The son that wasn’t

As I said before, Jon Lane Kent is another example of giving Superman a son or child of sorts. However he comes off as an afterthought and plot device by the virtue of being a bait and switch character introduced in the Forever Evil gimmick storyline.

It seems clear that when writers immediately replaced him with the better loved, more developed and familiar Conner after having him battle an earlier version of himself and other Superboys, it makes you wonder what are they going to do with him to be begin with.

While the idea of Superman having a son is promising and has shown up fairly often in apocryphal stories like with what you get in Convergence, this version seems like writers couldn’t come up with a distinctive voice other than coming from the future and being evil.

Jon Lane Kent

The idea of Superman having a child, especially with Lois Lane, isn’t anything new. This has been contemplated before on and on. There was an unpublished proposal by Alan Moore about a Superboy who is his son and not a younger version of himself who is a troublemaker. It should also be noted that this Superboy is also the son of Wonder Woman.

The same proposal also mentions a Supergirl who’s the daughter of Superman, which has happened twice. Once in the Supergirl Peter David stories and in another story that featured Cir-El. She was also something of a troublemaker, eeriely predating Jon Lane Kent by a decade or so.

Someone pointed out that the introduction of Jon Lane Kent curiously parallels that of the X-Men comics especially when it came to Jean Grey’s family. You have a scion of two characters trained to hunt down other superhumans, is under the tutelage of a dubious parent figure, has a clone and is from the future.

It’s pretty convoluted in and of itself. Time travel itself has a habit of messing up continuity in superhero stories and fiction in general. Given that consistent continuity is valued in superhero storytelling, it’s best to either avoid or minimise the use of time travel stories. No wonder why the Jon Lane Kent stories are very convoluted.

Assymetrical Ageing

Somebody brought up a peculiar issue in superhero comics, especially when it relates to dating. You sometimes have younger characters who end up ageing faster than their ‘older’ counterparts do or tend to undergo the most drastic changes. In some cases, especially in some prominent Marvel comics a number of female characters are aged up to an extent before they get sexed up.

There are cases where female characters do date characters their age. And you have female characters who date older ones but aren’t forceably aged to become desirable in any case. Susan Storm was intitally called Invisible Girl but even she’s Johnny’s older sister and is undoubtedly mature for her age at the time.

Despite the namesake, she wasn’t introduced as a minor so that’s a good thing. In some DC stories, characters like Supergirl and Wonder Girl almost always date men their age group. It’s a good thing that Supergirl has dated Brainiac 5 since adolescence despite her dating other men as well. So did Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad.

Women crushing on older men isn’t anything new though the real problem lies with female characters who are forceably aged before getting sexed up and that the idea of a much younger female character dating an older person is creepy.

Kitty Pryde is often made out to be a relatable female character although my own impression of her is contrary especially over the years. When you add a narrow readership around the time of her conception and her dating a much older person, it feels like as what Dorian of Postmodern Barney has put it this way ‘she’s a little sister that I’d like to date’.

It’s unsurprisingly that he found those fans to be creepy. I could be guilty of doing something similar myself but upon reading that article I changed my mind. The idea of making characters date people their age is a good thing though stories featuring older women who date younger men aren’t that common.

They’re somewhat more common in real life, especially if you bring up the likes of Madonna Ciccone and Demi Moore and their boytoys but in superhero media where the audience is narrower and almost always male, it wouldn’t be surprising that the reverse is rare.

I’m sure there are stories where men date immortal, fully grown women as well as older women who look and act their age. Superboy has dated the older or more mature Tana Moon back in the day. There could be several more but that’s all I know.

It’s also indicative of the audience and authors in question wanting a less challenging relationship but the same is true of everybody, just not to a depressing extent. I have yet to date but even it feels strange why a character like Kitty Pryde would be considered ‘relatable’ and ‘modest’ but has instances where she actually wore less and doesn’t seem to be believable outside of male readers.

