Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Repurposed: E-mail request for advice

I'm reposting the e-mail I just sent to a number of Hanover profs.

It's somewhat rambly, because I'm still refining what I'm looking to discuss, and at the same time, trying to quickly give a small bit of context that I take for granted... but I think it explains what I'm thinking of writing on and why. Hopefully, J and I can keep the esoteric disagreements on the nature of Academic out of this thread, and keep it to input... but.. thoughts?

'llo all.

I'm hoping the summer finds you all well. I've set up a post/comment thread on a shared blog to bounce ideas off some friends, and in doing so, refine and spark some ideas for what would work for this thing.. and.. well.. I've got something.. I just need to figure out how to approach it correctly.

I originally discounted an idea, becuase I had the material and I knew it was worth discussing, I just didn't know where or if this would be the correct venue. It wasn't until I got involved in a half argument with a friend, and used it as an example of what I could write about that I started keying into how deeply ingrained some of the themes asked for in the request ( Nostalgia, History, Antecedents.. to some degree Material Culture, but as a character detail, illustrating Nostalgia and History again).

Let's see if I can't clarify this. There is a fairly impressive body of work, a series by James Robinson named "Starman". It was a run of comics entirely under his writing direction for the length of the story, and focused upon what's essentially the Dissaffected Slacker of the 90's, Jack Knight. He ends up being forced into taking up the Starman mantle of his Father, Ted Knight, the original Starman of the 40's, the member of the Justice Society of America.
Robinson writes a story about family, about Jack coming into his own adulthood, recognizng the nature of his relationships with family and who he is, who his father is, and so forth. Woven into this however, is something equally well done and complex, as parallel to that story is a story that acknowledges the various characters that have had the Starman name - Jack and his father, obviously, as well as characters who have had nothing to do with them, but had the same name for trademark protection reasons. This is presented as Jack encountering his antecedents and and maturing in himself from encountering them. But it's also a celebration of these disparate elements and stories, to the reader.

There's a lot more connection here ( and my copies are at school, so I can't get concrete details to back me up), but there's a look at the "Starman" legacy into the future (becuase hey, it's comics, and because the future is tangible in DC comics), with a Legion of Superheroes (in the 30th cent.) member showing up, and discovering he'll be taking up the name.. A series of Dream Sequences issues called Past Lives that have Jack speaking to his dead brother, who introduces him to abandoned DC characters with introspection upon a number of things.. more that I'd need the books to recall, I fear.

I couldn't quite get a handle on how to approach this at first, though... until I started writing a short paragraph to explain this, and utilized a term that has shown up in fan discussions. DC comics have made something of an industry and a selling point out of what they call "legacy" heroes, new characters who take up the mantle and aspects of earlier characters. This stems from the reinvention of old trademarks coming into the Silver Age (Flash, Green Lantern, Blue Beetle, etc.), and has some tieback to the other DC trope of kid sidekicks.. many of whom end up taking up the role (Kid Flash becoming the Flash, after his death).. in some ways, Starman is the series that takes this idea and makes it.. I don't know precisely.. Memorable. in some sense, bringing it from a crass publishing device into a Memorial device, one that works within the story world...

This is perhaps a bit too much at the moment, but what I'm looking at, and conisdering is Examining the idea of a Legacy Hero as a sort of concrete example of History, how the device of it atttempts to graft importance to the new character through nostalgia for the previous, antecedent characters, and to examine this through the way Robinson's Starman builds that nostalgia by showing how his character interacts with the previous, reminding the audience who these characters were, why they were enjoyed, and how this new character is similar and how he differs from those previous characters.

Talk about burying your lede, here. I'm still muddling through and chipping away at this massive marble block of an idea, obviously. Does this seem reasonable? Hoping and Assuming that I've given you all enough of a small context on what "Starman" is, what a legacy hero is, etc? Does it sound like it should be further refined and restricted? Expanded?

Basically, just interested in opinions.. Thanks for your time, and back to scanning legal documents for me.



Roscoe said...

To clarify-

There is a concept known as a Legacy Hero.

It is built upon history and nostalgia, and examining it would provide insight to these.

Robinson's "Starman" is an exceedingly well suited example of this concept, and would serve well to examine the Legacy Hero device.

As such, I expect to use it to examine how this Heroic Legacy attempts to graft feelings of nostalgia and history from it's antecedents onto the new character, and how Robinson does this by actually reminding the audience why they liked it all it the first place.

_J_ said...

Clearing out the muddle:
"An exploration of the recycling of superheros throughout the generations via the Starman Series."

Really, what you seem to be talking about, is how a character is recycled over and over again. How the "mantle" of Flash or Green Lantern is "passed on". Kind of maybe sort of Batman Beyondish as well.

But it's primarily about taking an established character, recognizing that the mortal who wears the costume will not live forever, and recycling the "Flash" to continue on despite the death of any particular Flash.

