Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Super-Heroes in the 21st Century

In light of the Super-Hero Happy Hour fiasco and the recent City of Heroes lawsuit, one has to wonder if there's still any room within the boundaries to create characters with remarkable ability.

I remember when I was a kid and I'd run around with a towel clothespinned around my neck, pretending to be Superman or Batman. Or times when playing with action figures, Boba Fett made a pretty cool Iron Man. Why did I do it? Was it because I wanted to infringe their copyrights? Or was it because I enjoyed reading about the characters so much that they found their way into my imagination and inspired me to be creative?

There are times that I hum old songs or sing lines from them. Like Billie Jean or Prince's Kiss. I don't own the originals anymore. Should they be paid a fee for my use of their songs? Or is it just a sign that their music had touched me in such a way that I'll never forget it? Shouldn't they be proud of it? Doesn't it speak volumes for someone's creation when someone else finds such joy in it?

And then there's City of Heroes. I have not played CoH, and I probably won't due to the fact that I'm already playing a MMORPG (massive multi-player online role playing game), but it's a shame that people getting together to share in the joy of their love of comics and super-heroes can cause so much grief.

I'm pretty certain that the main reason behind Marvel's decision was that it wasn't their game and that in some way they should be getting money out of something that allows players to pretend to be super-heroes. Especially when "super-heroes" is defined by the comics that Marvel (and DC) have been publishing for over sixty years.

Sixty years!

Know what sixty years does to a property?
It makes them sort of idolistic. Think about it. Anyone that is under the age of sixty has come into contact, in one way or another, with DC and Marvel's super-heroes. The concept no longer is the result of any kind of social or storytelling movement. It is now a foundation. It is the norm.

Everyone knows what the term super-hero means. And there's a lot of potential for stories and characters within that concept. But writers have to be careful that the characters aren't "super-heroes", don't have "energy blasts" and don't use "utility belts".

This may be one of the leading reasons that non-super-hero genres are quickly picking up steam in comics. It's easier to write a story within a western or crime context than within a super-hero context where you spend most of the time struggling to make sure your hero (or heroes)'s name, powers, origin and city don't resemble any characters owned by the Big Two. Not to mention villains.

But it wasn't always like this. In the '80s and '90s, several independent comics companies made their own universes of super-powered characters, to varying degrees of success. While there were similarities to DC and Marvel's characters, it wasn't much of a matter at the time. For two simple reasons: the state of the comic industry at the time and how small the indy companies were (they didn't last long).

Nowadays it's a bit different. The comics industry is more rutheless as there's way too much product being produced and way to few readers. Anything that can be done to remove a possible opponent will be attempted.
And there's a massive influx of independent comics creators as it has become relatively easy to make your own comic. Creating comics has become second only to making music as the most inexpensive way to express yourself or be creative. And with internet and free webhosting, web comics (which cost nothing to create) have become one of the biggest trends for writers and artists.

I imagine that we're coming to another point where the people who are eating the fish that the big two are giving to them will learn to catch fish for themselves.
And that's what they're afraid of.

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