Which again says a lot about what she ended up appealing to and why it’s rare for her to date somebody her age, which tends to show up outside of comics thankfully. It’s also a good thing why a number of the teenaged superheroes that I know of tend to date people their age group. It feels less creepy this way but it also feels less jailbaity if they’re much older to be honest.

Watching out

If DC and Marvel are ever going to break into the webcomics market with their titles, they’d better watch out for angry parents, teachers and guardians telling them to tone down the content. Even if that didn’t happen, not all titles can make it online only made worse by a pre-eminent backlash against superheroes.

If there’s ever a backlash aimed at superhero television, DC and Marvel would better watch out for the worse. They’d have to tone down the content. The shock of a masturbating Felicity Smoak and punk detective Barry Allen would be too immense to handle, prompting writers and editors to moderate what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Even if these influences the comics themselves but when it comes to webcomics everything is free and open to outsiders who’d confuse a story featuring a wanking Kitty Pryde for porn. The artistic merit behind such a story is hard to tell so it would be better to listen to a pop diva who admit doing it instead.

This would also force them to produce entirely different content. This is related to what I’m saying before. If a backlash happened, writers would force superheroes to be in other genres. In this scenario, DC and Marvel would end up diversifying their content in terms of genre to minimise the superhero backlash.

The superhero backlash, especially when aimed at Arrow and Flash, would be comparable to what disco has been through. A case of history repeating itself which hits close to home with a disco heroine named Dazzler. This is further magnified by the number of watchdog groups forcing DC and Marvel to tone down content. So that’s something to watch out for.

Marvel

As I said before, if DC and Marvel were ever to seriously capitalise on and popularise the webcomics market they’d end up having to appeal to different markets across the world. DC’s location in the West Coast would have it exploit the Asia Pacific region while Marvel would focus on Europe and to some extent, Africa.

This would get complicated by the factors involving digital comics sales. If DC and Marvel were to make the move to webcomics, we have to take the digital comics market into consideration. Some of Marvel’s best-selling digital comics appeal to the dreaded ‘SJW’ audience found on Tumblr and the like.

Those kinds of people, while emerging in number, are still a niche. Then we have to bring up potentially kid-unfriendly stuff like Deadpool. As Marvel’s owned by Disney, if they’re ever going to exploit the kids’ webcomics market they’d risk destroying their public image.

Otherwise such a controversy would force Marvel to heavily focus on fairy tales, Star Wars, Disney characters and less shock content. DC would be poised to take advantage of that market, being home to a wider variety of characters and genres.

DC has superheroes, MAD, Looney Tunes, Vertigo and the like. Out of the big two, DC could easily take advantage of a new market especially in Asia and not risk losing their appeal to both audiences. I could be more biased towards DC but this changes could come soon enough.

The grave and beyond

Superheroes could still be around for long but by then they would be very drastically different just as they were going through before. Only this time this would involve both the death of the superhero craze and the shrinking of its fanbase. I think with anime we’re seeing a similar decline.

Anime and the like used to appeal to the masses but due to a declining, xenophobic nationwide population and poor pay rates there’s a possibility that they’d decline. The likes of Hayao Miyazaki, Ken Akamatsu and Hideaki Anno have been sounding the alarms before.

Akamatsu even talked about the Japanese comics industry adopting some of the vices that the American comics industry is prone to like work for hire cartoonists working on tired, old franchises.

I think this is already happening to an alarming extent especially with stories and franchises like Crayon Shin Chan, Doraemon, QTaro, Evangelion, Fist of the North Star, Gundam, Black Jack and Astro Boy where you have stories that are increasingly written by someone other than the original authors.

Then you add in suspiciously repetitive, interchangeable plots and characters. Those were there before but not to the same blatant extent like where anime is going these days. Superheroes are no stranger to this.

What would rock the superhero genre is what happens when the genre dies, where do superheroes go to next? Placing superheroes in non-superhero genres isn’t anything new, this was building itself up a lot in a number of stories which were sometimes apocryphal.

If the genre dies, superheroes would have to move to other genres for survival. I can see The Flash moving to crime fiction as a good example of where the trend is heading. This change will spell the death of superheroes as a genre whether if we like it or not.

