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.

The same old mistakes

Superhero television is no stranger to cross-overs and shared universes though this is starting to proliferate and become that heavily embedded to the point where you have to understand one thing to know another in a manner that’s starting to resemble where its comics counterpart was at for decades.

Similar things can be said of movies and I’d like to say that historically the advantage of televised and cinematic adaptations were very self-contained. That isn’t to say that cameos and crossovers were non-existence. They weren’t that common and necessary until recently.

There are advantages to being self-contained such as stronger personal control and focus. When you have a shared universe, it can be really hard to manage any real consistency or even experimentation. I think the use of shared universes and crossovers are what’s killing the superhero genre.

Most people don’t invest themselves in the lore that much and would want a self-contained story with a defined start to finish. Superhero media is increasingly the opposite of what people want. They’re becoming very insular and too complicated for most to get through.

If people want Flash, they’ll want Flash. They don’t want Flash because of Arrow and Supergirl but for what it is. Unfortunately, the nature of crossovers and shared universe can make it hard to enjoy something on its own merits because you really have to know it from somewhere else.

Without allowing superhero programmes to be genuinely self-contained for long, it makes it harder for other people to get into because they don’t want to invest in something for long. For writers, it can be hard to establish a unique tone without sacrificing consistency.

The use of a shared universe is harming the genre and something that future superhero writers should take note of. Out of all the superhero stories to date, Watchmen is among the few superhero stories with a genuinely self-contained universe and a beginning to end.

Ditto the Before Watchmen series but you get the point. Shared universes are really appealing to diehards, necessitating crossovers every now and then. If superheroes are going to mature, they’d need to outgrow the shared universe to feel free to be in their own worlds from now on.

The mythologisation of Japan

Japan is a country that tends to get heavily shrouded in mystery, made worse by the fact that it’s really hard to get accurate reports about it if it weren’t for the use of modified Chinese characters. It’s even harder to find data about Japan that isn’t about anime and the like.

There are still stray dogs in Japan. Not all people in Japan like anime and manga, albeit publicly and permanently. Japan isn’t that cat/dog friendly despite the abundance of such cafes but it’s not all that bed either.

The real problem lies with a misinterpretation. I could be wrong about my own understanding of Japan but Japan isn’t always what it’s cut out to be. It should neither be put on a pedestal nor get demonised. Japan is Japan and there’s more to it than any these misconceptions and misinformation.

Range frequency theory

Range frequency theory is used to describe one’s evaluation based on degree of exposure. Going back to my prior post, Lady Gaga is a good example of that theory in action. If someone is used to bad or mediocre vocals, then her singing is good in comparison. But if someone is used to more powerful, melodic or malleable vocals, then her singing is inadequate but doable (similar things can be said of other pop stars though).

It’s not surprising that others feel similar about whether or not Gaga’s an adequate singer. Someone on Digital Spy described her vocals as trained but curiously nasal. She’s a good singer though her singing sounds like there’s little modulation and control as well as lacking power.

If you want genuinely powerful vocals, you either look to opera and broadway singers or my favourite Martha Wash. Her voice is so strong that some made others lip sync to her singing and then she fought back. If not Martha, then Christian Aguilera.

There isn’t much real manipulation to her singing either. She can change her tone or pitch but not to the malleable degree where Danielle Dax has been doing in the 80s though the latter doesn’t record much these days and has retreated from the spotlight for good.

I suppose I listen to a wider variety of singing vocals to judge her singing but that’s amplified by why I can’t stand her for being put up on a pedestal. She’s not bad but she shouldn’t be put up so high that attracts her to much scrutiny. And then there are always a number of singers who are either worse or better than her.

In fairness, Lady Gaga tends to be only as good as the people she collaborates with. It’s unsurprisingly that her meteroic rise involved people like RedOne and Beyonce. Take one of them away and you’d have a a adequate musician who still falls short of expectations but so do everybody else.

I’ve got the chops

Among various critics and fans, there’s a tendency to put an emphasis on chops. This is not always the case but the obsession with talent or craftsmanship shouldn’t always be equated with competence. This has blinded them to a lot of actual artistry.

It’s one thing to hype that a pop singer can sing and do jazz though that’s not really remarkable. It’s another to find singers who are very good at what they and like doing. This fixation on whether or not the person can sing and write his/her own songs is like saying a book is good because it uses good diction and grammar.

Anne Clark is obviously a spoken word artist and her lyrics are very insightful and thought-provoking. Danielle Dax is an overlooked musician who can change the tone and pitch of her singing voice as if there are two separate people or more. Martha Wash is such a powerful singer that people have used her voice to have somebody lip sync to and then she fought back.

Perhaps it’s not a matter of taste or standard but exposure. There’s a thing called Range Frequency Theory stating that our evaluation of things is based on a degree of exposure. If someone is exposed to poor vocals, then a certain someone would be a godsend.

If someone were exposed to far stronger or more malleable vocals, the singer that I mentioned before isn’t good and isn’t bad, just serviceable. So the emphasis on chops is inevitably based on one’s exposure and knowledge.

It’s neither good nor bad but it’s a matter of having to find more talented musicians, even if they’re not popular and surprisingly won’t win any awards.