• Everything But Imaginary #373: Changing Course




    Because I do, often, read books without pictures in them, I recently picked up Rick Riordan’s novel The Lost Hero. I was a big fan of Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, which concluded last year, and very excited about the news that he would be telling new stories about the demigods of Camp Half-Blood. He was pretty emphatic in his announcement, however, that this wasn’t a new Percy Jackson novel, just a new story set in that universe. I was fine with that. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I think more writers should have the guts to walk away from their one or two most popular characters and explore the world they’ve created, the way Terry Pratchett did and the way Douglas Adams failed to do. If J.K. Rowling were to ever return to the series that made her the second-richest woman in the universe, the best thing she could do would be to leave Harry Potter and company alone and start telling new tales with a whole new set of characters.
    As I move forward in Riordan’s book (I have read, according to my Kindle, about 20 percent of the novel thus far) I realize that walking away from a star character isn’t as easy as it seems. Although Percy himself has not yet appeared in the book, his presence is undeniable. The three new half-bloods who are The Lost Hero’s protagonists are caught up in a crisis involving a hero who has disappeared – one Percy Jackson. Even though Percy isn’t the star of this book, he’s the title character, an honor he never actually enjoyed in the five novels he narrated.

    In and of itself, I have no objection to this. Riordan is exploring different characters and different aspects of his world, which is exactly what I hoped he would do. But the one thing he has not done is walk away from Percy Jackson.

    Frank Quitely, Grant MorrisonIt can be really tricky to leave behind the hero that made your franchise. Two of the longest-running heroes in comics tried it in recent years, with both Batman and Captain America being replaced by their original partners. To no one’s surprise, though, both Bruce Wayne and Steve Rogers are back, although to the credit of Grant Morrison and Ed Brubaker, the status quo they’ve returned to has changed drastically.

    In the 90s, this was happening a lot. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, all temporarily lost their heroes in favor of relatively new characters, with varying degrees of success. The status quo, however, changed back fairly quickly. One of the few longer-term changes in this period involved Green Lantern. Hal Jordan was gone (although, like Percy Jackson, not forgotten) for nearly ten years before he put on the ring again. And although some of the stories were sometimes sketchy, in the long run I think it’s been good for the franchise. Hal himself is again “the” Green Lantern, the star of the title with that name, but there are two other Green Lantern books now, and the Corps as a whole has never been more popular. Geoff Johns is currently trying to do the same thing with the Flash, and while tales of Barry Allen have been solid, whether reversing this long-standing change in lead character will help the entire Flash Family achieve Green Lantern levels of success remains to be seen.

    Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Brian Bolland, Tony Akins, Andrew PepoyOne other title that has had the guts to make this shift, and seems ready to do it again, is Jack of Fables. For the first 36 issues of this title, Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges wrote about the charming rogue named Jack Horner, but after the Great Fables Crossover, Horner was transformed into a dragon (seriously) and replaced as star of the title by his own son, Jack Frost. Frost’s adventures were of the more traditionally heroic, romantic, 1930s pulp adventure sort, and practically made the book a different series altogether.

    All of these changes have taken guts on the part of the creators, and there’s something to be said for that. You do need to be careful, though. Something like Incredible Hercules and the upcoming Black Panther: The Man Without Fear aren’t really the same kind of shift that I’m talking about. Here you’re taking virtually unrelated characters who have never been able to sustain their own franchise and hoping an existing fanbase will piggyback into their titles courtesy of giving them somebody else’s issue count. It the case of Hercules the result was a critical hit, but I would wager the book probably gained as many new fans as lost Hulk fans who weren’t interested in Herc.

    Jeff Smith, Tom SniegoskiThis is the sort of thing I’d like to see more creators attempt. Jeff Smith is illustrating more stories of Bone in children’s books set in his world but not directly connected to the original series. Frank Miller’s upcoming 300 prequel Xerxes is sort of in this vein, although I find it difficult to get excited over his work after the dismal two-punch of The Dark Knight Strikes Again and his film adaptation of The Spirit. But there are definitely settings out there fascinating enough to support different sets of characters: a tale of a young superhero rising in Dr. Doom’s Latveria could be brilliant. How about an alien accused of a crime in the jurisdiction of the R.E.B.E.L.S.? As cool as the news of a new Shade miniseries is, what if James Robinson created an all-new, non-Starman related hero for Opal City? For that matter, I think it could be pretty sweet to see Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland try another story in the world of Camelot 3000, Tim Seeley play with different heroes in the Hack/Slash universe or that third “I” book Mark Waid says would fill out his Irredeemable/Incorruptible realm.

    And heck, DC, you’ve got six more colors to choose from now. I’ll bet there are a lot of Lanterns out there who could support a solo story once in a while. The upcoming Agent Orange Christmas Special has me all a-twitter. I’d love to see something else like that turn up in my local comic shop.

    Art Baltazar, Franco, Mike NortonFavorite of the Week: October 27, 2010

    It’s time to say goodbye to yet another of the best comics being published… until last week. Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! ended its run with issue #21, with Billy and his family in final battle against the insidious Black Adam. Art Baltazar and Franco really made this book their own after Mike Kunkel left, with daring storylines that were true to the classic characters and still wonderfully fresh and new. When Mike Norton joined the crew on the art side of the book, comic book alchemy was made and we got the best stories of the Shazam family since Jerry Ordway left their title in the 90s. I’m really happy that this creative team is staying together in the upcoming Young Justice series, but this is a comic book that’s going to be sorely missed.

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    Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.