The end

As I said elsewhere, the trajectory where superhero television and cinema are heading is starting to resemble that of their comics counterpart and in a manner that makes you wonder whether or not superhero fatigue is ever going to take off. It can be argued that there’s already superhero fatigue in the comics market with some of the most widely read and sold comics not at all relating to superheroes.

You still have comic strip collections but also stuff like Ninjago actually outselling superhero comics well outside of specialty shops and I tend to see lots of graphic novels/trade paperbacks in the bookstores I go to though they’re not particularly cheap.

I think the direct market more or less set up superhero fatigue in comics early on where it started catering to a narrow niche, then resorting to stupid gimmicks and crossing, oversaturating the place with one too many superhero titles before crashing and now have become very desperate for both quality and attention.

In those days, superhero comics developed a very complicated storytelling based around one’s prior knowledge of stories and continuity based around multiple titles. I think superhero television and cinema have been following suit since the DCAU and the Marvel cartoons of the 1990s.

You have a growing emphasis on insider knowledge, continuity and shared universes followed up by oversaturation, neverending reiterations of the same characters and stories only sleazier and weirder, fan pandering and an incoming decline.

The downfall could happen too soon if The CW and similar networks ended up repeating the same disastrous mistakes that destroyed superhero comics a score ago. Otherwise we’d have to contend with a disco wide backlash against superheroes if it weren’t for Punk Rock Barry Allen and Faplicity Smoak.

There was an adaptation of this 1990s comics series called Wildcats whose publisher ended up getting swallowed by DC and given its millieu in dark, edgy comics it would eventually come to full circle if CW resorted to stupid gimmicks at all.

What the hell are you going to do with them?

The real problem with derivative characters is that of a catch-22. Unless if writers knew what to really discriminate between those characters and the original, the characters are still derivative to the point of being redundant. Mike Smith pointed out the problem with Supergirl is that she’s very redundant.

The very same problem can be applied to Superboy. The more writers try to connect him to Superman very strong, the more redundant and erratic he gets. Writers can’t even decide what personality is he supposed to have. Is he a flirty extroverted young lad? Is he a misguided, emotional clone of Superman? Is he a prodigy? Is he a replacement for someone else? Is he stuck in another form?

He’s practically been through this characterisations in the comics I’ve read and in some cartoons I watched. In other words, the more writers connect him to Superman the less they actually have anything to do with him in the long run starting with an established personality.

In Barry Allen’s case, that would be easy. If someone were to make him interesting, we’d have to address the fundamental problem with his characterisation. As a scientist, he’s not that dedicated to this work as he prefers to fight crime face to face.

He makes much better sense as a detective given his preference for investigation and that he could also make an excellent escape artist even if that means having to tone down his powers to make way for a believable characterisation.

As for Bart Allen, if he can’t be related to Barry Allen his connection to the latter could be explained by a bootstrap/predestination paradox via time travel when Barry accidentally replicated his backstory onto another person. That person would become Phantom Lad, Bart’s new persona.

One could go the extra mile and make him come from Europe, with darkness powers to boot. That’s something writers don’t bother doing now that he’s not related to Barry. And sometimes people do have coincidentally the same or similar names.

Writers actually tried to do something radical with Supergirl before, starting in the late 1980s when she can’t be related to Superman she might as well be related to Lana Lang, had very different powers and was made into an angel. It’s not straightforward when this involved fusing with another woman but that’s a hell lot more inventive than what Superboy and Bart are getting these days.

It’s not easy but it’s not impossible it’s just a matter of learning both prior mistakes and new influences to know what to do with them. Like making Barry into a detective, Bart an Irishman with darkness powers and Conner being Jimmy Olsen’s brother of sorts. It could be doable and could salvage these characters for good.

Gods and Monsters

I haven’t watched the new film by Bruce Timm, save for a clip but it feels like superhero television and cinema are beginning to resemble where superhero comics have been at since the 1990s. You have a growing acceptance of shock content and edgier versions of children’s characters.