_J_ said...

What this page says.

A Legacy Hero is the mantle of a hero which is passed on between individuals for generations. Old Zorro gives his mask to new Zorro. Old Starman gives his...whatever to new starman. Grumpy Bruce Wayne makes a new suit for uppity little brat. The Flash hands his spandex off to new Flash.

Etc. Etc.

Roscoe said...

No, that's not what a Legacy Hero is, though.

It's not that the character will not last forever, it's that the attempt to give the new character the emotional cachet of the old one's stories right out of the box.

It's not about the original character's mortality, or about mortality at all, as these are fictional character. It's about the reader's resonance with the character.

About grafting nostalgia for Old Fogey A to Spunky New Kid B. Making Kyle Rayner relevant becuase he's 90'stastic, AND because he's got to live up to WhiteStreaks McSuperfriends Hal Jordan.

At it's most crass, it's an attempt to get a new, viable character without losing the things which made the old, unviable character work.

At it's most hopeful, it's an examination of what was good about those characters, and how that impacts the new one.

Roscoe said...

It's not recycling superheros, specifically, though.

It's recycling Trademarks.

The various Starmen? One was a 40's finhead-suit wearing dude with a "Cosmic Rod", catching criminals. Another was a Space Opera Messiah Prince with a shepard staff, fighting armadas. A third was a blue skinned amnesiac alien in a Disco Suit with a shooty medalion, combating drugs and whatnot. A fourth was a scientist who got generic solar powers.

None of these were connected, until Robinson came along. He tied them together to create a Legacy out of their stories.

It's X-23, the teen girl Wolvereine clone, and War Machine taking up a new suit of Tony Stark Armor. A run of Spider Girls/Women and the new, new, New Mutants as the next generation of X-Men.

It's an attempt to make new characters worth the audience's time by tying on allready proven concepts.

Roscoe said...

Hmn. Okay.. so.. I need to clarify further.

I'm talking about the aspects the legacy hero has for the audience, not for the characters, precisely.

Because, we're talking about the Comic Book in Popular Culture, not continuity.

The Starman thing you put forth is half interesting.. becuase well.. taht DOES happen, in that Ted Knight, the 40's guy, gives his son, the main character, Jack, a prototype comic rod. So there is the passing on.. but the other Starmen are utterly unrelated to Ted Knight, and yet Robinson ties them into the legacy Jack has to live up to.

Legacy as defined by the reader, as opposed to Legacy defined by the fiction.

_J_ said...

"it's that the attempt to give the new character the emotional cachet of the old one's stories right out of the box."

Why make a new character rather than just continually use the old character? Because the character will not last forever.

Check mate.

This page seems to have a good grasp on the subject. Not that you don't, but you may be bringing a bit of romance to the concept which overlooks the fundamental utility of the device.

If you maintain the hopeful, idealized interpretation and I keep being an asshole focused on the marketing aspect we ought to be able to find a happy middle ground.

I didn't know that four different people have been clayface, by the way.

Part of the problem with this discussion will be the jargon and vocabulary and there is a very real chance of making the critical Cricket mistake of saying "The Bowler bowls the ball".

The biggest problem will be explaining the difference between "Robin" and "Dick Grayson" or "Jason Todd". We can't use the word "character" to describe all three. So we'll need a word for "Robin" (mantle?) and the individuals who take on that (mantle), which could be "characters"? Except "character" could refer to "Robin" and "Dick Grayson" and "Fag Ballsux".

If I were writing the paper, which I'm not? I'd concentrate on WHY this would happen. Why not always have Player A be Costumed Crusader Y?

Because that leads into interesting discussions of comic temporality and the application of a degree of realism on a fundamentally fictional concept. I mean, if Dick Grayson wants to go be Nightwing so someone else has to put on the red and yellow tights that's one thing. But to define a character as having to die? That's an interesting decision. Or even if it isn't death why make a new person to be Supergirl, to be Clayface? Why not just have one person always only ever hold that mantle?

Roscoe said...

The old character CAN last forever.

See Superman, Batman.

Checkmate my ass.

_J_ said...

"I'm talking about the aspects the legacy hero has for the audience, not for the characters, precisely."

That's psychology. That gets into audience interpretation. That's going to suffer from the _J_ syndrome of "I think X therefore all people think X."

_J_ said...

"The old character CAN last forever.

See Superman, Batman."

Whence Batman Beyond, then? Why make Bruce Wayne age?


Roscoe said...

What you're missing is that I AM deeply tied into the marketing aspect as well.

That's the thing about Starman. prior to the Robinson, it's a series of failed characters, and new iterations designed just to keep the trademark.

The "if you were writing the paper" bit is very much where I'm going. I can answer it in one sentence, though. Financial demands of the marketplace define plot demands,and financially unviable characters fall into disuse.

