Since this is my last column I thought it’d be appropriate to talk about the passage of time in comics. It’s a touchy subject. It’s difficult to suspend belief when it takes decades for Peter Parker to get through high school and college. But we also don’t want a Spider-Man who ages in real time. I don’t think a wise-cracking web-slinger in his 50s would be quite as charming.
There are some examples that show aged heroes, such as Batman Beyond. Although I like Terry McGinnis as Batman, every time I watch the show I’m hoping Bruce Wayne will somehow regain his youth and go back to kicking ass.
Judge Dredd is one of the few comic characters does age in real time. He’s hovering around 73 now. But the problem is that means he’s going to have to retire sooner or later. Fans argue he’s still got a long life left since its set into a future with more advanced healthcare, but time will eventually have to take its toll.
Comic continuity is a tricky thing. It’s impossible for writers to remember the hundreds of stories most popular characters have been in. This is part of the reason why reboots are used so frequently, so creators aren’t chained to the past. The other reason is because it’s an easy way to make a character regress.
In DC’s New 52 universe they established a “five year rule,” where all the characters had now only been doing their thing for five years. This makes them significantly younger. Characters origins are retold every few years. Little things are changed to update the characters.
The Avengers originally came together partly because of Rick Jones’ CB Radio use. Obviously that detail’s changed.
Technology’s one of the things that’s always updated in these retellings. For a good example check out Captain America: Man Out of Time.
Sometimes this regression is done through other means. In 2008 there was a much-maligned Spider-Man story-arc called “Brand New Day.” Through the use of a deus-ex-machina plot device Spider-man’s aunt was healed, his marriage was dissolved, one of his high school friend was brought back to life, his secret identity was unrevealed, and he loses his organic webbing.
This arc changed everything about Spider-Man’s character, reverting things to their previous status quo. Too bad that the changes Spider-Man went through actually resulted in the best Spider-Man comics in years. Many feel that the story-arc was mostly to kill Spider-Man’s marriage so he would be more relatable to young people.
While companies like to keep their characters youthful, time can’t stay still in comics either, otherwise nothing can change. It’s very gradual, but Dick Grayson eventually grows from Robin into Nightwing, Kid Flash becomes the Flash and etc. We don’t want our favourite heroes to retire, but there needs to be some evolution or the characters become stagnant.
Hopefully a few people actually enjoyed this column throughout the year. Thanks for reading.