I bet that the people watching Arrow and The Flash did grow up with superheroes at one point or another. Even if you disagree but that doesn’t cancel out the existence of prior superhero programmes like Superboy, The Adventures of Lois and Clark and Smallville.

Not to mention stuff like Spawn, Wildcats and The Tick were on the telly before. There was even a Spawn movie before, followed up by the Joel Schumache Batman, Blade and X-Men movies. Many of them emerged in an environment where superhero comics were increasingly very niche and self-conscious.

Roughly two decades later, we’re seeing edgier and sleazier versions of these characters. So far in the Gods and Monsters movie, there’s a red-haired white clad Wonder Woman. There was one character closely resembling her in the comics and her name is Artemis.

Not to mention a morally dubious Superman and vampiric Batman were there before in the comics as well. You have the Hank Henshaw evil Superman, Superboy Prime and Bizarro. In hindsight, Bruce Timm was also a fanboy turned professional.

He’s not a bad one as he’s able to make that stuff appealing to the masses and did a good job at it. Later producers like Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim are living in very close proximity with the fanbase if it weren’t for the nature of the Internet these days.

Superhero programmes are beginning to become blatant in their fan pandering. Fan pandering was there before but not to the same degree it is today. The Olicity ship was a fandom couple turned canon because some of the fans demanded it.

Even if other, albeit older programmes came close to it that didn’t come to fruition. Chloe Sullivan is a similar blonde hacker who dated the protagonist for a while but ended up marrying another man who is coincidentally the protagonist on Arrow.

As what somebody else said about her, though Felicity Smoak technically predated her in the comics Chloe Sullivan was more fully fleshed out than the former is because she didn’t come off as a plot device. Now with superhero oversaturation, it seems inevitable that if Flash and Arrow are ever going to catch up with their peers the best they can do is to be very shocking.

Just like what happened to the comics, the use of shock value has become a last minute attempt at getting noticed. Who cares if Supergirl became a Red Lantern, Superboy Prime did it before her. Superheroes getting amplified powers? Legion of Super-Heroes already did it before in the 60s and 70s.

In three decades time, nobody will give a damn if Felicity Smoak masturbated or not. Nobody would also give a damn about a depowered punk Barry Allen either. At this point, the overuse of shock value in superhero media is a sign that nobody really cares about superheroes and could be a sign that superhero fatigue has been working its way up since the 80s.

Fixing Superboy

Superboy is generally presented as a junior Superman, regardless if he’s a clone or really a younger Superman. I feel like with this current incarnation, he should be his own character. The idea of a Superman character possessing psychic powers isn’t anything new. The very first Superman was a villain with mind control powers at least in ‘Reign of the Superman’.

There was a story were Superboy has biomagnetic powers, then there’s a Supergirl who has telekinesis and so on. With Conner, he makes better sense if he’s not that connected to Superman. It seems like the more writers try to connect him to Superman, the more convoluted his backstory gets.

It should be noted that very early on, Conner wasn’t even cloned from Superman. He was based on somebody else altogether. He practically has the same problem as Supergirl in that the more writers give Superman another Superman-like character the more redundant the latter gets.

I wouldn’t be surprised if writers tried really hard to differentiate these two from him. This was more successful in the 1990s but even that was eventually undone. The revelation of Superboy being based on Superman’s DNA pre-empted the return of Supergirl as Superman’s cousin even if she wasn’t like that before.

There was a Supergirl who’s the queen of a lost kingdom and even Lois Lane became Supergirl/Superwoman. It seems like with these two, it’s better not to bring up Superman and let them be their own characters. It’s not easy but it’s not impossible.

The best a writer can do to Superboy is to omit his relation to Superman altogether and make him be related to someone else like Jimmy Olsen. This has already happened before and that worked in the sense that even if Superboy isn’t exactly like Superman, he can try to imitate him.

If we were to learn from Supergirl’s history, they’re far more promising as their own characters when you think about it. It might not be too late to salvage and refashion Conner into his own character.