As you no doubt gathered from Tuesday’s article, legacy is a…well, it’s a complicated topic to say the least. To think that I could cover everything there was to discuss in 1500 words might have been overreaching on my part. So, that brings us to now. While I still think the original article is fairly comprehensive and stands well on its own, there were a couple of additional topics I wanted to cover that couldn’t fit there that deserve mention here. So, think of this as an addendum of sorts, a few deleted scenes that can add something new to the mix.
I tried my best in the original article to avoid talking about Marvel’s legacy problem because (a) DC has always done it exceptionally better and (b) DC has also really screwed it up a few times. DC was just the easiest, all-encompassing company in this regard. DC Comics has a really solid track record with legacy characters that dates back to the fifties with the introduction of Barry Allen as the Flash, replacing the original Jay Garrick. But Marvel runs into a legacy problem that stems from the simple fact that these two universes are built on completely different foundations.
See, DC Comics was, from the beginning, a rabid mish-mash of tons of different properties from different companies that were eventually smushed together into a haphazard universe. Because of this loose association, the main pantheon was never meant to ever inhabit the same universe and tell the same ongoing story. This lead to certain characters having a larger presence than others. Superman, of course, had two titles he regularly appeared in every month while the Flash was the titular hero of Flash Comics but had to share that space with eight other heroes. There were just characters that sold more, simple as that. Which means that, during the superhero slump of the late forties and early fifties, the big dogs of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman never ceased publication, retaining everything that fans loved about them because that popularity is what kept them going. There was no need to reimagine them for new audiences because the old audience was still invested. Flash and his cohorts, however, didn’t have quite the selling power and were able to quietly be cast aside, which allowed the creators to reimagine them in new ways with brand-new legacy characters. When you look at what happened with Superman and the rest, you can start to see how Marvel has a legacy problem.
From the very beginning of the Marvel Universe, you can tell the creators intended every title to be a part of a larger, growing narrative. Each character was listed as an A-List top-tier hero that mattered. And it showed, because Marvel Comics sold like proverbial hotcakes. They weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Which means that any character that came to replace them as a legacy character would be opposed from the start. Flash had an easier time because nobody was paying attention and Barry Allen was just a fun, new character. Spider-Man didn’t have the luxury, no matter how great the newbie was. Any new character that called themselves Spider-Man, or Captain America, or Iron Man were on borrowed time, because those original characters were always going to come back. Eventually, DC would run into the problem as well, but for most of its history, Marvel has relied on keeping its big characters who they are. To really get a successful legacy character, they had to go to a completely different universe.
In 2000, Marvel launched their Ultimate imprint, where they reimagined their classic characters for a new millennium, where they weren’t tied down with decades of continuity. Spider-Man was their first and best character in this new universe and, since this wasn’t the main Marvel universe, since this wasn’t the Peter Parker everyone knew and loved, they could do whatever they wanted without upsetting too many fans. And, so, they killed Spider-Man. Peter Parker was killed by the Green Goblin and the mantle of Spider-Man was taken up by a young kid named Miles Morales. And, while there were a ton of upset fans who had grown up with this new Peter, Miles was mostly embraced by the larger comics community and was eventually brought over into the main Marvel Universe. He remains, to this day, Marvel’s most successful legacy character. But they had to grow his fanbase in a completely different universe to make him work.
Marvel has tried to redo Miles’ success with a myriad of brand-new legacy characters but within the confines of their main universe, all with varying levels of success. For the most part, they took the Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern route we talked about last time by wiping the slate clean and bringing in a new character without a history to fill the role, hoping fans will embrace them in the long run. And, while this worked for Kyle due to DC’s history of keeping characters dead for longer than a year, Marvel hasn’t had quite the same success. Riri Williams as Iron Man is a more modern example of scorched earth new imaginings that fans have almost universally reviled due to having no history with the character and knowing that Tony will eventually be back to render her time in the role as distracting at best. And none of this is to say that Riri is an inherently bad character, only that the universe she inhabits can’t give her the breathing room it needs to so that she can grow into her own persona worthy of the Iron Man name. It’s simply the rules of the established universe. Miles had a chance. He was able to grow into the Spider-Man role in his own universe apart from everything else and came into the main Marvel Universe fully formed. Even Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, has a better chance than Riri, as Carol Danvers, the original Ms. Marvel, has taken up the mantle of Captain Marvel. There’s no fear of Carol coming back to the mantle and pushing Kamala off into comic book limbo.
Marvel has an uphill battle in front of it when it comes to legacy characters. Some of their attempts at creating lasting, meaningful characters to fill the shoes of their most popular heroes have been accepted and praised, but, for the most part, they’re met with exhaustive sighs from their audience. DC Comics has proven for decades that legacy can work within the proper confines of an established narrative, so it can be done. Marvel has even proved that it’s possible in their own universe. But scorched earth legacy can only work if there’s time to make it work. If there are creator’s willing to put the time in to build up and prove that these characters have what it takes to wield the shield. Miles has proved it. Kamala has proved it. Even Jane Foster as Thor is earning her stripes.
Marvel just needs to realize that time is their greatest asset in regards to legacy.
I mentioned last time that legacy seems to be being misused in modern comics, and, while that’s certainly true in some regards, it’s absolutely false in many others. DC Comics is, once again, proving that brand new characters can find a devoted audience if they are given the time and dedication to growing them into roles worthy of their name. Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz of the Green Lantern Corps are two fantastic examples of modern legacy characters that are slowly but surely coming into their own outside the shadow of their predecessors. Simon Baz has grown from a scorched earth character meant to boost sales into a Green Lantern that is able to admit when he’s wrong and is beginning to trust others maybe for the first time in his life. Jessica Cruz has come a long way from the one-note anxiety case she was introduced as into a woman who is able to conquer her fear of open spaces and become a Green Lantern worthy of the ring as much as the next. Again, this is a case of time being a legacy character’s best friend. Before last year, both of these Green Lanterns were simply one-dimensional caricatures built to get media attention as new successors to wear the ring. But, the creators have realized that these are characters worth having in the DC Universe and are worth the time to build them into their new roles. And, while I can’t say whether or not they’re going to accumulate the kind of fan base Kyle Rayner did, they’re definitely going to be remembered fondly. It helps that Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, and Kyle haven’t been pushed aside just for the sake of these two new Lanterns. They all coexist together and form different parts of the same tapestry of the Green Lantern mythos.
DC is proving, once again, that legacy works no matter what era it is. It’s not about who the characters are or what they can do for your sales charts. It’s about what you do with them to prove they are just as important as the older characters.
I hope that these addendums have helped to fully encompass just how important good legacy characters are to the ever-growing mythos of the superhero genre. In conjunction with the original article, this should be as comprehensive as I can make the topic in just over 3000 words. Legacy is an inspiring storytelling device that, when used properly, can open up an infinite number of opportunities to explore just what it is that we love about our favorite heroes. And we just might fall in love with the new kids along the way.
Wouldn’t that be something?