Sunday, 26 January 2014

Who was the Last Big Comics Character to Break Out?

Last weekend Gail Simone posed a question to the internet, as Gail Simone is wont to do. Simply put - have any of the big publishers created any non-violent characters who can be called breakthrough successes? This stems to the idea, often mentioned, that no new characters have broken through at the Big Two in over ten years - and that Deadpool and Harley Quinn are the most recent success stories. So is that true?


The thing is that Deadpool was created in 1991, and Harley Quinn a year later (although her comics debut wasn't until 1993). So actually, if we're following the idea that there haven't been any breakthrough characters at Marvel and DC since those two.... that's twenty years ago. That's a very long time! Simone's question asked if any non-violent characters have broken out, but my question is - have ANY characters broken out?

Let's have a punt at some more recent characters who've shown up in the Big Two - and I'd say yes, for this exercise, let's keep this stuck to the Big Two. The idea that no new characters have been successes came about as a way to undermine the concept of franchise comics. The suggestion is that at some point during, let's say, the nineties, Marvel and DC gave up on the idea of making new characters work and turned their focus more to flogging the same characters they've been writing about for over fifty years.

The Big Two couldn't be bothered making and maintaining any new characters - and readers didn't want to support new characters either. Comics stopped growing and started to contract in on themselves, which is why most of Marvel's books now have "Avengers" or "X-Men" in the title.

An argument many would say has some truth to it, and fair play to them. But let's try and look at what happened over the last ten years. Because I think it's probably about time we agreed that a new generation of characters have shown up, made an impact, and then stuck around. Every generation of comic book fan has their 'era' of superheroes, and I think the person who said "there have been no successful characters launches for ten years" may well have been someone from a generation or two back.



This is best summed up - isn't everything? - by the X-Men. Did you grow up with the X-Men, the All New X-Men, the New Mutants, Generation X, New X-Men, or Generation Hope? Every so often a new group of characters show up into the X-Men Universe, hang around for a bit, and then largely get wiped out or sent off to Massachusetts. But some of them stick around, like Havok and Polaris, Cannonball, Chamber and Jubilee, Pixie and Anole, and Idie. Fans largely don't approve of the generation of characters who came after THEIR generation of comics, so it's very tough for a character to stick around for a long time.

Now, in her initial posts on Twitter, Simone's definition of a 'breakout' was basically somebody who has gone on to have mainstream name value, appeared in films and video games, that sort of thing. That's certainly a more proper version of breakout than the one I'm going to focus on - 'cos I want to talk about characters who are known to comic-book fans, rather than movie fans. Within the comics readership, which characters have managed to have a lasting appeal over the last ten years?

I've got a few suggestions, and you're going to notice something about them.

Kate Kane (Batwoman), Simon Baz, Miles Morales, Kate Bishop, Kick-Ass, Captain Marvel, and X-23.

Yep! Only one of those is a white male, and he's also one of the two characters who would fit into the 'ultra-violent' thing Gail Simone was addressing when she first kicked this all off. Aside from her, every other character here is a POC or woman. Because when it comes to superheroes, each generation is more diverse and progressive than the last.



I think the above characters have all managed to break out, essentially. Batwoman has her own ongoing series, as does Miles Morales. X-23 ran a twenty-issue solo series herself, Simon Baz was a solo character in Green Lantern for a recent stretch, Captain Marvel has her own book. Kick-Ass is in a series of mini-series which have run for a few years now, and Kate Bishop is a key figure in Marvel's two key titles, Hawkeye and Young Avengers.

And they were all created - Carol Danvers is fudging this, I know - in the last ten years. Carol Danvers has obviously been around for a long time, but defining her and redesigning her as Captain Marvel has made her a new figure, and given her a push into attention similar to the one Iron Man received once Robert Downey Jr put on the suit. Even now as I'm writing this, I remember The Winter Soldier - another new concept, albeit one filled by a familiar face. He's going to be featured in the new Captain America movie, so it's fair to say he's doing pretty well, right?

I think we should say that characters are still breaking out, they're breaking out all the time. And I think it's important to note the diversity in the characters who have been supported by Marvel and DC. I could also have thrown in the rest of the Young Avengers, Blue Beetle, The Sentry, Pixie, the Runaways, and so forth.

During her time, Pixie's gone from Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFillipis to creators including Joss Whedon, Mike Carey, Matt Fraction, Kathryn Immonen, Kieron Gillen, Brian Wood, and Simon Spurrier. That's a particularly long list of notable creators who have all used the character, and brought their fanbase across to the character. Doesn't that translate as 'a success'?

Heck, even outside of the Big Two, breakthroughs have been happening. Characters from all over, like Atomic Robo, Invincible,  - heck, you can get Lying Cat shirts.



This idea that there aren't any new characters breaking through and then staying in power simply isn't accurate anymore. Companies have been creating characters, and creators have been picking up on them and keeping them in use. If things keep going as they're going now, you can add The Black Beatle to the list of breakthroughs. Bandette.

But everything is subjective, and none of my thoughts matter unless readers also agree with them and can be a common consensus that "yes, these are now well-known characters". So that's why I want to run the question past all of you, right now - who do you think have broken out? 

Since, let's say the year 2000 kicked in. Would you say any new characters have been a success, and if so - who? And why? Do mainstream comics still have the capacity to create new characters?

No comments: