Heroes Never Rust #103 by Sean Ironman
1985: Doing Something New
There have been a lot of comic books made in the last hundred years. Millions of stories, with a large chunk of them revolving around superheroes. Most of these stories range from terrible to merely adequate. I love superheroes, but even I can’t defend each one. I don’t know if it’s the schedule of having to turn out a complete superhero tale each month (written, penciled, inked, colored, lettered, and edited), or if it’s just the nature of storytelling, but most superhero tales do nothing new. Sure, they plug in a different character into the protagonist spot, another in the villain spot, another in the best friend role, and so on. These stories can still be entertaining in the way that when you’re done you’re not upset you wasted fifteen minutes of your life on the comic, but rarely are they memorable. But, how does a writer bring something new to a genre that’s had millions of stories already told?
In the fifth issue of 1985, Toby finds himself in the Marvel Universe. From the portal between dimensions, he lands on a street corner, still on the run from the Trapster, who is dispatched pretty quickly by a sedan as he chases Toby across the street. Toby heads to Avengers Mansion, where Jarvis, the butler (an actual butler in the comics, not software), hands Toby a pin and unconvinced Toby is being truthful, Jarvis tells him to get the Fantastic Four. At the Baxter Building, Toby is made to fill out a form full-bureaucracy style beside a few others who also have an emergency that requires the help of the Fantastic Four. The superhero team will help on a first-come first-serve basis. In need of help, Toby heads to the Daily Bugle to get Peter Parker’s help, which seems to work. Toby’s adventures in the Marvel Universe are fun and interesting, even though he doesn’t run into any superheroes until the end of his journey. The issue works because it’s rare that we get a look at the ground level of the Marvel Universe.
I think that’s the key to doing something new—point-of-view. Style and structure can do a lot in a story, but to really deliver something new, I think the key lies with point of view. The superheroes remain the superheroes we know and love. They are reinvented. But, by getting a look at them from a different angle, in this case Toby’s, we can experience them in a new way. Perhaps this is why superhero films can’t seem to go even three films without losing steam (How many great superhero trilogies are there? I can’t think of any.) Ultimately, the superhero’s story, if they are to stay a superhero, can only be repeated so many times. Only so many times can new villains and supporting characters reinvigorate a series. But, a new point of view could create a whole new story. How interesting would it be to see a Superman film that is told from the point of view of a priest, someone who believes Man has been made in the image of God, that Man is God’s chosen creature? How would that affect the priest’s faith? Superman would stay Superman, but we as the audience would see a new side of the character.
One of Marvel Comics’ greatest series, and one that I can’t help but feel that Marvel 1985 was meant to be a new version of, was Marvels. In Marvels, the reader followed Phil Sheldon, an everyman character and photographer for the Daily Bugle. Readers saw the birth of the Marvel Universe through different eyes. And it was great. Readers got a new understanding of the comics, from the impact that Captain America had on the United States to why the X-men were hated for their mutant powers and the Fantastic Four were loved for their superpowers.
Marvel has done a few more comics like this in recent years, such as the Civil War tie-in Frontline. I really hope we get these types of comics as film someday. Not yet, it’s too soon, but in ten years, I think they would be wonderful. How many times can we see the same story over and over again? I’m not saying I dislike superhero comics, or I’m unhappy with what’s being published today. But, if a genre is going to thrive, it needs to evolve and offer readers new experiences. Point of view is a great way to do that. Some of the best Batman stories from the last twenty years have been found in Gotham Central, a comic about the police force in Gotham City. One of the best Superman stories is It’s a Bird, from the point of view of the writer of Superman comics. A great, and somewhat forgotten, Spider-man storyline (“The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man”) is about a child with leukemia whose dying wish is to meet Spider-man. The whole issue is Spider-man and the kid hanging out in the kid’s bedroom talking. And it was incredible because readers saw Spider-man in a different way. So, if you’re thinking of tackling a superhero tale, or any genre work that’s been done to death, try thinking of a different character as your narrator. You’ll get the best of both worlds—a story that has what readers love and something new.
Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s Chronicle, Redivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.