The old character has not become financially viable, however, the trademark still is. How do we resolve this? Legacy Character!

This is what I refer to, when I say Robinson takes a mechanical exercise in trademark maintence and turns it into something of a work of art. He dissects the Legacy Hero, sees what makes it was designed for, ex-story, and then remakes it to work en-story.

It's why Jack Knight deals in retro collectables, and why, when his store, his life's sake, is destroyed, it resonates.

Roscoe said...

Bruce Wayne hasn't aged.

See. Timetravel episode, with three Batmen.

Bruce Wayne is right there beside Bruce Wayne.

(clicks the speed clock)

Roscoe said...

On this, let me note some Legacy Characters for Bats and Supes for you (you can wiki them) -

Batman - Azrael

Superman - Superboy, Steel, The Eradicator, The Cyborg/Cyborg Superman (Hank Henshaw, not Vic Stone of the Titans)

My point with those? Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent are back in the original role. From a publishing standpoint, from a liscencing standpoint, these characters CAN last forever.

Roscoe said...

A different note..

I have to admit, you're right, there is a LOT of sentimentality on my part for Starman, and you're picking up on that.

What you're missing is the sentimentality is for seperate aspects of the story. The legacy hero thing is.. okay.. yeah. I'm sentimental in that it does more with it, examines it in depth, while other comics don't.

but I can delve into other uses of the legacy hero since abandoned. Robinson's exploration of it is what gave it staying power, what made it transcend a crass marketing ploy, and that exploration is based in examining the nostalgia and history (from an audience's perspective, as well as a storied one).

_J_ said...

So if you were making an outline for the paper and knew that it all had to fit into a 13 minute discussion what would your outline be?

Roscoe said...

That's hard to say, without going back over the series. But a good question.

I think it would have to start with discussing what a legacy character is, from a publishing perspective.
(using the stuff I've put forth here, attempt to graft postive attachments onto a new, more financially viable character)

Then open up on how Robinson does that, by dismantling it. Line up what elements make someone nostalgically remember the first character. Characters, in Robinson's..

then show how he avoids simply expecting the name to carry it, but actively introduces those characters, shows his new character beside the old ones, highlighting why the audience remembers, what they liked about the old guys, AND showing how the new character grows by encountering them. Showing that the new character is not the old one, but has similar aspects, and providing a link for that nostalgia, a story that bridges the two.

Show how that provides for a stronger character (one that's undergone his own trials/experiences, instead of just kinda reminding you of a previous character's T's and E's)

Pepper with examples that fit, which I obviously can't provide at my fingertips, and which you wouldn't really know.

There's something to be said, and possibly fit in there about the role history plays in the characters' lives, with the dream-issues, with the continual, touches to seperate continuity... but I can't speak to how or where it might fit in, and it MIGHT be beyond the scope here.

_J_ said...

It might behoove your paper to avoid things which are subjective. The whole "audience reaction" component is going to be completely subjective given that audience reaction is subjective. Unless you're going to go data digging or poll people you'll probably just be talking out of your ass anyway.

- publishing perspective
- how Robinson does that
- explore particular components of individual characters
- Show how that provides for a stronger character
- history plays in the characters' lives

I think you need to only write about one or two of those.

It might be good to just assess passing a mantle across multiple "characters" across the lifespan of a comic series.

The problem is going to be that different topics are different sorts of papers. A "how he does this" is going to get into the technical components of creating stories and character. The "publishing perspective" will get into marketing and finances. Exploring the characters and strengthening characters is going to be more of a literary assessment. History is going to be, well, history.

Unless you're writing a thesis on Starman you need to pick one type of paper to write and then only include things which support that paper. Otherwise it'll be too much.

Focus on strength through specifics and limiting your scope. It's a popular culture convention so they'll eat that shit up. Rather than go broad and attempt too much focus on something very specific and offer a complete critique or exploration of that specific thing.

Roscoe said...

This is where you're talking out of your ass, unfortunately.

And not exactly an insult, here.

But a mantle doesn't get passed across the span of a series, becuase a series generally ends due to lack of sales. So.. you know.. if a mantle DOES get passed, it's at the start of a new series.

The How he does this seems to be the one that makes sense to go from, but in order to describe WHAT he's doing, I need to touch upon the market having had a use for these previous characters, follow me?

Exploring and strenghtening the characters is essentially the same thing as how does Robinson make the Legacy Hero concept work, in that the former is the answer to the latter, and, yeah, it is a literary analysis.

The History comes in as a sense that there's a past to live up to (in character), and a past to acknowledge(ex-character. This is the history that drives the nostalgia that is at the core of the Legacy Hero concept.

I appreciate the advice, but I'm thinking it IS limited here. I'll give you audience reaction is subjective, but I should probably refine that to The Reader's Reaction... which is still subjective, but at the same time is valid ground for discussion, I would expect.

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