Killing Your Darlings: You Can’t Please Everybody

September 2nd, 2008 by | Tags: , , , , , , ,

In writing, the phrase ‘killing your darlings’ refers to the painful process by which authors weed out their favorite lines, best scenes, and most precious concepts because they distract from the story. In comics fandom, I think of it as describing the way that fandom crushes its own favorite characters under the weight of their own popularity – a process I can’t help but take part in.

Oracle is one of the best characters in comics. Her role on the various teams she’s on is irreplaceable. Her history is as varied and interesting as any character’s could be. She has a defined personality but isn’t a tired, one-note character. Her strengths and weaknesses make every fight she is in even enough that the reader cannot predict the outcome. Of the hundreds of people in the DCU running around in capes and solving the problems of the world by punching people, Barbara Gordon, confined to her wheelchair while being the Lone Ranger of cyberspace stands apart as a unique character.

I, as a reader, would give all that up in a second if she could be Batgirl again. I wouldn’t do it because I lack female crime fighters to identify with. After Fempocalypse – the cancellation of Manhunter, Batgirl, and the elimination of Spoiler, Onyx, Leslie Thompkins, and Gotham Central – DC is gyning up their superhero roster again and I can find strong females without resorting to the Teeny Blue Miniskirt. (Although, to be fair, Kelley Puckett has done an excellent job on Supergirl and I’ve been reading that again, too.)

I wouldn’t even do it because the Batman: The Animated Series episodes that starred Batgirl brought joy to my pre-adolescent life, although admittedly that would be a secondary reason.

I’d regress Barbara Gordon from a team leader to a Batman knock-off with problem hair for one reason: I think it would make her happier.

Yes. You read that right. I want a fictional character to be able to take a walk in a fictional park, then maybe go out dancing with her fictional boyfriend. Just to end the day right, I want her to get her fictional feet massaged. She’s earned it, hasn’t she?

The idea of treating characters as real human beings is plainly ridiculous, but it’s also only an extension of what comics fans do all the time. When we can’t believe that these characters have a life of their own, if only for twenty-two pages, then all we’re doing is staring at ink splotches on wood pulp. And while obsessing over a pet character can be silly, I don’t want to meet the comics fan with a soul so dead that they let go of all character identification and only read comic books ‘for the story.’ However, there does need to be a story, and indulging love for a pet character most often turns that character and every story they’re in as flat as the page they’re printed on.

Striking a balance between wanting a good story and wanting to cater to a favorite character is difficult. The character that makes me topple over is Barbara Gordon, obviously, but I’m willing to bet that every comics fan has one or two characters they’d like to get hold of. Someone out there wants to cast believability to the wind and make Ted Kord and Booster Gold in charge of the Justice League, or allow Superman to rebuild Krypton, or save Bruce Wayne’s parents.

Of course, thinking about 800 issues of Batman in which Babs Gordon goes for a walk with Martha Wayne on New Krypton and talks about how smoothly things have been going since New League took over earth is enough to make me glad there are strict copyright laws.

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3 comments to “Killing Your Darlings: You Can’t Please Everybody”

  1. In my world, Jubilee is still wearing a yellow rainjacket and hideous sunglasses and causing trouble for mall cops.

    I think my fan blind spots are probably Spider-Man, Jubilee, and Harley Quinn. The only one I’d actually read having the happy life you mention for a long period of time is Jubilee.

    I think that conflict and losing (this is different from being a loser) is too central to Spidey’s character to really be able to tell fulfilling or interesting stories with him completely happy for long periods of time. Harley Quinn can totally support a funny series, and has, but even the funny had bite.

    Jubilee, though, should live life like it was an MTV music video circa 1992 forever and ever.

  2. In my fan entitlement world, Vance and Firestar have reformed the New Warriors along with super-hero couples Cloak & Dagger, Speedball & Squirel Girl and Turbo & Darkhawk. They spend their time beating up secondary alien invasions, AIM cells and various other b-list threats. And then once a year they’d trounce some A-lister and the Avengers under that jerk Iron Man would take credit…

  3. […] at least interesting when you look at what wrong. What went wrong is Venom’s flaw as a concept. Esther made a post about ailed characters who can never fix what’s wrong with them (note: who the hell is Esther?). […]