useless move, on top of all that. How many of DC's huge stars were born of legacies? You could say two if you wanted to go the Green Lantern and Flash argument, but they did not replace; Barry Allen and Hal Jordan were a radical shift of the concept to the point where the only real similarities were basic powers and a name. Besides which, the originals are still around. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow and so on were not born of legacies. So where's the benefit here? Instead of creating new characters - which admittedly would have to sink or swim - DC replaces old ones with new characters for the quick benefit of name recognition. Please tell me someone other than me sees this as retarded.

Then there's the point where you put established heroes under another persons identity. That just makes things even worse. Now not only have you replaced the old guy, but you've put on the back burner the mythos surrounding the replacement in his other identity. Cool for the short term, but eventually you're doing nothing more than deliberately not using the toys you've created. See Dick Grayson currently as Batman; keep him under the cowl and everything built in the twenty years under the Nightwing identity is put on the back burner, because it has no place in the Batman trappings. But ahh, then you have the problem of "someone else playing in another dudes world". Not really a wonder that Grant Morrison took the "change the entire feel and create new stuff" route for his story of Dick filling in for Batman, but even that can't sustain forever without keeping valuable toys in the toybox.

Then multiply all that by the fact that this "generational" BS causes aging problems with the heroes that aren't replaced and you may as well just shoot yourself in the foot with a gun and save yourself the trouble.

I understand why DC tries this. Really, I do. It's not easy to get new characters to work in comics. Call them small minded if you will - I certainly have a low opinion of fans in general - but they're not likely to outright buy into new characters. It takes a good amount of luck and exposure to hit the right note and it's never guaranteed. With putting someone new under an established identity, it brings instant cred and recognizability to build them with. You've got a much better chance of surviving and being fleshed out under an established property than you do on your own. But it just doesn't work.

In the past twenty years, how many great new characters have been created? Not many, right? Most of the great ones were put under established identities. Where are they now? Kyle Rayner lucked out; the Green Lantern Corps is a concept that allows for several Green Lanterns. Guys like Conner Hawke and Ryan Choi aren't that lucky. Then the old guys come back and what are you left with? Supporting cast at best. Not new heroes. The safe bet of the "legacy" produces horrid results if we want to face facts. Throwing new heroes out there may be a calculated risk, but when it pays off, if pays off big; when you stick with a legacy, you may get some recognition for the characters, but you guarantee yourself problems down the road unless the original character under the cowl was forgettable or just a bad character.

To sum it up, DC and "legacies" need a divorce. Over time I've slowly come to realize just what a spiderweb of bullcrap the very concept spins. I now honestly feel it has little place in most superhero concepts. Just think, this concept has dominated comics in a way since that dreaded, horrid age we call the 90's. Worked out great, dinnit?

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